Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Retrospective: The Color Collection 2007 - 2013

Click here to enter gallery...
   I have been making color images only since 2007.  It wasn't until 2011 that I really embraced color though.  It occurred on  on my month long trip to South Uist.  Now, it is hard for me to  imagine not doing color work.

   Color images have a totally different impact on the viewer from the monochrome ones.  Some images look better in black and white while others need to be in color.

   When I began to see the world in color rather than in black and white, a whole different world opened up to me.  Color has it's own meaning and metaphoric possibilities I've found.

   Again, as you "walk through" the collection you may wonder at my choices.  It is all about how I originally received the images and what they have come to mean to me over time.  I purposely didn't add that information because it really doesn't matter what the images mean to me.  You need to look and ponder from your own perspective.

   I strongly recommend that you put together your own retrospective because seeing the work together, side by side, is so illuminating.  Contemplative photography is not about the commercial viability of the work, whether it will sell or not in a gallery.  It is such a personal approach and that is what makes it so appealing to me.  I don't have to wow the critiques and neither do you.  Hold your image in your hands and revel in it's message and meaning to you.  If it touches you, that's all that matters.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Retrospective - The Monochrome Collection: 2005 - 2013

Click here to visit gallery...

  Well, as promised, I've waded through hundreds of images and come up with a collection of images for my "Retrospective".  I've divided the show into two "galleries", a monochrome one and a color one.  I felt that this was the best way to do it since there is such a different feel to each collection and they are best viewed together.

   There are a hundred images in total, fifty in each gallery.  Today I am presenting the monochrome collection.  This has been a fascinating process to consider which 50 to include.  Most of the photographs are included in my folios on the blog.  Seeing all the images side by side, however,  is very revealing to me. 

   I noticed that I am particularly attracted to dramatic skies, diagonal compositions and asymmetry!   I was able, by viewing the collection as a whole, to see the underlying themes of my work very clearly.  I thought it was a fitting way to end the year.

   The photographs were chosen not so much for their artistic merit but for how they came to be and what they personally mean for me.  You might try creating your own retrospective, either digitally or by actually printing out the images and staging a "viewing" for friends and family.  Since I consider my blog readers my extended family...you are all invited!  Just click on the invitation above and visit the monochrome gallery!

   My Icon is "Up Close and Far Away", the image above.  It is the one image that if all the others were lost would be most representative of my approach...my "style" of photography.  I hope you enjoy your visit to this first gallery and don't forget to sign the guest book!  (Which is just another way of saying, comments are welcome!)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Renew your Perception through Contemplative Photography...

It is the function of art
to renew perception.
What we are familiar
with we cease to see.

-  Anais Nin

   One of my goals in 2013 as I revisited near to hand and familiar locations was to renew my perception.  It wasn't enough to just experience these places again.  I wanted to see them differently. I wanted to see things I overlooked before.  I wanted to "re-boot" my perceptual skills.

   Of course I wasn't successful 100% of the time...probably not even 50% of the time.  When it did occur it was wonderful and surprisingly subtle.  Like this simple photograph of back lit leaves.  I never really thought about the translucency of leaves before.  I thought of them as "solid" shapes hanging onto twigs and branches.  But this image illustrated that translucent quality. I began to experience a whole new appreciation of something I see everyday and never thought about.  That got me thinking...

   Botanically speaking, leaves are like little filters that absorb and remove carbon dioxide (the nasty stuff we spew into the atmosphere and which is contributing to global climate change) and release purified oxygen. They breath in our waste and exhale what allows us to live in the first place.  This image seemed to create a metaphor of that process for me and made me think of something I hadn't thought much of since my biology class in high school. ***

    The familiar, the over looked, is transformed by the contemplative photographic image.  The extremely swallow depth of field reduced the sunlight to large round shapes and enhanced the shadow effects.  I'm not even sure why I made this image in the first place except the light attracted my attention and instead of overlooking a seemingly "blah" image, I gathered it in...no judgements.

    A wonderful and selfless dance  was going on in these leaves as they tried to correct our misuse of the environment simply and silently every day. It is one of those everyday miracles we tend to pass by.   Instead, this photograph made me want to elevate the simple leaf to sainthood!

*** In case you'd like to re-learn the leaf's amazing process of photosynthesis, you can click on this link.   ( I guess you can't take the teacher out of the contemplative photographer but it is so interesting...really! )

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The A, B, C's of Contemplative Photography -X

X is for Xenium (and also for....sorry, this is all I have!)

A present given amongst the ancient
Greeks and Romans to a guest or a stranger.  

   Honestly, this is the one letter that I thought I would have difficulty with.  There is only one page of words in the dictionary that begin with "X".  This one, however, is perfect for the contemplative photographer.

   I consider the photographs I receive as gifts from the landscape.  I even wrote a post about it...you can see that here.  To find this word was also a gift.  When I am in a new landscape I do feel as if I am a guest visiting the home of a kind soul.  I am thankful for the images that I receive there.  To see your photographs as gifts is taking the idea of receiving to its logical conclusion.

   Winter is an especially wonderful time to walk in the still and seemingly empty landscape.  Here in Maine it can be a challenge as well with snow to wade through and frigid temperatures to endure.  But finding yourself in a pristine world of snow and ice, silent and untouched, is really worth the effort.  It is a gift I try to give myself each winter.  Just being there in the beautiful landscape is enough, any images I may also receive are just an added blessing.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Teaching Patience...

  When I received the latest edition of Harvard Magazine, I turned immediately to an article that had caught my attention,  The Power of Patience: Teaching students the value of deceleration and immersive attention.  Of course, patience is the third "Be" in my mantra for contemplative photographers...Be Still, Be Present, Be Patient, and Be Persistent.

   Professor Jennifer L. Roberts, who chairs the doctoral program in American Studies at Harvard goes on in her article to argue for opportunities to practice slow learning.  "I want to give them (the students) the permission and the structures to slow down."

   Although she is referring to the study of paintings, I found many connections to contemplative photography as well.  She requires students to spend a "painfully long time looking at the object."   Her use of the word painful is significant.

   We have evolved into a culture that seek immediate results and rapid responses.  But, as Roberts points out, vision is not immediate.  There are "details and orders and relationships that take time to perceive."  It is the same  with the landscape.

   What this exercise shows students is that
just because you have looked at something
doesn't meant that you have seen it.

    I would take Roberts statement one step further. Just because you've seen something doesn't mean you understand it. For that you have to "behold" it...reach out and shake hands with your vision.  That is what a contemplative photographer attempts to do.

    I find it reassuring that my alma mater is encouraging their students to slow down and savor the object of their attention. I fear many of them will take awhile to get use to this concept of slow time. It will take a great deal of effort for these young people who were born into a world of instant communication to realize that, as Professor Roberts says...

...time is not just a negative space, a passive intermission
to be overcome. It is a productive or formative force in itself.

   Amen to that.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

From Here to There and Back Again...

   I began this year with a New Years retreat at Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, Massachusetts.  I chose my word for 2013, PATHWAYS, as I walked the Abbey labyrinth in late December.  It's been a wonderful and enriching year as I meditated on the various ways I walk through the world.

   On December 7th I returned to Glastonbury Abbey to attend an Advent event.  I've come full circle.  I decided to again let the Abbey grounds inspire my word choice for 2014.

   I had several words percolating in my mind the past several weeks but as I walked during a time set aside for quiet reflection, I came to a part of the property I hadn't visited the first time.  There was the answer, illuminated in the soft and slanted December light - THRESHOLD.  It seemed so appropriate.

Threshold Inspiration
   With my pilgrimage to sacred sites in Ireland and Scotland in May next year which I had already named (see the first post here...) it was clear that the word Threshold should be my focus for the entire year, not just for the month long trip.  There are so many ways you can think about the concept of a threshold.  I know it will sustain me for a full twelve months.

   At the end of the presentation, I spoke to the woman who had led the event.  She said she had seen me photographing the stone sculpture.  She and her husband had actually donated the stone to the abbey!  In the warm months, streams of water fill the opening.  I will definitely come back to photograph the water feature next year.  I thought it was a lovely connection and made my choice seem even more special.

   I encourage all of you to think about choosing a word for 2014, or let the word choose you in some way as I did at the Abbey.  You can make it your annual year end ritual.  My path began at Glastonbury Abbey but it doesn't end here.  I pass through, cross over a new threshold into a new year and a new adventure.  I hope you can join with me in 2014 to see where it all  will lead.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Day Message from Henry David Thoreau...

   I've posted the original 19th century version of Thoreau's writing even though it is a bit difficult to read.  I like the old look of the type and paper. My little farmhouse here in Maine was 7 years old when Thoreau penned those words.  Not very old by European standards but it is my little bit of history.   I had to smile when I found it and saw his use of the ... that I often employ! 

   I hope when things settle down today...when the presents are all open and the Christmas dinner finished...that you get a chance to walk out into the landscape...watch the sun go down and perhaps, if you are very lucky hear the hoot of an owl.  I plan to do just that today...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday Overload!

   'Tis the season for a hectic flurry of activity.  This time between Thanksgiving and New Years is  awash with halls to be decked with boughs of holly, brown paper packages to tie up with string and a "To Do" list that never seems to get done.

   This is an image I made in 2012 in Paris.  I found it at the Cluney Museum above the front door. (You can read the post about my time being a flaneur in Paris here.) The building the museum is in use to be, a thousand years before, a stop over for pilgrims.  There, weary from their travels, the pilgrims could find food and shelter for the night.  Nestled all snug in their beds, it wasn't sugar plums dancing in their heads but visions of their destination...the place of their pilgrimage.

   I too am trying to keep that vision clear in my head as I muddle through the holiday season preparations.  Visions of the Burren and Iona and Glendalough are dancing in my head but I can surely appreciate the expression on this overloaded pilgrim!  It is time for some peace and quiet!

   Although this photograph was made a year and a half ago, its meaning wasn't clear to me until now.  That is the way with contemplative images.  They draw our attention and then, sometimes, they settle in for a long winter's nap.  They will awaken when their time comes, as it did this past week for me.

   It is Christmas Eve and I will be sitting by a cozy fire with Emerson curled up on my lap.  Everything is done and now it is time to just savor the peace of my little snow covered farmhouse.  I will remember Christmases past when it was so hard to sleep this night with the hope that St. Nicholas soon would appear.  But now I simply appreciate the beauty and serenity of this Christmas for the present is all we truly have. 

   My tree is decorated with blown glass ornaments that represent my many trips.  There's a glass spotted ray for St. John, a chili pepper for New Mexico and Santa Claus ornaments in Scottish, Irish and Russian dress!  I can be reminded of all the wonderful adventures I've had as I hang them on the tree. 

   In this photograph you can see my Eiffel Tower ornament which reminds me of my trip to France last year and and my Alice in Wonderland ornament which I use to represent that curiosity which is very much a part of me.  I also like to have ornaments for family and friends who can't be with me at Christmas and I chose something symbolic to represent them as well.

   For all my blog friends this holiday season may I simply say...Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Standing in Wonderment...

   I think that if I could give one gift to all of you this holiday season it would be the gift of wonderment.  Richard Rohr defines it this way.  To practice wonderment means:
  • standing in disbelief
  • standing in the question itself
  • standing in awe before something
   Cultivating a sense of wonderment will take your photographic experience out of the ordinary into a relationship with the world around you that will change you in profound ways.

   We take so much for granted, so many tiny miracles happen everyday and we blithely go about our business completely unawares.  The camera, when held with wonderment, opens us to the magic of discovery.
   So take time during this incredible busy time of year to just sit in wonderment.  Perhaps it will be during a soft snowfall or in a moonlit landscape or just on a walk around the block.  Stop, stare and above all wonder....

    (To read the rest of Richard Rohr's post on wonderment, click here...)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Pilgrim's Vade Mecum....

   In Latin, Vade Mecum translates into English as "goes with me".    Ancient pilgrims would often take these little books with them on their long and arduous journeys.  They were bound and wrapped in leather and tied by means of a cord to the pilgrim's belt.

   This is where we get the tradition of a handbook...a small volume of useful information.  The pilgrim's vade mecum could include any information the pilgrim felt important for their journey.  This might include maps, prayers, and recipes for herbal remedies.

   For my threshold pilgrimage next year, I plan to make my own vade mecum.  Since book arts is another passion of mine I think it would be fun to make a tiny volume to take along with me.  I am inviting my blog readers to send me a short quotation that might be meaningful for me to read as I make this trip.  You might send a quote on "thresholds" or journeying or any other inspiration you'd like.  I'll write them in my little book.

    This way, you, or at least your thoughts, can walk along with me.  You can send them via the comments option or email me if you'd rather do it that way.  I would like, symbolically, to take along as many of you as I can.  So send along a quotation for me to include in my vade mecum and we'll make this journey together.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

The A, B, C's of Contemplative Photography - W

W is for Watcher (and also for Waiting, and Waymarkers, and Wonderment, and Wanderer, and Wayfaring, and....)

Someone who observes something
 attentively or regularly

   Contemplative photographers are watchers.  Not only because of their focused attention but because they are willing to return, again and again to observe the same location.  It is the fourth BE...Be Persistent.

   There is a certain amount of detachment, at least initially, to the watchfulness of the contemplative photographer.  You are a bystander, or in my case, a by-sitter in the landscape. Then, you must transition from watcher to beholder.  You look beneath the surface to discover the essence of the landscape...the thing that is not apparent to the casual viewer.  You are moving from a mind's eye view to a heart's eye view.  At some point, you have to get up and move into a sentient, soulful listening encounter with what you have so closely observed.  There has to be a relationship, an interaction in some way.  You begin by watching, you evolve to beholding, you proceed to listening, and then you enter into a partnership with the landscape.  Anything less, for me at least, is not contemplative photography.

   This partnership can be defined in many ways.  For me, it is the sum total of the observing/beholding and  the listening phases.  It happens outside the rational knowing mind, on a very intuitive level.  The longer I practice contemplative photography the easier it is for me to enter into this co-conspiracy with the landscape.

    It is this final step that is most difficult to make for those new to the concept.  They often get stuck in the rational, mind-based watcher phase.  They may even try beholding what is before them but the last two steps are tenuous and unfamiliar.  The listening happens through the heart.  It is the only way the landscape can communicate with you.   That communication will then open the door for the "third eye" to respond to forge the partnership with the landscape.   Be patient...it will come.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Thought for Today - The Shadow Self

   The Shadow Self is the self we keep hidden from the world perhaps through shame or insecurity.  We try to ignore it but it is there nonetheless.  Looking at the "dark" only makes the "light" more beautiful.

   But I believe that there is also an in between place...the twilight self...which is neither dark or light.  It is where we most normally dwell.  It contains elements of both but is also its own unique entity.  The twilight self is the non-dualistic self...the many shades of grey with which the world is truly made.  It acknowledges the dark and relishes the light but is content to rest in between, at the borderline of both.

   Unfortunately, many people refuse to enter this border world.  For them, it is not "dark and light" but "dark OR light".  These dualistic thinkers feel very uncomfortable in the twilight region.  When we become comfortable dwelling in this place we can embrace both sides and reconcile them.  For me, this twilight place is where I can find my higher self,  a self that is never as bad as the shadow or as good as the light. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Accumulation of Experience...

Spiritual practice must be uninterrupted.  We
may be anxious because we see very little
happening on a daily basis, but we must be
patient until we can see what the accumulation
of our efforts yields.  Self-cultivation means
steady, gradual progress.
- Deng Ming-Dao
365 Tao Daily Meditations #74

   Although Ming-Dao is speaking about spiritual practice, his words could as well apply to contemplative photography.  Seeing the landscapes metaphors, deciphering your images through Photo Lectio, looking for the hidden meanings all around us takes time and patient cultivation.  For me, contemplative photography is my primary spiritual practice.

   In a society use to instantaneous gratification and quick fixes, the practice of contemplative photography must seem like (as my Grandmother loved to say of slow things...) "It is like cold molasses running uphill in January!"  That is really slow!

   This should not dissuade someone from beginning.  Overtime, the accumulation of experience will occur.  Subtly, without fanfare, you will see your perceptions shift.  The landscape will speak more clearly to you and your images will become open books to your searching soul.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Have Camera, Will Travel - A Year in Review...

   One of the things I always do in December is to look over my year and the photographs I've received during that time.  This year has been very full of travels here in the states.

   I've created a desktop calendar of 12 of my favorite images...this is the cover with a photograph I made on January 1st at the Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, Massachusetts.
(You can purchase the calendar, if you want, by following this link.)

   You might want to try creating a collection of 12 images from all the ones you made this year, a "good crop" as Ansel Adams called them.  You can read the post if you missed it or re-read it to refresh your memory of the idea.  Narrowing all the images you made down to only twelve photographs can be quite a good discriminating exercise.  In the meantime, browse through my "good crop" for 2013 below.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Sound of Silence...

The Gorge of the Petroglyphs - St. John VI
   Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Simon and Garfunkel song, The Sounds of Silence.  That is hard for me to comprehend since I was just starting high school when it came out.  Tempus Fugit.   If you would like, listen to it again in the link above and absorb the powerful message it had to give us.

    I began a new book recently by Bruce Davis, Monastery Without Walls: Daily Life in the Silence.  He points out so beautifully that we, in the 21st century, no longer know what real silence sounds like.  

That is a mind altering idea; that trying to find a place where the modern world doesn't intervene would be so difficult.  But it is true.

 I think this makes the practice of contemplative photography all the more important...all the more compelling. 
Although modern technology has made our lives more convenient, 
it has threatened our ability to listen inside and to hear each other.

   Contemplative photography is always best practiced in solitude and in silence.  Without this pairing, the interaction between photographer and landscape is not really possible.  Nature does not shout its message like the neon signs in Simon and Garfunkel's song, it communicates in soft whispers and subtle imagery. 

   This first requires that you feel comfortable in the silence...so many people don't.  I know someone who cannot sleep without the television on.  For her, the mindless chatter of late night talk shows is a panacea, the silence is unendurable.  I don't think she is alone in that.  Learning to feel comfortable in the silence requires daily nurturing and practice but it will lead you into a more intimate relationship with the world around you...worth the effort I would say.



Monday, December 16, 2013

Waiting for...What?

   This is the season of Advent for those of us who follow a Christian path.  It is the season that implores us to be still and wait.  Those qualities are also two of my Four Be's of Contemplative Photography - Be Still, Be Present, Be Patient and Be Persistent.

   It is the anticipation of what you may find, when you are on location in some wonderful landscape, that makes you move quickly, trying to catch the fleeting light, worried you will miss the perfect photograph.  It is very hard to just be still and wait.  Just like the children counting down the days until Santa arrives...waiting is just plain hard!

   But it is the waiting, the trust that the image will present itself, that most clearly differentiates the contemplative photographer from any other except, perhaps, wild life photographers like Nick Brandt who must sit for hours waiting for his subjects to get use to him. (See my post about this wonderful photographer here.)
   What is it exactly that we, as contemplative photographers, are waiting for?  I can only speak of my personal advent.  As I walk through or sit still in a landscape it is the subtle whisperings I listen for.  Not with my ears but with my heart. It seems as if it exists just below the level of my conscious awareness.  Somehow, in someway that I am at a loss for words to describe, I feel a gentle tug that may turn me this way or that and then it is like a slowly dawning realization that this is what I must photograph.  This is what I came here to see.  I wait, patiently, for this to occur.  It doesn't happen 100% of the time but when it does I am always delighted and often surprised.

   So, what are you waiting for?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Sunday Sermon...

All things with which we
deal preach to us.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

   I am constantly delighted and amazed by what attracts my attention on my solitary strolls in nature.  On a lovely Sunday afternoon at the Fresh Pond reservation, my focus was drawn to the chain link fence that surrounds the pond.

   A tiny vine had attached itself to the fence and a few of its leaves had "escaped" their confinement behind the enclosure.  The fence was their support, their strength.  Without it they couldn't climb to the life giving light but they reached out beyond the safety. 

   We all need support and structure in our life but we also need the ability to reach beyond it.  This little "sermon" was preached to me that Sunday afternoon in the most prosaic of places.  But as Emerson says, everything we come in contact with during the course of our day has something to tell us if we would just take the time to listen to it.

   Emerson's thought, that all things preach to us, is the very basis of my practice of contemplative photography.  I hear the preaching through the metaphors I find.  A simple fence can speak volumes.  You don't need spectacular or faraway landscapes...the messages are everywhere...even your own backyard.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The A, B, C's of Contemplative Photography - V

V is for Veil (and also for Vision, and Value, and Variety, and Viewfinder, and Visible and Visual, and...)

Something that covers,
separates,screens or conceals

   As contemplative photographers we seek to lift the veil that obscures the messages we desire to find in our images.  That veil is usually within ourselves.  The wisdom contained in the landscape is there for all to see but so many hindrances keep us from seeing it and photographing it.   The one I've mentioned the most on this blog is the "monkey mind".  This is my greatest hindrance to hearing what the landscape has to tell me. (You can read this post about ways to calm the monkey mind.  Of course, I encourage you to read Christine Valter Paintner's guest post on quieting the mind if you haven't yet.)

   Recently, I introduced you to the idea of Soul Collage.  I worked on some cards while I was in St. John and I created one card for my  Committee Suit  I call "Monkey Mind".   It isn't finished.  The monkey needs something in its hands but I won't know what that will be until I come across it while I'm gathering images.  Just as I didn't know I was making this card until I was looking through dozens of images I'd cut out and they just came together.  This is what I love about doing these little collages.  They are so seemingly random and spontaneous. It is the intuitive nature of the process that helps hone the skill that later you will need while you are out and about gathering images in the landscape with your camera.  (If you missed the post on Soul Collage you can read it here.)  I'm really enjoying creating these cards and they are becoming a great adjunct to my meditative writing practice.
My Monkey Mind

   As you think about your New Year's resolutions for 2014, add finding ways to lift the veil which inhibits your perception.  It will be the best thing you can do to ensure you will have a year of heightened sensitivity to the world around you and that can only lead to more meaningful photographs.

   Here is a link to my Pinterest board on photomontage...

Here are three more of my Soul Collage cards...

The Inhibitor
The Guardians
The Seeker


Friday, December 13, 2013

Inspiration is Just a Click Away!

   I've loved doing my Inspired By....series.  There are so many interesting and talented people to learn from.  One of the wonderful side effects of writing this blog is I'm often given links to other blogs or websites from my readers.

   I want to encourage all of you to forward your favorite sites and/or blogs via the comment option.  If you feel they relate in any way to photography or contemplative thought they may be of interest to other readers of this blog.   I will post them on my Pinterest board so people can have easy access to the wealth of resources the internet offers.

   I've always said that we forge a chain of influence every time we meet a new person or read an inspiring article whether they are photography related or not.  Let's make some more connections!

   In the meantime, visit my board on Pinterest and begin forging your own chain of influence...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Insights from the Edge...

      Sometimes when I am in a landscape that is new to me, I feel a bit like I am standing on the edge...yearning to move into the meaning and message of the place but hesitant to do so.

   It is like when you go to a party, as many of us will do this holiday season, and know very few of the other guests.  You may stay on the edge of the room, scanning the crowd for a familiar face.  In doing so you might miss the interesting stranger standing right by your side.

   It is human nature to seek the familiar and safe experience.  It takes a trusting and adventurous soul to brave the unknown.

   Find a quiet place around your town that is not a place you usually visit.  Sit and settle in.  Spend some time re-adjusting to this new environment.  You might try the following visual listening sequence.  Journal your responses.

   I. What brought me here in the first place?  Did I seek it out intentionally or did I stumble upon it?  Both ways are meaningful.

   II.  What are my very first, unfiltered impressions?  Do any surprise me?  Do any trigger memories?  Do you feel any judgements seeking to draw you away from experiencing this place purely?

   III. What here feels most "unknown" to me?  This place has something to teach you...what do you imagine it to be?  Are there metaphors to be seen?  Take your time and look beneath the surface.

  After asking and answering those questions, follow your instinctual and intuitive impulses.  Let the power of the location (and all locations have power.  There are no insignificant landscapes.) draw you away from the edge into a centered place.  Do not be a bystander...open your heart and your mind to the experience.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Threshold Pilgrimage - The Very, Very Beginning

  In early May of 2014 I will embark on a month long journey to Scotland and Ireland.  I will visit three "thin places" each chosen to represent a facet of my life that is in transition. This is a journey I have wanted to  take for some time now and I want to savor every moment of it...even before I embark.

    Initially, I had not planned to begin writing about this until next year but I've discovered that even in these early stages of preparation I am experiencing some interesting and serendipitous occurrences that you may find illuminating.  Mainly, I want you to see how pilgrimage begins long before the actual trip and many things go into the process.

   I have written extensively about traveling with a pilgrim's heart (you can re-read those posts here...).  I try to travel with intention wherever I go be it near to home or half way around the world.  But this trip would be different I felt and it was different from the very, very beginning.

    I will start with the first bit of serendipity/synchronicity which was what got me thinking of making this pilgrimage in the first place.  I guess you could say it began with a conversation and a passage of writing by John O'Donohue, who I always find inspirational on so many levels.  I came across this passage right after I had had a revealing and thought provoking conversation earlier this year with a friend about my turning 65 next year. (The emphasized parts are what resonated most with me after our conversation about specific turning points in ones life and how we face them...)

“Like spring secretly at work within the heart of winter, below the surface of our lives huge changes are in fermentation. We never suspect a thing. Then when the grip of some long-enduring winter mentality begins to loosen, we find ourselves vulnerable to a flourish of possibility and we are suddenly negotiating the challenge of a threshold. At any time you can ask yourself: At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life, what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What gift would enable me to do it? A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres. Indeed, it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a stage of life that it intensifies toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up. At this threshold a great complexity of emotion comes alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope. This is one of the reasons such vital crossings were always clothed in ritual. It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds; to take your time; to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there; to listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. The time has come to cross.”

   It came into my mind that a pilgrimage, a "threshold" pilgrimage was in order for next year but to where?  What was the threshold to be crossed?  Was there, in fact, more than one threshold?  As he said in the above passage, What am I leaving?  Where am I about to enter? 

   John had been a priest for over 18 years when he left to pursue his writing and lecturing full time.  That must have been a tremendous threshold for him to cross.  My transition from full time teacher to full time contemplative photographer and blogger has also been a major transition for me.  I would need to think carefully about all this but one thing was certain.  I knew that I would return to Western Ireland, my hearts home and my spirits place of rest...at least for part of the time.

   Since this whole idea began with John O'Donohue, I thought that the Burren would be the logical first part of the pilgrimage.  I longed to return to "John's house" in Ballyvaughan on the shores of Galway Bay but that would entail finding people to share the house expense.  Initial feelers to friends and family came up empty handed.  Perhaps I'd just find a little B&B instead, I thought. 

    However, the serendipity was just beginning.  Things were at work, it seemed, that would shape my pilgrimage and all I had to do was keep an open heart and follow where it led me.  If I was meant to be in Ballyvaughan then there I would be.   In the next post on my threshold pilgrimage, in early January, I will talk about the second bit of serendipity... 


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Beach of Bones....

One of the best things in this year of travel was discovering the Beach of Metaphors on Campobello Island in Canada.  I never expected to find one on St. John which is world renowned for is velvety pink sand beaches.  I would be wrong.

   A small, secluded beach on Ditleff point has it's own story, and metaphors, to tell.  It is not only a stone strewn beach but has hundreds of bleached pieces of coral.  I found this sweet heart shaped one the day we visited.

   People had built small cairns with the coral as I had with the stones on the Campobello beach.  I was enthralled with the variety of the coral pieces.  Then it hit me, these really are the "bones" of the delicate and endangered coral reefs that once proliferated in the Caribbean.

    I immediately had a different reaction to this "beach of bones".  Even in this beautiful and privileged location, there are reminders that things aren't as they should be.

   Many of the coral pieces were stag horns, a variety that is especially endangered in the Caribbean.  One of the benefits of a world-wide audience on a blog is I can spread the word about especially sensitive environmental issues.  Back in October I posted about the plight of the honey bee.  You can read that here.

   That was the message I took away from this beach on St. John.  I now saw this beach as a cemetery for the lost coral reefs off shore and I want to pass on a resource to begin educating the world.  Coral reefs have a huge impact on the health of the marine life and it would be a tragedy of immense proportions if they continue to disappear at the alarming rates they are now.  Please post this link on your Facebook page and help spread the word.

   I now see that little coral heart as a metaphor for a re-awaken consciousness about the plight of the coral reefs world wide. Will you help spread the word?


Monday, December 9, 2013

My Icon from St. John...

Caribbean Iguana
   I've been thinking about which image I would choose as my "Icon of the Experience" on St. John.  It is never easy to isolate one image and I had several possibilities.  As much as I love my St. John alphabet, I wanted to chose something much more personal.

   I began by reminding myself what I have come to understand the definition of a photographic "icon" to be.
  An image that not only characterizes
the location but mirrors your unique
response to it.  An image that if all the
 others made in that location were lost, 
this one image could stand alone.

      I considered the iguana image.  He really says "St. John" to me and my heart-felt desire for an "iguana sighting" amused my friend to no end.  I love it's beautifully textured skin and soft colors.  As fascinating as these creatures are to behold however, St. John is so much more than its flora and fauna.

   I also considered a landscape, like this view across Klein Bay from Ditleff Point.  The towering clouds and difficult to negotiate hills spotted with million dollar villas also say "St. John" but they are not reflective of my personal response to the location.

   No, in the end I settled on "Miss Olivia".  She was surely one of the highlights of my trip in so many ways.

Miss Olivia at Annaberg

   I loved her warm hearted graciousness.  I loved the way she dispelled my feelings of uneasiness in that unique place which I had taken away with me the last time I visited.  

   It reminded me a lot of my series, First Person Rural.  The real joy of any location, close to home or half way around the world, is in the people who live there.

   I've never chosen a portrait as my "icon" but this time it seemed truly fitting.  (Of course, medieval icons were always of people, saints in particular but didn't Thomas Merton recognize the "sainthood" of all creation?)

   Consider looking through photographs of your last trip and see if one image stands out.  Which would you chose to represent not only the place but your individual approach?  What would be your icon of the experience?
   Check out Kim Manley Ort's wonderful post on this subject here...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Flowers in Paradise...

   Photographing "Eleanor's Flowers" on Campobello in September had me looking more closely at the flowers on St. John.

   When your eyes are opened to a new subject,  it alters how you approach each subsequent landscape you walk through.  What you would normally pass by you stop and behold.

   Whereas the dahlias of Campobello were so familiar to me, St. John's flora is exotic.  I do agree, however, with O'Keeffe's sentiment above.   We usually never take the time to look into the tiny faces of flowers.
   Everyday, as we trudged up the driveway to our car, we walked by these little flowers on the right.  One day, I stopped and really looked closely at them.  The centers seemed to glow with an interior light.  They were absolutely lovely and I couldn't believe that we hadn't noticed their glorious display!

   I think the real lesson I've learned during my stay on St. John is the importance of taking the time to notice the tiny "insignificant" things.  The magnificent landscapes are a wonder to behold but so are natures small miracles, like this flower.  The pink sand beaches and flaming sunsets are mirrored in this delicate flower and the experience is just as stunning.

   I've decided to make my "Good Crop" of images from St. John a collection of 12 of these exotic flowers.  I hope you enjoy gazing into the tiny faces...

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The A, B, C's of Contemplative Photography - U

U is for Understanding (and also for Unveil, and Unique, and Underlying, and Underscore, and Understanding, and...)

the knowledge and ability to ascertain
the underlying truth of a particular 
situation or subject

      A wise teacher of mine once told me that you can know much in this life but what you truly understand will be far less.  For me true wisdom comes from appreciating the difference.

     "Know-it-Alls" (especially in the field of photography) abound...I've never met an "Understand-it-All".   Contemplative photography allows us to step beyond the knowing and experience some degree of understanding.  

   It is not that the camera is some sort of magical instrument of revelation...far from it.  The camera only "knows" what is it is pointed at.  It records it, documents it, freezes it for all time.  It is impartial and non-judgmental.   Any understanding that is to occur must come from the photographer...not only from the head but from the heart.  For knowing is a "head thing" and understanding is most definately a "heart thing".