Book Review: Capturing mindfulness: A guide to becoming present through photography
The desire to be more present in our lives and feel more sure of oneself is something everyone wants to achieve these days, but how do you go about achieving complete mindfulness?
If you buy into the fads of popular society these days, it would seem that the solution comes at the tip of a colouring in pencil, as many adults unleash the child within them to return to those well-worn colouring in books. “Just five minutes a day is all it takes,” declare many an advertisement in various book retailers around the country.
And it would seem that the technique is working, with illustrators such as Johanna Basford (Magical Jungle, Lost Ocean, Enchanted Forest) and Millie Marcotta (Curious Creatures, Animal Kingdom, Tropical Wonderland) continually topping the best-seller list with their “mindful” creations. Even some of our favourite fiction series are getting in on the act, with numerous Harry Potter-inspired colouring books for adults on the market, along with George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones and Sarah J. Mass’ Throne of Glass series.
While the concept itself may seem new, the idea of taking one’s creative passions and adapting them to mindfulness and meditative practice is not. Matthew Johnstone has been using his artistic talents to discuss mental illness since the publication of his first book, I Have a Black Dog in 2005, which was followed up by other books such as The Alphabet of the Human Heart and Quiet the Mind. Published a few years ago, Capturing Mindfulness: A Guide to Becoming Present Through Photography takes that concept one step further, as Johnstone works to combine both his passion for photography and positive thinking into one, neat little package. While, there is a certain “coffee table” feel to this book (in that in can be read in one sitting), Johnstone goes beyond that, accompanying the positive affirmations that feature throughout with instructions for how readers too can become what he describes as “photo-present”.
To be honest, I was a little dubious when I read that. While the author describes himself as more of a hobbyist photographer, he does have that background in creative arts, as evidenced by his previous published works. How will asking readers to take on a potentially new hobby and strive for the perfect photo allow them to achieve the calm that the mindfulness concept seems to embody? Surely that’s just going to enhance feelings of negativity, stress and anxiety, all things that go against becoming mindful, isn’t it?
Apparently, I was wrong. “Being photo-present is something that you set out to do with absolute intention,” he says. “It’s a time to consciously slow down both mentally and physically and look at your world with a keen curiosity.” “Develop a child’s eye,” declares one page,” (this advice being something that Johnstone takes literally, as he engages school students in the practice regularly) and abandon the rules of taking a good photograph, “It’s not about the outcome; it’s more about the process and practice. Pretend you don’t care, and you won’t,” are just some of the suggestions he makes.
“It’s important to remember that being photo-present is about creating some time for yourself while heightening your awareness… With or without a camera, it’s a wonderful thing to be aware of where you are, what you’re doing and how you’re feeling.” At its heart, that is what the concept of mindfulness is about, and one of the reasons why this book (and the techniques discussed within its pages) works so well. It’s about discovering the little things in life, the things no one else sees, and taking time to appreciate them, and your place within the world in the same way that family and friends have a way of keeping one grounded when life gets chaotic.
While it is ultimately one of the objects of the book, for those who honestly have no desire to pick up a camera, you don’t even have to take the “photo-present” side of Capturing Mindfulness seriously, if that is your choice. I found the idea behind the technique enough, and that just flipping through the book before bed centred me enough to wash away the anxieties and worries of the day. Each page is a work of art designed to capture the mind and allow the reader (for a short period of time, at least) to let go of the weight stopping us from going about our daily lives. With artistic mindfulness becoming ever more popular, Johnstone offers another technique in this book that will not only appeal to those with creative leanings, but also to those just wanting to be reminded to not take life’s little treasures for granted. Take a few minutes to read it and you won’t be disappointed.
Capturing Mindfulness: A Guide to Becoming Present Through Photography is published via Pan MacMillan Australia and is available via their website, the author’s website or in local bookstores. For more information about Matthew Johnstone, follow him on Facebook.
Written By: Jackie Smith is a freelance journalist/editor and proofreader from Brisbane, QLD, Australia. Currently studying a Cert IV in Marketing and Communications, her work has been published with various media outlets (print and online). To keep updated with all of Jackie’s current articles, visit her blog, Facebook page or Twitter.