Meaning in Photography
"Is there anything you do regularly that makes you forget what time it is?"
If so, this timeless feeling is part of a Flow state. Flow is the "in the groove" of a jazz musician, or the "freestyle" of a rapper.
What about photographers? We click, and we also can also learn to Flow. Let's see an example and then 7 things we feel when we're in Flow. We'll wrap up and check out why Flow is addictive.
Flow comes occasionally when I photograph dolphins. Here, a dolphin tosses a mullet. As I make a photo of it, my body recedes and my 'I' disappears. Time is meaningless. My thoughts are my action. Let's take a closer look at what "flow " feels like...
7 PARTS OF FLOW
1. You’re completely involved in what you’re doing: you’re completely focused and concentrated. The camera is moving by itself.
2. There’s a sense you are stepping into a different reality,
standing along side our normal experience.
3. You know just what needs to be done and get an sense, right away, of how well its going.
4. You know you can get the job done because you have
all the skills needed to capture the action.
5. Worries, concerns, and sense of self drifts away.
6. You have lost track of time.
7. Perhaps you feel driven to do it again, because whatever produces flow is now a high, even to the point of becoming addicted.
(these 7 items are based on 8000 interviews of people, globally, research from the work of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi Ph.D.)
A MUSIC METAPHOR ~ A Composer Describes Flow
"You are in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. I have experienced this time and again. My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching it in a state of awe and wonderment. And [the music] just flows out of itself.”
Musicians talk about being 'in the groove' or even being in the "swing." Making music, they play and release, striking a note, then letting it go. Their songs have both notes and rests, so the silence can guide the sound, like the shore guides a river. Music moves through them effortlessly, and seems to need no instrument. Their fingers know how to play without any conscious thought. With no thinking fingers, and no instrument, the music maker and music are one.
Making photographs during our "flow" states, we don't have to exert our self to stay on task. The self is gone. "Flow" takes over automatically, and it even takes less energy to be in in "flow" than it does to be distracted or multi-tasking.
Less gear helps too.
With one camera body and one lens, we can stay in flow, with minimal effort, compared with changing lenses back and forth or some other movement that takes us out of flow with our subjects.
We've all heard master piano players perform. A chorus of classical pianists was asked to play their music several times to induce a flow state. When researchers checked the performers heart rates, blood pressure, and their faces, it was clear that they showed signs of flow.
When each pianist entered the flow state, their heart rate and blood pressure decreased. Their major facial muscles relaxed. This suggests that flow is a state of effortless attention. (de Manzano, Orjan, Theorell, Harmat, Laszlo, Ullen and Fredrik. "The psychophysiology of flow during piano playing". psycARTICLES.)
1. Practice your photography every day. I make a photograph as soon as the sun rises.
2. Keep a direct, braided connection with your subject. This means conceiving the picture, looking at it closely and symbolically, knowing the subject and finally executing it with skill.
3. Try to let go of conscious observation.
4. Learn, let go, react ( See, Feel, Respond).
( Check out Creativity, Fulfillment and Flow, https://youtu.be/fXIeFJCqsPs , a 2004 TED talk by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi Ph.D.
Your BRAIN in FLOW
During flow, certain brain circuits and what we call cortical regions seem to show less activity, as measured by blood flow. These may include portions of the pre-frontal cortex that are thought to be associated with self-critical thoughts (left pre-frontal cortex areas 44, 45, 47). (from Levitin, Daniel J).
Your brain has charges in its synapses. This neuroelectricity has at least 3 phases, alpha, beta and gamma. Gamma spikes are being investigated as associated with flow states. Csikszentmihalyi studied chess masters, connecting them to EEG machines. In the midst of a chess match, the chess masters brainwaves were somewhere in the range of low alpha-high theta. Csikszentmihalyi suggests that this wave activity may correspond to what we call relaxation, REM sleep and meditation. Could it be that the flow state is a restful and active meditation, in terms of the brains electrical patterns?
What we call "flow" is a highly sought-after and addictive state, and the changes in brain chemistry may help explain the reason why.
Flow is a feeling of alertness and strength, in which we have effortless control, are unselfconscious, and sense we are at the peak of our abilities. A balance between challenges and skills is ideal. Flow states are more likely to occur when high challenge and high skill levels meet a balance between arousal and control.
"Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity to act."
"...mind and hand are one with making photos, leaving an ecstasy of vision in the moment.
Things slow down as I focus all my concentration on here, now. I let go, and my photos take me where my feet and heart want to go flow doesn't really give me answers, but in it I am fully alive."
“It’s like opening a door that’s floating in the middle of nowhere and all you have to do is go and turn the handle and open it and let yourself sink into it. You can’t particularly force yourself through it. You just have to float. If there’s any gravitational pull, it’s from the outside world trying to keep you back from the door.”