Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Photographic Pilgrimage-a soulful search for meaning

     I have been thinking a lot about pilgrimage lately.  Scottish Life is featuring my black and white photographs of the Outer Hebrides in their Summer edition as a photographic essay on my travels in the Western Isles in 2005 and 2011.  While preparing my introduction to the feature and the captions for the photographs, I had time to reflect on my motivations surrounding these trips.  Both trips were, in a very real sense, a pilgrimage

      I looked up the definition of "pilgrimage" in the dictionary.  It read, in part, "any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose..." I then had to look up "votive"! It read, "expressive of a wish or desire". Yes, that certainly fit. My trip to the Outer Hebrides in 2005 was a quest.  I had to see if after a 25 year hiatus from photography I could still make images with feeling and substance. (And, I might add, whether I could figure out all this "pixel" stuff with my new digital camera!)
     The essence of a pilgrimage is that at the end of it there should be some profound change...some revelation...some deeply personal growth.  I experienced all those things.  I discovered the notion of contemplative camera work and dedicated myself to understanding how it could impact the images I make.  Most importantly, it forever changed the way I approach a landscape or a subject of any kind. It also reinforced my love of solitary places, away from the tourist attractions and bus tours.

     Does every trip a photographer makes need to be a photographic pilgrimage?  Hardly but as I recently discovered on St. John, you can take the contemplative photographer out of their solitary places but you can't take the need for those places out of the contemplative photographer.  I still managed to find them on an island that is known for it's material culture and hoards of tourists.  So I guess my answer to the above question is that wherever you travel you travel as the person, and the photographer, you are. If you seek contemplative imagery then you will find it no matter where you go. I am always on a quest for images that reflect more profound truths and personal experience.  In that respect, I am on a continual pilgrimage. I saw a quote recently that I think is appropriate to this conversation.

"We are not human beings trying to be spiritual,
We are spiritual beings trying to be human."


     We may choose our travel destinations or they may choose us but no matter why we go where we go, there will be something to learn about ourselves in the end if we take the time to reflect on the images we make. So ask yourself this. What kind of photographic pilgrim are you?  What do you fervently seek and what do you most wish to find in your camera work?  What will your next quest be?   A book you might find inspirational as you plan your summer trips is The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker's Guide to Making Travel Sacred.   It could very well be a guide book for the contemplative photographer.

    My next photographic pilgrimage will be to  France in August where, in part, I plan to pay tribute to my Father's role in the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944 on the beaches of Normandy.  I wish you safe travels this Summer on your soulful search for meaning.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Having just returned from a very meaningful Ignatian Pilgrimage to Spain, and being a photography afficionado, I was delighted to discover your blog and enjoy it very much!