The Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing.
Philippe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro.
2001. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA. ISBN 1-58008-194-0


… photography provides an exceptional opportunity to experience being fully alive in the present and attuned to my surroundings. Simply having a camera around my neck enhances my awareness of the moment.

The flight from conscious existence is provoked by stubborn beliefs and unyielding goals.

The perceiver discriminates between the self and the various elements that constitute the ongoing process of nature. Maintaining this sense of separation, the perceiver constantly evaluates phenomena by means of subjective judgments of approval and disapproval. The continual act of discrimination induces a sense of separateness between the subject and the object.

To act in accord with the principle of wu-wei, one must remain in a state of receptivity - not passive or torpid, but relaxed and alert, continuously attuned to the ceaseless transformations of life.

Paradoxically, the purposeless characteristic of wu-wei is purposeful; its purpose is not to let purpose get in the way of the goal to be attained.

Only when one is fully in tune with the very-changing environment can one harmoniously respond to it like the "echo to a sound or shadow to a shape."

Impermanence, transition, and transformation can all be blessings for the percipient photographer.

Apprehending the law of ceaseless transformation, the unconstricted photographer can remain in a state of relaxed awareness, open to oncoming waves of opportunity.

By embracing all of life, the sage can remain free of inner as well as outer conflicts.

Acceptance, especially with regard to subject matter and atmospheric conditions, allows the photographer to explore photographic visions beyond the bounds of the conventional.

A Taoist photographer … does not rebel against the flow of life, but moves with it, finding novel ways to make use of the current.

… good pictures are seldom the result of following formulas but, on the contrary, are the result of a "hit" - the spontaneous response that comes from being attuned to the photographic environment …

… when the sense of self does not clutter perception, the practice of the liberated photographer can be transformed by te - charged with spontaneous creative power.

The sage is often described in the Chuang-tzu as a purposeless, free and easy wanderer. The text urges one to "embody to the fullest what has no end and wander where there is no trail." A parallel to the free and easy wandering exists in the photography literature, especially in the figure of the flâneur photographer. A literal translation of the definition of the French word flâner (the verb form of the noun flâneur) is "to wander without a goal, at random; to move forward without hurrying." The expression flâneur photographer is used in the photography literature to describe an individual who wanders about with a camera, taking pictures of chance encounters.

The relaxed awareness and purposeless wandering exhibited by Cartier-Bresson and other flâneur photographers (e.g., Boubat, Burri, Doisneau, Negre, Riboud, Uzzle, and Winogrand) suggests that both the unconstricted photographer and the Taoist sage may engage in purposeless wandering. Attuned to the ever-changing environment, they can respond to it naturally, creatively, and spontaneously.

Taoist camerawork is also likely to enhance spiritual understandings, which, like artistry, depends largely on one's ability to engage life with a receptive mind and unconstricted awareness.

The revelation of these new levels of reality has also demonstrated what the perennial philosophies have proclaimed for centuries: that our ordinary vision is limited, and that our conventional consensus of reality is not the only version of reality. The complex multidimensionality of the modern world no doubt contributes to the constructive habit of the mind that, in its attempt to provide meaning, continually rearranges the world to fit individual needs. The failure to recognize the constructive nature of the mind can be a major obstacle to artistry and creativity. Conversely, understanding the constructive nature of mind and reality can lead the way to Great Understanding in the art of photography and in the art of living.

Not only is taking pictures biased or constructed, so is our perception of photographs: a photograph is first constructed by a photographer and then again reconstructed by a viewer.

A photographer who becomes aware of the constructive nature of images can be emancipated from the conviction that there exists an ideal way to photograph a subject.

Dominated by Little Understanding, a photographer can become too concerned with productivity, neglecting to connect to the world and portray its humanity.

The art of living … lies not so much in improving oneself, but in freeing oneself from the entanglement of the discriminatory mind.

Shocking as it may sound at first, the art of living and the meaning of life both lie in the sheer experience of beingness, and can be reached by simply allowing oneself to be and to relax into the ceaseless process of life.


Roger Ames
[wu-wei] … responding with an awareness that enables one to maximize the creative possibilities of himself in his environment.

Jeff Berner
Looking is a gift, but seeing is a power.

Keith A. Boas
Photography is the ideal medium in which to challenge assumptions, because of all art forms, it is one people most expect to represent reality … The creative photographer grapples with these expectations, shaping or altering reality by the way he or she approaches a subject.

Bill Brandt
It is part of the photographer's job to see more intensely that most people do. He must have and keep in him something of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time or of the traveler who enters a strange country.

Manuel Alvarez Bravo
Throughout my life I've never pursued anything. I just let things pursue me … they just show up … This is the way I've led my life, not just in photography, but in life.

Andre Breton
… to put himself in a state of grace with chance, so that something might happen …

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Taking photographs … is a way of shouting, or freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one's own originality. It is a way of life.

Forget things, forget Heaven, and be called a forgetter of self. The man who has forgotten self may be said to have entered Heaven.

Leap into the boundless and make it your home.

Mysteriously, wonderfully, I bid farewell to what goes, I greet what comes; for what comes cannot be denied, and what goes cannot be detained.

Superiors must adopt inaction and make the world work for them; inferiors must adopt action and work for the world.

Derek Doeffinger
The scene will not adapt to you, as you'll discover when viewing your pictures … Unite with the scene to see not what you want to see, but what's there. Then strengthen the strong points to built the photograph you want.

Andreas Feininger
Once [a photographer] has conceded that photography is not a "naturalistic" medium of rendition and that striving for "naturalism" in a photograph is futile, he can turn his attention to using a camera to make more effective pictures.

Andreas Feininger
Seeing in terms of photography means realizing potentialities: visualizing things not as they are, but as they could be made to appear in picture form.

Friedrich Franck
The inexpressible is the only thing that is worthwhile expessing.

Eugen Herrigel
Out of the fullness of this presence of mind, disturbed by no ulterior motive, the artist who is released from all attachment must practice his art.

Eugen Herrigel
You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen … You must learn to wait properly … By letting go of yourself, leaving yourself and everything yours behind you so decisively that nothing more is left of you but a purposeless tension.

Dorothea Lange
The best way to go into an unknown territory is to go in ignorant …

Jacques-Henri Lartigue
First, one must learn how to look, how to love. It's the same with painting and writing.

John D. Loori
Seeing is perception with the original, unconditioned eye. It is a state of consciousness in which separation of photographer/subject, audience/image dissolves; in which a reality beyond words and concepts opens up, whose "point" or "meaning" is the direct experience itself.

Kathryn Marx
The greater the range of emotions that you permit yourself to feel and show, the greater is your receptivity to what you see before your viewfinder.

Claude Monet
… to see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.

Beaumont Newhall
We are not interested in the unusual, but in the usual seen unusually.

Barnett Newman
Aesthetics is for the artists as ornithology is for the birds.

Michael Smith
I am not looking for anything. I'm just looking - trying to have as full an experience as possible. The point is to have a full experience - the photograph is just a bonus.

George A. Tice
As I progressed further with my project, it became obvious that it was really unimportant where I chose to photograph.

Burton Watson
[wu-wei] [the sage does not ratiocinate before acting but adopts] a course of action that is not founded upon any purposeful motives of gain or striving.

Garry Winograd
I photograph to see what things look like photographed.