Nearly stepped on this little crabgrass tuft as I got out of the car. I've never been a huge fan of it since I wage a constant battle with it in my flower beds but you have to admire this kind of determination. The crack in the concrete was very tiny yet it found a way to sprout. There is a lesson here...
I recently had the old wallpaper striped from the hall and for the first time I was able to appreciate the lovely shadows cast on the freshly painted surface. They were always there, of course, but the pattern of the wallpaper obscured them. I made this image just a couple of days after Robin Williams sad death and the shadows inspired this wonderful Rilke quotation that I found especially poignant. This is the is the power of synchronicity at work...you receive the images you need when you need them...without fail.
I was reading an old piece in the New Republic recently. It was the talk that Walker Evans did for a class at Harvard in 1975, just 2 days before his death.
He spoke in an off the cuff, free-flowing manner of his life as a photographer but one particular phrase jumped out at me:
"...some of the best things you
ever do sort of come through you."
Now, Walker Evans would never be described as a contemplative photographer. He was one of the premier social realists of the 20th century and I am a great admirer of his work. But here is an illusion to something I've often felt as a contemplative photographer...that it isn't so much my doing that makes the image. I am merely an instrument through which something flows, a conduit of sorts. I may hold the camera but it is the landscape that creates the image.
I hope that doesn't sound overly mystical. It isn't that at all. It is simply that when I am in the landscape and I allow myself to be totally open to the energy of the place, I sometimes find myself directed or drawn to particular images. I try not to think too much about it when it happens...I just let it be what it is and I make the best photograph I can. It is why I often refer to my photographs as being "received", gifts as it were.
In many ways, this is what defines the contemplative photographer for me. This ability to allow things to "come through you". You abdicate control in a manner of speaking. You let the landscape direct your lens.
I leave tomorrow for the contemplative photography retreat on Star Island where I will try to open people to this sort of experience through visual listening exercises. It isn't easy to "teach" something that has to be experience first hand but I will try. It all begins with practice true mindfulness. The best I can hope for is that people will begin to understand the importance of letting go...the need to remain an empty vessel. When you can do that, all sorts of wonderful things will pour in.
It has been a long time since I worked with the monochrome image...even longer for portraiture. This little girl at the local fair recently was simply irresistible. Those eyes and those curls! But what started as just a sweet, candid image spun off into a serious bit of reflection for me.
I asked the mother's permission to make a photograph of her daughter for this blog and she graciously agreed. I still have a real problem with true street photography, where the photographer catches people unawares. (You can read a past post on the subject here...) Having gained permission, I felt on surer ground.
I guess everyone has to make up their own minds on the subject of candid street photography and this image brought the dilemma back into my mind. When I saw the photograph I made of this little girl I thought what an example perfect innocence she represented. That trusting, open heart of childhood that we all once had and that with time and experience we've, unfortunately, lost.
I was having a similar conversation recently with friends. Another friend I knew way back when, always loved to say,
"You can only be young once but you can be immature forever!"
Immaturity is always viewed as a bad thing...who would wish to be 'immature'? But I think, like most things, there is a positive side to immaturity. It is that innocence and trusting heart I spoke about earlier. Some would call it naivete, not a thing one would covet but I don't know. You may not be able to re-create the childlike view of the world completely but wouldn't it be nice if we could channel, from time to time, the innocence and trust of youth before it 'matured' into the skepticism and mistrust of adulthood? Sometimes there is a lot to contemplate in the face of a child...
I've become fascinated by the painterly quality of water reflections lately. This one I made in Ireland but I've focused on reflections in my pond studies of Little Clemons Pond as well.
The light on the water does wonderful things with shapes and color. I can really see these as paintings as much as photographs.
It is the poetic nature of reflections that draws me. Reality subtly altered and transformed. I find them exquisitely beautiful. They can have a strong abstract element to them as well, especially if you remove the source of the reflection from the composition and focus only on the reflection.
This is an image from my "pond ponderings". I seem drawn each time I go to the pond to see what reflections I can find...how the weather alters the color and tones of the reflections.
This might make a nice summer/fall series (imagine the fall foliage spilling reds and oranges in the water!) and if you want to learn a bit more about photographing water reflections, you can visit this link for inspiration:
I was too far away to make a decent image of this little gold finch stopping to snack on the seed heads of the rudbeckia, it was a bit blurry when I cropped it, so I thought I'd try something different. I used a poster edge effect and I quite like it! Reminds me a bit of the pen and ink drawings I'd done in art school. It revealed a side of photography, the manipulated image for artistic effect, that I'd never really tried before. Sometimes adversity opens up doors you would never have walk through otherwise. It also reminded me that it's alright to just have fun with your images...break a few rules and push the envelop. Who knows where it will lead?
My frequent trips to the pond continue to reward me with small moments of enchantment...like the blooming of the first waterlily of the season.
The ruffly edge of the lily pads was also a delight to see. Somehow, I always thought of them as perfectly flat, round circles of green floating on the water. Actually, they sometimes are but this day they had a ruffled appearance. Even the common lily pad is capable of variation.
I am just beginning to fully appreciate Thoreau's fascination with the intricate detail of a place. Not the grand vistas but the commonplace elements that make up the landscape.
We wait, starving for moments of high magic to inspire us, but life is full of common enchantments waiting for our alchemist's eyes to notice.
- Jacob Nordby
What "common enchantments" can you find this weekend in your own backyard? What may you have overlooked in the past that can now delight you? Make this a daily practice even if you don't photograph it.
This is a very personal project for me but I feel that there are immense contemplative possibilities in revisiting old family photographs and I want to share the idea with you.
I grew up in an era where communication between children and their parents was not as free flowing as it is now. In my house, this was even more exaggerated. You simply didn't talk, about personal things, with Mom or Dad.
How I wish that wasn't so but now I am using the old photographs of my Mother to have a conversation of sorts...a conversation I wish I had had but didn't.
I'm altering the images and incorporating the "dialogue" into the photograph. Questions I never dared ask...observations she probably wouldn't have been open to. My Mother died in 2002, and though I won't receive answers to my questions, this project is helping me forge a new relationship, in some ways, with a woman I really can't say I 'knew' all that well. That is a terribly sad thing to write but it is the truth.
Is there someone from your past that you wish you could talk to now? What would you ask them? Consider having a conversation with the past as a way of clarifying long held feelings. You may not be able to right old wrongs or resolve old differences but sometimes just writing it down can heal the soul.
Around this time two years ago, I was in France. I've been thinking about that trip and it began when I was in Dublin in early June.
It was June 6th and the 70th anniversary of the invasion at Normandy and I watched the commemorations in the restaurant lounge. All sorts of emotions welled up in me...memories too.
My primary reason for making that trip to France in 2012 was to visit Omaha Beach where my dad landed 70 years ago and it is through objects as well as photographs that we re-connect with the past. They both have ways to trigger powerful feelings.
My cousin gave me this plate on my return but it was the tiny container of sand that I took home from Omaha Beach that is my most cherished souvenir of the trip. That and this image I made at the memorial.
I looked at the album I made of the trip, my "Good Crop" of 12 icons of the experience I had while in France. I was still totally committed to the monochrome image back then and the 12 are all in black and white, well one image has just a spot of color...an omen of what was to come in my work? I only made one black and white image while I was on my Threshold Pilgrimage in May and June, the rest were in color. Something has changed and I'm still processing it.
Revisiting old images is a very revealing contemplative exercise and in my next post I will talk more about that. For now, you can re-visit my "Good Crop" from France...
In SoulCollage® they call it "soul essence". It represents the very center of who you are. It is our deepest self, our true self. It is what is left when you strip away all the other ego based things in your personality, your false self.
Contemplative photography offers everyone a tool for exploring their own unique soul essence. One needn't have fancy equipment (this photo was made with my cell phone camera) or vast knowledge of the photographic medium, (I am no technical expert to be sure). All it requires is an attentive eye, a trusting heart, and mind that is willing to go beyond the surface of the perceived world.
Neither does it require one to know all the answers...it suffices to simply ask the questions. Each photograph is a question you are asking of yourself. Something called out to you and you responded my releasing the shutter. It is up to you ask 'why'. That will lead you, eventually, to your center.
Walking labyrinths is a way to train your mind to trust the journey and simply walk. You will get to the center. Making your photographs is a journey as well and all you have to do is make the images. You will get to your soul's essence, your center, in time...image by image.
I have always been drawn to photographing sculptures in the landscape...old cemeteries being a favorite haunt of mine (pardon the pun!). This is a public sculpture at the University of New England in Portland, Maine. They had several pieces surrounding the building but I was drawn to this one especially.
I think it is because I'm working on a book project, "Conversations with my Mother", using old photographs that I'm scanning and altering. I believe that what occupies your mind directs your lens. It seems so for me anyway.
What we see depends on
what we look for.
- John Lubbock
...and what we look for is what is in our hearts at that moment. There is a direct line of communication between the heart and the eye...it often by-passes the head altogether. That is why we are sometimes puzzled by what we see on our memory card when we return home. Our head wants to know why we made that image, the heart already knows.
I've also begun to use these photographs of sculptures in my digital collages. This is one that I used in the last post on A Sacred Journey, a wonderful site that hosted four posts from my Threshold Pilgrimage in June. Digital collage is something I want to pursue during the months to come. It is a whole new area for me but it seems perfect for the contemplative photographer.
You might like to take advantage of the summer sunshine and explore public art installations. Here is a link to some possibilities but I'm sure you will have no problem finding some near to your home...there is always an old cemetery just waiting for you to explore!
The digital camera is both a blessing and a curse. It simplifies the photographic process to such a degree that we can accomplish in seconds what the 19th century photographer took hours to create.
It is not just in the processing of the image but in the recording of it that photography has become something of a split second activity...I call it the "click and run" syndrome.
Yet, we can learn a vital lesson in this thought by the great Taoist master, Lao Tzu. Slow down, adopt the pace of nature. You may not make as many images but they may be more evocative.
I had already photographed the small group of blue flags at the ponds edge and I was about to move on when something told me to draw closer and look deeper. When I allowed my eye to see beyond the flowers, I caught sight of a beautiful reflection. I took my time and kept the camera to my eye. Something disturbed the water's surface, perhaps a fish rising to grab a water bug, and it created the soft rings. It was then I made my photograph.
The whole process took several minutes to transpire. I'm glad I looked beyond the focal point, into what was around and behind it and I'm very glad I slowed down and let the image emerge on its own. It let me know when it was time to release the shutter and this is the result.
The imagination is such a powerful tool of self-discovery that Albert Einstein once said that it is more important than knowledge. That's a pretty strong statement but I totally agree with it. In all my 35 years of teaching art, I always put the emphasis on the imagination of my students over the mere acquisition of facts.
Now, as a contemplative photographer, I want to underscore the role of imagination for the photographer. Some people equate imagination with make believe; if you imagine something it is not real. But here Twain is implying that you can not trust your reality perceiving eyes if your imagination is not clearly engaged in the process.
What this means to me is that without a clearly focused imagination, all you will 'see' is the superficial and you will miss out on the deeper reality of the world around you. Imagination does not alter that reality but allows us to gain a more profound and enriching understanding of it. You need an imagination if you wish to see the metaphors in the landscape, if you want to go deeper into what you are observing. Imagination requires that you are open to possibility; that you are able to "photograph things not only for what they are but for what else they are" as Minor White suggests.
Here is a parting thought from the other 19th century humorist I so admire, Oscar Wilde...
No great artist ever sees things as they really are.
During my month long sabbatical, I have been working quite diligently on nurturing my attentive eye. Part of my process in doing this is to try and spend time each day attending to the tiny details in the landscape that I find around my home. I deliberately turned off my "metaphorical mind" so that I could revel in the simple beauty of whatever I found.
I needed this time to re-acquaint myself with the simply joy of discovery. I didn't have to rationalize the image or try to make it more than what it was...just a simple attempt to appreciate the beauty we are surrounded by everyday.
Walking in the garden after a shower offered this cluster of raindrops that I found quite stunning...like tiny diamonds, a group of transient gems along a leaf...here one moment and gone the next. That is the beauty of taking time to see what Nature offers us, everyday, and in our own backyards. It is often fleeting, these details of enchantment, and one must make a vow to oneself to seek them out.
I had decided to take a sabbatical from the blog for the month of July. I needed rest and
recuperation...a break from the daily posting. I had no intention of putting my camera away however.
What I needed was a focus close to home. I found it less than a mile from my house...my own personal Walden Pond. I'd photographed it before, of course, but in a more random way. On the 29th of June I began a systematic photographic study of the pond. I plan to visit a few times each week over the course of next year at different times of day and in different weather.
Little Clemons Pond is a bit smaller than Walden, only 25 acres to Walden's 61 acres, but it has no buildings along its shores...very unusual in this part of Southern Maine. This is because one family owns all the surrounding land. I received permission to walk its shoreline for this series. Of course, they don't "own" the pond, no one can own a body of water in Maine, and I hope to take to a canoe to explore the pond from another viewpoint.
I am no naturalist to be sure but I hope to take a cue from Thoreau and keep a journal of my observations. This is a project that I can envelop myself in on so many levels. I look forward to sharing some of the images I receive with you as I progress through the year. On this first day, it was the reflections that captivated me.
I had been so consumed with my Threshold Pilgrimage for so long that the let down when I returned was more like a crash and burn experience. Now, I felt I had a new, less stressful, focus for my camera work and writing.
I've visited the pond 5 or 6 times since my first visit on the 29th and have amassed dozens of images and pages of journal entries. I am also re-reading Walden and I feel closer to Thoreau, on an emotional level, now than I ever have, even after nearly 40 years of visiting Walden. I can understand his fascination for a place.
A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is
Earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his
own nature. - Henry David Thoreau
Have you ever considered finding your own Walden? Maybe it won't be a pond but for me the concept of 'Walden' represents a place of retreat and contemplation for the seeking soul and it needn't be faraway or hard to get to. Find one if you can and then make a commitment to visit on a regular basis over the course of a year. See what it has to teach you...
* For those new to this blog, "breadcrumbs" are what I call the contemplative tidbits one picks up along the way. Seemingly unconnected, they lead one surely along a path towards greater and greater insight.
In the Celtic calendar, August 1st is the beginning of Autumn...a good day to begin my posts after a month long 'staycation'! This day is also known as Lughnasadhand it is the first of two harvest festivals. Around my garden, it is a symphony of yellows and oranges.
Here in Maine, the swamp maples have just begun to show their colors and although we are still fully engaged with summertime activities, August 1st reminds me that the wheel of the year is slowly turning and it is time to at least think about the changes to come.
Time to start canning, time to order wood for the stove, time to begin freezing the vegetables that are ready in the garden. It also reminds me of the old Aesop Fable of the grasshopper and the ant. One may be inclined to while the lazy days away but there is a cost to that down the road.
"Make hay while the sun shines!"
As a contemplative photographer, Lammas shakes us up, asking us to open our eyes to the subtle shifting of the landscape. Will the monarchs return? Which birds are now gone from our yards? Where can we witness the first changes in the foliage and flowers? For me, even the smells of the landscape change around this time. I start sensing the wild grapes that grow by the old well and the sumac along the road even before I see them. When I was still teaching, the sight of the golden rod made me realize it was time to start thinking about going back to school.
Now that I am retired, seasons have a whole different focus for me. With my photography I can embrace them in a new way. In my next post, I will introduce you to my new photographic project that has already fanned my passion for a month and which will make celebrating the seasons even more meaningful to me.
I plan to publish my regular posts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week. In between, I will publish individual images I gather along the way, Breadcrumbs as it were, like this early morning light and raindrops on the day lilies. I will also post images from The Poetry of Place project frequently so you can follow along through the seasons at the pond. (More about that on Monday!)
I want to remind folks that there is still time to register for the Star Island retreat over Labor Day. Kim has a wonderful weekend planned and I will be doing a visual listening activity on Sunday morning. I will also be showing you how to make your own simple field journal on Saturday when you first arrive and each person will make their own to use for the weekend. Hope you can join us! You can view the itinerary for the weekend at the following link...