Hello, Good Lookers!
This is Menka and Just Looking is a monthly letter exploring mindfulness, perception, photography and the dotted lines in between.
How are you? I’ve noticed we ask this question more sincerely these days. Perhaps we’re more aware that everyone is struggling in their own ways, carrying unseen burdens. The world is softened by more sonder (ok, this is a made-up word, but surely a keeper!)
I am well and fortunate to be able to stay at home, but feeling a little more anxious and fidgety than usual – worrying, researching, planning. I can see this behaviour as an attempt to take control and “do something” in the midst of fear and uncertainty. But later, when I take stock of my day, I regret spending so much energy like this. So instead when the initial anxiety comes up I’ve been trying to slow down and watch it with a gentle curiosity. Sometimes it really helps, and the urge to act passes by.
Here are this month’s shares to fire up your adventures in looking:
Every day the light from the sun hits the earth at a different angle
I am always moved by this short scene from the movie “Smoke”. Auggie, a cigar shop owner in New York City, shows his friend a collection of photographs he’s taken of the same street corner, over many years.
Fascinating research on being open-minded
It turns out being calm and open-minded gives you a different perspective. Not just metaphorically but literally! Research shows that our eyeballs move to scan a bigger picture. And the reverse is true too, close-mindedness means you actually see less, reinforcing tightness.
The seven most calming works of art
Art, because without it we are “inveterately poor at retaining perspective”.
Be wary of the pressure to be productive
There is a lot of pressure to be externally productive right now. (“Did you know Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he was quarantined during the plague?” etc.) But if you have anything like a choice, it’s probably best to pace yourself as though you’re running a marathon.
“Day 1 of Quarantine: ‘I’m going to meditate and do body-weight training.’ Day 4: *just pours the ice cream into the pasta*” — it’s funny but it also speaks directly to the issue. Now more than ever, we must abandon the performative and embrace the authentic. Our essential mental shifts require humility and patience.”
Take a meditative walk through these Japanese cherry blossom trees
The Brooklyn Botanical Garden is closed due to the pandemic, but thankfully they let cinematographer Nic Petry in to create this beautiful video.
How to break up with bad habits
Looking at life with fresh perspective requires a shift in our habits. This neuroscience-based 7-min animation explains how trying to force change using sheer willpower is ineffective, and what to do instead.
An isolation diary
Photographer Steve Grey focuses his image-making during the current isolation on sunlight coming through the windows of his home.
Same but different
When it all starts to feel the same, it’s important to tune in to the differences. Nuance your perspective with this exercise. I’d highly recommend watching the clip from the movie Smoke (here it is again) before starting this.
- Choose your spot and make a photograph. It can be as simple and as mundane as your dining table, bedside drawers, or the view out your window. Take your time to really absorb what’s physically in front of your eyes. Then create a photograph that reflects that.
- Mark the spot. Make a mental or written note of where you stood, which direction your camera was pointing, and any camera settings you used.
- Return several times. Return to your spotseveral times over a period of minutes, hours, or even days. Look at it again each time with fresh eyes. You may choose to frame the photograph identically each time or move around to get different angles.
- Make a collection. Bring together all the images in a collection. You could even put them together as a timelapse or a printed flipbook. The point is just to take some time to look at them, and notice how it’s all the same but each one is also different.
- (Optional) Create one single image. Combining all the images into one creates what’s known as a “multiple exposure”. This can be created in your camera if you have that functionality, but it is just as fun using a mobile app, like Snapseed.
If you’re on Instagram come and join us @wearejustlooking and share your photo using the community hashtag. Your looking will inspire others.
Beauty is an achieved state of both deep attention and self-forgetting: the self-forgetting of seeing, hearing, smelling, or touching that erases our separation, our distance, our fear of the other. Beauty invites us, through entrancement, to that fearful frontier between what we think makes us; and what we think makes the world.
– David Whyte in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everday Words.
More amazing books on looking.
Thank you for reading. I’m grateful for your companionship here. If you’d like to share this letter with fellow kindred spirits, here’s the web link.
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