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Book Review: Zen and the Magic of Photography by Wayne Rowe

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Haiku:  Pictures
by Bob Etier

The photographer
Sees an invisible world
and captures moments.

I missed my exit.  On the way home from work the other night, I drove right past my exit taking the same route as every night for over four years. Obviously this is a well known journey for me.  I was aware of the other vehicles on the road and the operation of my own car.  I was driving safely, but my thoughts were elsewhere.  This may not be the best analogy for a zen experience, but it sure fits the mold for a somnambulist trance.  

Since becoming a professional photographer, the most frequent compliment received involves my ability to "see" the subject with a different eye. "Oh, you see things I would have never noticed!" is a common remark.  A major influence on my selection of subjects has for years been William Eggleston.  Years ago someone said of his work, "He doesn't go out looking for the bizarre, but he finds it in everyday situations."  When an artist can produce work that elicits those type comments, it shows that he or she was "in the moment" when that piece was created.

A simple definition of zen is "meditation."  Wikipedia says this of meditation: " a holistic discipline by which the practitioner attempts to get beyond the reflexive, 'thinking' mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness."  We're back to "in the moment" now and it can apply to anything from motorcycle maintenance to religion to photography.  Zen and the Magic of Photography is Wayne Rowe's offering on how to learn to see and to be through photography.

Dr. RoweDr. Rowe is a professional photographer and a professor of photography at Cal St. Tech in Pomona.  His book consists of three parts.  Part One deals with the image, zen, satori, haiku and their connections.  Like Dr. Rowe, once I became "enlightened" it was clear that zen experiences have occurred for me and my Canon as well.  I learned that seeing "with a different eye" can be described as making the "invisible visible."   Chapter titles pique the readers interest with names like "Zen and the Empty Mind" or "The Role of Intuition and Feeling in Photography."  My wife has written haiku for my images for years, and Rowe's commentary on that aspect of zen really appealed to us.

Part Two encourages the reader to be open to all forms of the photograph from still to motion pictures.  After a brief discussion of the "third effect," we're back to being in the moment.  Covered here is a comparison of method acting as exemplified by James Dean and Marlon Brando to zen due to their "intuitive, spontaneous, realistic, and 'in the moment' style".  Another example is the zen experience of a noted movie director as he films a climactic scene in Capote's In Cold Blood.

The concluding section offers examples from Dr. Rowe's own portfolio as well as others that illustrate his message.  Analysis of the images by someone with Rowe's experience and love of his art make the book even more valuable to both the novice and seasoned professional.  I especially enjoyed his comments on an iconic shot of James Dean at Times Square by Dennis Stock.  Even a casual reader will quickly discover that Rowe has accomplished his goal to help us see and be through photography.

Would I buy this book?  Yes, in a moment.  It will help all photographers benefit from zen more often, and on purpose.

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