Photography as an Exercise in Positive Thinking

One of the things I love about photography is that it’s a fantastic exercise in positive thinking. When heading out on a photo safari of one kind or another, the photographer is possessed and driven by a spirit of positivity that inspires him or her to willfully, relentlessly seek out and capture beautiful images, even in otherwise not so beautiful locations. In the process of taking pictures, photography becomes a wonderful catalyst for disciplining the mind to stay focused on good thoughts and experiences. Not only does consciously seeking pleasant, positive sensory stimuli fill one with a sense of joy and contentment, it can also benefit one’s overall mindset and mood by influencing one to subconsciously stay focused on good, constructive thoughts when the photo-shoot is long over and the camera is packed away. Photography, in this sense, becomes a way of life that takes root in one’s very soul.

While I spend as much time as I can exploring and photographing beautiful, wild places and wildlife, every now and then I come back in from off the beaten path and hit the pavement of the big city. Now I have to admit, I don’t like cities…at all! I spend as little time as humanly possible in the concrete jungle. However, venturing into places that one is not naturally attracted to, or even repulsed by, is again, a fantastic exercise in the power of positive thinking.

A Day in the Big City

To share with you one such experience, a few months ago I headed into the big city to take care of some business, but while I was there, I also made it a point to consciously seek out as much positive stimuli as I could while in a place that usually overwhelms me with negative thoughts. While strolling down the city sidewalks, busy sidewalks, all dressed in filth and dirt, I spied a small, almost unnoticeable park, complete with about 50 square yards of trampled, trash-covered grass, a few benches, and a rusty, decrepit swing set. I cleaned the bench with a paper towel I had stashed in my pocket, sat down, and enjoyed a turkey sandwich and iced tea for lunch. The sun was shining, the sky was crystal clear, and the temperature was quite tolerable and pleasant. The day was off to a good start!

As I feasted on my delicious sandwich, I kicked back and took it all in. The skyline was a mix of crisscrossing wires, streetlights, billboards, and towering buildings. All around me was peeling paint, crumbling concrete, and potholes that appeared to be bottomless pits leading to the very bowels of hell. The few trees, shrubs, and patches of grass strewn in-between and around the mountainous skyscrapers were brown and slowly dying, but still, the municipal-dwelling squirrels, pigeons, rats, and other city wildlife, hung tight to the only bit of somewhat natural cover.

As I continued my lunch, I examined everything I saw, smelled, and heard with great attention to detail. All around the refuse covered sidewalks and streets were professionals in suits and ties rushing to and fro, strung out panhandlers, dressed in discarded rags, stumbling along and hassling everyone in sight for cash. There were groups of wide-eyed students and tourists walking at a slower pace as they ventured to the more noteworthy sites. The flashing neon lights, an assortment of flags, orange construction cones, parking meters, and vividly colored graffiti blended rather nicely with the skeletal remains of bombed out old buildings, ancient church steeples, and the rusty shells of abandoned factories that peeked through the smog in the distance. Cars, delivery trucks, utility carts, and two-wheeled motorized vehicles of all kinds roared and sputtered up and down the street before me. Flashy, but fading, bumper stickers silently preached their message to the world…only to be countered by the next one that zoomed by. Virtually everything I saw worked together rather nicely as a vivid landscape composition of man-made creation.

The sounds of blaring horns, rattling mufflers, desperate acceleration, and screeching brakes filled the city air, which was thick with the smell of fresh paint, drying asphalt, exhaust fumes, cigarettes, pasta, and baking bread. The slight aroma of wet cardboard, stagnant water, and human waste rose above the clamoring, ear-searing sirens of police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances. High above it all, in the tapestry of this kingdom of concrete and steel, helicopters flew on their way to hospitals, and people-packed jets zoomed across the formless sky above. Music of all kinds faded in and out from unseen places. The hum of rubber on the road and the chattering of passers-by on their phones desperately attempted to overpower the ruckus of jackhammers and the penetrating blast of dump truck air brakes. As I took the final bite of my sandwich and one last swig of tea, I pulled myself out of the hypnotic trance of the big busy city, just as the reverberating sound of a solo saxophone rose from a dungeon somewhere below as the passing subway train played rhythm on the rails.


Seeing Beauty in the Midst of Chaos

While my initial gut reaction to being immersed in the big city is one of repulsion, as it’s the polar opposite of the kind of wild, natural environments that I love and long for, that day I saw things differently. While consciously exercising that power of positive thinking, I saw a great deal of interesting and even beautiful sights which would have made fantastic photographic compositions. All around me I saw the carefully composed lines, well-defined shapes, interesting colors, textures, and intricate patterns of architectural and engineering masterpieces. Both the exteriors and interiors of beautifully designed skyscrapers, governmental buildings, museums, places of worship, performing arts centers, and many other structures possessed precise visual rhythm, tremendous symmetry, balance, contrast, proportion, theme, and unity. The factories, machinery, construction zones, and places of production that were either thriving or long since deceased, were quite emotionally evocative. Along with the people who inhabited those locations, some exuded a spirit of prosperity, hope, and energy, while others emitted a feeling of great struggle, injustice, and loss.

It was a rather incredible day when it was all said and done, and one that again reminded me how a positive mindset can make such an enormous difference for both one’s photography work…but much more so…for one’s life as a human being. Perhaps legendary photographer Ansel Adams said it best, “I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful — an endless prospect of magic and wonder.” So, no matter where your journey of life takes you, make it a point to develop and exercise that power of positivity to see the good and the beautiful even in the midst of those places you’d otherwise not care to be.