The Zen of Taking Pictures

Ever since I can remember, I loved taking pictures.

I remember I spent three rolls of film on a five-day trip to Hong Kong when I was 9, taking pictures of buildings, probably to my parents’ annoyance at the money spent. When I was 14, I bossed my dad around to take photos around Lebanon in blistering heat, a behaviour that was instantly ridiculed by our fellow tourists. Once I got my first digital camera a bit later I went on photo safaris around Belgrade with Belle and Sebastian blasting from my earphones, snapping incessantly: trees, people, facades.

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I never considered photography as a possible career path, nor even a hobby – I never took classes nor invested into equipment – it was just a thing I did. I rarely even call it photography.

Although I continued snapping (and posting on Facebook) through my university years, I felt my passion for it waned and it was only a few years into my life in London that I got back into it, but now for a different reason.

Although Instagram’s instant gratification though likes and celebration of arty-farty photos doubtlessly played a role, my return to photography was almost therapeutic.

Back in those days, I was often stressed and taking a camera out was a way to pull myself out of my head. As soon as I saw the streets of London from my phone screen, ready to take a picture of a particularly nice building or a street scene, they seemed less grey and more importantly, I finally got the sense that I actually observe them. All of my worries disappeared whenever I allowed myself to step out of my normal thinking and bother myself with trifling things like making sure the geometry of the photos worked of that they were well lit. Rather than alienating me from the present moment, like so many people worry, taking pictures immersed me into it.

For a while, I did this impulsively without thinking, until one day I realised how much taking pictures enhanced my experience of being anywhere. At that point I was in some wonderful cathedral somewhere in Spain, and I only noticed the details, because I was taking photos of them and thinking of how they all fit together. When I was on the bustling streets of old Delhi, taking pictures forced me to stand and appreciate what was around me: people serving food from carts, women making necklaces out of flowers, wonderful balconies left to gracefully decay.

Taking photos also allowed me to shut down awkward feelings, which may have not been ideal, but definitely worked. When I was alone in Santorini, surrounded by couples snuggling up and enjoying its famous, dazzling, sunsets I was snapping away, and drinking beer hoping that I will be able to re-live the experience with my loved ones rather than basking in loneliness…

Since I moved back to Belgrade, I kept the habit and whenever I need some headspace and I am too lazy for a run and too embarrassed to mediate, I go for a stroll to take pictures and always come back calmer. In a city like Belgrade, whose (architectural) history and heritage are relatively under-explored and under-appreciated, taking pictures made me learn more and realise how much I like it.

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Although we often huff and puff about how curated our picture perfect lives are on social media, when we post photos of holidays, parties and hot partners, I think we underestimate how much better just taking pictures of those fleeting moments of joy in life makes us feel, even if we discount the more problematic problem of sharing them for the world to see. Indeed, a recent study, indicated that people do feel much better when they see their own photos on Facebook.

Doubtlessly the result was in large part because of curation of own experiences  (after all, few people post their saddest more depressed moments), but also arguably because photos show that no matter how badly things were going, you still managed to find “sparse, erratic flashes of beauty” that were worth immortalising.

Thus if your daily life feels overly grey, snap away – at worst you will have an artfully moody picture, and at best you will be able to see some glimmers of hope in it.

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