Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My "Unresolutions" for 2015...

  This New Years Eve, rather than resolving to do something, I will try to not do many things. This is my "unresolution" list for 2015.

   I love these suggestions, along with the quotations, especially the one from Lao Tzu.  This list was passed on to me by a friend and I've printed it out and hung it up so I can remind myself throughout the year of what I want to give up.

   Although these are not specifically photography related, one can always find a way to adapt them.

  I've even used the Lao Tzu quote in a post on this blog because control is an issue that, as photographers, we deal with every time we walk out into the landscape with our camera.

   So much of our time can be consumed with the "right way' to make our if there is only one right way.  We often limit ourselves by using phrases like, "The light isn't right" or "There isn't anything of value to photograph here."

   We sometimes whine a bit about not having the right lens or the right app or the perfect is so much easier to make excuses than it is to make the photograph no matter where you find yourself or what you have with isn't always about the equipment.

   We, and I know I am very guilty of this, sometimes seek another person's approval of our work, as if what they say is more important than what we feel we must do.  If the work comes from your heart, that is all that matters.

   We all have attachments to certain styles and methods in our work and the fear of trying something new, and "failing", is always there but it reminds me of the Freeman Patterson quote: "The only rule in photography is never develop film in chicken soup."   Maybe this is the year to try new things...not only in subject matter but in processing the image.

   Perhaps the most important "unresolution" is number up expectations.  It is the one I work most diligently on.  If I have no expectations when I engage the landscape, I will be open to any and all possibilities...I won't label things and by doing so, limited them.

   Yes, these unresolutions are totally appropriate for this contemplative photographer.  What about you?  What do you want to "give up" this year as far as your approach to photography is concerned?  What new freedoms will that offer you?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Hand-Made Photo Box...

   I like the idea of creating hand-made books to hold your photographs but I took a class at the Maine College of Art in November on creating boxes which offers an alternative method of preserving images.  This concept allows you to keep loose prints of your work as well as a booklet describing the project.

   The box can be made any size and the space that will hold your photographs can be any depth of course.  This is a small box, about 5 X 7 inches.  It can hold around 36 4 X 6 prints depending on the thickness of the photo paper they are printed on.  The tray sits above the prints on supports (not directly on the prints).  The whole thing folds up quite neatly and can go on your bookshelf.  I've learned that fine art photographs should be stored vertically and this box does that very well. Prints should be separated by acid free tissue, of course.  An inventory can be printed in the booklet but just in case the prints should become separated from the box, your name, date, and the location in the image should be recorded on the back in pencil.

   Finding ways to store and catalog your photographs has recently been occupying my mind.  Of course, e-books are now a wonderful way to do that and I'm looking into that possibility for my Poetry of Place project but there is something wonderful about also having the physical print to hold and look at.  This is a perfect way to do just that.  Here is a link to a tutorial by artist Jana Pullman for making a single tray box.  If you don't wish to tackle a project like this, you could commission a book artist to make one for you.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Thought for Today: Katrina Mayer

   In this in between time...between the hubbub of Christmas and the celebration of New Year's eve... give yourself a time out.  Find a quiet place to walk with your camera and breath in winter's solitude.  One of my favorite times at the pond is late in the day, when the eastern hills glow and the ice turns mauve and purple in the shadows.  A perfect place for a little quiet time...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Poetry of Place: December 18, 2014

   I couldn't help but see this juncture of frozen and liquid at the pond in terms of the Taoist Yin/Yang symbol.  It even had a circle in it!

   The pond really treated me this day to a stunning display.  The heavy rains the day before left a thin layer of water on parts of the ice while this shore edge segment also had an unfrozen patch but the energy wasn't in these segments, it literally flowed over the surface.

   The wind was quite brisk, out of the north-east and caused a shimmering transformation to race over the surface. Tiny ripples danced across the water and I stood there quite mesmerized despite the frigid temperatures.  This wouldn't last, I was quite sure of that.  I made the following four photographs in less than three seconds.

   Now, you are probably asking yourself the same thing I asked myself as I drove away..."Why didn't you make a video of this?"  Good question. I should have turned around right there and then and made the video.  Perhaps the effect would have been more dramatic
than these four still images. 

   I was on the way to the post office and I had to catch them before they closed for lunch.  Yes, here in my little village, the post office closes for one hour at lunch time.  "I'll stop on my way back", I thought.

   Only when I drove back less than one half hour later the pond was already starting to "stiffen up" as they say.  The effect was no longer there.  The pond had gone from mirror to a heavily textured and shimmering surface, the ripples spilling into the open patch of water directly in front of me.  It was much more beautiful than these four photographs depict.  I guess it is one of those "you had to be there..." moments.

  Anyway, the lesson is clear, don't wait. Don't let things distract you... stay immersed in the moment.  It also shows how fleeting these kinds of moments are in the landscape. Here one moment and gone the next.  The wind would stop and the surface returned to it's mirror-like appearance. All the more reason to visited a place frequently.

 I now bring my camera with me every time I go into town and have to pass the pond. I stop nearly every day. Perhaps it is the fascination I have with this place but I know that on any given day, at any given moment in fact, this place will offer me a new window into its soul.  I am never disappointed except when I don't take the time for it to work it's magic on me.  Lesson learned...

   The contrast which the Taoist yin/yang symbol illustrates is ever present at the pond...especially this day.  The still/moving, light/dark, open/closed, smooth/ was all happening simultaneously.  I had seen, of course, the wind rippling the water before but this day it seemed to be creating new compositions on the ice.  Moving water over the ice was a very dramatic effect.  The next day the pond had frozen over and the poetry had changed yet again.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Gathering Breadcrumbs at the Museum...

   When I first entered the Harvard Art Museums lobby, I was transfixed by the stairwell and spent quite a bit of time photographing the shadows.  I find that when something enters my consciousness as strongly as this did, it stays with me for a long time.

   This was certainly the case at the museum.  As we walked through the galleries breathing in the beautiful art, my eye would wander to the shadows created by the sculptures.  The reflections and simplicity of this Chinese vase was one of the breadcrumbs I picked up.

   As I gathered them, I reflected on the illusion of shadows that describe but do no define what they are a shadow of.  It is all illusion and changes as the light does.  But I love the soft light and varying tones of the multiple shadows and thought I would share a couple of them with you.

    Shadow patterns are a wonderful contemplative possibility.  In the museum, with all its directional lighting, they were quite intricate in some cases.

   Luckily, the museum encouraged non-flash photography so I was not at a loss for inspiration.  For more shadow inspiration, visit the following link:

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Christmas Morning Greeting...

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.   ~Charles Dickens

To those of you who celebrate this day...

A Merry Christmas to All!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Journeys Completed...Journeys to Come

   As the year winds down, it is only natural to think about where you have journeyed and where the future may lead.  This is the first year in many that I do not have a "big trip" planned.  My month long journey to Ireland and Scotland last spring is a tough act to follow and I am feeling the need to stay closer to home.

   My inward journey at Little Clemons Pond continues for the first half of 2015.  I will conclude the project on June 28th.  One of my outward journeys will be to visit one of the locations of my family's story, in Dutchess County, NY.  I need to put a face to the places I've been reading about during my genealogical research and discover a better sense of the locations that were so important to my ancestors there.

   With contemplative photography, we can journey through our images, even if they are made in our own backyard or in a stairwell of a museum.  Our images are a road map of our soul and each curve and detour is clearly marked.  We define ourselves each time we make a photograph and they become illustrations in our journal of being.

   I have found that it doesn't really matter where you actually travel to, whether it is to far away places or to someplace right around the corner.  The journey is as much an inward destination as an outward one.  That is really what I want to explore this coming year...the geography of my soul and for that, distance traveled is unimportant.  For in the end, the only journey that truly matters is the journey of self-discovery.
Every day is a journey, and
 the journey itself is home.

- Matsuo Basho


Monday, December 22, 2014

At the Intersection of Light and Shadow...

   Stepping into the atrium of the Fogg Art Museum was a real treat.  It had been transformed into light filled space.  The new, modern staircase captivated me.

   From every angle, looking up or looking down, the space was etched in constantly shifting patterns of light and shadow.  It was a contemplative photographers playground!

   And as a newly enamored convert to the abstract photographic image, I had a myriad of compositions to delight me.

    Here, in this singular space, light and shadow seemed engaged in a dance...both equally important...each contributing to the rhythm of the whole.

   Light has always been associated with knowledge and understanding while shadow is seen as ignorance and superstition.   Simply think about the two periods in European history; the "Enlightenment" of the 18th century and the "Dark Ages" or Medieval period.  But here it wasn't an either/or situation but a both/and one.

  The light defines the shadow and the shadow makes the light apparent.  Both are necessary and they balance each other.

   It is there, at the intersection of the light and shadow that true understanding can exist.  Fixating on only one leaves so much unrevealed.

   I walked through the galleries and marveled at the exquisite art gracing the walls of this fabulous new museum but it was here, in the prosaic and overlooked stairwell that I found some profound illumination.  There is a lesson in that I think...

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Celebrating the Seasons: The Winter Solstice

   We come to the final celebration in the Celtic wheel of the year...the Winter Solstice.  The days have gotten shorter and shorter as the spiral turned inward...into a darkening time of introspection.  But we've reach a turning point.  From now on, the days will brighten and the spiral will journey outward again.

   In the Celtic calendar it is mid-winter but we, here in the 21st century, see the Solstice as the first day of winter.  With the harsh and fluctuating weather we've been experiencing here in Maine, I'll take the "mid-winter" stance!  Certainly feels like it should be at any rate.

   The long winter nights are perfect for creating digital latest one is above.  I thought this one summarizes the holiday season, when we are constantly working against the clock and trying not to overspend.  The holidays should mean more than that.  But this collage can be viewed in so many other ways as well...which is why I find this process so captivating.  Everyone who looks at it will "read" it in another way.

   With Christmas only four days away, I find the Solstice a wonderful moment of pause.  The sun seems to pause for three days on the horizon at the Solstice and we should too.  It is a time to take a deep breath and embrace this turning point in the year.  The days will now begin to lengthen, the holiday chaos will pass.  I'm looking forward to quiet days by the fire as Emerson and I contemplate a new year.  The Solstice is a time of list making for me.  What are the things I am most grateful for this year; what do I need to put behind me?   Do you have any "year end" rituals?  The ancient Celts have taught me one important thing and I hope I have communicated it through this series Celebrating the Seasons.  We must embrace each season as it comes and celebrate what it brings for each has its own unique perspective for the contemplative mind.

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light 
which flashes across his mind from within. 

– Ralph Waldo Emerson


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Looking Up and Looking Down...

   On my recent trip into Cambridge, I felt like such a tourist!  I'd lived in the city for 2 years after I graduated from Harvard but this day, it all seemed new to me.

   Walking between the museums gave me lots of contemplative possibilities but I settled on the juxtaposition of the orderly and random.

   Cities, by their very nature, are man's attempt to bring order and structure to the world.  The beautiful tower of Memorial Hall on the Harvard campus is covered with intricate geometric patterns and is a masterpiece of symmetry and balance. A perfect example of the rational mind.  Yet, when viewed against the random and shape-shifting clouds, it takes on a different meaning for is a dialogue between the rational and the mystical mind.

    There are those who maintain that if you can't categorize it, measure it, label it, and prove it scientifically, then it doesn't exist.  They discount all else.  The mystical world is just so much nonsense.  Of course, they are entitled to their opinions but for me there is something more at play in the world.  Call it what you will, but there is a knowing beyond knowing and it can't be categorized, measured, labeled or proved.

   When you look up, you look out into that world.  When you look down, you look into your own world.  I found that analogy beautifully and simply illustrated at my feet.  The curved and random seed pods laying on the ordered, logical brick pattern...two distinct worlds - and world views - which are interconnected yet separate.  Some minds, fortunately, can accommodate both viewpoints.

The most beautiful thing we can experience 
is the mysterious.
 It is the source of all true art and science.

Albert Einstein 


Friday, December 19, 2014

The Poetry of Place: June 29 - December 10, 2014

   I've been visiting Little Clemons' Pond for six months now and I thought I would try to distill the hundreds of images I've received from the pond down to a "good crop" of twelve.  It wasn't easy.

   This exercise is always helpful when you become so overwhelmed in a photographic project that you begin to loose sight of the essence of what drew you to it in the first place.

   Poetry was my essence...not documentary.  I wanted to focus on the poetical nature of a place through time.  I chose these twelve images for the personal impact they had on the way I viewed the pond and how that impact altered my understanding and photographic methods in the process.

  Perhaps on another day I would select different images.  Next June, when this project ends and I have to prepare for my show, I will have to make the difficult decision of what to put in and what to leave out.  Some of these will, no doubt, make the final cut...some will not.  For now, these are my twelve images...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Inspired by Rembrandt...

A Man in a Room - 1630
   I sometimes think we photographers do not spend enough time studying the works of famous painters.  We could find much to inspire us and  I would recommend you begin with Rembrandt.

   How Rembrandt used light in his paintings was revolutionary at the time.  Imagine leaving nearly half of the painting in nearly complete darkness!  The title of this work may be "A Man in a Room" but it is all about the light.

   James Turrell is an artist who is also all about the light.  He even dares to speculate that light is a "thing" and that it has consciousness. That is every bit as revolutionary as Rembrandt's use of light in this painting.

   Whether you concur with Turrell's ideas or not, it is a fascinating way to look at a concept that has pervaded all religions across millenniums.  It is a metaphor that resonates with everyone and light is an essential part of our consciousness at the very least.

   As we slowly but surely slip into the dark days of December,  thinking about light is something I do everyday now.  Many people hate these long dark days but I covet them.  There is a quality to December light that is unique.  It is an in-turning time and I deliberately try to use as few of my electric lights as possible preferring to embrace the darkness instead.  It is no wonder candles play such an important role at this time of year.  For me, candle light pulsates with a living essence.

   This might be a good time to explore ways you can imagine light in your photographs.  What does it mean to you?  Is it merely the absence of darkness or is it more?  In what ways can its "thingness" be demonstrate?

   I think Rembrandt would say that light has a presence and importance that we seldom take the time to acknowledge and I agree.  I have a Pinterest board dedicated to just this idea...acknowledging and paying tribute to the light.  At this time of deepening darkness you might like to visit...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Seeing the Unseen...

Everyone sees the unseen in proportion
to the clarity of their hearts.

- Rumi

   I am asked countless times, "How do you see what you see?"  After all, we all have the same eyes, we can stand on the same spot in the landscape and yet, we all see things differently.  I've thought a great deal about this idea, the idea of perspective, because it all comes down to that in the end.

   We are confronted everyday with an overwhelming and, at times, over loaded range of visual imagery.  When you go out with your camera you have literally millions of choices.  Why do some people "see", or choose to frame, certain parts and not others?  Rumi suggests it is a "heart thing".

   I also see it as a "why thing"...why are you making the photograph in the first place?  Is it merely to record a place and time...freezing it for you to savor later on?   Or are your responding to the whispers of the landscape?  Is seeing more a function of hearing?  That is the basis of all my visual listening exercises.

   Perspective is also dependent on circumstance.  What is happening "out there" effects what can go on "in here".  Mood shapes perspective in sometimes alarming ways.  

...what we see is what we are.

-Ernst Haas

   So I suppose we come back to the Rumi quotation I began with.  What I see, my ability to see the unseen, is totally dependent on who I am at that moment in time.  Tomorrow I will see something totally different and that is a wonderful thing.  That's why I can go back day after day to the pond, even stand in the exact same place, and see a whole different reality.  That is the essence of seeing for me, to bring new eyes and an open and receptive heart to the experience each time...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gathering Breadcrumbs in a Frozen Backyard...

   We are getting storms every 3 or 4 days.  First snow, then freezing rain which is sculpting the landscape in wonderful ways.

   A friend who was here over Thanksgiving had shoveled a winding path so his little dog could have a place to run in the deep snow.  It's filled in now but the area has taken on the appearance of waves on the ocean.

   I decided to gather some breadcrumbs in the backyard; just appreciate the smooth and polished surface of the snow.  Depending on the time of day and the degree of cloud cover, the light and tones on the snow varied from cobalt blue to lavender.

   Each breadcrumb was a small part of the whole but in its intimacy it created another dimension of my frozen backyard.  The cat sculpture buried up to its nose...the ice chunks fallen from the roof...the stark simplicity of the Rose of Sharon bush surrounded by what looked to me like whipped cream...the footprints from the man who helps with my shoveling...all part of the frozen whole.

   When you gather your breadcrumbs over the course of two or three days, as these were, the picture...the whole...becomes more complex...more multidimensional.  Now I can see the snow in softer terms, as snowscapes.  For those of you from warmer climates, here is a link to 80 frozen landscape photographs.  Pour a cup of hot tea and enjoy!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Relax Into the Mystery of Not Knowing...

  Henry David Thoreau inspired me to find my own Walden here at Little Clemons' Pond.  I visited it often, as Henry did Walden, but that is where our commonality ends.  Henry was a brilliant and astute naturalist...a scientist of the first degree.  I am not.

   Henry would probably be able to tell me what made these random holes in the ice.  There were at least a dozen of them randomly peppering the newly frozen surface of the pond.  Henry would have puzzled this out and found the answer...I, on the other hand, enjoy the mystery of not knowing.

   I guess that is one of the things that separates a contemplative photographer from a scientist.  Henry had to know the whys and the wherefores, I don't.  I can sit in wonder on the pond's edge and just breath in the mystery of the place, content with just being present.  I think Henry also appreciated the beauty of mystery in his own way but his inquiring mind always searched for answers and he recorded them diligently in his many journals.

   Before this project at the pond, I was much more an "inquiring mind".  Something here has allowed me to put that aside and settle into pure experience.  There is a time to know and a time to experience without knowing...this was one of those days.

The true mystery of the world is the visible,
 not the invisible.

- Oscar Wilde

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Making Meaning Through Contemplative Photography: Part Two

Interaction - 2 December 2014
When we put a frame 
around an image,
taking it out of its 
context as we do
when we photograph, we
 are in fact constructing a
 version of reality.  We
are imposing a way of 
seeing, a meaning,
upon the reality that 
we are receiving.

- Howard Zehr

   This is how Zehr begins his chapter on making meaning in photography.  I am developing a much greater appreciation of this idea through my pond abstractions.  I can make the meaning more obvious by the way I frame the image.

   What I ask myself before I make a photograph on location relates strongly to my Taoist leanings.  "Where is the energy of this place at this moment?All landscape has an intrinsic energy or Qi in Taoist terms.  This day, it was in the interactions and tensions between the areas of frozen and open water in the pond.  So, I narrowed my viewpoint to a specific area of the pond's surface where I thought the energy of interaction was the strongest.  The resulting image is above.  I think it is one of my most powerful images of the pond to date.

    When you can discern the Qi in a place you will find yourself settling into what the Taoist call Te.  It is a state where you can just seamlessly relate to what is in front of you and the photographs you can make will resonate with personal meaning for you.  It doesn't happen every time, maybe not even half the time, but when it does you will know...your photographs will show it.  I think it shows in this image.

    When you next go out to photograph, ask yourself, "Where do I feel the energy lies at this place at this moment?" and compose your photographs around that area.  There you will be able to distill and manifest meaning but remember, it will not be the same the next day.  Energy flows and changes and your role as a contemplative photographer is to make meaning from what you that particular moment.

   If you want to read a bit about the Taoist principles of Te and Qi, you can link to this past post...


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Making Meaning Through Contemplative Photography: Part One

   The ego needs success to thrive,
the soul needs only meaning.

- Richard Rohr

  It took me a long time to realize that the role photography was to play in my live had no relationship to any form of "success" least in financial terms.  When I gave up the continual quest for exhibitions and sales I began to focus more on personal meaning and my relationship to the landscape, to everything I encounter, changed.

In order to "give a meaning" to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what one frames through the viewfinder.  This attitude requires concentration, a discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry - it is by great economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression.

- Henri Cartier-Bresson

   What we receive from the landscape is in part dependent on selectivity.  We do not sit passively on the shore...we actively engage with the landscape on a heart level.  We must then select from the wealth of gifts it is bestowing on us every moment.  Through that selection process we can discern meaning.

   I have been watching the slow and undulating transformations of the pond this month as it freezes, melts and refreezes almost on a daily basis.  It is a beautifully choreographed dance that I am witnessing.  The interplay of light and water, liquid or frozen, is a constant marvel.  Finding just the right point in all that was before me where that dance most clearly manifested itself to me was my task...the image above was the result.

   In Howard Zehr's wonderful book on contemplative photography that I wrote about on December 3, 2014, he devotes a whole chapter to "making meaning".  That phrase is important because we don't merely "find" a meaning in the landscape as much as we "make" meaning through our selection and composition.  Again, it is an active rather that a passive interaction with the landscape.  Tomorrow, I will continue these thoughts on how we can make meaning through our camera work.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Photography Books...

   Time magazine just announced their top photo books for 2014. (You can see the selection here... I don't know about you but I am a sucker for photography books.  If I allowed myself the indulgence, my bookcases would be more over loaded than they are now.  I find looking at other peoples work fascinating and inspiring.

   Do you have a favorite photography book you revisit over and over again?  My latest acquisition was Alexandra De Steiguer's book Small Island, Big Picture. (You can read the post about her here...I don't think there is a photographer alive that doesn't fantasize about having their work in a book someday.

   I've only made one book myself, First Person Rural: A Portrait of a Maine Town.  It is a time consuming and expensive proposition.  Of course, my pond project, The Poetry of Place, seems a perfect subject for a photography book.  We'll see if it materializes.

  My recent "pond paintings", which I spoke about yesterday, are another possibility.  I have created several so far although all are still in the "in process" stage. It takes a great deal of time, I'm finding, to get the look right. 

    However, the abstract expressionistic paintings are delighting me in a way I could never imagined just a few months ago. This one reminds me of chalk pastel.  I use to work a lot in pastel back in college and as I worked on this image I felt the same kind of freedom in the use of color and texture. 

   Time will tell if any of my recent work will find its way into printed form.  I will certainly create some hand-made books of them.  That is a wonderful alternative for the photographer, especially the accordion format.   You can see the post I wrote about them here...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

How in the world did I get from there to here?

   Now, I ask did I get from this black and white photograph of heather on South Uist, done in 2005, to the abstract expressionistic pond painting I just did in 2014?  At first it seemed a bit of a puzzle to me.

   Yet, when I look at these two images, I do see a subtle similarity, especially in the focus on curving lines and texture.  All art, be it painting or photography, is an evolutionary process.  You begin where you are and then, over time and with countless influences and experiences, you slowly change.  In this case, the change was dramatic.

   From 2005 to 2009 I only worked in black and white.  My experience on the Burren in 2009 opend me to using some color for the first time.  It wasn't until 2011, however, that I fully embraced the color image.

   But not until I began my Poetry of Place project this past June did I begin to explore the fascinating world of abstract photography when I eliminated any reference to realistic imagery from some of my photographs.  It seems, however, that I am still evolving stylistically.

  When I made my first digital "painting" a month or so ago, I crossed into a whole new way of practicing my art.  Not only were the concrete references gone but I thought in terms of brush stroke and layering for the first time.  Now the photograph's surface is broken up into dabs and dashes of color just as if I had actually put brush to canvas.

   This seemed, at first, to be a huge leap but again it has its roots in past experience. I made several digital collages after I began doing
SoulCollage® pieces and some of those techniques aided me in this latest endeavor. I simply eliminated any recognizable imagery from the piece and focused solely on color and tone, shape and line...pure abstract images that come, nevertheless, from the natural world and my experience of it. With the paintings I was set completely free to create an expression of place rather than a realistic depiction of it which my photography always was.

   Perhaps this is all a natural progression but had you asked me a year ago if I thought I would be working this way now I would have totally pooh poohed the idea.  Never say never.  Just keep an open mind and, like the Tao suggests, let it flow where it will.  You might find yourself in a whole new and exciting world!

   Even if I never make another digital painting, and I have no intention of abandoning my more traditional work, this whole experience has awaken new possibilities for my photography.  It is always important to "play" with your medium whenever you can.  It is never a wasted effort...

A mind that is stretched by a new experience
 can never go back to its old dimensions.

Oliver Wendall Holmes


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

You are What You are Seeking...

   I've decided that, despite my own self perception to the contrary, I am at heart a true introvert.  I am never lonely in all my alone time and as much as I love being with friends and family I enjoy returning to my quiet retreat here in my little farmhouse in western Maine.

    We are on a journey of becoming that which we already are. That is the impossible paradox of our lives.

Leonard Jacobson
   I have often referred to the wonderful Rumi quotation, "What you are seeking is also seeking you."   But I've come to realize that you already have that essential quality within yourself that you are seeking in your images.

   This little leaf is just outside the window next to where I write this blog.  It seemed to sum up the idea of this post so beautifully.  Surrounded by ice and snow, it glowed...a lovely heart shape...the last leaf on the twig but perfect in its solitude.  It brought tears to my eyes.
What you seek is already within you.
You uncover it by shedding all that is untrue within you.

Sampo Kaasila

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

In Praise of Silence...

   If someone forced me to choose just one characteristic of winter in Maine that I love I would say its silence.  During a snowfall everything is hushed.  Even the occasional car that drives by seems muffled.  The world is snuggled under a soft white blanket and it is a lovely place to be.

   It is in the silence
that my hope is, and my aim.

Wendall Berry

    Silence is often thought of as the absence of noise but it is so much more than that.  It is an embracing envelop of calm and serenity that wraps around your heart. Unfortunately, true silence is something most of us never experience.

   I don't so much try to eliminated noise from my life as I try to lessen the effect it has on me.  I try to embrace a silence of spirit that makes the noise tolerable.  Walking in the woods after a snowfall is the closest I have come to experiencing the real fullness of silence and it too is a wonderful place to be.  In the joyous hubbub of the holiday season which is fast approaching, carve out for yourself moments of silence whenever you can.  You will re-join the festivities refreshed.  If you need a bit more convincing, check out these 10 reasons for making time for silence in your life...

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Thought for Today: Alfred Stieglitz

   What is "real"?  I thought I could easily answer that before I began my Poetry of Place project back in June.  Now, my sense of this place's reality has shifted.

   The grainy surface of the newly formed ice brought a feeling of "landscape within landscape" and I responded with a lithographic styled approach.  

   If I only saw "ice" rather than "landscape" I don't think I would have tried this technique. My past reality of documentary landscape photographer has given way to one of an interpreter of the landscape.  It is a subtle but important shift for me.  It has given me permission to be much more experimental and daring.  The landscape speaks to me in another voice, a dialect that I had overlooked before.  My images are merely my interpretation of the voice present in this place.

Nature is mute; our portrayal of it, which constitutes the domain of the landscape in art, is what speaks to us. What landscapes tell us is not necessarily what we might expect...

Andy Grundberg



Sunday, December 7, 2014

Reflections on the Tao: The Three Treasures

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts,
 you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

Lao Tzu

    It is the season of gift giving and Lao Tzu illuminates the concept with his three treasures.  If I could give the world gifts, I would make sure these three treasures would be included.

   As contemplative photographers, we can give ourselves and our work these treasures as well.  Simplicity in approach, patience to wait for the landscape to direct us, and compassion with our shortcomings, photographically speaking.  We all have our strengths and those are our gifts to each other through our camera work.

   This shoreline image shows the place where a small stream trickles into the pond.  The moving water does not freeze quickly and I sometimes have seen birds drinking here.  Even in nature there are small gifts given everyday and we are blessed by them all.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Poetry of Place: 28 November 2014

   What a difference a day makes!  I went back to the pond and it was a completely different world. A solitary black crow circled in the distance and its cry rang off the hillside.  It wasn't until I got the image home and opened in on the computer that I saw that the crow is there, near the top left side.

  The grey sky tinted everything with its sombre monochrome tone so I decided to embrace it, converting the already essentially black and white image into a true monochrome study of the pond.  This is the second black and white image I've made and I doubt it will be my last.  This time of year lends itself to the monochrome.

   The ridge line of the surround hills is suggested in the reflections and I especially like the way it linked up with the dove grey ice that snaked it's way to the foreground of the image creating a pale grey expanse of water between it and the tree reflections.

   Yesterday and today's posts really brought home the idea that the pond is landscape of many moods.  Yesterday's pond had an energy and dynamic to it while today it was quietly serene.

   Slowly the pond is closing up.  Soon the reflections will be gone.  The nights are getting much colder so it won't be long and then the pond will show me an entirely different side of her character.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Poetry of Place: 27 November 2014

Pond Patchwork
   Southern Maine had experienced their first significant snow storm and we woke on Thanksgiving
morning with 15 inches of heavy wet snow.  It cause major power outages. I'd been out of power since 5pm the day before so with nothing to do but hope the power came back on so I could cook my turkey, I headed out to the pond to see what this major storm had done to the landscape.  I'm so glad I did!

   The skies were a beautiful blue and the pond was criss-crossed with patches of ice in many different shapes, tones and textures.  It was breathtaking.  The light was especially luminous as it often is right after a snow storm.  Soft fingers of light broke up the expanses of ice in a particularly lovely way.  I especially liked the small oval of unfrozen water the reflected the snow covered trees.

   I could also see that making my way to the ponds edge will be difficult after a couple of these storms but since there is a water pipe that is used in case of fire in the area, the town plows cleaned off a place near to it so I was able to safely get off the considerate of them!

   One particular area of the broken up water surface drew my eye. The reflections of the snow covered trees were stunning. (Be sure to click on it to enlarge!)
    Most of the water surface that wasn't frozen was subtly textured by the breeze but this one area remained calm enough to create the reflections. The curving white line just added the perfect contrast and I created another "Seescape". At least for the time being, the pond is still gifting me lovely reflections and possibilities for abstractions. I'll just need to get my high boots and crampons out!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Looking Out/Looking In

   In January I will have been writing this blog for three years.  In all that time I continue to be amazed at where I find inspiration.  Books, poetry, songs, quotations but the inspiration for this post really takes the prize.

   I was at the transfer station depositing my recyclables in the big container there.  As I was doing that something caught my eye.  Peeking out from under a large cardboard box was a book and the title was...Looking Out/ Looking In!  It really made me smile.  I thought, that is exactly what contemplative photographers do with their camera work.  They look out into the world in order to look into themselves.

   Over time and with thoughtful reflection, our images will reveal our inner truths.  Sometimes those truths will be surprising but we learn from them and move on.  With each photograph we write another page in the biography of our souls and page by page the chapters unfold.

   Yes, inspiration can come anywhere and at anytime.  Even at the transfer station on a Tuesday morning.  Photographs are like that too.  There is always something interesting and revealing and with every click of the shutter we are recording a bit of ourselves as well.

There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your 
photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.
Ernst Haas 


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Season of Giving and Receiving...

   The Christmas shopping season is well underway.  Perhaps you are hoping for a new lens or camera bag but I want to speak about all the gifts you have already received, in the photographs you have been gifted by the landscape.

   I've always spoken about how I don't take or make photographs...I receive them.  When I share them with you on this blog I am simply "re-gifting" them in a manner of speaking.  When I have done presentations on contemplative photography in the past, I always make a point to tell people they need to "change their lenses".  I get that idea from Howard Zehr in his wonderful book, The Little Book of Contemplative Photography: Seeing with wonder, respect, and humility.  I carry that book with me when I travel and refer to it constantly.  I owe so many of my ideas on contemplative photography to Howard Zehr and his writing in this small book which is part of the justice and peace building series put out by Good Books.

Below is a chart that Zehr includes in his book on the idea of changing one's lens in order to enter into a new relationship with the landscape or with anything you photograph for that matter.  I do recommend you put it on your gift giving list and don't forget to gift a copy to yourself as well!

Disclaimer:  I do not receive a cut in the sales of this book!  I am simply sharing with you a wonderful resource.  This is also true of any other book or DVD I recommend on this blog.  This blog is not a commercial enterprise in any way.  I only recommend products or classes that I have personal experience with and think you might enjoy as well.  I just thought you might like to know this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Beauty in the Commonplace...

   If there is a recurring theme on this blog, it is finding beauty in the commonplace.  After my post of November 29, 2014 I felt the need to look closer to home for the beautiful.

   The day I made this photograph of my crab apple tree, which is 15 feet from my back door, it was pouring rain. The raindrops glistened like little diamonds on the branches.  I thought it quite beautiful.

   Edgar Allen Poe defined Art this way...

...the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through 
the veil of the soul.

   I always found that a wonderful definition and in many ways my efforts at contemplative photography are very much in keeping with this sentiment.  Nature, for me, is divine presence whether it is in a magnificent cloudscape or tiny raindrops on tree branches.  There is an essential sacredness in all living things.  Photographing it in all its manifestations is my passion.  

   You might like to read some back posts on this subject...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Always Expect the Unexpected...

   Waves at the ocean's edge, of course, but the last place I expected to see them was on Little Clemons' Pond!  I am beginning to get use to this sensation...this expecting to see the the amazing clouds from yesterday's post.

   Here at the pond, each day, each hour of each day, in fact, is a totally different and unique experience. If I go expecting to see one thing I invariably see something else.  The pond never fails to surprise and delight me.

   I've always said that it is best to dispense with expectations.  They often inhibit what you are able to see.  But I might alter that to say, have no expectations beyond the unexpected.  Don't be surprise when it appears...embrace it as yet another gift from the landscape.

Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have
 been unexpected, unplanned by me.

Carl Sandburg

Saturday, November 29, 2014


   Sometimes it is all about just simply standing in awe.  This cloud formation left me speechless and that is an unusual occurrence for me!

   I was coming back from Portland and something caught my eye and I pulled over.  I am so glad I did.  This amazing cloud formation was so beautiful it took me a couple of minutes to come to my senses and make a photograph of it.

   I am sure there is a meteorological explanation for this type of cloud formation but I don't care a fig about finding out what it is.  I am just so thankful to have been able to witness it.  It is very good for the soul to stand, from time to time, in the presence of such indescribable beauty.  A well developed sense of wonderment is a very good thing indeed.

Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.

Albert Schweitzer 

Friday, November 28, 2014


   It is Advent at the pond.  The glorious fall foliage is long past and the serene white snows are just beginning.  It is that time of year when we wait to hear the soft padded footsteps of Father Winter approaching.

  Our snow storm two days ago is a prelude to what is to come.  Father Winter has sent an advance guard to let us know what we can expect when winter finally settles it.  It could be gone next week because during this advent season things come and go.

    On the day I made this photograph, the leaves and last seasons lily pads were suspended in the ice...their season of waiting has begun as well.  It is the time to practice patience which, as a contemplative photographer, I find a necessary skill to hone.

Noun1.advent - arrival that has been awaited (especially of something momentous); coming

    Although the word, with a capital "A" is most often associated with the coming of Christmas, I find the changing of the seasons here in New England have their periods of advent as well.  As I said in yesterday's post, it is a threshold time, a time of becoming.

   I think there really should be 8 rather than 4 seasons, to allow room for these advent times.  Winter here in Maine is a momentous time but right now we are just waiting for it to fully arrive.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Poetry of Place - 19 November 2014

On the Threshold of Becoming 

   The first evidence of ice at the pond  on the day I visited. (It has since melted away.)  It was forming along the shaded and sheltered southern bank.  In most of the area it was this crackled, bubble filled others it was so clear you could see the leaves and lily pads in frozen suspension.

   The part that most intrigued this contemplative soul was the border line...the threshold between the frozen and the liquid.  The place of becoming.  The little fingers of ice seemed to be reaching into the water and beckoning it in.  Ice is an amazing thing to watch form and I am sure that as the pond slowly but surely succumbs to the icy grip of winter it will offer me so many new possibilities.

   The trees' reflections in the pond, something I have enjoyed so much,  will be erased my the encroaching ice.  I was still able to create an abstract version of this frozen encounter which I call Ice Cubed(You will see the effect better if you click on the image to enlarge it.)

   There really is no end to the possibilities of interpreting this place. Every time I visit I always try to spend some moments just breathing in the magic although with temperatures hovering in the mid-20's F it is becoming increasingly difficult to linger for long periods. I wonder what will happen when the snow blankets the I will make my way to the pond?

   I have complete faith though. I will be able to experience the pond in new and exiting ways as the winter approaches and I will see what I need to see each time I visit. That is, for me, the heart of the contemplating just open up my heart and allowing the landscape to show me whatever it wishes.  Relinquishing my need to control the outcome allows be to see new things.

   For all of you readers who celebrate Thanksgiving Day, have a wonderful time with friends and family.  I know what I am most thankful for, besides those friends and family, it is the opportunity to share my thoughts and images with all of you!  I feel very blessed this year especially with my new found relationship with my little pond.  The following is a quotation from Henry David Thoreau, who's writing on Walden Pond inspired me to find my own Walden here at Little Clemons Pond.  I couldn't agree more with his sentiments...

I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite - only a sense of existence. ...O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Language Other Than Words...

   Years ago, when I was teaching painting, I tried to explain abstract art to my students who had a difficult time with the non-representational form of the paintings.

   I told them that you can't look at these paintings using your regular vocabulary...that they were using a language other than words.

   Now that I am fully immersed in the abstract images I'm discovering at the pond, I can more fully embrace this concept of "a language other than words"  by which I mean they were not descriptions of "things" but translations of emotion and ideas.

   It is a language of color and movement, light and shadow, simplicity and chaos.  It is a visual experience rather than one of clear observation.

   I think that may be why abstract paintings are often very large in more fully immerse the viewer in the experience.  I'm not sure how well these photographic abstractions I'm making of the pond will translate into really large pieces.  I guess I will have to try one and see but  I do enjoy to the pure joy of working in this new visual language and like learning any new language, it will take time and practice to perfect it.