Interview with David Ulrich | GBPW Episode 101

Look at the world. Look at your own photographs. Which images, which scenes do you have a resonance with? (Which images) do you have a magnetic attraction to? That becomes a reliable guide. When I look back at photographs I made when I was 11 years old, there’s a few of them that I’d literally keep in my portfolio today.

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This episode is all about David Ulrich, a talented photographer from the United States who’s been taking photographs for decades. David recently published The Mindful Photographer: Awake in the World with a Camera, a book that focuses on the importance of mindfulness in every photographer’s life. Every photograph in David’s portfolio is carefully crafted, aiming to tell a story that brings people together and inspires the viewer to look at their world from a different perspective.

We talk about:

  • The reason David Ulrich chose to write a book about mindful photography
  • The things he has learned about himself while teaching photography at university for over four decades
  • How to take photographs that are meaningful to you

& much more!

I really enjoyed listening to David’s story and reading his book. We talk a lot about staying true to yourself and taking photographs that have meaning in this episode. If you’re interested in these topics, or if you just want to learn from somebody with a lot of photography experience, you’ll enjoy listening to this conversation.

Here is a preview of our conversation with David Ulrich.

Q: What have you learned about yourself as a photographer while teaching others about photography?

David Ulrich: Being a teacher is complicated because you really have to pay attention to the students. You have to understand what their needs are. Sometimes, the need is to be supportive and other times, the need is to challenge.

What I constantly witness in myself is the fact that I’m not always attentive. Like most people, I’m very distracted, my mind goes all over the place. Teaching puts me in front of the need to be present, the need to be in the moment. If I’m not present, it’s other people that I’m affecting. Ironically, what I observe in teaching is my own limitations and how much work it takes to really be present and to serve the needs of the individual students.

The other thing I have to say is that teaching is a community. Just looking at students’ work and witnessing their breakthroughs, witnessing their struggles, has taught me a great deal about the creative process.

Q: What can photographers do to develop their creative intuition?

David Ulrich: You’re going to find this answer surprising. I asked that same question of my teacher, Minor White. I said, “Minor, how do you strengthen your intuition?” He looked at me, pointed at his belly, and said, “Intuition comes from down here.” I thought, “Wow, that’s strange.”

Over time, I realised the wisdom of the body is a powerful tool for opening to our intuition. How does that work? In mindfulness, we are asked to watch our breath, to simply be aware of our own breathing, to be aware of our own feet on the ground, to be aware of our heart beating and any tension or relaxation in the muscles.

Ironically, when we begin to have a deeper self-awareness, our vision opens to the world. Most importantly, our mind quiets down. For intuition to appear, we need a quiet mind. The mind is usually very noisy. I mean, I’m talking to myself constantly about this and that. Intuition comes through the cracks of the conscious mind. Intuition comes from what I would call the “deeper mind”. So, contact with the body really helps quiet the mind and helps one open to moments of intuition and inspiration.

Q: You mentioned that your parents gave you a camera when you were 11 years old.

David Ulrich: What’s interesting is even before that, when I was a baby, my favourite toy was my father’s broken camera. At age 11, they gave me a brownie starmatic camera – a Kodak point-and shoot-camera – and I never looked back. When I was 12 or 13, my father built me a little darkroom in the basement.

My father’s job was taking pictures. He was a radiologist, so he took pictures inside of people’s bodies, if you will. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with that. I would love to go down to the hospital. In those days, they’d develop X-rays in a darkroom. I loved being in the darkroom, watching the X-rays being developed. My dad’s work as a radiologist is part of what attracted me to photography.

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