Sometimes we get so caught up in the technical aspects of photography – technique, mechanics, gear – that we forget the “soft” skills involved. But things like connecting with your subject(s), building client relationships, and successfully pitching buyers are seriously important aspects of a successful photo business.
Still, when I heard that the students at School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City have been attending workshops on hypnosis and meditation to help build these types of soft skills, I thought to myself, “Say what now??”
So Katrin Eismann, Chair of SVA’s Masters Program in Digital Photography, sat down with me to explain how these alternative methods have dramatically improved her students’ performance. I also spoke with Gene Hirschel, the hypnotist who spoke as part of SVA’s guest lecture series to get his take on how hypnosis can improve your photography.
Disclaimer: If you think the rest of this post is going to be about how Gene hypnotized his students into zombie photographers, you came to the wrong place. But if you’re open to learning about how alternative methods can help improve your photography, then read on.
Gene Hirschel, a Hypnotist and Master NLP Practitioner, started Vital Trance – a “life transformation therapy” method that fuses hypnotic and trance methods with behavioral change technique. He’s also a photography enthusiast and has been photographing for years. The ultimate goal of Gene’s workshop was to help student photographers build their self-confidence in order to find and express their “inner voice”.
“Finding your inner voice comes when you’re confident that it’s important and should be heard,” explains Gene. “When you’re confident in yourself and your message, then you’re able to speak clearly and with authority about what you want to convey to the external world.
At some point in time, we may question whether our photos would get picked up by a client or buyer. But this is the type of thinking that inhibits your greatest work. Instead, Gene’s strategy encourages you to develop a state of mind where you’re confident that your photography is worth seeing and is going to have a significant impact on others. “Being confident that your voice will be heard can have a big impact on your work,” he says.
So whether you’re trying to position models for a shoot or sell your work to a potential client, Gene believes that self-confidence enhances your communication and ability to connect with others. He stresses this point of connection, saying, “You need to empower yourself with positive beliefs and imagine a positive outcome,” he explains. “Then you will be able to express yourself freely and relate your thoughts to other people.”
When it comes to photographing people, the idea is that if photographers feels free to express themselves, then so will the subjects. And anyone who’s dealt with a stiff subject knows that emotion is key to capturing the best photo. “Telling a person to smile is not a way to get emotion,” notes Gene. “In fact, it usually just makes people freeze up. But if a person can connect with the photographer, then they’re more likely to be okay being vulnerable and emote freely.” Photographers who try to understand and ease their subjects’ anxiety are able to take charge and get them to follow their lead.
As a result of Gene’s methods, Katrin Eismann says that her students have felt more empowered to take charge of their photography’s direction and have also become much more observant. Ultimately, this will produce the best photograph – and in doing so, the photographer will have externalized his or her inner message.
Rhonda Schaller, professor and gallery owner, teaches the Creative Mind Meditation class at SVA. The purpose of the class is to show student photographers that they can and should give themselves permission to be themselves, rather than spend time figuring out what others want. Students meditate on the source of their inspiration and visualize what they want their work to be about. This helps them find their voice and develop a framework for expressing it in their photography.
Over the past three years that the class has been offered, many of Katrin Eismann’s students from the Masters in Digital Photography department have taken Creative Mind Meditation, and Katrin has been blown away by the improvement in their work, confidence, and ability to express themselves – both visually and verbally. “They’re able to speak about their work so much more clearly,” says Katrin. “And rather than making random one-off images, they’re delving deeper into the subject matter and creating a much richer body of work.”
Before meditation, student photographers who wanted to convey specific thoughts and emotions through symbols in their photography – color, texture, etc. – were frustrated because viewers weren’t getting their messages, mostly because those messages were muddled. After working with Rhonda, these same students were able to express themselves more honestly and personally. “When your work comes from a deeper source, it resonates universally with more viewers,” Katrin says.
One example of a student whose transformation stands out in Katrin’s mind is Giselle Behrens. “She was doing a lot of digital fashion work that was superficial and very theatrical,” says Katrin. “It was fun and contemporary, but one image never related to the next.” When Giselle completed the Creative Mind Meditation class, her work, intentions, and execution improved tremendously.
“Now her work holds together aesthetically and stylistically,” remarks Katrin. “It’s clear that she’s thinking long term instead of like a firecracker that only cracks brightly for a split second.”
Another student that worked closely with Rhonda was Michael Morrison, who concentrated on portraying vanity as both art and commerce. He used photography to feature fashion and beauty, but within narratives that explore deeper cultural undertones. His goal is to provide the viewer with aesthetic stimulation through a rich intellectual experience, rather than just a pretty model in an interesting scenario.
Katrin says, “Although the Digital Photography program is largely a technical program that concentrates on professional workflow, we understand that it’s important for each photographer to find their voice. This is what the Creative Mind Meditation class allows. I’ve come to see that it balances the rigor of our curriculum and allows our students to thrive. Photography is not about which button to push or what lens to buy – it’s about vision and expression, which is what honoring the inner voice addresses.”
So what do you think – do alternative behavioral therapies and practices have a place in professional photography? Have you ever tried something similar that’s had a profound impact on your work? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments.
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