Now, I begin my explanations of those constructs closest to the essence and that realisation. As I have said before, the closer to the left of the diagram the deeper and intertwined the concepts become and the more inaccessible for the Object-Oriented photographer. In this Thought Piece, I will discuss Zonal Flow, a creative state of mind that many experience but find difficult to explain, control or summon.
I was recently re-reading Creative States of Mind (Townsend 2019) and came across a reference to Miihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Creativity: the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (1996). I decided to skim read it, having done a more detailed read a few years ago.
One of the sections I found particularly interesting to read again was the one about the flow of creativity and the sense of enjoyment in the activity. Csikszentmihalyi refers to nine elements present in an enjoyable experience which are pertinent to me in my photographic practice and encouraging a sense of flow. The nine elements or pre-requisites are as follows:
1.There are specific aims and outcomes – it is clear what needs to be done
This is interesting because, in my experience, creativity and artistry can often be seen as a vocation where the ideas and outcomes emerge rather than being pre-determined. It can be considered a strength to let the mood of the moment, or the zonal flow, take over the creative process and somehow produce the desired outcome. However, I am with Csikszentmihalyi, in that the clearer the goals, both general and specific, the more likely that a period of creative flow on a particular day, will emerge. And the more likely this non-conscious process will deliver the intention through intuitive actions and thoughts.
For my part, overarching research aims and objectives are set. My work is underpinned by Object-Oriented Ontology and my way of knowing is driven through reflection on being, reflection on action and reflection on being and action. The methodology is based on five key photographic strategies, my methods of the 10-Signifier Onion Diagram and the Emotigram possibilise the realisation of being. The combined effect of ontology, epistemology, methodology, and methods lays a path to Object-Oriented Photographic practice.
Similarly, my practice is well-defined with a clear goal for each two-week period. I determine in advance the strategies and signifiers on which I wish to focus. At the end of each day, I reflect on the process and outcomes and depending on these reflections, I refine or confirm the photographic approach and focus I have chosen. My reflection can also inform, confirm, or develop the direction of my academic research.
- We experience immediate feedback on what we are doing and achieving
My practice is based on various feedback channels. First, I am able to consider immediate feedback on the back of the camera if I wish. While this can sometimes be helpful, particularly when a new technique is being tested or a new location being scouted, I try to avoid constant viewing of images because I do not wish to interrupt the creative flow of a shoot. However, I assess my work immediately after the practice period through reflection, assessing the achievement against objectives and its potential contribution to my academic and practical direction. I do this through a daily blog in this Critical Research Journal.
- Our skills and outcomes are in harmony
Again, this pre-requisite for creative flow chimes with my experience. On a successful shoot, the camera becomes my friend, an extension of me and the technical decisions and considerations become intuitive, allowing the awareness of being to drive the moment of capture.
- We are focused on the task in hand – “one-pointedness”
In everyday life, our attention is pulled in many directions, and creative flow can be interrupted by a mind that is diverted. Whilst the mechanics of taking photographs might continue, the focus in the moment has been disturbed. However, I believe that this focus must be balanced with an ability to allow the mind to drift such that I am able to enter a non-conscious state that will allow the emergence of being and my ability to capture that moment.
- We are focused in the present
Being able to focus on the present and not dwell on either the past or future, is a pre-requisite to achieving my aims and objectives. Some of the photographic strategies I use are designed to help me stay in the moment. Attentiveness is key, taking in the responses from all the senses, spending time in the landscape, being familiar with the location, and being aware through interoception and exteroception.
- We are unconcerned about the possibilities of failure
The possibility of failure is something I am acutely aware of. And the clarification of aims and objectives in research and practice makes the measurement of success by others more likely. However, in having clarity about the underpinning ontology, epistemology, methodology, and methods enables me to defend and assess my critics or those helping me to develop my ideas.
I have also been encouraged to engage in play with my camera – trying things out without any sense of judgement from me or others.
- The element of self-consciousness disappears
Self-consciousness is linked to 6 above however, in zonal flow these concerns are lost in a moment of non-consciousness. I am lost in the moment.
On my first trip to Africa I arrived at Victoria Falls just before sunset. While contemplating my sundowner, an elephant emerged through the mist on the edge of the falls. The air was filled with the thundering of the water, the honking of hippos and the occasional bellow of the elephant. I grabbed my camera and spent an intensive hour, never allowing myself a break from the scene through the viewfinder. I was unaware of the many people that came and went after enjoying their drinks on the terrace before dinner, unaware that the sun had set, and I was squinting to will the last light to stay a little longer. Unfortunately, the zonal flow had induced a very debilitating headache! However, I found the strength to leave for Botswana the following morning at dawn in a small boat in a crocodile-infested river. . .
- The sense of time may be shortened or extended
In the example above, I had lost all awareness of time passing. Even though the light was fading, I continued to watch the scene above the Falls unfold. I had no idea how much time had passed. My sundowner remained on the table untouched. . .
- The task is autotelic – or intuitive
Absolutely, and I recognise these times immediately, and their importance in my practice!
I found it very helpful to remind myself of the elements and conditions for flow. It has been a number of years since I read Csikszentmihalyi and I am now better able to reflect on how my practice relates to the nine elements and how I might maximise my chances of finding flow.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention. London, Harper Collins.
Townsend, P. (2019). Creative States of Mind – Psychoanlysis and the Artist’s Process. Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge.