Photographer Thomas Peter recently published a project at Reuters on the Japanese minimalist movement. There are some interesting photos there, even though the project as such suffers from “explainitis“. That means, the photos hardly hold their own without the text.
What intrigued me, though, was the movement itself: people reducing their belongings to 100 items. I find it fascinating how certain ideas (good and bad ones) cross centuries and cultures during human history. The “less is more” idea spans from religions (Buddhism, Christianity, St. Francis, Gandhi) to psychoanalysis (Erich Fromm: To Have or to Be). Curiously, modern minimalism seems to have circulated from Zen Buddhism to Steven Jobs and from him back to Japan…
Shortly after I had been reading about Peter’s project, I saw another article on a similar topic (a sure sign for an oncoming hypestorm) in the New York Times Magazine. This time it was about Marie Kondo and her bestselling books. Her “KonMari” method says, in brief, that we should only keep the things we really like and then treat them well. Treating them well includes folding and storing them neatly and so a greater part of her method is about Origami for your underwear. That you have to buy her books first to own less, is a kinda-cute side aspect of her success.
Like so many things that make you at the same time cringe and smile, there is probably a serious background to this phenomenon: a growing discomfort in the rich parts of the world about the cancerous growth of consumerism.
Photography isn’t free from consumerism. The majority of photography website content (my estimate) is about photography equipment not about photographing. That means, about having a camera vs making photographs (in the terms of Mr. Fromm). So, some discomfort, I’d say, is quite ok. Consumerism, however, is closely related to our growing need to be entertained, to fill the voids in our life by being cheered up. And that is what my cynic self suspects is part of the appeal of the KonMari-method: it is so damn entertaining.
I further suspect that the rise of the entertainer-politician in both Europe and the US, the rise of the “viral tweet” and the flood of cat videos all have the same source. To have entertainment fill the void consumerism has left in our souls and minds.
What can we do about it? I know what I am going to do: I will start a new movement; here and now. I’ll call it: Observism. And to do it in a kind of minimalist way, the rules for becoming a member are very simple (and don’t require you to buy anything, membership is free). The only thing you have to do is to reserve five minutes a day to pure Observing. What you Observe doesn’t matter. It can be how a branch swings on a tree, the movement of clouds or waves, people in the street, whatever. The only requirement is that you do it actively, mindful not just as passive seeing. An (optional) tool in being mindful is that you describe to yourself what you are seeing.
And if you practice Observism diligently, it will transform your life (but, ehm, yeah another membership rule is you can’t sue the inventor over failure of the method). So join us today and share your experiences down in the comments section (but, please, don’t put your cat videos there).