This is a book I immediately decided to like and that’s to do with the quote by Leonard Cohen that introduces it: “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” This of course does not mean that I didn’t look at the photographs, or that I didn’t spend time with Julie DuBose’s ponderings and explanations, it means that Cohen’s quote made me approach this tome with a willingness to like it.
“Effortless Beauty” is about “direct living through direct seeing,“ I read. I’m not sure what that means (is there indirect seeing?) but it seems to start with, and requires, an attitude that is open and unconditional. “… the state of openness in our minds is like the blank sheet of paper. Blankness is vibrating with presence, with possibility, with the willingness to connect. It is the birthplace of direct perception, where all unconditional perception and expression occurs.”
In order to become visually conscious, argues Julie DuBose, one needn’t “add to our body of conceptual knowledge” but empty oneself of one’s old ways. “It involves letting go of our habitual patterns, our ways of labeling and sorting everything we experience, and in this case, everything we see.”
Quite a task, I’d say. And, as intrigued as I am by this approach, I also wonder why we are so often told that our ways of doing aren’t okay, that they should be different. I mean: What is wrong with habitual patterns when they make us feel comfortable? Isn’t labeling useful for it gives us a sense of orientation? Isn’t sorting everything we experience and see beneficial for it helps us to not feel totally lost?
Well, what Julie DuBose has in mind is something different: “Perception Beyond Thought” and that requires “Openness, Genuineness, and Confidence.”
While I have a lot of sympathy for an approach that aims at “Cultivating a Mind of Simplicity” (in order to really appreciate what that entails you are well advised to spend time with the photographs that illustrate this chapter), I also entertain quite some doubts in regards to the imperative “to be fully present in each moment” for I prefer to not be always in the present, and to not be always aware of, say, my tinnitus, or my toothache.
“Effortless Beauty” (I must admit that I’m at a complete loss as to what that might mean) is not a very apt title for this nicely done work that attempts to combine Buddhist meditation and photography. Does this combination work? Absolutely, as long as one believes that the photographer matters more than the camera. In my experience, the camera often comes up with images that surprise me. And, as Barry Lopez once phrased it in “About this Life” (1999): “I realized that just as the distance between what I saw and what I was able to record was huge, so was that between what I recorded and what people saw.”
Spending time with this book was an inspiring experience. Reading the texts put me into a quiet, simple, and at times empty, state of mind and thus let me see the photographs without a critical eye, without interfering thoughts, as inspiringly composed images.
“Effortless Beauty” is a book that calms my mind. And that makes me see.
Effortless Beauty: Photography as an Expression of Eye, Mind and Heart
by Julie DuBose
Miksang Publications, Boulder, Colorado 2013
To browse inside the book: en.calameo.com/read/0017946682616b294d12d