There's a strange feeling the moment you realize that the song that has been playing in your head, is now playing on the radio as you are driving around.
Or maybe you had a dream of an old friend you have not heard from in years who sends you a random text that same day.
Perhaps like me, you have found yourself slack-jawed and gobsmacked at some other intersection of what appears to be an impossible conflux of events coming together in a single unexpected instant.
These meaningful coincidences or synchronicity as psychologist Carl Jung described, can serve as a guidepost, a compass even, attuning us towards conscious action based on innate awareness.
Synchronicity: When two or more things seem meaningfully related but do not have any discernible causal connection
Depending on who you ask, synchronicity could be attributed to statistical probability, quantum mechanics, your unconscious mind, the voice of God, or a glitch in the Matrix.
Regardless of your belief, these experiences are an opportunity to pause, be in the moment, and consider what might be coming to your present awareness.
As thoughts are fleeting, photography is a way to memorialize the moment.
Being a photographer with an interest in data visualization and other forms of visual communications, I had a thought:
How do I photograph synchronicity?
Is it even possible? What would that look like?
Or perhaps backing up, a valid question might be, why would someone want to photograph synchronicity?
Jung's original ideas were rooted in dreams, which are fertile soil for synchronicity. What better validation to get your attention than when an idea or theme shows up in a dream, only to be echoed in a waking life event.
Many dreamwork techniques teach us to honor and bring the dream to life by taking some action in the waking world.
By crafting a physical manifestation of an abstract idea such as a meaningful coincidence, we honor that experience.
Similar to honoring a dream, we are declaring our intent to attract more of these experiences which can help us to discover key insights about ourselves.
The ease and immediacy of photography provide us a perfect vehicle to honor both our dreams, and peak waking experiences.
Jung also used a technique to dialog with the unconscious mind called Active Imagination. He believed we could tap into our own inner wisdom using a variety of techniques including the creation of art and imagery.
By transferring his emotions into symbols and art, Jung felt this therapeutic work brought him a sense of inner peace.
The question remains, how does one photograph synchronicity?
My first inclination was that the act of creating the photo, or the content within, could be a connecting point of synchronicity itself.
Consider that within any photograph, there are several elements coming together.
The time and place the photo was taken are a unique distinction.
The thematic content of the photograph.
The personal meaning of the content to the photographer as well as the viewer.
The mindset (emotions, intent, mood, thoughts) of the photographer is transferred in some way into the frame.
Each of these things could be considered as a data point in terms of providing a relationship to something else, thus forming a connection.
One of my initial experiments in photographing synchronicity is what I call the Synchronicity Photobomb.
Did you ever take a picture and later find something strange or surprising in the image that you had not expected? In dream analysis, we are taught to consider the outliers. Those elements and symbols which seem out of the ordinary or unexpected. So too can the unexpected show up in a photograph.
While taking this photo of a fox, the barn swallow flying into the frame might be viewed as an accident or unwanted addition.
Though it also presents something new for awareness. We can view a photo as a waking dream, analyzing the elements like dream symbols.
What does a fox represent? What about a swallow? We can also consider the relationship of the unexpected elements with the intended subject. These unanticipated visitors can be a nudge for further reflection.
Greater Than the Sum of The Parts
Photos also have the potential to be greater than the sum of their parts. When experimenting with long exposure photography, the final image can be very different than what the photographer envisioned.
This was a long exposure photo of a man juggling fire sticks at the beach. After several seconds, the man blurs out while the shape of the flames takes on the form of a humanoid stepping forward with arms in the air wearing what looks like a native ceremonial headdress.
Documenting the Synchronicity
Another way to portray synchronicity in a photo is to document the actual occurrence of synchronicity as it happens.
Since many of us carry a camera (in the form of a phone) in our pocket most everywhere we go, there is no reason not to document such events.
Whenever you experience a personal coincidence that grabs your attention, or a repeating theme such as a dream element echoed in waking, you can document it with a photo.
To give a personal example, foxes are powerful animal totem associated with dreams and trickster energy but they don't cross my path too often in dreams or waking.
In May of 2016, I had an uncommon dream of a fox. Later that same day, I saw a fox in the field. Even though foxes do live in the forest and fields nearby, I rarely see them. I quickly ran for the camera and snapped a photo. It was close to dark and the image was not the best quality, but I was content to have documented the synchronicity.
I noted the experience in my journal and soon forgot about it until a year later when something similar happened.
In May 2017, I had another fox dream, possibly the first since a year previous. Within 24 hours, a fox showed up in almost the same location. I was able to get several photos including the surprise swallow photo shown previously.
I noticed that one of the fox images from 2017 looked quite similar to the one from the year before including the proximity to two different parts of a sculpture of running gazelles.
The timing was quite remarkable as I was in the process of preparing a talk for the International Association of the Study of Dreams on photography and dreams.
This seemed a great example to discuss. After some introspection about these experiences and images, I realized that when I put the photos together side by side, they revealed for me a new awareness that I would not have gleaned from just the images or dreams alone.
I had become aware of feeling like my life was in a rut, stuck in the same routine year after year without much discernible progress. In comparing these two images side by side, one year apart, I realized that while things can look quite similar on the surface, there are many subtle differences on closer inspection.
The 2017 image on the right is crisper, colors more vivid. Even the animal positions of the fox and sculpture are looking upward vs down. The contrast between the two images gave me peace of mind that my life was improving and changing year to year, despite my impressions of it being repetitive or stagnant.
About a year after that in 2018, as if to reiterate my assessment, I came upon and photographed an orange cat in nearly the same place where the fox had appeared twice previously - -though from a notably different perspective. It seemed to me this was a continuation of the 3-year cycle of my dreams and the fox symbol.
Looking at this image compared to the other two immediately telegraphed to me that 2018 was going to be very different. And in fact, this was a major transitional year when I left corporate employment.
Creating the Synchronicity
Whereas the previous examples require some element of randomness or unique circumstances to create synchronicity photographs, this last idea can be done at any time.
As Jung advised in his Active Imagination technique, one of the most accessible and creative ways to honor our dreams is by making art inspired by dream imagery.
When we practice conscious creativity, we are adding an element of depth into our creations which invoke a form of synchronicity that connects to the original source ideas.
Even within the creation process, we might find that synchronicity is at play calling us to dig deeper into our values and ideas.
In this image of the hawk and moon, I wanted to recreate a memorable dream of a large bird of prey flying across the full moon. This is a composite of 2 photos taken within a 24 hour period from nearly the same vantage point. The first was a hawk taking off from a tree, and later that night I photographed a full moonrise in this surreal pink-purple sky, just before a total lunar eclipse.
Multiple-exposures or composites like this are an excellent way to depict coinciding events from different points in time into a single frame. Integrating a memorable dream element, theme, or significant personal symbol can make the image even more meaningful.
The header photo at the top is a multi-exposure of two versions of home converging into one reality.
I created this image after a series of dreams and waking synchronicity around The Wizard of Oz where I was exploring the concept of home for myself.
Bringing it together
There are several ways to get started with photographing synchronicity.
Be aware of surprise elements in your images.
Document synchronicity (aka meaningful coincidences) when they occur.
Consciously create an image based on a series of events and experiences such as dreams and waking connections.
While you might be inspired to create wonderful art, keep in mind that synchronicity photos can also be made primarily for yourself. For those who are unsure of their artistic abilities, try documenting your experiences, and see where it leads. Be joyful and experiment.
Remember that photos, like dreams, can reveal new awareness over time. It is worth revisiting your old images to find new connections. If you keep a journal, you can try correlating photos from the day they were taken (or shared on social media) with dreams or waking experiences during that time. This can lead to new insights and aha connections that you may have missed as they were happening.
A critical component of my conscious creativity practice (including synchronicity and dreamwork related photography) has been through my Aminus3 daily photo journal.
Keeping a daily photo journal is a great companion to a dream or life journal and has helped me track personal experiences year to year as well as see how I've evolved as a photographer.
This article was published in an earlier form in DreamTime magazine (Winter 2020), a publication from the International Association of the Study of Dreams.
You can start your own daily photography journal by joining Aminus3 today.