Introduce Stoic Philosophy to your Photography in 2018

Introduce Stoic Philosophy to your Photography in 2018

It’s 1st of January 2018 and after 365 days I have just finished reading The Daily Stoic, by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman.  I’m not the fastest reader in the world, but this book was actually meant to be read one page a day.  Each entry contains a passage from some of the ancient practitioners of Stoicism such as Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, which is then analysed by the authors with advice on how to implement the philosophies into your daily life.

During the year of reading The Daily Stoic I have been captivated with the philosophies of Stoicism, and I have picked up a recent translation of Marcus Aurelius ‘Meditations’ and a couple of Ryan Holiday’s excellent introduction to Stoicism: ‘The Obstacle is the Way’ and ‘Ego is the Enemy’.

Stoicism is a practical philosophy and meant as a guide for how to live a meaningful life, it’s based on simple ideas, but that doesn’t mean that they are easy.  It’s also an open ended philosophy and open to criticism, as Seneca once said: ‘Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides. Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolised. And there is plenty of it left for posterity to discover’.

As Stoicism is a philosophy of life, it can be applied to pretty much everything we do.  For me, photography takes up a large part of my life and therefore I’d like to explore further how stoicism can be applied to the study of photography. 

One of the main focuses of stoicism is summed up by the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Whether you believe in an external God, internal God or no God at all is irrelevant, the wisdom of these words lies in clearly separating things that we can and cannot control. To not waste time, energy or mental anxiety on events that are out of our control, and things that may or may not happen, but to focus all our efforts and actions on things that are within our control.  Even when that is only how we interpret an event.

When we go out for a morning of landscape photography we can make sure that we’ve done our research, know where we’re going, when we need to be there, how to get there, pack all the gear we need and get a reasonable prediction of the weather.   However, we have no control of the weather or if we will get the sunrise that we’ve been dreaming of. Or whether there will be other photographers there who’ve decided to set up their tripod within the very composition we had in mind.

In these situations,  it’s easy to get irrationally angry and upset, but it’s important to remind ourselves that this is outside our control, and it doesn’t help our situation the slightest to get angry or annoyed about this.  In fact, that probably just sets us up to be miserable for the rest of the day.

So after our initial reaction that this is a bit shit, and reminding ourselves that we don’t control these events, the Stoic way is to go one further and find something positive in our situation.  If the weather isn’t exactly what we’d hoped for, this is a chance practice our photography skills when the conditions aren’t perfect.  Going for a different type of image that suits the conditions of the day.  If other photographers are in the way of our shot, so what?   That probably means that the image we had intended is overly done in the first place and it’s time for us to get experimental and find some compositions that aren’t plastered all over 500px already.

This way of turning obstacles around, finding the positive, and even thriving in the face of them is at the core Stoicism – ‘What stands in the way becomes the way’ -Marcus Aurelius. 

Ryan Holiday’s ‘The Obstacle is the Way’ is based around this very idea and it’s a great book if you want to bring some stoic ideas and philosophies into your life for 2018.  As is ‘The Daily Stoic’ which moves at a slower pace and lets you contemplate a little bit of Stoic wisdom every day.

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