Book Review: Zen Camera

Zen Camera:  Creative Awakening With A Daily Practice In Photography, by David Ulrich

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Watson-Guptill.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

When I first read this book I was pretty irate at the writer.  I figured that, as entertaining as it might be to read such a review, that it would not be good to write in such a frame of mind and so I let the book rest for a bit before taking it up to review it here, and though I am still highly critical about some major failures of this book, in particular the rank hypocrisy of the writer, at least I feel a lot less angry about it after having let the book rest for almost a day before writing about it.  Even so, as someone who is greatly interested in books about photography [1], there is much to appreciate in this book, and if your tolerance for Buddhist hypocrisy and paradox is higher than my own, you will likely enjoy this book more than I did.  Even more worthwhile is the fact that most of the book’s approach will be worthwhile to those who are artists of other kinds like writers and sculptors and is not merely aimed at photographers.

In terms of its contents, this book consists of six lessons and a couple other chapters that total a bit more than 200 pages.  The author begins with an introduction to the reader to contribute their own creations to those of others and a discussion of some basic principles and methods about the daily practice of photography, the Buddhist idea of no-mind, and the need to practice daily observation and awareness of oneself and the world around.  Indeed, observation and the five visual elements of photography make up the first lesson of the author.  After that the author talks about awareness and uses plenty of contemporary cliches involving mindfulness as an element of one’s photographic work.  The third lesson looks at identity, including cultivating an original and authentic style and communicating with others through one’s photography or other creative endeavors.  After this the author looks at practice, and how one attains expertise and mastery through diligent practice and preserving a beginner’s mind that is open to growth and improvement.  After this the author examines how mastery requires a balance of freedom and discipline as well as a tendency to continue to push the edge of one’s comfort zone and the search for inspiration.  The last lesson of the book examines the aspect of presence and attention and the sifting and refinement of one’s work, after which the author closes by looking at the terrors and pleasures of digital life and provides suggestions for further reading as well as acknowledgements and some personal information about himself.

Even for someone who has a low tolerance for the author’s desire to be his own god and his simultaneous disdain for theism and exterior standards of judgment and his own love of criticizing others and adopting fashionable leftist causes throughout his wayward life, this book was not without some worth.  As a fellow creative person I saw a great deal in this book that I adopt myself including daily practice and trying to push myself beyond my comfort zone as a reader and writer and musician.  That is not to say that I found everything in this book worthwhile, and thought in particular that the book was weakest where the author attempted to capitalize on the interest of Buddhism and new age spirituality in general.  Likewise, I thought that this book contained an interesting mixture of timeless truths, meaningless rubbish, and information about the technical nature of digital photography that is likely to be quickly obsolete.  Even so, there is certainly a market for a generically zen approach to all kinds of activities, so without a doubt there will be many people who enjoy this book a great deal.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: Zen Camera

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Zen Vows For Daily Life | Edge Induced Cohesion

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