Zen Camera: Creative Awakening with a Daily Practice in Photography

Zen Camera: Creative Awakening with a Daily Practice in Photography

by David Ulrich
Zen Camera: Creative Awakening with a Daily Practice in Photography

Zen Camera: Creative Awakening with a Daily Practice in Photography

by David Ulrich


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Zen Camera is an unprecedented photography practice that guides you to the creativity at your fingertips, calling for nothing more than your vision and any camera, even the one embedded in your phone.

David Ulrich draws on the principles of Zen practice as well as forty years of teaching photography to offer six profound lessons for developing your self-expression. Doing for photography what The Artist’s Way and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain did for their respective crafts, Zen Camera encourages you to build a visual journaling practice called your Daily Record in which photography can become a path of self-discovery. Beautifully illustrated with 83 photographs, its insights into the nature of seeing, art, and personal growth allow you to create photographs that are beautiful, meaningful, and uniquely your own.

You’ll ultimately learn to change the way you interact with technology—transforming it into a way to uncover your innate power of attention and mindfulness, to see creatively, and to live authentically.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399580338
Publisher: Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed
Publication date: 02/13/2018
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 509,319
Product dimensions: 7.50(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

DAVID ULRICH is a professor and co-director of Pacific New Media Foundation in Honolulu, Hawai'i. He teaches frequent classes and workshops, and is an active photographer and writer whose work has been published in numerous books and journals including Aperture, Manoa, and Sierra Club publications. Ulrich's photographs have been exhibited internationally in more than 75 one-person and group exhibitions. He blogs about creativity and consciousness at www.theslenderthread.org, and is a consulting editor for Parabola magazine. Visit his website at: www.creativeguide.com.

Read an Excerpt



Photography is a powerful form of visual expression, available to everyone.

Each of you is likely to have poised in your pocket a highly advanced camera, ready to take a photograph in the very moment you feel inspired. This device is capable of taking vibrant photographs in all but the most severe lighting situations or extreme conditions. Digital cameras, especially those in smartphones, have revolutionized the way we approach the world and interact with others. No experience is complete, no meal finished, no friendship consummated until we have taken a picture. The photograph replies, I was here. I witnessed this event, met this person, or relished this experience.

All too often, today’s technology becomes a distraction that siphons your energy and diffuses your attention. But when you use a camera to look out at the world, your eyes may light on a gesture, an image, an expression—and you experience the indispensable spark of awareness and presence. It’s a flash of insight that can pierce the fog of your preoccupied mind and bring you closer to the living moment. The camera can help liberate your awareness to see clearly and keenly, to know something about who you really are, and to open your being to an unfading swell of empathy and compassion for those you meet along the way. The camera confirms the “I am” of being and existing in the world.

Zen Camera
is not only about photography; it is about you. In six lessons, it guides you to cultivating creativity with a camera and in all areas of your life. It teaches you about deep perception, learning to see, and awakening all of your senses to the present moment. It helps you realize Socrates’s great directive, Know thyself, and uncover the seeds of the authentic self, hidden behind multiple layers of conditioning and socialization. And yes, you’ll also learn to take better photographs and to communicate effectively through images. 

The six lessons found in the book are cyclic and hold many keys for your evolving work. They are relevant for anyone, whether you’re a professional or have recently discovered a budding interest in using your smartphone camera. The lessons can be adapted to different stages of development. You may have taken thousands of photos and the technical aspects are familiar to you, but you’re looking for fresh inspiration. Or you might have an inkling of what you want to express behind the camera but don’t know the mechanics beyond point and click. Either way, this book is for you. The minimum time needed to fulfill a first pass of the lessons would be twelve to fifteen weeks, akin to a college semester, and they can be circled back to over the years. For me, the better part of a lifetime has been spent in their service with the aim of personal and artistic awakening. 

This book has been taking shape in my mind for forty years. I am a professor of photography in a traditional college setting and have taught a wide variety of photography classes and workshops to people of diverse ages, cultural backgrounds, and professions. I’ve taught children and adults in many places in the United States, including my current home of Hawai‘i, and developed photography programs in Hong Kong and China. Some of my students aspire to make photography a career, while others are searching for the richness of creative expression in their personal lives. I have seen countless students discover the great joy and fulfillment that comes from creative expression. They find hope and confidence, and give voice to features of their identity, either previously hidden or once blanketed in fear and uncertainty. When they uncover their unique vision, they awaken to their own potential. 

As my students adopt photography as a means of personal growth, they begin to stretch beyond their perceived boundaries of thought and expression. I have been touched to the core and learned so much from their observations of the world through a camera. Their requests—for tools, exercises, and guidance—created this book. Its six lessons have proven their worth to generations of students. To my students, I owe my deepest gratitude. 

Table of Contents

Introduction: contribute your verse 1

Basic principles and methods 11

Your Daily Record 11

Frame of No-Mind 17

Daily Observation 23

Lesson 1 Observation 27

The Five Visual Elements of Photography 32

Tools and Exercises 45

Lesson 2 Awareness 55

Mindfulness in Photography 57

Heightened Awareness 66

Tools and Exercises 74

Lesson 3 Identity 85

Style and Authenticity 88

1+1 = Infinity 92

Communication and Evocation 96

Tools and Exercises 99

Lesson 4 Practice 111

Process and Attunement 115

Your Digital Crayons 120

Beginner's Mind 124

Tools and Exercises 126

Lesson 5 Mastery 137

Freedom and Discipline 141

Inspiration 144

Pushing the Edge 151

Tools and Exercise 152

Lesson 6 Presence 161

Spectacle vs. Presence 164

Sift, Edit, and Refine 168

Power of Attention 171

Exercises in Presence and Attention 178

Photography and awakening, the terrors and pleasures of digital life 187

The Illusion of Separateness 191

Digital Life and Zen Practice 194

Photography in the twenty-first Century 197

Reading list 205

Acknowledgment 210

About the author 211

Index 212

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