Ages ago, in my corporate life, I spent at least a week every year on a professional development course. In between the lectures and the small group break-outs, I walked on glowing embers without being burned, scrambled up 40 foot poles just to zip-line down from them, and composed some truly ridiculous brand-inspired lyrics to Beatles songs. The burning embers bit was pretty cool. I’m still not quite sure how I survived it with nary a blister, but the real enduring lesson from all of those sessions combined is a single phrase that I have returned to countless times over the years: Energy Follows Attention.
It was brought top of mind recently in my reading, and rereading of Stephen Shore’s book, The Nature of Photographs. If you are not familiar with his work, run, do not walk. I’ll wait.
Now that you’ve had a look, you can see that Shore creates perfectly edited photographs of everyday life. Each object, figure, even the shadows are exactly where they need to be to transform a banal moment into an image rich with meaning.
The Nature of Photographs is as much like a Shore photograph as a book could be. Some pages have only a spare box of text floating upon a sea of white, but every word is essential, and, for me, the book has delivered the highest epiphany per page of any photography book I’ve ever read.
I could write a month’s worth of posts from the lessons I’ve already taken on board, but the one idea that struck deepest has to do with the photographer’s intention.
“The quality and intensity of a photographer’s attention leave their imprint on the mental level of the photograph. This does not happen by magic.” The Nature of Photographs, Stephen Shore
Perhaps it is obvious to you, but it was a sky splitting revelation for me. Even in photography, energy follows attention. While I may have understood it subconsciously before, viewing a photo with this new awareness is a completely different experience. I now look at images and read the intention of the photographer just as I read subject, composition, depth of field and all of the other decisions the image maker had to address to meet the challenge of organizing three dimensions onto a bounded plane.
The kind of pictures I want to make aren’t created in the space between my eye and my camera’s lens. Instead, they must originate in my heart or in the recesses of my brain. For when I am not just seeing, but deeply feeling and thinking through an image, when my attention is heightened and keenly focused, only then do I have the chance of delivering a clearly articulated intention in my resulting image. And so, in a peculiar turn of events, my key takeaway from a corporate retreat over a decade ago becomes my new photographic mantra: energy follows attention.
What are you paying attention to?
Keep your eyes wide open,