Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Inspired by Diane Walker....

   I've admired Diane Walkers work and writing for some time and I've mentioned her on this blog in the past.  She has graciously agreed to an interview on the idea and practice of contemplative photography.

What brought you to the idea of contemplative photography in the first place? 
I had been photographing for several years, but the business didn’t seem to be going anywhere so I was thinking of giving it up.  I went off on a week long centering prayer retreat with Cynthia Bourgeault with that question in my head, and I found I kept getting feedback – from people, and in meditation – that said no, I shouldn’t give it up. 

The Park Gate
 I came home to find that one of my favorite photographs – a black and white, taken in Venice, very different from my usual Teal-heavy boat and water scenes -- had sold, and in talking about that with the curator of my gallery, he said, “I would always know one of your photographs.  Doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, you can always tell a Diane Walker photo.”  It became apparent, both in conversation with him and in thinking it over later that what set my work apart was that contemplative feel, so I decided, okay, I’m a contemplative photographer!

 So I decided to just go with that; set up the website and the blog, designed business cards, etc.  It didn’t mean the business took off; it just meant I had words for what I was doing, and it felt like a call. 

What characterizes your practice of contemplative photography?  How does photography enhance your contemplative practice?

About 3 years later, after I’d set up the website and been blogging and posting photos for a while, a friend introduced me to the folks who do Miksang Contemplative Photography and I flew out to Colorado for one of their courses. They approach it from a very different perspective, with very different results, but I do love the clarity of their work. It was good, because it forced me to ask this very question – what makes my work different from theirs?

After the Fog
Like the Miksang folks, I take photos from a more meditative space, as a kind of response to a call from the subject. But for me the subject has a story to tell; my photos tend to be more complex than theirs – all of which contributes to the message. I guess you could say that with my photos it’s more of a two-way street. So each morning, after my meditation practice, I go to my computer, look over the images, and say, “What sings to me today.” And almost always one photo will call to me, so then I sit with it and ask what it has to teach me – and then I write about that.

Which means the act of contemplation happens at several points in the overall practice: I meditate in the morning before I go out with my camera. Going out with the camera, I remain open to my surroundings and listen with my eyes for what’s calling to me. I meditate before blogging. And I go to my image file and listen again for what’s calling to me. And then I spend time with that image, listening for what it has to teach me. It’s at that point that I then write down what it is that I’m sensing from what I see, which may be an echo of something I’ve read, or some new thought that’s come to me, or a poem – I don’t ever quite know until it happens.

How does that whole experience enhance my contemplative process? I think it’s a constant reminder that the world is much bigger than me; that I have more to learn than to teach. Plus it’s a way to practice surrendering control, to (as they say) “Let go and let God” – or whatever you would like to name that divine source – take over.

What advice would you offer someone who is interested in the concept of contemplative photography?  How, why, and where do you begin? 

It seems to me that Contemplative Photography isn’t really about the camera, it’s about the response, about your openness, your willingness to listen.  Yes, you need to understand the workings of the camera, but I don’t believe you need a terrific camera with lots of bells and whistles to do this.  Yes, I do shoot almost entirely in manual mode, so I can control the exposure (I seem to see light differently than camera manufacturers do, so automatic settings never give me what I want).  But I mostly use a fairly small point and shoot so I can always keep it handy, ready to respond if there’s a call to photograph something.  (I do love having the longest possible zoom, though).

Root Crucifix
A teacher once told me that an amateur photographer TAKES a photograph but a professional photographer MAKES a photograph – and despite the fact that I see this process as a response, I still believe that’s true. Yes, I meditate first thing every morning – it helps keep me flexible and open. Yes, I’m sort of always scanning my environment as I go through my day, paying attention to what’s around me, noticing what strikes a response in me. But when I feel that call and grab the camera, I need to take the time to frame the shot well, to eliminate extraneous details, to focus in on the specific thing or combination of things and find a way to achieve a balance that will give them voice through the image. I may not have chosen the subject, but once it’s there I have a responsibility to render it well, to facilitate its message as best I can.

So although it may be a point and shoot camera, it’s rarely a point-and-shoot process; I spend time moving around the space, looking for the angle, perspective, crop etc. that works best – which means that sometimes, since light plays such a huge role in all of this, I lose the shot because the light changes. So occasionally, if it’s clear light plays a major role in the quality of the shot, I’ll take a quick one right up front, just in case the light goes.

So to answer the question, about where to begin – I think it begins with humility. I don’t go into it thinking “today I’m going to say THIS with my camera.” It’s more putting myself at the disposal of what needs to be communicated. I don’t even go out there thinking I’m going to take a great photograph, because some of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had doing this have not necessarily been great or beautiful photographs. It’s more about the interaction between me, the camera, and the subject; more about my ability to set my own desires or need for control aside and let the world around me speak for itself. I guess I see myself as a vehicle through which the words and images flow.

   Thank you Diane!  I think your responses were insightful and honest.  Contemplative photography is such a personal process; one size most certainly doesn't fit all!  Your thoughts have made it clear that contemplative photography is also a process that evolves over time.  As Lao Tzu says, even the longest journey begins with the first step.  I hope this interview motivates many to make that first step...the journey is so worth it!

   Here are some links to Diane's work...

Her wonderful blog....Contemplative Photography
(You can reach her Facebook page from this blog.)

You can see albums of her work here...

You may be interested in one of Diane's lovely books...

Illuminating the Mystery

A Contemplative Photographers Alphabet

And finally, her YouTube video on Contemplative Photography which
I have shared with you before...

Encounters with the Sacred
Contemplative Photography as an Act of Faith

Enjoy and be Inspired!

1 comment:

kimmanleyort said...

So nice to read more about Diane, someone I too have admired for a long time. I totally resonate with her approach, whereby the process becomes about relationship.