Friday, January 31, 2014

A Place for the Heart to Rest...

   I have been experimenting with a new book form.  I adore making books.  I love the slow, methodical process.   I relish the engineering challenge and the idea that I am creating an object that will survive me...a place for my photographs and my thoughts to rest.

   I encourage people to explore creating their own books to contain their images and not to simple log on to some on-line book company.  There is an essential quality of the hand-made book that the on-line companies cannot duplicate.  They are works of the heart as well as the hand.

   We have become a culture of "faster and more" rather than "slowly and with care".  Making your own books simply requires patience and attention to great creative genius is necessary.  The internet is a wealth of information and resources. Some are more complex than others.  If you become enthralled with the idea, look to your local adult education department to see if they offer classes.  For a starter, you can look over my Pinterest board...

   These books are a place for your heart, as well as your photographs, to rest.  Picking one up, one that you have carefully and lovingly crafted, makes you smile, even before you open it up.  Feeling the richly textured, hand-made papers is a far cry from the cold uniformity of the commercial photo book.   Even the little things that make your book less than "perfect" - and there will always be something - is an important part of its quality.  (Remember wabi sabi?)

    Inside are your images and hand written thoughts nestled between the pages you alone assembled.  Someone, years from now, will know how important they were for you because you took the time and care to make this "work of heart".  Isn't that incentive enough to create one?

   Read my original post on The Folded Scroll Photography Book to see how this all got started...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

An Enduring Vision - the exhibition

Photograph by Anne Brigman
   An Enduring Vision is an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts featuring works from the Lane Collection of photographs.  I spoke briefly about it last autumn in a post I did about finding inspiration at the MFA.  (You can re-read that here.)

   I'm mentioning this again because the exhibition closes on March 30th and, for those who live within driving distance of the MFA in Boston, you might like to take it in before it closes.

   There will be a curator talk on February 13, 2014 that would be a wonderful opportunity to hear about one couples passion for photography.  You can see a video clip on the talk and exhibition here.

   As Carl Jung tells us, the soul speaks to us through images and just walking through an exhibit like this will find us drawn to specific pieces...ones that resonate particularly for us.   We can journal our thoughts about the work that draws our attention and reflect on the "why's".  It is like doing a Photo Lectio exercise.  It is an easy and illuminating activity for the contemplative photographer.  If you can't make this exhibition, seek out another this year closer to home.  Beholding beauty is always inspiring.


A "Vade Mecum" Update....

   One of the advantages of being snow/ice bound is I have plenty of time to work on my handmade books.  Of course, my Vade Mecum ("Goes With Me") was top on my list.

   This is the title page and  you can see just how small it is...a true "handbook".  It has sewn in pages and a hard cover so it should hold up well.

   I made a grey felt carrying case to hold the book and to protect it on my travels.  Pilgrims in the Medieval days tied their vade mecums to the belt which also held their scrip...a little pouch to hold basic necessities.  My scrip is a small leather backpack in which I carry my journal and sketchbook, the contemplative photographers necessities. It has a pocket that is just the right size to hold the vade mecum.  (You can visit my Pinterest board to see some other possible "necessities"  for the contemplative photographer.)

   I added some of my photographs from Cocomroe Abbey made during my 2009 trip to the Burren.  I've also added the quotations many of you sent for me to include.  You can still send me an inspiration if you'd like, I have lots of pages to fill.  Send them via the comment option or simply email me...I would love to take along your thoughts!

   I plan to leave some pages blank so I can add things I come across on my journey.  The little pouch can also hold mementos as well.  Thank you to all who took the time to send your words...they are now safely inscribed in my little vade mecum!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Contemplative Retreat to Star Island, August 30 - September 1, 2014

My Icon of Star Island - 2013
   My favorite contemplative photographer, Kim Manley Ort is conducting a retreat on Star Island over Labor Day weekend and I will be doing a guest presentation on Visual Listening and Journaling on Sunday morning.  You will learn ways to enter into a conversation with the landscape through a guided meditation and sketching in a little journal I will provide you.

   Kim will be leading activities on practicing mindfulness and discovering the essence of place.  You will come away with a new way to approach your photographic work.

   Star Island is located in the Isles of Shoals off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  I spent a wonderful weekend there last August and you can re-read my On Location posts about my experience here as well as look at my album of images.  

   This place seems custom-made for a contemplative photography retreat and I hope you will consider joining Kim and Me this Labor Day weekend. If you haven't done so already, download the Field Guide for the Contemplative Photographer in the right side bar as some pre-retreat reading.

   Follow this link to Kim's site and more information about the retreat...

Contemplative Photography on Star Island - 2014

   You can register by visiting the following link...

Star Island. Org

The World Isn't Black and White...

...and neither is the pursuit of the photographic image!  And by that I am not referring to the monochrome image vs. the colored one.

   When I am with a group of photographers, other than contemplative photographers that is, the conversation inevitably turns technical.  It's all f-stops and focal lengths and Canon vs. Nikon.  The opinions are always very concrete and definitive.  There is a "right" way and a "wrong" way to do just about everything...from the "capture" of the image ( :-( ) to the processing of the image in Photoshop ( the latest version of course.)

   Well, I hate to burst their bubble but it isn't as simple as the right equipment and the right digital work flow.  Without a thoughtful and considered approach to the "why's" then the "how's" make little difference.

   Now I know I've stood on this soap box before and let me re-iterate, I think learning the "hows" extremely important in the beginning but if it is all that occupies your thinking then you are missing so much.

   I will end with a link that may make you consider the monochrome image the next time you are out and about with your camera.  The world may not be black and white but sometimes it looks better that way!


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Contemplation and Reflection: variations on a theme?

   I've often thought about the difference between contemplation and reflection.  Are they just variations on a theme of considered thought?  Contemplation sounds so deep and spiritual while reflection seems more temporal and cerebral. I found a bit of clarification in, of course, a photograph.

   This is an image I made on St. John.  It was across from the driveway of the house where I was staying but actually you saw this sort of thing everywhere.  Big trees with their roots exposed from having the soil eroded by heavy rain.

   If this happened in northern New England where I live the tree would probably die.  The extreme cold would do it in I'm sure but here on tropical St. John the tree survives and flourishes.

   Now, what has that got to do with contemplation and reflection?  In seeing the exposed roots of this tree, I saw what normally goes unseen back home.  The roots provide the sustenance for the holds the tree firmly to the soil so that when the tropical winds blow it remains upright but is vulnerable because some of the roots are not grounded.  That is what contemplation is for me, my source of sustenance and my anchor in life's storms.   There is also a bit of vulnerability in the process as all soulful journeys have.  Contemplation risks the exposure of deeply rooted parts of our soul.

   Reflection, well that is for me a "head thing".  You compare and contrast and search for relationship.  Contemplation is definitely a "heart thing".  You feel it more than know it.  This photograph led me in a direction I hardly perceived when I photographed it.  I just knew I had to photograph it. It called to me everyday I passed it.  I knew, on a heart level, that there was a message waiting for me.


Monday, January 27, 2014

A Matter of Perspective...

   Being confined to my house because of repetitive storms, ice and general nasty weather, I've been thinking about perspective.  If I could never leave this house, and the world was limited to what I could see out my windows, what would that do to my viewpoint?

   I was watching my cat lying on the ottoman at my feet.  His world is like my temporary condition, contained within these walls most of the time.  Then he did what cats do a lot, he hung his head over the edge of the ottoman and looked at me...up side down!

   Does he do that just for the fun of seeing me hanging from the ceiling or is it some subtle way he has to experience the world in a different way? (Best not try to over-think this!)

   Later, when I was in the breakfast room, I looked out the window and there was the concept illustrated in miniature.

   The tiny glass ornament a friend had given me for Christmas inverted my view of the woods across the street. It was a delightful little "breadcrumb" to pick up with my camera and think about.

   The message was clear...every once in awhile turn the world on its ear!  Shift perspective, figuratively or literally.  Another friend had sent me a quotation on New Years day and it is very appropriate to this post and the new year so I will close with it...

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
-T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Thought for Today - William Wordsworth

   Today's quotation was send to me in a card by a friend who has just recently been introduced to contemplative photography.  It was a lovely sentiment that seemed to sum up the very basis for the practice of contemplative photography for me. is such a poignant word.  It is what I try to do each day.  Even when I am confined to the house because of storms - which seems to be a weekly occurrence this month!

   I started photographing an ice formation from the bathroom window that seemed to change from day to day.  This version was reminiscent of those photographs you have seen that are taken from space. 

   Each day the light created a totally new world for me to behold.  Somehow, these images transported be beyond the four walls of my little house and that was truly a blessing to my house-bound soul.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Practicing Silence...

    In spiritual terms, silence is not the absence of noise.  It is the ability to access that inner cloistered room of calm and stillness we each carry within us.  It is an essential practice for the contemplative photographer.

   There is nothing more still and silent than the landscape after a heavy snowfall.  It buries the world beneath a soft mantle of white that obliterates detail and distraction.  That is what silence does for me...when I'm able to achieve it that is.  It covers up the distractions of life.

   Winter is the time for me to really work on my silence visit that interior room we all have in our hearts and sit in its nurturing space.  I welcome the silence as I welcome the snow...they both provide that much needed cloak of calm.  Some people use meditation to reach that inner place of stillness.  I have several ways some of which I've enumerated in a prior post, Cultivating the Quiet Mind.

   A quiet mind is a necessary per-requisite for reaching that inner place of silence.  It is the key that opens the door but you still must walk in and sit down.   One has to feel comfortable with silence  before that can happen however.  Many people don't.

   That's what I try to practice during the winter months when I stay pretty close to home and outside concerns are less pressing.  I've trained my friends and family to contact me via email rather than phone...sometimes I just unplug it altogether.  I designate at least one hour every day to sit in silence and I reward myself whenever I feel I've been able to reach that inner place.  (That usually involves ice cream...)  

There is a voice that doesn't use words. Listen. - Rumi

   I've been silence training for 5 years now and it is taking less and less time to reach the place I seek.  What I'm trying to do is make it feel as natural as breathing so that when I am out in the landscape I will be able to access this interior silence more easily.  This will make my visual listening exercise much more effective and, as a result, my images will be more meaningful.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Exploring the Landscape through the SIx Senses - Intuition

   I know, most of us have learned that we have 5 senses but as a contemplative photographer I know that is one sense short.  It doesn't account for the vital sense of intuition.

   Some people have a very highly developed sixth sense.  Some think, quite wrongly, that it is more a woman's thing, this intuition business.  Even more folks discount it altogether.  They too would be very, very wrong.

    I relate intuitive sensibility to imagination and above all, curiosity.  A curious mind is always looking out for signals, even when we think we are in a strictly rational mindset.

   It is the intuitive part of our mind which senses things before our rational mind can take it in.  It is our soul's radar as it were.  Always on duty, scanning the world for energy pulses.

Intuition is always at work...take the time to listen to it.

    When it becomes insistent, it taps us on the shoulder and says, "Hey, wake up!  Look at this!"  We would do well to listen to the intuitive brain.  It always draws us to the most interesting things...things the soul needs us to pay attention to.

    We all have this intuitive sense even if it seems less than obvious in some people.  It is only that the bully boy rational mind wants it all its own way.  After all, our society values and rewards rational thought and discounts the intuitive heart-felt response.  When I've spoken about quieting the "monkey mind" it is so the intuitive mind has the opportunity to take the floor for a change.  Going with the gut might be another way of speaking about this sense.  When something rumbles in the belly of your soul, take heed.  It's your intuition trying to get your attention...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Exploring the Landscape through the Six Senses - VIsion

Vision is the art of seeing
what is invisible to others.
- Jonathan Swift

   Being a "visionary" usually refers to someone who can imagine a future state of being.  Being a visionary photographer, by my definition, is being able to see into the essence of the envision the seemingly invisible.

   I sometimes pose this question to the landscape, "If you could present one face to the world, what would that face look like?"  It is not as silly as it might sound.  I am trying to get at a vision that others may not take the time to see...what may be invisible to them.  That is the the true art of the contemplative be that kind of visionary.

Embrace radical seeing.

   This requires that we take the time to settle into a place, to shake hands with it.  We acknowledge its energy and spirit and we make our humble attempts at rendering this invisible presence.  Talk about setting the bar really high!  We aren't content with merely recording or documenting.  We must unveil.

   I am advocating a kind of radical seeing.  A kind of seeing that is beyond seeing.  The willingness to step up to the threshold of transcendent sight and to then cross over.

   Vision may be the ultimate sense for the contemplative photographer but as this series of posts indicates, it is by far not the only one.  Embrace all of the senses when you explore the world around you and engage in a mystical relationship with whatever you encounter.

   Tomorrow we will explore the sixth and final sense...intuition.



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Exploring the Landscape through the Six Senses - Hearing

Those who know do not speak.
Those who speak do not know.
- Lao Tzu

   Silence is the most profound form of hearing.  I call this type of hearing, visual listening.  It is the beginning of my encounter with the landscape whenever I am alone and at ease.

   Silence is not the absence of noise but a form of interior listening.  It is not done with an empty and unresponsive mind.  It is an interactive experience.

   Every place has it's own unique sounds...or lack thereof.  When my Boston cousins visit my little farmhouse in Maine two of the things they comment on is the complete darkness at night (no street lights or nearby city light pollution) and the quiet.  It is a bit eery to them who are use to the constant and pervading noise of urban locations.

Listen for the music of the landscape.

   Listening for the sounds of the landscape is part of the experience of being there.  Like the time I was sitting alone on the Burren in Western Ireland and put my ear to the rock.  You could hear the underground rush of a rain swelled river. (Almost all of the Burren's water is underground.)  It is the life blood of the place and I felt by hearing that I had experienced a vital part of the location.

   I love this Lao Tzu quote.  If you truly know the spirit of the landscape, there is no need for speech.  In a way, there is no need for a photograph.  You carry it inside and it is there for you whenever you need it.

   That is how I feel about certain places in Ireland.  I know that landscape in a much more intimate embrace than any other place I've ever been. It feels like an old and much loved sweater that has stretched to fit only you.  The first morning I awaken in Ireland and open the door, it is like going to visit a cherished friend and I immediately apologize for staying away so long.

   Do you have a place like that?  A place where no words are needed and you melt into a silent encounter?  If you do not, try to make this the year you find your heart's home.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Exploring the Landscape through the Six Senses - Smell

Smell is a potent wizard
that transports you across
thousands of miles and
all the years you have lived.
- Helen Keller

   Smell is the least appreciated of the senses in many ways.  We are either trying to mask the scent of things through air "fresheners" or scented soaps and shampoos or we are trying to create artificial scents through perfumes.   Smell is a powerful sense but artificial scents mask the real odors of people and places and is a way to distance our self from true engagement.

   Scent, as the quote above alludes to, has the ability to elicit memories and everyone has their favorites.  September smells like new crayons to me (the art teacher), and  November is the smell of wild grapes that grow on the edge of my property, and I can always smell snow before it comes.  

   When I sit in the landscape it is often the smells that reach me first.  The smell of the sea, or damp earth, or the coming rain...each is a signature of the place and very important to my sense of where I am.  I use to wear perfume but I don't any longer.  I don't want it to interfere with the natural odors of location. This change in behavior happened because of an experience I had in the Burren in 2007.  I was sitting on the limestone enjoying the smell of the sea and the damp stone when all of a sudden a powerful perfume wafted into my consciousness.  I looked around and a couple had walked up behind me.  The woman was wearing a heavy perfume and at that moment I realized how these artificial scents can keep me from appreciating the natural smells of the landscape.

Get to know the bouquet of the landscape you are in.

   The rose in the photograph above was taken in 2005.  I went searching for it in my files for this post.  I looked for the original file, not my monochrome altered version.  I hadn't looked at this rose in this way for over 8 years and just the sight of the rain dropped pink petals brought the sweet scent flooding back.  I remember at the time marveling at the amazingly strong smell of it since so many new roses don't have a particularly strong scent.  Size and shape and color is often more important to the breeders of roses than smell but this rose was so heady in its fragrance.

   Take the time to "smell the roses", or the moss or the rocks, when you are wandering the landscape. Learn to identify the smell of rain and the different foliage of trees and shrubs.  Let your sense of smell acknowledge not only the sweet but the not so sweet smells you encounter.  They are all part of the bouquet of the landscape.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Exploring the Landscape through the Six Senses - Taste

No man can taste the
fruits of Autumn while
he is delighting his
scent with the 
flowers of Spring.
- Samuel Johnson

   Wherever I go I try to experience the location through my taste buds.  I would never seek out an American chain restaurant.  What is the point of travel if it is not to immerse oneself in the culture?  That naturally includes the cuisine.

   But this post is not about that kind of "taste".  I want to speak about a more symbolic sampling of the flavor of a location.

...savor, digest and come to know the landscape.

   We use the phrase, "Get a a taste of...." on a regular basis.  It makes me think of small children.  Little children often experience the world by literally placing new things in their mouth and we use that phrase to indicate the need to savor the flavor of a thing or a place.

   We even say of a bad experience that it "leaves a unpleasant taste in the mouth".  Yet, we rarely look at the symbolic connotations of "taste".

   How does a contemplative photographer "savor the taste" of a place?  Yes, of course, through the food but also through entering into the spirit of place.  For make no mistake, every place you travel has an essential spirit that spices the location in unique ways.  Some places have a subtle gentle seasoning, like the touch of vanilla in my creme brulee above.  Other places are hot with exotic seasonings that make the spirit shake loose its inhibitions.

   Try to ascertain what seasoning the place you visit holds for you.  It is just another way to savor, digest and come to know the landscape.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Exploring the Landscape through the Six Senses - Touch

The Figure in the Tree
Touch has a memory.  - John Keats 

 Photography is a visual art and the operative word here is visual.  A photograph essentially takes a three dimensional, tactile and sensual world and contains it within a two dimensional framework.  Everything is implied, suggested or abstracted.

   This series of posts will look at the way a contemplative photographer can begin their co-creative relationship with the natural world through engaging their senses in the process.  I begin with the sense of touch.

   The landscape is a tactile place.  It invites the hands to touch.  Just look at children as they engage with the natural world.  As adults we have come to embody the "look don't touch" mode of thinking.  Perhaps we think it isn't cool to be too "touchy/feely" but we would be very, very wrong.

I always try to touch my way through the landscape.

   This is a tree I photographed on St. John.  It was amazing.   It immediately reminded me of the Greek sculptures that employed a technique call "wet drapery".  (You can read a blog post on that subject here.)   I simply couldn't keep my hands off this surface.

   This experience of tactile engagement sparked off a chain reaction that was surprising and very illuminating.  I always try to touch my way through the landscape, it is an important part of my initial exploration of the location I am in.  I need to know what it feels like in my hand.  Tactile memory is another dimension of "knowing" a place and an essential one for me.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Reveling in a sense of abandonment...

   I've noticed a trend in photography over the last year or so...the pursuit of abandonment.  The photographers seem to revel in the destruction and chaos of these forgotten places.  Of course, photographing the left behind, (I call these leftovers I find in the landscape Remnants ), is nothing new but this seeming obsession among photographers today is.  I think it is very telling.

   We have become a throw away society.  Nothing lasts...nothing is meant to last.  We use, we sometimes abuse, and then we discard long before the thing has reached its natural end.

   Photographing these abandoned structures and spaces is a haunting reminder of the futility of thinking in terms of "forever".  Even before it is built, it is obsolete.  We seem to desperately need the newest of everything (cameras, computers, cell phones and Photoshop programs) even if what we have is working fine.  We know that newer isn't necessarily better but it seems we can't help the impulse to "up grade".   

   I think what I love about the Outer Hebrides off the West coast of Scotland is this sense of continuity and timelessness.  Coming across abandoned cottages seemed more like visiting a memorial to a distant time.  There was a dignity and strength in the stones.  They seemed to say, "Yes, my time has past but remember, it is that past which shaped you.  Celebrate it."

   I'm not sure that is the meaning behind these photographic decide.        

Friday, January 17, 2014

Reflections on the Tao - I

   One of my 2014 New Year's resolutions for this blog is to return from time to time to the relationship of the Tao to photography.  After all, the name of the blog derives from Taoist philosophy and it has been awhile since I've considered it.

The heart that gives,
gathers. - Tao Te ching

   One of the things that I sincerely believe is that words matter.  The words you use to define yourself and your photographic practice impact what you will receive from the landscape.  A mindset of "capture" and "shooting" is predatory.  It sets up an almost adversarial relationship with the landscape. 

    I also like to think that we can never find in the landscape that which is absent from our own hearts.  That, for me, is what this quotation is all about.  If I sit prayerfully in the landscape, if I open my heart to it and its mysteries, I inevitably gather in the purest and most meaningful images.

   If, on the other hand, I am rushed, unfocused and concerned only with my agenda, the images I receive are less likely to be representative of the spirit of the place.  They will become postcards and not icons.  I may gather far fewer images if I take the time to give the landscape my heartfelt regard but it is quality and not quantity that matters most to me.  I will gather in the images that will be the most meaningful for me at that time because I've taken the time to open my heart and not just impose my will.

    At another time, the landscape may have a different message.  That is why returning again and again to the same location is valuable and something I try to do as much as possible.  Think of it as returning to visit an old friend.  Instead of dominating the conversation with your wants and needs, sit still and just listen.  Establish a relationship and you may be surprised by what you will learn.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Winter Etching - 2014

   I didn't have to wait long for my winter etching for 2014 to manifest itself.  With temperatures hovering at -10 degrees most mornings, the first two weeks of January offered some stunning examples but not where I usually look for them.

   I usually photograph shadows on the snow for my winter etching series.  At least until now.  All last year I tried to see old and familiar things "anew" so why not re-think and re-experience the idea of "etchings"?

   I was tucking the car into the barn in advance of yet another snow storm and I took the time to stand in awe at the beautiful displays etched onto the window glass in the frigid barn.

   A macro lens would have rendered more detail but I love the fern-like appearance of the frost.  What grows green and lush by my house in the warm days of summer now exists in crystal white miniature in the depth of winters cold.  They seemed to me to be the ghosts of ferns past.

   Who knows...perhaps all summer days exist within the winter ones...just a step beyond our conscious awareness.  Looking at these little frost ferns made me think that in some metaphysical way that might be true.

   Good to know this hibernating contemplative photographer doesn't have to travel very far in this bitter cold to experience a sense of wonderment!  The link below may give you some ideas for embracing the winter...Carpe Frigidium! (Just made that up!)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Digging for Buried Treasure...

   I have a lot of deer around my property (and a pair of moose but I rarely see them) and they visit frequently.  After a snow fall I can see their tracks moving from tree to tree looking for food.

  I let the apples, which fall from the big old tree on the left, stay on the ground for this very reason.  They may not be great eating for me but in mid-winter, they are buried treasure for the deer.  Now, after 18 years, these deer know where they can find a meal!

   I can relate quite well to these hungry deer.  I feel that I too move through the landscape, hungry for meaning, digging for buried treasure in the landscape.  Beneath the frozen crust of the obvious and superficial lays a wealth of wisdom if you put in a little effort and dig for it.

   Sometimes, however, things are hidden in plain sight, like these tracks in the snow.  With patience and perseverance, the deer explore their world and they are rewarded, as are we.  Contemplative photographers and hungry deer; we have a lot in common.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

In Their Own Words - Esther de Waal

A Threshold at Corcomroe Abbey
Already I am being brought into a world where significant things are shown as images, and insight comes from shapes and patterns, from the visual rather
 than from the written word.

   No sooner had I named my pilgrimage to sacred sites in Ireland and Scotland - my Threshold Pilgrimage - I came across a book by one of my favorite authors on Celtic spirituality, Esther de Waal.  To Pause at the Threshold: Reflections on Living on the Border is the ideal book to take along with me.  Its tiny size makes it perfect to keep in my day pack as I journey through the landscape.  Traveling as light as possible is very important to me on this journey.

   This quotation from the book is an apt description of the contemplative photographer.  Our insights are gathered through our images.  The visual world is a lexicon of meaning for our inquiring hearts.  We may be inspired by the written word but it is the visual world that holds the wisdom we seek.

   Unlike the other sacred sites I will visit in May and June, Corcomroe Abbey is a familiar and cherished place. John O'Donohue use to bring his retreatents here every year to experience the amazing power of this place.  It truly has a very special feel to it.  You can take a virtual walk through the abbey in my YouTube video.

   The Abbey is a monument to thresholds.  You cross over many as you walk through the site.  From darkness you move into the light.  From confined and bordered spaces you move into the vast expanse of the Burren landscape.  The transitions are breathtaking.  

    I will re-visit Corcomroe on the first leg of my journey.  I wonder what new wisdom it has to impart to me this time?  For it is true, each visit brings something new and refreshing.  A deeply spiritual place like Corcomroe Abbey can never grow stale.


Monday, January 13, 2014

More Meditations from the Back Porch...

   In my January 3rd post I mused about the red sky I saw that morning from my back porch.  Today, it is the dark grey sky and snow laden trees.

   The most recent storm left my little farmhouse buried and created a winter wonderland around the property.  Without even venturing off the porch I could take in the beauty and stillness...the solemn grey sky.  I had this same sense of quiet awe when I stood in the cathedrals of France.

    It was a journey of 3 feet (in my slippered feet too!).  I speak so much about pilgrimage and distant locations, I sometimes forget that everything you care to know is available to you in your own back yard.  (Remember Dorothy and that whole Wizard of Oz thing?)   It also reminded me of Brother Paul of Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky who has spent the last 50+ years in one location.  He's never at a loss for inspiration and neither should you be.

   Although the sky started out grey and foreboding, it turned into a lovely day of sunshine and blue skies.  The red sky the other day warned me of what was to come in a rather cheery, emblazoned way.  This sky seemed to foreshadow an inclement day but it turned out just the opposite.

   So...conclusion?  Appreciate the momentary beauty of each day for the grey is as lovely as the blue.  Worrying on what is to come is futile...fair or is what it is.  The red sky may have been Nature's warning signal but the grey sky was just Nature's way of acknowledging and praising the storm...which I did as well when I gathered in this image.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

My Threshold Pilgrimage - Part 2

The Burren hills and the Ballyvaughan valley
   The Burren, County Clare, Ireland...the first leg of my Threshold Pilgrimage this year.  As I mentioned in my last post, this is where I had to begin.  The Ballyvaughan valley on the edge of Galway Bay is, in many ways, my hearts home.

   Of course, there are a lot of lovely inns and B&B's here but I wanted to stay in "John's house".   After all, it was a passage of his that got the idea of a threshold pilgrimage fermenting in my mind in the first place.  It seem only right I would start here.

    Although inquiries amongst friends and family turned up empty, I trusted that if  Ballyvaughan is where I needed to be then something would turn up...and it did, in the most unusual way.

   I attended an art show opening with a friend.  She wandered off as I chatted with acquaintances.  When I went to find her to leave, she was talking with a man who had come to the show on a whim.  He wasn't from the area but was staying the weekend and saw an announcement for the show.  My friend introduced us and before long we were talking about Ireland and my trip next year.  Long story short, he and his wife said they would share the house in Ballyvaughan if we could find one more couple.  What luck, some would say.  But I knew better.  I was meant to return to John's house and synchronicity was at work.
Corcomroe Abbey and Galway Bay

   A week later, the other couple appeared.  Friends, who had initially said they couldn't go, called to say that they had come into a bit of unexpected money and they were in!  Luck again?  No, I don't think so.  Both couples had never been to Ireland before and wanted very much to go.  Their desire simply linked with mine and the first leg of my journey was set.  I would be staying again in "John's house" and, again, I was receiving what I needed when I needed it!

   In my next post I will talk about how, as I planned out the rest of my trip, synchronicity continued to play a part.  The trip seemed to take on a life of its own and I was, quite frankly, happy to let it have its way.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

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

Z is for Zoetic (and also for Zen and...)

Of or pertaining to life;
living, vital

   We come to the end of our contemplative alphabet and, perhaps, the most important word yet...zoetic.  It is a word rarely used but profoundly important for the contemplative photographer.

   The natural world is pulsing with vitality...the Qi of Taoism.  It is that energy that we hope to tap into when we are in the landscape..what my visual listening exercises key in on.  In the Celtic mindset, that energy is divine presence as well and, therefore, contemplating the natural world is communing with a deep rooted spirituality that pervades all things.  We are caught in that web of relationship and it is our sincere hope that our photographs will reflect that relationship.

   The contemplative photographer yearns for a true connectedness with what they photograph.  It is the force of all that surrounds us that draws us in and into a mutual interaction; responding to our desires and yielding their mysteries and metaphors...a co-conspiracy of creation.

   I hope you have enjoyed this alphabetic journey through some ideas and concepts relating to our much loved practice of contemplative photography.  If you come across a word we should include for any of the letters just let me know and I will update the post.  In the meantime, best wishes on your personal journey of discovery through your camera's lens.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Book Review - Pilgrim Principles by Lacy Clark Ellman

   I have been following A Sacred Journey for sometime and I was thrilled to see the the site's creator, Lacy Clark Ellman, was coming out with a book.  With my Threshold Pilgrimage coming up in May, this book was another bit of synchronicity.

   Pilgrim Principles - journeying with intention in everyday life, is meant to be a guidebook for everyone who is interested in living with intention whether they travel or not. 

We set off on journeys far away
 from home and journey in our everyday lives...
And when we infuse our journeys
 with meaning and intention, they become Sacred.

  The book takes the reader on a seven week interior pilgrimage based on her pilgrim principles such as A Pilgrim Immerses Herself in Culture and A Pilgrim Carries Herself with Curiosity. Each chapter offers guided meditations, practices and reflections. Each principle enriches the concept of what it means to be a true pilgrim in our own life's journey.

   The soul serves as the pilgrim's compass.
It is the place where questions become
 quests - where intuition is birthed
and longings explored.

   Every page offers new insights and the possibility of conversion - turning round to experience the world in a new and more profound way.  Day by day you by page.  Each paragraph a step along the road.  Your destination is a clearer understanding of the way these pilgrim principles can guide you to a more fully realized life.  Isn't that a journey worth the taking?

   Lacy has asked me to be "pilgrim in residence" in June this year on her site, A Sacred Journey.  The four posts will focus on the experience of my Threshold Pilgrimage to three sacred sites in Ireland and Scotland.  The first post will come on the last week of my pilgrimage so I will be able to weave the entire journey into four threshold encounters.  I am very excited about this series and I hope you will follow along when the time comes.  In the meantime, here is a link to a trailer for Lacy's book.  I'm sure you will find it an enriching and soul expanding read, as I did...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Five Ways of Contemplative Photography: Part Five

5.   With the Eyes of the Mystic

   When you approach contemplative photography with the eyes of a mystic you see the world as a playground of the divine.  Although I come from a Celtic Christian tradition, this way of seeing need not be associated with any particular faith practice.  Divine presence is a transcendent spirituality that comes with many names...or no name at all.

   The spiritual essence of the landscape, the world in general, is the primary focus of the photographer who sees the world with the eyes of the mystic.  It is way that I have only fairly recently been drawn to.  (You can see my post on this topic here...)

   Mysticism always, well to be frank, mystified me.  It certainly didn't feel natural.  But the more I've read about it, especially in the work of the great spiritual mystics like Rumi and Hildegard of Bingen, I've begun to feel more comfortable with this way of practicing my craft.

   This is the last of the five ways of contemplative photography.  I've ordered them in the way I personally discovered them.  From the cool observations of the Inquirer, I became more and more passionately involved with it all.  It truly was a journey from the head to the heart.

   In reality, these five ways are not singular approaches.  They combine in various ways and sometimes I find that I progress through all five ways during the course of my experience in the landscape.  No matter which way you identify with, keep your mind and your heart open to alternative might discover a way I haven't even considered!  The important thing is that  your way of contemplative photography fits you.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Five Ways of Contemplative Photography: Part Four

4.  With the Eyes of the Lover

   The contemplative photographer who gazes at the world with the eyes of the lover steps beyond mere seeing into the realm of beholding.  It is an emotional interaction that is all about relationship.

   I find myself approaching flowers in this way.  It is not about knowing their botanical names or even thinking about their design and color.  It is purely a love affair on my part.

   I experience this wildly exotic Bird of Paradise with wonderment and rapture.  I don't need to know anything about it.  It is enough to just bask in its beauty and exuberant nature.

   I think this way of contemplative photography is the least cerebral.  It is pure and heart-felt for the sake of love.  This way always leaves me completely happy and content and if I could only approach my camera work in one way it would be with the eyes of the lover.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons (or sub-zero temperatures!)...

...go outside and blow bubbles! This definately falls into the carpe diem school of thought.  It also applies well to the Taoist idea of living totally in the moment and reveling in whatever comes your sub-zero temperatures!

   I couldn't resist posting this when most of the country is experiencing the polar vortex right now (didn't even know what that was!).  Besides, the resulting images are so incredibly beautiful, as you can see above, I simply had to pass this idea along to you.

   I don't usually post twice in one day but what the is the second anniversary of A Photographic Sage so I thought this would be appropriate.


The Five Ways of Contemplative Photography: Part Three

3.  With the Eyes of the Poet

   When you approach your world in this way, with the eyes of the poet, you bask in the lyrical qualities of nature.  The metaphors are paramount.  Nothing is as it seems but everything stands in for other qualities and characteristics.

   The curving, undulating path that journeys through shadow and light can represent life.  To another, the non-poet, it may be simply a way of progressing through the landscape and staying on it is important otherwise, why is it there?  The poet knows beyond mere knowing.

   Some people, and hence, some photographers, seem to have a natural tendency to this way of being.  I know that it is a way I've looked at the world all my life as soon as I learned the concepts of analogy and metaphor.

   For the poetic contemplative photographer, the journal is as essential as the camera.  The poet is inspired by words and their relationship to the visual image.  Reading poetry is a great way to focus attention and quiet the mind.

   It is a vital practice for me as a contemplative photographer, this metaphorical thing.  Although I make no claims to being a literal poet, I would confidently claim the eyes of a poet.

Footnote:  Today is the second anniversary of the start of A Photographic Sage!  This has been such an amazing journey for me and I hope you have enjoyed the odyssey as well.


Monday, January 6, 2014

The Five Ways of Contemplative Photography: Part Two

2.  With the Eyes of the Artist

   Artists see the world as a compositional challenge.  They use the visual elements and design principles to organize and define the landscape.

   Structure is extremely is perception.  They will utilize viewfinders to clarify their vision and define the edges of the picture's frame.

   Photographers that use this approach will discover the incredible order and symmetry in Nature as well as the beauty in the seemingly random and chaotic.  They will also revel in the abstract possibilities of what they experience. ( I call these kinds of photographs, Simplicities.) Their photographs can sometimes evoke painterly qualities or be starkly simple. (You can read an interview I had with a photographer who I think represents this way of regarding the world - Steve Dunn.)

   I felt I was using this particular way of regarding the world around me when I took my Contemplative Photography workshop with Kim Manley Ort  last Spring.  I made a concerted effort to elevate my sense of design when I considered each photographic possibility.  Perception, a heighten awareness of the most common place elements in the landscape, became my focus during that weekend.

   When you approach the world with the artist's eye you develop a great appreciation for the inherent beauty of the most ordinary and mundane things like the spot light I photographed above.  It was the design of the sunlight that I found so compelling.  You will develop the ability to discriminate and select and that ability will lead you to amazing visual discoveries.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Five Ways of Contemplative Photography: Part One

    Over the years that I have spent ruminating about contemplative photography I have concluded that it is really an umbrella term.  There are many ways to practice it.   I've chosen 5.  I'm sure there are others we could add but this is a start.

1.  With the eyes of the Inquirer

   When you practice contemplative photography in this way, you look at the landscape as a botanist or geologist or any scientist would.  You will wonder at the diversity and intricacies of the natural world.  You will gain wisdom from understanding the why's and the wherefore's.

   It is an approach that demands that you touch and turnover.  It is the physical encounter with whatever you see that excites you.  It was as an Inquirer that I approached the stone beaches I visited in September.  I couldn't just photograph them, I had to handle them, collect them, wonder about their origins...they were fascinating.

   But the inquiring contemplative photographer takes the inquiry one step further as I did in the post, A Beach of Metaphors.  You can begin the process of contemplative photography in many ways but for  me there is only one way to end up, at least for this contemplative photographer, - searching for the metaphoric possibilities in the landscape.  Tomorrow we will look at the second way.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

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

Y is for Yield (and also for Yearn and Yin & Yang and...)

To surrender, submit or relent

   One of the things I have learned over the years as I've pursued photography as a contemplative practice is that we approach the entire scope of the medium with a different mindset from traditional photographers.  

   We are totally alright with yielding control to the natural flow of energy that pervades the landscape.  We are not there to impose our will or "capture" the elements of the natural world we find there.   

   This is also true with the images we ultimately receive.  They are what they are and we don't reject them because they may not be "artsy".  We think more of the metaphor and meaning contained within than the equipment and technical considerations without.  Not that we don't want our photographs to be the best they can be but it is not our prime concern.

   Yielding to more profound considerations, we are at peace with our practice.  We may not win photographic awards for cutting edge imagery but we will gain insight into the workings of our heart.  That's an acceptable trade off in my mind.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Red Sky in the Morning...

Red sky at night,
Sailor's delight.
Red sky in the morning,
Sailor take warning. goes the old saying.  This particular morning I was just able to get a glimpse of Nature's warning before the sky completely clouded over.

   The flame color peeking through the trees was much more striking than this image implies.  (Can't get them all "right" can we?)  It did give the impression of a distant fire illuminating the sky behind the trees.

   Sure enough, a big snow storm was coming the next day.  I smiled, isn't it thoughtful of Nature to give us a "head's up"!   Time to stock up on ice melt.  

   There are many other ways, far more subtle and less poetic, in which Nature tries to inform us.  That is really the whole basis of contemplative photography...listening for the messages of the natural world.  Sometimes, like that morning, it is a warning of things to come.  Most times it is just the soft and reassuring message,  "Rest here for awhile...all is well."

   Try to enter into a closer companionship with the world around you and see what subtle whisperings it will impart to your waiting heart.  If you want to gather it into an image that's fine.  Just listening intently and thoughtfully is perfectly alright too.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Guest Post: Susan Fox - Intuitive Photographer

    We begin the new year with a guest post from Susan Fox. Although she categorizes her work as "intuitive", it is certainly very contemplative as well. I like bringing new faces to this blog and Susan (and her lovely work) is a great way to start off 2014.

How did you come to photography? 

   Photography surfaced as my artistic expression during Higher National Diploma Fine Art education about 14 years ago.  Having explored other more traditional art-forms, such as painting and printmaking, I realized something was missing, never really feeling that deeper connection like I did with photography and the excitement of the printed form.

 Initially I was spurred forward by my tutor who was impressed by my use of natural light in an image taken with a throw away camera.  He said it was the best student picture of that year's Florence trip. I took photography as my specialism despite finding the technical side daunting.  I always had to ask twice for instructions.  To this day I do not relish the technical side!  

   At that time I became fascinated with the idea of using the camera as a tool for therapy. I had recently lost all of my hair due to alopecia, so cottoning onto this idea I arranged for a personal photo-therapy session where I dressed in African headdress, which for me was symbolic of beauty, strength and femininity. To this day I look for symbolism in my imagery, very often going back to work on an image to draw out and express my feelings as a form of therapy.

   One that comes to mind is this abstract image which looked like a red dress to me.  Needing to vent my emotions, feeling powerless over a personal situation in my life, I decided to work into the image making it stronger, sharper, more defined, thereby releasing some negativity.  This processing of feelings through imagery can be very empowering.
Share some of your process with my readers...

   Initially Minor White's photography made a big impact on me, his use of light and how he would arrange for group field trips to capture the light and magic of the landscape fascinated me, I found his images mind blowing.  The best way of describing my connection to outdoor photography is that of a walking meditation, my mind is switched off or lets say uncluttered.  This is not a forced state of mind it just happens when the camera is in my hand. I feel my senses are sharp I am attuned to my intuition or deeper knowing, listening inwardly. 
   I do not ascribe to any course of camera setting adjustments, it is always on auto leaving my mind free.  I just remain in a state of Being, my old camera becomes an appendage in that it feels like it's a part of me held snugly in one hand between my four fingers and thumb. Apart from walking, veering from side to side or bobbing up and down the only action I perform is either zooming in or out, I can manipulate the zoom with the same hand whilst my eye hovers between the landscape and the viewfinder.

    The light is always guiding me.  It feels like there is an inner computing and configuring going on.  I will take scores of shots in the process, it is not static or considered but an active and fluid experience. The feeling continues when I get home with my haul, I can't wait to up-load them to my computer, it's akin to opening an anticipated box of chocolates, the excitement and delight at pondering each image adds even more to the experience. To further use the analogy of chocolates, not all will equally hit the sensory spot but one or two will usually stand out as significant and having deeper meaning.

What are some of the benefits of seeing the world through you camera's lens? How has it impacted your sensibilities and perceptions?

    The love of lens has impacted my life in a most wonderful way, particularly when I started my blog Finding my Bliss. For a period of about 2 years I was in a constant state of 'bliss', I called it my 'wonderbubble', and most especially during an unusual winter of snow, I was in wonderland; landscape, reflections, macro photography...this also coincided with a very difficult personal patch in my life that I had to deal with. So, through the camera I was able to live in moments of pure awareness. It nourished me through these sad and stressful times. As I posted on my blog I wanted to pass on this incredible feeling, to inspire others in similar situations.

If I never left my house again there would be an infinite source of subject matter for photography around, either through the ever changing external window scene or inside my home.  Again, I never plan, it just happens.  My camera is always on hand, my family are used to me instantly dropping whatever I am doing to catch a sparkle or shadow!
    It is always associated with the light change.  I think over the years of image taking I have become deeply sensitized to both subtle and strong light changes.  It could be a soft light outside that gives gentle shades evoking a feeling of harmony and connection to the Divine or a strong shadow inducing light that catches my attention, imbuing a sense of mystery.
  I do admit to playing in this light a little, it is one of my favorite pastimes seeing what I can come up with.  I have favorite glass items I photograph over and over as the light hits them differently and then perhaps even progressing to a little Photoshop work.  Sometimes I hear my old tutor telling me to "push the boundaries, go deeper" so I do, it satisfies my creativity. 

But all in all I view my connection to the camera as my spiritual outlet, fulfilling a deep need within.  This outlet and expression is a form of worship if you like, focusing in on the minutest of life's details, manifesting the beauty and design of Source, it is my way of blessing counting.  I am grateful for the abundance!

I call my blog 'Finding my Bliss' because for me intuitive photography is the most fulfilling and blissful pursuit.

Here is a biographical sketch of Susan:

 My love David and I plus our two beautiful fluff-ball dogs Dougal & Jasper live together in a 17th century cottage on the edge of a famous historical estate ~ Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, UK.  We restored the cottage from the remaining three walls of a ruin fourteen years ago, it is believed to be the original cobbler's cottage that served the Hall, which was built by Bess of Hardwick, cousin to Queen Elizabeth I of England. 

    The Hall is famous for its windows among other things, as when it was constructed windows were a luxury and the Hall had many, hence the saying "Hardwick Hall more glass than wall".  I love to photograph the Hall and windows, at a certain time of day when the sun is shining they appear to be on fire! 

    When I am not taking photographs or walking with our boys in the parkland surrounding us I spend time with my other passion, yoga which has become a very important part of my life, you could say 'yoga saves', for I have found through practicing yoga and meditation along with intuitive photography I have been able to ride some serious storms in my life!  I have three grown up children and three grandchildren, all precious to me for which I am grateful!