These Beautiful Photos Chronicle a Search for Light and Enlightenment

David Gabriel Fischer’s ongoing photo journal gives viewers a glimpse into a mind and world defined by Zen.

Sam Littlefair
19 June 2017

David Gabriel Fischer’s ongoing photo journal gives viewers a glimpse into a mind and world defined by Zen.

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Every day, David Gabriel Fischer takes a picture and adds it to his photo journal, “The Zen Diary.” Originally, Fischer simply wanted to illustrate everyday life in the Zen monastery where he was living at the time. Over time, the gallery began to reveal itself as a meeting-point of spaciousness, impermanence, and creativity.

Fischer’s work is so striking that, on different occasions, it caught the eye of Lion’s Roar associate art director Andrew Glenncross, Buddhadharma art director Seth Levinson, and myself, prompting each of us, independently, to reach out to him for permission to use his photos.

Fischer started taking pictures when he was 15. He describes it as “a personal search for light.” Years later, in 2008, he started another search for light — studying Zen. Eventually, he went to live at Ryumon Ji Monastery, in France. On his first day at the monastery, he took a photo and posted it to Flickr. He has posted photos almost daily since.

In a time when most of us take thousands of photos of our vacations, meals, and faces — dumping them all onto social media — Fischer’s project is a radical departure. As I click through his photos, I find that many of them invite me to pause and breathe. They are simple, yet thoughtful. They seem to embody the clarity, harmony, and simplicity that we strive to cultivate in Buddhist meditation.

Eventually, Fischer’s photography became for him a form of meditation. “Meditation changes my perception of the world, and therefore the photographs that come out in the process,” says Fischer. “I see the world in a different light.”

Fischer describes his photography practice as follows:

  1. The meditative process of photography usually starts out with zazen (Zen meditation). It is the way to get into a quiet state of mind. Without any expectations and goals, I feel prepared.
  2. Beforehand I never know what I am going to photograph. With unseeing eyes I strive around, waiting patiently to be stuck.
  3. When something catches my attention, I try to connect with the object. I try to get to know it from different perspectives and to see what light is doing with it. With all its characteristics in form, color, and relation to the environment. And finally to accept all this and to forget it.
  4. The body breathes naturally and, finally, when the moment has come, when at the very end of the exhalation everything is forgotten, there is just light, silence, presence… click.

Fischer left the monastery in 2015, but still regularly posts photos. See a selection of his photos in the slideshow above, or follow him on Flickr.

Sam Littlefair

Sam Littlefair

Sam Littlefair is the former editor of He has also written for The Coast, Mindful, and Atlantic Books Today. Find him on Twitter, @samlfair, and Facebook, @samlfair.