Friday, October 31, 2014

Celebrating the Seasons - Samhain: Honoring our Ancestors

    The ancient celebration of Samhain (pronounced sow-in and which means "summer's end") has lost most of its original intent in our contemporary translation, Halloween or All Hallow's Eve.  Now we focus on the scary and macabre...the more gruesome the better.  But for the ancient Celts it was the thinnest of times and represented the beginning of their wheel of the year; it was their New Year celebration.  A thin time is when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was the most transparent.

   November 1st is the first day of winter according to the old Celtic calendar.  Animals who could not be fed during the long winter months would be slaughtered at this time and their would be great feasting.  It is appropriate that we celebrate Thanksgiving during November.  Most of us don't have to worry about our food supply during the bleak days of winter but the ancient people faced insecurity and hunger.  A good time to elicit help from their ancestors by leaving a west facing door open and a candle lit to beckon them in.  Lighted pumpkins on the doorstep is the contemporary version of this tradition.  My house does face west, lots of old farmhouses in rural Maine do, but I won't be leaving the door open.  More likely a raccoon would decide to enter!

    Samhain was a time to celebrate ancestors; those who had gone before.  The Mexican Day of the Dead celebration is really more in keeping with the ancient beliefs of the Celts.  In many respects, Samhain was more like our Memorial Day than a Stephen King novel.

   Looking at my family's old photographs, reading the words in their journals, setting it all in the context of the times they lived in, has been a wonderful experience for me.  I've been creating digitally collaged album pages and the story of my family's history is slowly evolving, page by page.  This will definitely be a good winter project for me.

   I also want to photograph my current family and record their thoughts and feelings. With the holiday season approaching, it is a good time to remember that contemplative photography can begin at home, around the Thanksgiving table or Christmas tree, and with those nearest and dearest to us.

    Photographing the material objects in your life can add to the story as well.  As photographers, we have a special opportunity to pass on our stories in a visual way; they do say a picture is worth a 1,000 words but pictures and words become a story.

    I do my daily photojournal, Memories4Me, for just that reason. (You can always check it out by clicking on the link in the right side bar.) I want to tell my story day by day, photograph by photograph.  When I am long gone these words and images will remain to tell the tale.  Start now, during the season of family and memory, to tell your own story through your photographs and words.

My Annual Samhain Ritual:
My grandmother - 1912

   This evening I will do my ritual of remembrance.  On slips of paper, I will write a message to people who have passed away.  I roll them up and as I utter their names, I lay the rolled words on the fire in my wood stove. My words will travel up with the smoke. 

   This idea of smoke carrying prayers or wishes is not new.  Tibetan Buddist and Taoist monks burn incense to carry their prayers heavenward. I saw them practicing this when I was in China and fell in love with the idea.  For me, this little ritual is simply an acknowledgement of my feeling for these people who have gone on before me and the debt I owe them.

    I saw an interview recently with actor Mandy Patinkin in which he said that he believed that as long as a person's name is uttered they are never forgotten. He says the names of people in his life who have died everyday. My ritual, as well as the digital album I am creating, is my way of remembering....

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Inspired by DIane Arbus...

Diane Arbus - 1949 by Allen Arbus
Taking pictures is like tiptoeing into the kitchen late at night and stealing cookies.

- Diane Arbus

    Diane Arbus had a unique point of view.  Whether you like her graphic and sometimes disturbing images or not, you might find yourself agreeing with this statement of hers. 

    Although I don't particularly care for the "taking" and the "stealing" parts, I do love the overall gist of it.  I am constantly delighted to be able to savor the tiny moments I experience through the photographs I make of them.  There is a wondrous and child-like element to it.

   Sometimes I find myself nearly giddy with delight when I happen upon a particular element in the landscape or anywhere I find myself.   I sometimes think to myself, "Doesn't everyone see this?  Don't you think it's wonderful?"  They answers are no, they usually don't and no, not particularly.  But I never let that dissuade me from seeking them out.

   When you walk through the world expecting to be surprised and delighted you invariably are.  If your eyes have been dulled with cynicism, you rarely will experience either.  The skeptics among us are often too jaded to appreciate the small but singularly delightful things we go on and on about.  That should not keep you from reveling in them.  Go ahead, enjoy those Oreos!


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Trust the Process...

   Contemplative photography, like every other form of art, is a process.  And sometimes, especially when one is feeling a bit stuck, it is important to remember to trust that process.  You will see the things you need to see, you will be where you need to be and the meaning of the images will reveal itself to you in time.  You simply have to have faith.

   I write this daily photo blog and I also post daily to my photojournal.  It can get a bit overwhelming at times.  Those are the very times when I need to step back and put my trust in the process that has always worked for me in the past.  I simply stay open to random influences that will, all of a sudden, open my eyes to  new photographic possibilities.

   I am reading a wonderful book that mentions the Einstein concept of seeing time as a river that bends and curves; a river we drift along in but which we can step out of if we choose.  When I looked out my kitchen window a little while later I saw this...a visual translation of the passage I just read. 

   Little clues, small illuminations, subtle messages are all around us all the time. They needn't be earth shattering or mind blowing either...just gentle nudges for the soul to contemplate. Being intensely involved with my genealogical research of late, it was a most important image for me to see at this moment and I didn't even have to leave my house to see it.  I did walk out back to make the photograph but it was a walk of about 50 feet.  The point is, one must remain open to any and all influence...let it sink in and filter its way through your consciousness and eventually it will direct you to a new moment of clarity.  Trust but don't force the process.  Let it just flow like Einstein's river...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Please, do sweat the small stuff!

As Above, So Below
   We've all heard the old adage, "Don't sweat the small stuff!"  I'm here to say that it is all small stuff and it is well worth the effort.

   Thoreau said that there are two ways to view the landscape, with a telescope or a microscope.  Somehow I think the answer lies in between.  While we all love the grand vista, it is in the intimate details that I find the most enjoyment.  For me, the landscape is the sum total of the myriad details that make it up.

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.
- Henry Miller

   While I love to photograph the sweep of a pond,  the big view, I am most content with the closer, more personal relationship I can forge with the small details of the landscape.  Like this study of reflections at a friends pond this summer.

   I was captivated by the light, the color and, of course, the amazing reflection in the still water.  And moving in to a more intimate detail creates a lovely abstraction.  Yet, everything the larger photograph has is contained in the small view.

   The closer I get into the landscape the more impressionistic and even abstract it becomes.  I've certainly discovered this in my project The Poetry of Place.   It really is, in the final analysis, up to your personal engagement with the you take the large view or the small view?  Or perhaps, like me, do you enjoy the process of walking into the landscape, to try and see the whole from a small part?  Here is a link to a discussion on three different ways to engage the landscape...try them all!

   No matter which of the three you decide suits you, keep your mind and heart open.  Sometimes it is the landscape itself that will tell you what you need to do.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pause, Focus, Connect

   During our contemplative weekend on Star Island over Labor Day, workshop leader, Kim Manley Ort encourage participants to follow a three step approach to their camera work...Pause, Focus and Connect.  I've been thinking a lot about this process of approaching the landscape since.

   PAUSE:  It is very hard to make photographs on the run yet so many people seem in such a hurry to get from here to there.  Pausing allows you to take in your surroundings.  You can try this little exercise I did at the pond awhile back.  Take ten (or 20 or 15) steps and stop...wherever you find yourself.  Even if it doesn't, at first, seem very appealing.  Spend time really looking around yourself...up, down, right, left, forward and back.

FOCUS:  On our Star Island retreat, I introduced people to my visual listening exercise.  This co-ordinates very nicely with Kim's encouragement to focus in on one part of the landscape.  What drew your attention?  What about this fascinates you?

CONNECT:   This is the moment when you forge a relationship, a more intimate embrace of what you at first merely witnessed.  This is the contemplative portion of the equation.  Traditional photographers, I believe, stop at the "focus" stage.  They literally focus the camera's lens, make the photograph and move on.  But the connection part is very important to me.  It allows me to move from the witness role to become more of a partner with the landscape.  The resulting image is really a co-creation.

   There are many ways to connect and it must really happen in the gut more than in the brain.  A recent article I read about the dynamics of a forest's web of connection made it more concrete to me.  In it, forest ecologist Suzanne Simard reveals how the trees communicate with other plants through this underground network.  It was mind boggling to say the least.  Now, when I get to the "connect" stage in my walk, I feel like I am part of that amazing web of communication.

    I encourage you to try this process when next you are out in the landscape and check out Kim's website for more information.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Copy or An Original?

   A painting is above all a product of the
artist's imagination; it must never be a copy.
- Edgar Degas
The Poetry of Place: 13 October 2014

   I remember reading about how the art world reeled with the advent of photography.  The painted portrait was dead, they all said.  With the camera, what was the point?  Of course, that did not turn out to be the case because the painter could do things the camera couldn't.  The painter could infuse his subject with feeling and emotion...not so the poor photographer who could only record what was in front of him.

   That idea has also been proven wrong and now the photographer has a choice; to clearly and realistically depict what "is" or interpret the landscape, or whatever he is photographing, through the lens of his heart.  When he does, he is paying homage to Degas' statement that an artist must never copy.  This artistic edict isn't often applied to photography but perhaps it should.

    Although I make no claim to mastering the evocative and personal image, I try very hard to step beyond merely representing the landscape, which is, of course, a perfectly acceptable thing to do.  After all, contemplation is seeing things as they really are, in the here and now.  But I want my photographs to also reflect the spiritual essence of place, not just its material reality.

   You can do that with your choice of framing as well as the way you process the image later on.  What do you emphasize?  What do you play down?  What moved you when you were there to make the image in the first place?  It is not an easy thing to do but, for me, it is worth attempting.  It requires that you progress beyond the role of silent witness and to forge a bond and connection to the landscape and that, whether you make a photograph or not, is always a good thing to experience.

    Fellow contemplative photographer and blogger, Kim Manley Ort, recently posted a thought provoking essay on keeping your photographs "alive".  You might like to read and reflect...


Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Contemplative Master's Series - Rumi

The Poetry of Place - July 17, 2014
Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love.  It will not lead you astray. 

 Rumi, the 13 century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, is one of my favorite source for contemplative insight. The quote above is one that is at the core of my practice as a contemplative photographer.  If you allow yourself to be drawn in by what you truly love, you will see what your soul needs you to see.

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

    To see the landscape through the eyes of the heart is an essential element of contemplative photography and it ties in very nicely with the first quote.  It is also the focus of my visual listening exercises where I allow the landscape to open up the conversation while I just quietly sit and listen.

    This final quote from Rumi seems to refer to the metaphorical capacity of the landscape to speak directly to our hearts and it is one that I constantly remind myself of.  Absolutely everything you encounter in the landscape, any landscape, has the capacity to teach us profound truths if we open our hearts to the message.  I've added the parenthesis...

Be grateful for whoever (or whatever) comes because
each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Thought for Today: Change the Way You See things....

   I try, through my visual listening exercises, to change the way I engage the landscape.  We are so use to seeing our way through, usually with a camera stuck to our eye, that our other senses are pushed aside.  When I began to respond to the pond in a more emotional and intuitive way, I began to see totally different things.  Nature as artist, as the grand painter of expressionistic "pondscapes"; now I see them every time I visit the pond.

I began to see the spirit of the place, not just merely its material manifestations, and the photographs I receive are something new and exciting for me.  Try it.  Try to change the way you see things...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Contemplative Possibilities - Hands

   I love photographing hands at work.  This photograph is one of my favorites; it is from the First Person Rural series I complete a few years back.  I even have a board on Pinterest devoted entirely to photographic renderings of can see it here.  
   One of my favorite memories of childhood is sitting watching my Grandmother knit.  The soft click, click, click was hypnotizing.  I was always mesmerized by the way the knitted piece grew under her needles, as if by magic I thought.

   I am enthralled by people who can create beautiful objects.  Finely crafted items of cloth or wood or clay.  We live in such a mass produced, machine made culture that the work of the hand becomes even more precious.

  The link below leads you an incredible video which shows ceramic masters at work shaping clay vessels.  It is an awe inspiring glimpse at the work of masterful practitioners of the art of pottery.  It may inspire you to begin your own series on hands or maybe just give you a new appreciation of those who use their hands to create everyday...including yourself!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Poetry of Place: 17 October 2014

   "Follow the yellow leaf road!"  The pine needles and leaves displaced by the heavy rain storm the day before seemed to glow in the late morning light creating a golden meandering path along the shore of the pond.

   I sat on a rock just enjoying the warm morning when a rustle in the leaves to my right caught my attention.  A small chipmunk, absorbed in his acorn gathering, was completely unaware of by presence until I turned.  With a squeak of protest, he was off.  All the birds and animals are frantic with winter preparation, not basking in the warm sun like me.  They know better to laze about at this time of year!

   Leaves continue to gently fall around me and there is the occasionally "plop" of an acorn diving into the pond.  Those acorns will never feed a squirrel or start a new tree but they also have a role to play.  They will enrich the pond's bottom for fish and turtles and next year's water lilies.  In Nature, even the smallest and humblest thing has its purpose and I too am joining in that purpose.  Recording the unique poetry of this place and entering into a co-conspiracy with the pond, I hope that I will add in a small way to the understanding of this natural landscape and inspire others to find their own "Walden".

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Inspired by Francine Prose...

   Someone said I had to read this book.  "Why?" I asked. "Because there is photographer in it and I know you love Paris...what other reason do you need?"  What indeed!

   So I read Lovers at the Chameleon Club and she was right, it is a wonderful book about the avant-guarde of Paris in the early 1930's.  The photographer is one of the voices of the book, among several others.  It is beautifully written and captivating but I really didn't think I would find inspiration for contemplative photography amongst its pages...I would have been wrong.

I've developed a reputation as someone who can't walk out the door without seeing something magical.  There's nothing occult about it.  I've trained myself to notice the details, and I do my legwork, pounding the sidewalks to double my chances of being present when a miracle occurs.
   - Gabor Tsenyi

   I think I have that same reputation among my friends but this quotation reminds me that it takes constant effort.  It happens when you spend a lot of time "pounding the sidewalks" or, in my case, walking the banks of my pond.  It is not a hit or miss thing.  It takes persistence, one of my four "Be's" of contemplative photography.  You have to work at it.  

   The "work" is simply showing up, everyday, with an open heart and an open mind. Another great writer, a poet this time, Emily Dickinson said it best...

The Soul should always stand ajar,
ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Metaphors: Coming Together and Drifting Apart

   These trees offer a lovely way to contemplate relationship.  They started out as one and split apart for awhile.  Then, for some reason that I can't fathom, they came together and grew as one tree for quite some time.  And, equally inexplicably, they went there separate ways for a second time!

   Honestly, I sat on a nearby log and looked at this tree for quite some time.  What made them split? What brought them together again? And why, after rejoining, did they split yet again?  (The light in the space is really the sun striking a white birch that was growing right behind this tree.  I thought it added another level to the metaphor.)

   We have all had people in our lives that we were very close to for a time and then just drifted away from.  Somehow, we needed them in our lives for a time.

   Maybe we needed them for support, maybe they had something to teach us but they came and went...we grew together and then grew apart, like this tree.

   Holding on and letting go...two human traits and, it seems, a tree trait as well.  The wisdom of the forest never fails to amaze me.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Keys to the Past: The contemplative possibilites in objects

   I was rummaging around in a cupboard in my studio recently and came across an old steel box filled with my Grandfather's collection of keys.  He never threw one out!

  Back in the day, if you lost a key, you could often substitute another to open the lock, especially the old ones that used what they called "skeleton" keys.  I never had a key to my childhood home...didn't need one, the door was never locked!

   I smiled at the old lock with the word "stability" stamped on it.  After visiting the monastery in September, it made me think of the monks who take a vow of stability...staying in one place.  We, today, are not a very stable culture.  People move, on the average, every seven years.  I've put the heavy old lock on my end table where I sit and write each morning as a reminder of the need for some form of stability in our important it is for a peaceful soul.

   Some of the keys had paper tags which I found interesting.  This one must have been to a safe deposit box at the bank.  I wonder why it wasn't returned?  Keys, and the things they open, have all sorts of metaphorical possibilities.  And, as a dyed in the wool story teller, I could imagine a whole world this key represents.

  This mysterious one is for Room 14 on the 4th floor.  Who lived there?  My imagination was going at full tilt at this point.

    This final key interested me the most.  What did "Mother" keep in her small tin box?  Whose Mother was she?  My Grandfather's?  His Father's?  What did she have that was so precious that she needed to lock it away from prying eyes.  Was it what my Grandfather called "pin money"...the nickles and dimes that came from some little enterprise, like selling eggs, that would be used to buy the expensive steel pins she needed for her sewing projects?  Or was she saving for something special, something she wanted to keep secret?  A new hat perhaps?

   We all keep things locked away inside our heart's closet.  We guard the key diligently.  Somethings will never see the light of day...maybe that's a good thing in some cases.  These keys were all important to someone at one time.  They, and the secrets they protected, however, are long gone.  All that is left are the keys, the artifacts of a distant past, and we are left with much to wonder at.  I think I will mount some of these keys in a shadow box for future generations to puzzle over.  Like my Grandfather, I can't bear to throw them away!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Just Wondering...

The wonder is that
we can see these trees
and not wonder more.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

   On my walk up the Jockey Cap Trail this summer I stopped regularly.  An unusual trunk, a fallen tree, a newly sprouted mushroom, they all called to me.  But this group of five trees also made me wonder.

   Five separate trees, all about the same age in a circle with nothing else around them. Had there been a center tree, now gone, from which the five sprouted?  Amazing that they all survived and flourished.

   You can see how Emerson's philosophy came to be Thoreau's inspiration.  Both men walked the woodlands and fields of Concord with a rich sense of wonder.  If I gained nothing else from my reading of both men's writing, this call to walk with constant wonder would suffice.

   In many aspects it is this sense of wonder that is at the core of contemplative photography for me.  A solitary saunter along a woodland path is the height of enjoyment.  I can hear the words of many of my favorite writers as I go along and I thank them for their constant inspiration...

Between every two pines is a
doorway to a new world.

- John Muir

A Related Past Post:


Friday, October 17, 2014

From the Shore: Gathering Autumn Breadcrumbs...

   After my lovely afternoon at the Shaker Village, I drove home by three lakes.  The sky was turning quite dramatic so I decided to see how the light was effecting each lake I passed.

   The first lake I came to was Sebago and I made this photograph from the causeway in Naples, Maine.  The lake tour boat was docked and the light was so enchanting.

   The second pond I came to was Moose Pond outside of Bridgeton, Maine.  By then, the sun had peeked out from under the billowing grey clouds and illuminated the shore line with stunning light and color and the still air turned the water to a mirror.

   Sometimes, I hesitate making what could easily be called "postcards" but then I remember Dewitt Jones' urging to create random acts of beauty and, well, I think these would qualify.  Not that it is me that is creating the beauty.  I am merely receiving Nature's beautiful creations and recording it as best I can.

   The third pond is only about 3 miles down the road from my house in Brownfield, Maine.  It is called the Burnt Meadow pond.  Further south than the other two, the sky wasn't quite as cloudy but the light was still spectacular.  The pond has a small island in it that brought the light and color a bit closer to me.  Again, the complete absence of wind made the water's surface smooth as glass.

   Of course I had to drive by my house and continue on to "my" pond, Little Clemons Pond, to see what the late day light was doing to it.

   I found it amazing that only four miles apart the light could change so much.  My little pond was sunk in shadow with just a hint of light outlining the hill top.  But Little Clemons Pond nestles in an interval between the hills, a few hundred feet lower in elevation than Burnt Meadow Pond and that, of course, makes all the difference.

   It took me about and hour to travel from Sebago Lake to Little Clemons pond and during that time the landscape treated me to an amazing show.  I've never before gathered breadcrumbs in this way but it was fun.  Each body of water was so different, so unique.  What a gift!  I am truly fortunate to live in such a lovely area!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Seen and Received

   I attended the Harvest Festival at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker village this past weekend.  What started out as a dreary cold morning ended in a glorious warm afternoon infused with that lovely light I love so much.

   This is a detail of a book in the gift shop which is a compilation of Shaker drawings. (You can learn about the Shakers here...)  I loved the title, "Seen and Received".  I have often written on this blog that I don't "take" or "make" photographs, I "receive" them.  I felt it very profoundly here in the village and it became the focus of my afternoon's camera work.

   The village was crowded with visitors enjoying the freshly made apple cider and all the activities of the day.  I did as well but I sat for awhile, a bit apart, to just breath in the beauty of the light on the facades of the pristine white buildings.  Receiving images requires quiet and stillness.  It doesn't come in a crowd.

   Because of the large numbers of people, my eyes naturally rose above their heads and I photographed the buildings from that viewpoint..looking up and out.

   The message to me was clear.  Above the happy hub bub of the day there was the serenity and quiet I always seek, wherever I am.  It is always there, even amongst the liveliest crowd.  Sitting quietly for a time allowed me to receive the images that I needed to receive.  It was the act of pausing that allowed me to forge that connection to this unique landscape.

   Seeing is one thing, receiving into your consciousness the meaning and message of the landscape is quite another.  The Shakers believed their drawings were gifts which they made visible through what they called their spirit drawings.  I think of my photographs as gifts as well.  What they did in their drawings I attempt to do through the lens of my camera.

   I will return to the village in early December for their Christmas Festival and to stock up on their wonderful herbal products the sale of which helps support continue restoration and preservation of the village. There are only three Shakers left, Sister Francis, Sister June and Brother Arnold.  They have put the 1800 acres of the village into a permanent land trust so this beautiful and tranquil landscape will endure for generations to come.  It is an endeavor I am happy to support in any way I can for I receive far more here than I give.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In Their Own Words: John O'Donohue

When our eyes are graced with wonder, the world reveals its wonders to us. There are people who see only dullness in the world and that is because their eyes have already been dulled. So much depends on how we look at things. The quality of our looking determines what we come to see.

 - John O’Donohue

The Poetry of Place: 3 October 2014
   "The quality of our looking...." what a thought provoking phrase.  What determines the quality of our looking?  I tried to come up with a formula:

Q = a clear mind + an open heart + sufficient time - expectations

  This equation simplifies things quite a bit but it gets to the essence of the contemplative photographic experience for me.  There is no better illustration of this than the pond abstractions I'm discovering.

   I  had no idea, when I first experienced one, that I would so completely fall in love with the idea.  The abstract expressionist renderings in the water were a revelation for me.  It allowed me to see Nature as the ultimate artist creating masterful canvases for me to enjoy.

   I've even taken the idea one step further and added a painterly effect to the image; subtle brush strokes.  I can see these printed large, on canvas.  This is something I would never have attempted just a few months ago.  The pond experience is opening all sorts of new paths for me to explore.  Perhaps I should add "+ an open mind" to my equation!

   Soon, too soon for my tastes, the pond will be blanketed in white and the abstract compositions in the water will end for a time.   But that just opens up new possibilities to explore if I just keep my contemplative equation in my mind.  My experience at the pond this year will certainly be enhanced if I also keep John's words in mind..."when our eyes are graced with wonder, the world reveals its wonders to us."  There can be no better advise in my opinion.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Digital Collage and Photographic Metaphor...

   On my brief visit to Cape Ann, I saw and experienced quite a bit considering the fact that I was only there 27 hours and 8 of those hours I spent sleeping!  (If you didn't see the album of images on Google+, you can see it here.)

Stay Away from the Windows
   The image that pleases me the most, however, is a digital collage I made.  It is my icon of the experience.

   The people I was staying with had a beautiful contemporary home with huge expanses of glass that made the outside landscape fuse with the interior space.  Quite lovely.  But all that glass was having an unpleasant side effect.  The windows reflected the trees and sky and the birds were crashing into it.  Some were merely stunned; others succumbed to the collision.  Everyone was desperately trying to think of ways to prevent it.

   The bottom line was, for me, a metaphor for Man's relationship with Nature.  How do we live in peaceful co-existence?  How do we warn the birds to stay away from the windows?  What they are seeing is merely an illusion, a very dangerous one at that.  Human beings sometimes fall into this same trap, flying blindly into our illusions .  I felt compelled to make this digital collage of the metaphor and the experience.

   I make finding the metaphor in the landscape a major part of my work as a contemplative photographer but with the medium of digital collage, I can create them as well.  Finding new ways to think about the world around me through the lens of my camera, is always a good thing. 


Monday, October 13, 2014

Walking in...

   There are times, I must admit, that I would love to have one of those huge telephoto lenses.  But just thinking about the size and weight of them quickly puts that idea out of my mind.  There is certainly a need for large lenses but, for me, I prefer to just walk myself in.

   On a beach stroll this summer, I tried one of my favorite exercises.  Set yourself a destination and photograph along the way.  Horizontals, verticals, step by step.  Walk yourself into an intimate embrace of just one small part of the whole.  Don't let yourself become distracted by what surrounds you.  Stay focused.

   Now, I honestly thought I was walking into an embrace of the amazing rocks, which reminded me a lot of the ones I'd seen on Staffa this Spring, but as I walked closer and closer it was the sand that drew my eye...the "sand script".  It is what I ended up with, my final image, when we could walk no further.

   That is the advantage of letting the landscape pull you in...letting it direct your lens.  It may have something entirely different to say to you...something you may not have heard if you had stood at a distance and accessed it "remotely" with your huge lens.  Walk in...walk in...walk in.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Attending to the littlest things...

   The pond was swarming with dragonflies the day I was there this summer.  I had just begun my Poetry of Place project and I wanted to focus on the dragonflies.  Which I did.  You can see the result on the right.

   One has to sit patiently and wait when one is intent on photographing dragonflies.  They come and go so quickly...luck certainly plays a big role in the outcome.

   I was pleased with this image...the detail in the wing, the way the little fellow clung to the twig just long enough for me to make his portrait.

   I even liked the somewhat monochrome coloration.  I decided to hang out a bit more to see what else might fly my way but I changed my location and the result was wonderful.

   This time I had the soft blue of the sky reflected in the pond as a background and some green leaves and pinkish dried buds.  The light was a bit bright as well and I played this all up when I got the image home and into Photoshop.  I wanted to enhance the magical quality I felt when I made the image.

   I think this experience has made me more cognizant of paying attention to what is around oneself and, also very important, what is behind the focus of my attention.  One cannot will a dragonfly to land just where one would wish but you can place yourself in the location that offers some interest and then hope for the best!

   These two photographs are a good contrast between the two ways you can approach the landscape.  The first is with the eyes of the  inquiring Naturalist and the second is with the eyes of the playful Artist.  I wrote a series of posts awhile back about the five different ways of approaching contemplative photography and you might wish to re-read it here.

   No one way is the "right" way.  What is right is what works for the intent of the image and only you know the answer to that. You might find yourself going from one way of looking at your world to another depending on the moment and your reaction to the experience. The important thing is to remain open to different ways of seeing.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Creating Random Acts of Beauty...

The Poetry of Place - 3 October 2014
I love the work of Dewitt Jones.  I also love his message.  For every act of senseless violence in the world, use your camera to record random acts of beauty.  That has been my focus since I began my pond project in late June. 

   I think the appreciation of beauty is so important that I created a Pinterest board to pin Just Beautiful Things.  When the nightly news gets over whelming, I can go to it and just rest my soul.  Gazing at beauty is uplifting and one should try to bring it into one's live as much as possible...your daily dose of beauty along with your vitamins.  You can find beauty is a matter of appreciating the subtle nuances that define what is beautiful for you.

   The cell phone camera allows you to record those random moments of beauty quite spontaneously.  I did just that yesterday as I drove by the pond. Technology has allowed us to not miss a thing and in many ways, that is both a blessing and a curse as they say.  I prefer to see it as a blessing.

   Dewitt Jones is committed to finding beauty in the world around him.  In the near at hand and in the commonplace, Jones finds much beauty to record and savor.  With the foliage season here in the Northeast, when Nature fills our world with color and magic, I have had no problem creating random acts of is an important part of my life, regardless of the season, for no other reason than it makes me feel good!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Poetry of Place: October 3 and 6

October 3, 2014
   Things are changing rapidly at the pond.  My two visits, just 3 days apart, brought very different results.  This solitary red leaf floating on a heavenly blue surface rippled by the breeze was like a preview of what is to come.  The leaves, not just reflected in the water, now engage the pond in a more direct way.

   The lily pads that once carpeted the water along the shores are slowly disappearing, sinking to the bottom to become food for next years growth.

October 6, 2014
   I could hear the plunk/plop sounds of the acorns dropping off the trees and the singing of chickadees filled the trees over my head.  Although the weather continues to by mild, there is a sense of urgency about it all. " Enjoy this while it lasts!" the pond seems to be saying.  It is but an interlude between two distinct ways of being.

     The oak leaves are transforming along with the red maples.  Some will fall but many stay on the branches all winter making their characteristic rattling noise in the wind.  So much of the autumn revolves around the leaves; their color changes, their descent to the earth, their rich and tantalizing smell, even the sound of crunching leaves underfoot.

   Soon the branches will be bare and stark against water and sky but for now the pond dances with color.  It is a wonderful time.  The pine trees as well are shedding some of their needles mixing with the leaves along the shore.

   A small submerged leaf stood out a bright blue amid the rusts and reds.  A trick of the light?  I didn't dwell on the science of it.  It seemed a very special gift to me, one of many I have received along the edge of the pond.

    There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir: We must rise and follow her, When from every hill of flame She calls, and calls each vagabond by name.
- William Bliss


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Gathering Breadcrumbs in Connecticut...

  It was a whirlwind day...a kaleidoscope of diverse experience.  It was not, in many ways, a very "contemplative day".  But, as always, there is much to contemplate in the photographs, the breadcrumbs, we gather along the way. 

The Soul speaks to us through images.
- Carl Jung

   We began with a ride on a beautifully restore steam train in Essex.  I had a flash back to my first portrait, of an engineer in Fort William, Scotland back in 2005.  The billowing steam was wonderful and I decided to revert to my "monochrome mode" for his image.  I will think about why, of all the train photographs I made, this partial view with half the image obscured by steam, is my favorite image.

   We next toured the eccentric castle of actor William Gillette who portrayed Sherlock Holmes on stage for the first time in the early 20th century.  The landscape, overlooking the Connecticut River, the building itself, all were stunning but I focused on a small, stain glass window in one of the bedrooms.  In many ways, we don't choose the images, they choose us.  There is something happening within us that turns our eyes, and hence our lenses, to certain things.  

The Soul never thinks 
without a picture.

- Aristotle

   Our final stop was the Abbey at Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut.  We were there, you might say, on a mission.  (You can read about it in my photojournal entry for the day here...)  My two final breadcrumbs were gathered there.

   The first was a somewhat abstract rendition, in black and white, of the tree shadows on the side of an outbuilding on the abbey grounds.  Somehow, it seemed to compliment the photograph of the steam train I'd made earlier.  

   I think all my abstraction work at the pond recently has tuned my eyes into seeing these possibilities more clearly.  You would be rather hard pressed to know what it is you are looking at in this image.  The faint grooves in the siding are just descernable. I loved the subtle lights and darks.

   The final image is my icon for the day.  And in this case, it was actually one of the last photographs I made.  We had had an incredible day with so much to remember and think about but it was this gentle image of the two sheep bathed in the luscious late day light that will stay with me.  My friend and I plan to return to the abbey for a retreat in the months to come.  I hope to again receive permission to photograph in this lovely and contemplative landscape.   

   I think the day proved
to me that it isn't the number of photographs you make that matters but the quality of the experience you have in any given place.

   I love this final quote from Edward Weston that really speaks to the need for us to turn off the left brained analytical side of our self from time to time and just melt into the experience of the place.  Some places are meant to be felt rather that seen.  The abbey was one of those places for me.

To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Contemplative Poetry Series - William Wordsworth

  There was a time when
meadow, grove,
And stream,
The earth, and every
common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness
of a dream.

The Poetry of Place:
Reflections from the Edge of the Pond
28 September 2014

   The pond did, indeed, seem cloaked in celestial light that day.  There was a stillness and softness to the air and I could have sat on the shore forever.  These moments come and go and the value of re-visiting a place again and again is that there is more opportunity to be present when these moments occur.

   As I sat there I wondered, just how long will this heavenly peace last?  When will the buzz of chain saws and the rumble of backhoes start?  How long will this pond remain pristine?  It makes my Poetry of Place project all the more compelling for me.  I want future generations to know that at one time the pond was like this...undefiled and a haven of peace.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Contemplative Calendar...

   This summer I read a novel set during the French Revolution of the late 18th century and discovered the French Republican calendar.  In an attempt to remove all references to religion and monarchy, they created at calendar with months named after seasonal activities or weather.  It only lasted 12 years before they returned to the old way of counting days but this gave me the idea of a contemplative calendar based on one's own personal appreciation of the seasons.

   I would rename June to the Month of Soft Wings, for instance.  That would acknowledge the dragonflies, moths, butterflies and other welcomed winged insects that make an appearance during June. (I'll try to ignore the mosquitoes and the black flies!)

   Celebrating each month in a personal way seems an intriguing thought to me.  In many ways, that is what I am doing, day by day, with my photo journal, Memories4Me.  Naming the month would be like trying to find one thing that stands out most for icon of the month so to speak!  Yes, Soft Wings is perfect for June!  What would you re-name each month?  What would be your "icon" for each?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Reflections on the Tao - The Still Point

When there is no more separation between 'this' and 'that,' it is called the still-point of the Tao. At the still point in the center of the circle one can see the infinite in all things.   ~ Chuang Tzu

   In my last post, I talked about centering yourself in Nature. I thought this quotation from Chuang Tzu was a perfect follow up.

   This concept, of finding the still point, is at the core of Taoist teaching.  As I understand the idea, it is striving to not differentiate.

    It is not 'me' or 'you', it is simply 'us'.  It is not 'photographer' and 'photographed', it is a single relationship. Ultimately, it is the ability to live with the both/and instead of the either/or, as Fr. Richard Rohr says.

   I will admit, it is not an easy concept to wrap your mind around.  It is the ultimate non-dualist I strive daily to aspire to and, if I am totally honest, seldom achieve.  Yet, somehow, I feel that it is the center of what it means to be a contemplative photographer...finding that still point and making your images from that viewpoint.

   This quote by Carl Jung talks about how the achieving of the still point places one inside the whole of Nature.  From that still point, we can perceive the eternal of all things.  Now that is a goal, in my opinion, that is worth striving for.

"At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons."
~ C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Ch. 8


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Centering Yourself in Nature...

   I am find such joy in walking the shores of the little pond down the road from my house.  I pass it every day and I will often stop to just stand and look...most of the time, without my camera.  It is a way for me to center myself.

   When I taught pottery classes many years ago, I told the students that the most important part of throwing a pot was the centering.  If the clay wasn't centered on the wheel, the pot would be misshapen.  In fact, a lump of clay that is not properly centered can fly off the wheel...not a good thing as you can imagine! 

   Finding a place that centers your soul is important too.  One can then create the beautiful empty vessel in your heart that can be filled with your experience of the landscape.  For me now, it is the pond where I can best center myself.

   Fr.Richard Rohr, the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico, wrote a beautiful exercise for creating sacred space as you walk and I include it here.  I especially like the idea of creating a threshold at the beginning of your walk, no surprise after my recent pilgrimage, and the injunction to leave behind a token, which I always do when I visit especially meaningful places.  You can read a past post on tokens here.

 Wilderness Wandering

Go to a place in nature where you can walk freely and alone, ideally some place where human impact is minimal—a forest, canyon, prairie, bog, mountain. Tell someone where you will be and how long you expect to be there. Take adequate water and clothing for the conditions.

Begin your wandering by finding or creating a conscious threshold (perhaps an arched branch overhead or a narrow passage between rocks). Here offer a voiced prayer of your intention and desire for this time. Step across the threshold quite deliberately and, on this side of your sacred boundary, speak no words, but only expect!

Let the land, plants, and creatures lead your feet and eyes. Let yourself be drawn, rather than walking with a destination or purpose in mind. If you are called to a particular place or thing, stop and be still, letting yourself be known and know, through silent communion with the Other. Before you leave, offer some gesture or token of gratitude for the gift the wild has given you.

When it is time to return to the human world, find again your threshold and cross over. But now you have learned to expect God in all things.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Contemplative Masters Series - Freeman Patterson

   More than any other photographer, Freeman Patterson has taught me the beauty of the abstract image.  He has given me the permission, in a manner of speaking, to really play with my camera, to see it as a paintbrush more than a machine.

   I have to admit that until quite recently, I hadn't been doing much in this line of contemplative image making but a cheeky frog at the pond changed all that.

   The sudden movement of the frog, and the resulting splash which disturbed the water reflection, caused me to move just as I was releasing the shutter.  I nearly deleted it thinking "Oh, that will be a blurry mess!" but instead, I took the time to look at the resulting image.

   What I saw was a symphony of color and swirling shapes and I thought, "Freeman would love this!  Surprisingly, I do too!"

   When I got home, I took out his book, Photography and the Art of Seeing and re-read the part about "thinking sideways".  He invites you to break the rules while photographing, like the one about always holding your camera steady as you make your photograph.

   Contemplative Masters allow us to perceive our world with new eyes.  They give us the tools to experience the world like we never have before.  The pond, the frog, and Freeman Patterson all conspired to awaken me to the abstract possibilities of what I am seeing.  I will always be thankful to all three of them!

"Seldom do we look sideways, that is, search for other premises or new beginnings.  We avoid introducing new factors, technical or emotional, into our photography for fear that we won't be able to control them.  A good way to break the grip of an idea that controls the way you see and photograph is to pretend that it doesn't exist.  You must break the rules."

   Think about one rule that you always apply to your camera work and then forget it exists!  Go out and spend the day breaking the rules.  You might be as pleasantly surprised as I was!


Friday, October 3, 2014

Gathering Breadcrumbs at The Center at Westwoods...

   The Center at Westwoods is an amazing place.  My friend and I spent a lovely hour or so walking the grounds recently.  My fist thought was that it would be an ideal location for contemplative photography.  The landscape is thoughtfully and exquisitely laid out with various locations you can visit and enjoy for their peace as well as their contemplative possibilities.

   Sculptures, like this stone spiral dot the landscape and you can feel the energy flowing everywhere you walked.  The following are a series of "breadcrumbs" I gathered during my short visit.  I wish I had had the time to walk the amazing labyrinth.  Or I should say, I wish it hadn't been so hot in the sun!  I will return on a cooler day for that experience.  In the meantime, I can reflect on the breadcrumbs I gathered this day...

   The breadcrumbs I gathered were all very muted, one even black and white, until I got to the Koi pond.  The sunlight was a bit glaring but I was mesmerized by the color!  The sweet little green frog on the yellow lily pad, the blue water etched with the reflection of the metal sculpture beside the pond and the stunning orange and yellow fish all came together in a riot of color.  This is a place I could return to again and again and never run out of inspiration.  Like my pond here in Maine, I have a very similar experience every time I visit.  Do you have a contemplative landscape that fascinates you?  One you can return to over and over again?  Isn't it time you found one!