Zen and Street Photography


All images by Carlo Maccheroni. Used with permission.

One of the essential factors in the practice of street photography and other arts that are all about immediacy, is the fact that true masters don’t think about their photos: they just shoot them. Nor are they intended to provide aesthetic enjoyment out of the compositional process, but instead immortalize the ultimate reality. Thus, street photography is not done just to obtain an image in the same way that the dancer dances not only in order to execute rhythmic movements. Above all, it is harmonized with the unconscious conscious.

To be a true master of street photography is not enough technical mastery. You need to go beyond this point, so that the domain becomes “artless art”, emanating from the unconscious.

Respect to the photograph, and the photographer means seeing no longer just seeing objects. The photographer is unaware of his eye, as an individual it becomes their mission is to hit the “decisive moment”. But that state of non-consciousness reaches him only if he is entirely free and detached from his ego, if it is coupled with the perfection of their technical prowess. This is fundamentally different from any progress that could be achieved in the operation of the camera or light sources.


That is something so different that it belongs to a different category, called satori–which means awakening. It is intuitive, but differs completely from the norm of what people do. Hence, you provide the name of intuition, prajña. Prajna could be conceived as “transcendental wisdom”, but this expression does not reflect the many nuances of prajña’s voice, because it is intuition that simultaneously captures the totality and individuality of all things. It is intuition that recognizes, without any meditation, zero is infinity and infinity is zero; and this must not be taken in a symbolic or mathematical sense, but as a directly intelligible experience.

So satori is (psychologically speaking), found beyond the limits of self. From a logical point of view is perception, synthesis of affirmation and negation; in their metaphysical aspect, is intuitive apprehension that one is becoming and becoming is being.

The characteristic difference between Zen and all other doctrines of religious, philosophical or mystical nature is that it never disappears from our everyday life. Zen itself implies something that is separated from worldly pollution and hustle.

Here is the point of contact between Zen and street photography and other arts such as karate, fencing, flower arranging, tea ceremony, dance and fine arts.

Zen is the “everyday consciousness”, in the words of Baso Matsu (died 788). That “everyday consciousness” is nothing but “sleep when you are sleepy, eat when you’re hungry.” Just to reflect, we reason and formulate concepts, primary unconsciousness is lost and a thought arises. No longer do we eat when we eat; We no longer sleep when we sleep. To that end, we don’t just take a photo, we capture a decisive moment.

Man is a thinking being, but his great works are done when not calculating or thinking. We must regain the “childish candor” through long years of exercise in the art of forgetting ourselves. When achieved, the man thinks without thinking. Think like rain falling from the sky; think like waves moving in the sea; thinks like the stars illuminating the night sky, as the green foliage sprouting in the warm spring wind. In fact, he is the rain, the sea, the stars, the foliage. An instinct–if you will.

Once the man has reached that state of “spiritual” evolution, he will be Zen master of life. No need, such as the photographer, camera, film or objective. No need, like the painter, canvas, brushes and colors, or other resources. It uses its members, its body, head and organs. His life in Zen is expressed through all these important “tools” as his manifestations. His hands and feet are the brushes. And the whole universe is the canvas on which he will paint his life for seventy, eighty to ninety years. The picture painted so called “history.”

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.