Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Contemplative Continuum...

 "The outer landscape becomes a metaphor for the unknown inner landscape."
   John O'Donohue

The Monks Fishing Hut-Cong Abbey
  Many years ago I chose to follow a contemplative path in my camera work. I had learned photography the "old fashioned way"...all f-stops and apertures and technical things about developing a print. I learned composition and value and what makes a "good" photograph but in time I learned that, for me, the "Why" of photography became more important, more interesting, than the "How" of photography.  I wanted a personally meaningful and expressive image not merely a technical perfect one.

From the Dark to the Light-Cong Abbey
    The advent of the digital camera and Photoshop liberated me in a sense. I could concentrate on the content of  my images. I could use the camera as a sketchbook and not worry about wasting film. I could make an image, view it and re-make it if necessary.  Photography became more spontaneous and more adventurous.  In many ways, I could make the photograph  a visual extension of my daily journal practice.   But it is hard to discard all we know; to truly "empty the bowl". I discovered that during the whole process of making photographs, I was on a sort of "Contemplative Continuum".

   I would move from an objective, analytic first step to a contemplative phase, to a purely intuitive time while I was actually making the photograph to a final subjective, and often hyper-critical, stage at the end. What I have tried to do over the years is to expand the contemplative/intuitive dimension of the continuum. I've even tried to by-pass that initial step of planning my images allowing, instead, the landscape to inform my work.  I wanted the experience to be much more of a dialogue than a monologue. The landscape had much to teach me and I needn't impose my will on it to make a beautiful image. I have found that my pure joy in the picture making process has increased the more I was able to do this. The critical inner judge became much more forgiving. Each photograph is merely a step in the journey. Even "failures" have something to teach. As a good Taoist would say, "It is what it is. Learn from it and move on." 

    I resisted the impulse to "capture" an image.  It always sounded predatory and aggressive to me. I pictured the photographer laden down with his huge lenses and tripod stalking the illusive landscape ready to "take" the photograph, by force if necessary.  Not an appealing picture to me.

     Contemplative photography is a gentle process. It is slow and thoughtful and we understand that we are waiting for the landscape to invite us in.  Only then do we make our photograph.

     If I had to define Contemplative Photography (and I hesitate to do this because once you write it down it seems to limit it) I would do so this way.

     Contemplative Photography is a focused approach which explores,
on many levels, an idea, an insight or a personal truth until its 
relationship to our individual lives is so clearly understood that
we can then translate it into a visual image.  It is also a way
of interacting with a subject which allows for an interchange
between what is and what is intuited within that reality.
 In the end it becomes, 
as contemplative photographer Diane Walker says,
"an act of faith".

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