Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"Inside Every Question is a Quest..."

"Pilgrims are poets who
create by taking journeys."
-Richard Niebur
A Young Robin at Mount Auburn

   I've always loved how Minor White referred to photographs as "functions" rather than "things"...verbs rather than nouns.  For White, the photograph was a catalyst, merely a step along the path of self-realization rather than an end in and of itself.  I've referred to my photographs as "open-ended questions".  These ideas are at the very heart of contemplative camera work.  We either make photographs to illustrate essential questions or we discover those questions after reflecting on the work which spurs us on to make more images.  Either way each image is but a part of a larger idea we are seeking to understand.

   In this summer season of movement, when we venture out of familiar and secure surroundings to embark on our individual quests, we must keep the essential questions in the fore front of our journeys; those questions that will give form and substance to the quest.  For me, one of those essential questions is how what I chose to photograph reflects some hidden part of myself.  "Am I my photographs?" For me the answer is a resounding, "Yes!"  This questions is always in my mind as I frame my images...does it reflect who I am as a person not just whether it makes a "nice" photograph. 

    The photograph above is of a young fledgling robin I watched on my recent visit to Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  He could barely fly and would hop cautiously along until he reached the edge of the stone and then he'd make that wonderful "leap of faith". Sometimes he'd fly a foot or two, sometimes just land on the ground but he kept at it; persistent in his effort to stretch his wings and explore his tiny world.  I thought it was a perfect metaphor for those of us who are intent on photographing our world in a contemplative way...we each make that leap of faith every time we pick up the camera and set out on our photographic pilgrimages. Will our photographs reflect the essential questions of our quest?  It was also a wonderful juxtaposition...young life in the midst of death...the beginning contained within the end.  I am always thrilled when I come across these kinds of pairings.

   The title of this post is from the wonderful book "The Art of Pilgrimage - the seekers guide to making travel sacred" by Phil Couseneau.   I've mentioned this book before but it bares mentioning again for I believe it is an essential text for the contemplative photographer and I recommend it for your summer reading list.  Ralph Waldo Emerson advises that we each make our own bible - our own collection of "sacred" texts - mine includes many lines from Couseneaus's inspiring tome.
Grief - Newton Cemetery

   It is so easy to get caught up in the experience of travel, especially if you travel with other people, that you become "snap happy".  "The difference between pilgrim and tourist is the intention of attention, the quality of curiosity...." writes Phil Cousineau. I would also add, ... and the amount of time you are willing to spend entering into a conversation with the landscape.  This book reminds you to slow down and savor the moment. He enjoins us, repeatedly, to "pass by what you do not love".  I would add that when you do find something that pulls at your heart strings stay with it long enough to hear what it has to say to you.  Only then make your photographs.

   In his book, Couseneau recounts a story of Ansel Adams at the very beginning of his journey as a photographer.  His mother wanted him to dedicate his life to his piano playing, not his photography. "Do not give up the piano!" she pleaded, "The camera cannot express the human soul!"  Adams paused for a moment and answered her, "Perhaps the camera cannot, but the photographer can."  I'm so glad that he followed his heart in this case.  It is all we can do in the end - follow our hearts and take that leap of faith!

No comments: