I think the one question I am asked the most about contemplative photography is how I tie the image to the written word and visa versa. When I share my reflections about a particular photograph with people they often wonder how I "see" that in the image. That is a very important question and it has several dimensions to it.
|The Two Halves Coming Together|
For me, writing about my images is merely responding, in words, to what I first experienced in the landscape. I developed a sequence I call Photo Lectio (reading the image) based on the monastic practice of Lectio Devina or sacred reading. (Read the post about PhotoLectio here...) That is a process that takes place after the image is made. But in this post I want to talk about the more abstract concept of internalization which occurs before the image is made. That is where my written responses begin.
When you are in the landscape you are, at the same time, both observer and participant. You move back and forth between the two ways of being. As observer, you make lists, record "things", document specific elements in the landscape including making photographs. As participant, you enter into a more intimate engagement with the landscape. It is an empathic relationship and you internalize the more subtle nuances of the natural world in front of you. In essence, you are reading the atmosphere and energy of the place. For comparison, imagine the different ways a botanist and a poet would engage with the landscape. The first would list the plants and their characteristics, the latter would speak about the more ethereal qualities of place that they encounter.
For me, it is the gentle dance between the two modalities that satisfies me the most. When I am able to enter into this rhythm, the words just seem to flow. Try it the next time you are in a landscape. Ask yourself...What would the scientist observe? What would the poet respond to? Write these in your field journal and then make your photographs. Later, as you sit with your image look back to your words. See what this dance inspires in you.
Below is a link to an interview with Christine Valters Paintner on the wonderful blog Faith Squared where she talks about this relationship between the image and the word. You'll have to scroll down about half way to see Christine's interview....
Wendell Berry wrote, “What must a man do to be at home in the world? There must be times when he is here as though absent, gone beyond words….” There are contemplative moments that are beyond words, beyond photographs. I think that this is the "internalization" to which you refer. But then, the very process of photographing, of writing, seems to cement the contemplative moment. And something can emerge in the words and images that transcends the initial intuitive flash. Just as you refer to Photo Lectio, there is also an accompanying "Scribendi Divina”, a sacred writing, for those who choose to write about their image experience in poetry or prose as you do in your great blog.
Thank you John. I love your reference to Sribendi Divina! Yes, I do believe this internalization transcends the initial intuitive flash. It is a deep indwelling of experience that is difficult to put into words.
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