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miksang level 2: space | by birdfarm
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miksang level 2: space

What is Miksang?

"Miksang" (a Tibetan word meaning "good eye") is the name of a school of photography in which photography is practiced as a contemplative art. It is associated with Shambhala Buddhism. There is an international Miksang Society whose website will provide a lot more information. (In contrast, my comments here should be understood as the amateur impressions of a total beginner!)


My experiences with Miksang

I took my first class (level one: color) in April of 2006. My reasons for doing this, as well as my understanding of and responses to the class, are recorded on this photo.


The same photo also provides an explanation of level one: color (as I understand it) and an intro to all the color shots in my Miksang set.


I took my second Miksang class--level two: space--on October 29, 2006. This and the following photos (try clicking through them in the Miksang set rather than in the general photostream; the explanations will be in a clearer sequence) are the result.


What am I trying to do in these "space" shots?

As I understand it (and again, I'm just a beginner so don't take my word for it!) the space shots attempt to capture the visual perception of wide-open spaciousness. There are two different basic types: space, and dot in space; the latter can also be stick in space, line in space, etc.


Looking at the open space of a space photo (either type) is analogous to resting our mind in spaciousness during shamatha meditation practice.


In the basic meditation practice we are taught to use an object of meditation--often the breath--as our anchor so that we can rest comfortably in the open space of our mind, without fumbling about for something to hold onto.


Similarly, in a space photograph, the main subject is a wide-open space (can be air, water, or even a solid surface). As in meditation, there is an unobtrusive anchor that allows the eye to rest comfortably in the spaciousness of the image without zooming around seeking something to look at. The anchor is usually placed at the edge of the frame as a sort of jumping-off point; also, it is usually not too interesting so that it does not distract from the space. The photo above is intended to be a space image.


The dot in space image has something happening in the space, a focal point (a dot, line, or something else) that the eye will rest upon; usually it's not at the edge but in the middle somewhere. In these pictures, the eye will move through the space to the dot (line, etc.) and rest there. The experience is still one of spaciousness, because the dot is small and precise, not too complicated, and is so surrounded by the open space. The next photo is a dot in space attempt. (Better than my attempts is this example from my teacher).


Things to avoid in both types of space images

First, there should be a sense that the space itself is the subject of the photo. Open space is commonly in the "background" of many photos, but in these photos we are trying to bring it into the foreground. That's why this one, for example, doesn't really work.


Second, the idea of space as settled, stable, resting place means that there should be no vectors of movement in the photo. I really, really struggled with that and found the struggle very profound and illuminating. More about that on this photo.


About this particular shot

The teacher and fellow students seemed to feel that this one "works." The wall at bottom functions as an anchor, stabilizing the photo without attracting too much attention to itself, and thus allowing us to rest our mind and eyes in the open blueness beyond. Just like the anchor of our breath allows us to rest in open spaciousness during meditation.

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Taken on October 29, 2006