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The day after I finished reading Ken Wilber’s Intergral Psychology, and despite the fact that it was a Sunday, the mail carrier brought me another book, Integral Ecology, which weighs in at about 800 pages. Obviously, the “integral” idea can be applied to different fields of endeavor, so I got to thinking about its application to photography. (Integral yoga, which started this line of thought, was an early 20th century invention of Sri Aurobindo, whose ultimate spiritual awakening occurred while he was in prison.)
The integral in photography would be the finished photograph, a structured combination of compositional elements (which includes not just things, but tonal and textural values, etc.). In nature photography, the compositional elements can be intricately diverse, and it’s the photographer’s task to unite those diverse elements into an image that works.
One of the key principles of the integral idea seems to be unifying what Wilber calls the “Big Three,” which are Aesthetics, Ethics and Science. So in the process of bringing compositional elements into focus, an integral approach to photography would combine all three. Aesthetically, we decide what to include in our composition. Ethically, we decide against harming our subject or telling a significant lie about it (no image is the thing itself, so small lies or truth-bending for the sake of aesthetics is inevitable). Scientifically, it certainly helps in nature photography to know your subject, but even more simply, it helps to know your equipment.
I'm not suggesting we try to shoehorn the practice of photography into any kind of philosophical or practical framework, but it can be interesting when a seemingly random puzzle piece actually fits the picture.
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