Minor White would assign specific readings to his photography students which on the surface had nothing to do with photography. Books such as, Acting: The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky and Carlos Castaneda’s Conversations with Don Juan were read in order to expand the student’s outlook. Another book he often suggested was, Zen In The Art Of Archery which to many people was their first introduction to the concepts of Zen Bhuddism. A relevant tenet of Zen for Minor White and his teaching was the concept of having no expectations. Expectations have the power to shape your perception of the world. You see what you expect to see. The human mind has an almost unbounded ability to shape reality. So by training yourself to walk around with no expectations you become accepting and receptive of whatever is truly out their in the world. You are in essence removing the filters from your eyes that shape and distort your reality.
The flip side of this is what psychologist call inattentional blindness. This phenomenon was demonstrated in what came to be one of the most famous psychology experiments ever conducted. Basically it went like this; imagine you are asked to watch a short video in which six people, three in white shirts and three in black shirts, pass basketballs around. While you watch, you are asked to keep a silent count of the number of passes made by the people in white shirts. At some point, a gorilla strolls into the middle of the action, faces the camera and thumps its chest, and then leaves, spending nine seconds on screen. Would you see the gorilla? Amazingly enough about half the people do not see the gorilla (including myself-I took the test). This experiment has come to be known as The Invisible Gorilla experiment.
What this famous experiment showed was that a person will not see something he/she is not expecting to see even though the person maybe looking right at it. Looking is not the same thing as seeing. We fools ourselves into thinking that we see everything that is in front of us but in reality there is much that we miss and the worst part is that we do not even know that we are missing it!
Minor White knew what he needed to overcome. He intuitively realized the limitations of human cognition. One must see and not merely look. Looking is merely the acting of pointing a camera, seeing is the act of recognition and in that recognition the pressing of the shutter.
“Be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms your presence.”