The Beautiful Mistake / by Nick McGrath

When I am teaching photography in Chinatown, I talk a lot to my students about the beautiful mistake. The beautiful mistake is the un-intentional result through the intentional action of being loose with your exposures and loose with your shooting style. It can come in many ways, one is by frustration and failure of a process, the other is by abandoning the constraints that may inhibit your creative process and freeing your self of a particular criteria set that you place on your expectations about what it is you are trying to capture.

Below is a picture I took from the impressive and awe inspiring Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. I’ve been to Yangon over 10 times and I had intentionally not visited the pagoda. The main reason is I prefer some kind of serendipity to lead me to a place, some random event to lead me into a place of unknown and not to intentionally go to one particular place. In this case, I was more eager to explore the surrounds of Yangon city first. To get lost in the streets and smells, the visual and aural allure and chaos - the assault of the senses. While doing this, the assault began to temper and to form a relationship with me. It was then that I could start to embrace the subtlety and discard the raw feelings I was experiencing. To feel I was becoming closer and clearer to the source of the inspiration.

So when I was asked by a friend who I was travelling with to go visit the Shwedagon Pagoda this October, It seemed the right time. The unscheduled, unplanned request was perfect in timing and mood on a balmy Sunday afternoon in Yangon.

Arriving at the Shwedagon is one of the most awe inspiring experiences one can have when visiting any place of worship. The feeling goes beyond the physical structure of the place - it goes into the people also. I felt overwhelmed and ill-equipped to find a way to photograph and portray such a structure. So I sat down on the marbled smooth cool floor for a couple of hours, watching the people, feeling the serenity and calmness of the surroundings while offerings were made. As the afternoon waned into evening, the incense smoke filled the air and burnt the nostrils, I watched families, young teenagers, tourists and monks walking the three clock-wise circles of the pagoda. I had walked around the pagoda and taken a few pictures but felt that I was not able to capture a sense of feeling of place. I decided to sit beside the stream of worshippers and watched them drift along. By that stage the moon was upon us and a beautiful atmosphere laid bare to all. In some frustration, I started to just shoot from my sitting position using a slow shutter and just have fun and relax. It was this moment the picture appeared. The expanding energy emitting from the centre of the pagoda, the physical structure and the physical bodies blending into each other and stretching time and space. Here and now, I was, in the moment finding my expression from the beautiful mistake.

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Photograph by Nick McGrath. ©Nick McGrath October 2018

When the student is ready, the teacher appears ! - Buddhist quote