Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Contemplative Photographer's "Thought Flow"...

   There are many reasons for your arrival at a certain place at a certain time.  You might be called to it by an intense inner yearning or it may be mere happenstance that finds you there but something in the landscape awakens a wonder in you. However you arrive, by whatever road you take, you will experience that place in your own unique way.  Even when you travel to popular "tourist" destinations photographed millions of times, you will see it with your own insights.  As a contemplative photographer, I have tried to develop an series of experiential steps that allows me to reach the moment I want, the moment I can say, "Yes, now, make the photograph". I call it  my Contemplative Thought Flow.  Mainly, it is a series of questions I ask myself before and after I make an image.  "Work Flow" is a term that refers to a specific way a photographer approaches their images in the digital darkroom...the technical steps they take to arrive at their final photograph..  My Contemplative Thought Flow is the way I approach each landscape I encounter on location.  I  find that employing this series of actions I am more likely to arrive at the kind of contemplative image I seek.

   The three photographs I've included in this post are my Loch Bee series. You may be familiar with #3, the culminating image, but here are the two photographs I made prior to that one. The first was a  good enough image but as I looked at it the landscape seemed to beckon me to continue. Photograph #2 moved me closer to the feeling I was getting as I encountered this landscape but the conversation wasn't quite over.  With #3 I felt I had said what I wanted to express. I could bring the conversation to a close.

Loch Bee Reflections #1
1. Be still.  Become aware of what is around you and quiet your mind. Be present with all your senses. Most importantly, what does your 6th sense, your spiritual inner sense, reveal to you?
2. The landscape is full of metaphors - do you see any?
3. The landscape contains a range of emotion - what do you feel?
4. The landscape holds wisdom it wishes to share with you - do you hear it?  Begin your conversation with the landscape...ask your questions then listen for the answers.Write these in your journal.

Loch Bee Reflections #2

1. Of all that is in front of you, all that you see, and feel and hear, what draws you in?  Focus your attention.
2. Does it ask you to move closer or step back?
3. Which angle provides the most interesting viewpoint for interpreting the subject?
4. A cardboard viewfinder is helpful for framing possible images...sketching also helps you discern the essential elements of the landscape.
5. Be Patient! The landscape will tell you when to release the shutter.

Loch Bee Reflections #3
1. Does the image I made say anything about the experience?
2. Are there ways I can technically enhance the image to more clearly match my experience?
3. Does the final image complete our dialogue?
4. Do I need to return?  Be Persistent.  You will know when the conversation with the landscape is complete.
5. Consider experimenting with the final image in are not  making postcards but personal icons of your encounter with the landscape.

   Much later, after I have had time to detach myself from the experience, I look again at the images I made.  This is the time I like to look for the greater message...those eternal truths I've spoken about before. Sometimes, if I'm very lucky, an image will become an icon of a image that I will return to over and over to reflect on and learn from. Loch Bee Reflections#3 above is one of those universal icons for me. At times the landscape will tell me something that I didn't particularly want to hear as happened at Annaberg on St. John. (See "The Annaberg Encounter" post of April 11, 2012)  Both kinds of encounters are important to a contemplative photographer. Always, it is the emotional impact of a landscape on the photographer that counts...not the surface quality but the layers of meaning below that reality

    These truths, "these layers of meaning" whatever they are, are really relevant only to me. Others looking at the image may not see what I saw at all and that is as it should be. Contemplative photography is not about some universal language or a set of defining principles.  Everyone  must make their own metaphoric equivalents. Contemplative images are open-ended photographs...they ask questions and rarely give an answer and they may ask a different question each time you look at them.  They will serve each viewer in a different way.  Fortunately, as Minor White has observed, "Photography is a language more universal than words." It is enough that they have meaning to you.  It should be the only reason you make them. Make them, reflect on them and then let them go.

No comments: