Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Characteristics of a Photographic Sage - Part VII: "Seeing the Sacred in the Commonplace"

   "No place is boring if you have a good night's sleep
and a pocketful of unexposed film." - Robert Adams

   A Photographic Sage has the ability to see wondrous things in ordinary places. Nothing is unacceptable or too lowly for his compassionate eye.  I think this is the characteristic that I recognized in my own work right from the beginning.  I feel  very much at home in simple, rural settings and around genuinely ordinary folks.  I truly find their faces, the details of their lives so photograph-able!  My series and book - "First Person Rural: a portrait of a Maine town" was all about finding the sacred in the commonplace.All the photographs in this post are from the book. The photograph on the left is called "Looking for Marshmallows".  It speaks to the tender relationship between a man and his cattle...a relationship of caring and mutual trust. If only human beings could relate to each other in that way! Trust is one of those eternal truths that, for me at least, refers to my relationship with the divine.

   This search for the "divine" is often associated with being a contemplative.  As a Contemplative Photographer I find that, if I can borrow the title of one of my favorite books on photography, "God is at Eye Level" .  In Taoism one learns that the perception of the divine is easily accessible by simply contemplating nature...or a grandmother peeling apples for a pie for her grandchild.

 I just concluded an on-line course called "Eyes of the Heart" which is offered through Abby of the Arts.  Through a 6 week contemplative practice, you can really explore this particular characteristic of a Photographic Sage in depth.  There is a link on the right to this wonderful site and I encourage my fellow sages-in-training to check it out.  I've always loved the saying, "God is in the details" and this course certainly demonstrates that in a profound way.

   As to that book I mentioned previously, God is at Eye Level...I must strongly recommend it. There are few books on photography that have impacted me more. The author, Jan Phillips, has penned a sensitive and insightful text that is a must read for any person interested in the concept of contemplative photography.  Despite its title, it is not "religious" in any way.  It is very much in keeping with the Tao te Ching which never mentions the word "God" but is full of spiritual substance.  There is an essential spirituality that flows through everything and its presence can be sensed by those who pause and open themselves to it.  I often think that when I'm sitting quietly, listening to the landscape, it is that energy -Qi as it is called- that I'm tuning in to.

   On another level, this characteristic is also about acceptance...taking the angry faces with the smiling ones...the grey, overcast days with the sunny.  If you do this on a regular basis you may find yourself re-defining your concept of "beauty".  All these things are part of a dance we are engaged in everyday, a dance with the divine. The tune may change from day to day but taking part in it brings each of us to the place we need to be.

The Sage has no destination in view
and makes use of anything life
happens to bring his way.
Tao te Ching - 59

 A Little Practice for the Week:

  Everyone has their own concept of the "divine" regardless what their religion is or if they, in fact, have a religion. I believe it is what attracted me to Taoism in the first place...the spirituality without the dogma. For this exercise, let's define the "divine" as the quality in something that makes one reflect on the sense of an eternal truth...a truth that transcends the everyday.

    What are those "truths" for you?  Where can you see them?  In what ways do they manifest themselves in our day-to-day lives?

   Now go in search of these truths in common places.You can be as abstract or as literal as you like.Journal, journal, journal!  This is pretty heady stuff and it deserves your serious reflection.Contemplative Photographers spend a great deal of their "off" times (times when they are not making photographs) in studied reflection. I guarantee you will never see things the same way again!

1 comment:

Andy Ilachinski said...

I second your comments about "God is at Eye Level." A truly extraordinary work. All spiritually minded photographers - artists of any kind - will derive great and deep nourishment from its wisdom.