Life & Style
Photography as a Walking Meditation
First at the Pump, Bill Canosa. This just one first honors in the IMAGES contest. It was taken in May 2021 in South Dakota. Canosa’s son was driving and Canosa saw it, “in a blink.” He asked his son to turn around so he could capture the image. “The horizontal and vertical lines, along with the lines in the sidewalk all properly aligned to make it a composition,” he says. “The colors also work, and then there is the history of the car and the nostalgia associated with it.”)
Atlantic Wire Factory, Bill Canosa. The Atlantic Wire Factory in Branford was about the be demolished, so Canosa sought permission to shoot the interior and developed a composite of three images, which was submitted to last year’s IMAGES show. It was later exhibited in a gallery and sold.)
Ruby Crowned Kinglet, Bill Canosa. “This image was taken in Old Saybrook. It was spring and there were many of them in a bush right in front of me.”)
Boat Ride, Bill Canosa. This received an Honorable Mention in a past IMAGES contest. “This image was completely changed from the three photographs that comprise it,” he says. “It represents a photographic design with the flowing lines and colors that can from the original three boat photographs.”)
Life can be stressful, particularly during the holidays. To cope, some people lift weights, some people do yoga, some people do meditation.
Bill Canosa grabs his camera and heads out for a walk.
“To me, this is a walking meditation,” says Canosa. “Photography is a great way to take a walk and really focus your thoughts on what’s in front of you. As we approach the holidays, this can be a really stressful time for people. Taking up photography can be a great way to deal with that stress.”
Canosa started shooting photos in earnest about eight years ago during a difficult time in his life, with very little formal training other than a high school photography class when he was younger. Over the years, he has honed his technique by studying his favorite photographers, listening online to lectures by them, and by entering his work in contests.
His work recently won first honors in the Shoreline Arts Alliance (SAA) IMAGES contest, and his photos will be on display until Saturday, Dec. 11 at the Sill House Gallery, Lyme Academy of Art, 84 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, along with about 90 works selected by jurors from a pool of about 700 photos submitted for the contest. The exhibition also can be viewed online at www.shorelinearts.org/copy-of-images-gallery.
Canosa says he was thrilled to be among the photographers who won first honors and that he loves being part of the SAA community. Both he and his wife Sandy Canosa, who live in Branford, also volunteer for SAA as gallery sitters during the exhibition, which allows them to meet a lot of nice people, he says.
He wants to encourage others to pick up a camera, even if it’s only a cell phone camera, and get outside to help blow off the stress of the season, and the world at large. Here are some of his tips on how to get started
Take a Walk, Set an Intention
First: Just start taking daily walks with a camera.
“And you don’t have to have nice equipment. If you don’t have a camera, just use your phone,” Bill Canosa says. “Walk where you are comfortable, so you can really focus on what is around you. Look around you for things, large or small, that, with a preoccupied mind, you might not notice.”
Tip Two: Set some sort of intention as to where you might want to start when it comes to capturing images. Canosa recalls the advice renowned photographer Dorthea Lange gave to her assistant, Ralph Gibson, when Gibson was working as her assistant.
Gibson had been working with Lange for about a year when she asked him to show her his photography. He said, “I showed her one of my pictures and she said, ‘I see your problem here Raphael, you have no point of departure...If you just drift around the street like so many photographers do—you see them in Soho all weekend—you’ll never get anything good.’”
In other words, pick a starting point or source of inspiration. It might be a fixed destination. Maybe it’s an emotion you want to explore. It could be curiosity about something or a question you want to answer.
“To have a point of departure is not to go out and shoot. It’s to have a project in mind and going out looking for a shot that represents or showcases this emotion or concept that your project is about,” Gibson says.
Canosa says that’s advice he follows. Here’s an example. He was driving around his hometown of Branford, and he saw that an old industrial building, the Atlantic Wire Factory, was about to be demolished.
“I saw the stained-glass windows, and I knew the building was from the 1800s. And I said, ‘This is really cool, I have to get in there,’” he says. “So I contacted someone in the town administration and they knew the owner, and the owner’s wife walked around with me while I took photos. I spent an hour or so there.”
He later took those images, and created a series of composite images that were exhibited at the Kehler Liddell Gallery in New Haven and that were later sold.
“They ended up being very cool abstracts,” he says. “That’s what happens when I just sit back and relax and let things happen. As far as creating art, it sort of happens on its own.”
Let Go, Let It Happen
That leads to tip three: Once you’ve determined your destination, whether it’s a place or emotion, let go and let things happen. Keep your mind open as to what you might encounter.
“If I walk randomly, and I’m open, images reveal themselves to me, through just walking,” Canosa says.
That focused intent has another benefit, he says.
“It’s a kind of openness that will get you out of your monkey brain,” he says.
Derived from a Buddhist term that references the kind of thinking that is unsettled and jumps from one thing to another with restless indecisiveness, “monkey mind” is the kind of thing most of us experience when we’re worried about something, whether it’s what to serve for dinner or what to do with the rest of our lives.
“And it takes up so much of our lives. We worry. And, in the end, nothing happens. And so you just burned up nervous energy for an hour for nothing,” Canosa says.
That with his camera lets him get out of his head and back into the world.
“To me, this is a walking meditation,” he says.
Tip Four: Say yes.
Canosa says another photographer he takes inspiration from is Joel Meyerowitz. Among Meyerowitz’ advice that resonates with Canosa is this: “Most of the time we’re walking about daydreaming, hoping some interesting thing will happen–and then it does...Suddenly, my mind is alive and I’m aware of everything on the street: from the play of light, to the movement of people, to the look of the architecture. The excitement allows me to press the button and say ‘Yes,’ again and again.”
In other words, great photography is a way of saying “yes” to an image, answering the excitement you feel when you see something worth capturing that you want to share.
Explore the Shoreline, Meet Nice People
Tip Five: Use your photography as a reason to explore all of the amazing places to walk along the shoreline. There is a wealth of trails and places to explore, many of them maintained by local land trusts, and most of them underutilized.
“We live in a destination,” he says of the shoreline, and taking up photography can be a great way to get to know it better and with intention.
And, while the weather can be discouraging this time of year, he says to bundle up and get out there anyway.
“In the winter, the morning light gives you a longer time with shadows being low in the horizon, so, for example, look for shapes and geometry. Maybe you can do something with black and white photography. I think people could do that to start their day and finish their day,” he says, in terms of playing with those shadows with your camera.
He says those who take up photography will likely learn something about the world they are living in, and also about themselves.
“Photography shows the world back to you,” he says. “It’s like a mirror that shows you how you see the world. Photos can say as much about you, as they do about the subject of the portrait.”
Tip Six: While photography is largely a solo pursuit, Canosa says entering contests and getting involved with organizations—SAA is one of his favorites—can provide you with a supportive community of photographers and artists. That’s true whether you decide to enter a competition, or whether you volunteer as a gallery sitter.
“By entering a show, it gives you an opportunity to meet other people and discuss ideas. That, to me, is a big part of it,” he says.
Canosa says entering SAA’s IMAGES shows, which he has done for years, has become something of an annual holiday for him.
“It’s a time of year to celebrate,” he says. “I got in the show six years in a row and every image is different.”
If you’re not quite ready to submit your photos for consideration, volunteer as a gallery sitter.
“All you have to do is show up and sit in a chair,” he says. “You’ll meet all kinds of nice people.”
Eric Dillner, SAA’s executive director, says yes to that.
“Yes, yes, yes to gallery sitters,” he says. “We’d love to have more gallery sitters.”
To find out more about that, and other opportunities to help, visit www.shorelinearts.org/volunteer.
Dillner says SAA provides many opportunities for photographers and artists in Connecticut, along with those who want to support them. In addition to IMAGES, he wanted to let people know about two other opportunities for Connecticut artists coming up, he says.
• Scholarships in the Arts, SAA’s juried scholarship competition, provides arts scholarships to high school juniors and seniors in creative disciplines including creative writing, dance, instrumental music, vocal music, musical theater, theater, and visual arts. Winners receive $1,000 scholarships, and both winners and those receiving special recognition are provided with professional mentorships as well. The deadline to enter is Wednesday, Dec. 15 at midnight. Virtual auditions will take place beginning in January. More details are available at www.shorelinearts.org.
• Future Choices, one of the region’s premier high school art exhibitions, is open to artists in grades 9 through 12 in these categories: Ceramics, Drawing, Mixed Media, Painting, Photography, Prints, Sculpture, Digital Art, and Video. High schools can receive an award for efforts to keep the arts a vibrant part of the curriculum. Students can enter with the help of their school, or as individuals. This year’s competition exhibition is planned to be an in-person exhibit at the Sill House Gallery at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art for one month. The submission days are currently scheduled to take place from Feb. 28 to March 2, 2022. More details on that as well are at www.shorelinearts.org.
And it’s not too early for photographers of all ages and of all skill levels to start planning for next year’s IMAGES competition, which will likely start accepting entries sometime in the fall, Dillner says. While it is open to anyone, one requirement is that each photographer must submit a minimum of 3 pieces up to a maximum of 10, and it can take a while to collect that many prize-worthy images.
“The rationale of that is that, I may be able to take one good photograph, but that’s not enough to call me a photographer,” he says.
‘I Could See Myself Dreaming This’
Dillner says jurors for the competition are selected carefully, and that all judging is done blind, with regard to nothing but the image itself.
“They do not know the age, name. They know nothing about the photographer. Not even the name of the photo,” he says. “All they do is look at the art in front of them.”
He says he finds the jurors’ discussion, as they are judging, both fascinating and revealing.
“A big statement made by these judges, one they kept saying, is ‘I could see myself dreaming this.’ I love that statement…Motion is something else that is an attraction. Now, not every photo is meant to have motion, but those that do are compelling,” he says. “They talked a lot about, as a viewer, whether you might be able to put yourself in that photo. One of the photos this year, is a young boy looking out of the window of the bus as it’s raining. You want to know what he is thinking, and you might think of your own thoughts when you were a kid. They also compared that to another photo, of a young girl. You don’t see her face, you just see her dress and she’s dressed up to go somewhere fancy. You don’t know where it is. One sock is up. One sock is down. But it evokes something. I think that word, ‘evoke,” was used quite a bit.”
He says he does hope more people take up photography with the goal of eventually becoming part of the IMAGES community. He says, for those looking for a way to get started, there are many avenues.
“I think that’s the beauty of this art form. You can have a subject you love. Or you can have a time of day that you love. Or you can have a manipulation, say with Photoshop, that you want to explore. You can put other art forms in it,” Dillner says, adding that one artist enhanced the photo with pencil drawing. “The root of it has to be photography. But it doesn’t have to be just point, shoot, send it in. It can really be anything.”