Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Let the Light Touch You..."

"Sit quiet for a minute dear,
and feel the wind.
Let the light touch you."
Catherine of Siena

   The first book of photographs, printed in1844, was called "The Pencil of Nature".  Such a lovely metaphor I think. I like to think of the camera (film or memory card) as the "paper" and the light the "pencil".   In this sense, it is Nature who "draws" the photograph.  It would imply a rather passive role for the photographer if it weren't for the fact that it is the photographer who chooses when, where and, most importantly, how the "pencil" touches the "paper".  In the final analysis, however, it is all about the light.

   As a contemplative photographer, metaphors are the bread and butter of our experience as artists.  Light is without doubt the richest of all metaphors.  While it is very true that there would be no photograph without light, it is also true that there would be no contemplative photographer without "enlightenment", without the considered reflection and contemplation of our work.  It illumines our inner landscape just as Nature's light etches the outer landscape we photograph.

   During my travel in France this summer I thought a  lot about "light".  Paris is called the "City of Lights", the birth place of photography some would argue.  I began to study light on all different levels.  I'd discovered the quote above just prior to my departure and it became a kind of mantra during my two week stay. "Let the light touch you...let the light touch you...let the light touch you..."  For me it was a call to take my time, to absorb the reflected as well as the direct light, to dwell in the rich metaphors that surrounded me, and to let the pencil of nature do it's work.

   This photograph was made in Rouen at the site of the martyrdom of Joan of Arc.  I made many photographs of the lovely sculptures I came across.  I'm not exactly sure why but over the years I have come to trust my internal GPS.  It draws me to certain places and I make the images.  Later, I usually find a reason for it.

   The story about this young girl's life and death was deeply moving. Such passion and focus. This image became my photographic icon for the phrase "Let the Light Touch You."  For me, the metaphor of "Light" can also refer to a deep passion for something including a passion for art, or in my case, photography.  Being truly passionate about your chosen field is a great gift...for me it is the "light" of my life.  This tour of Normandy re-enforced my personal passion for contemplative photography and under scored the role it can play on a person's personal journey towards self-understanding.  Even in the rushed days of traveling with friends who had other agendas, I still managed to make photographs that had deep personal meaning for me.  In the weeks to come, as I reflect upon these images, I will remember the story of this young girl who never wavered, even for a minute, from the path she set out on even when adversity challenged her every move. Oh, that I could be that steadfast in my humble pursuits!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"A Good Crop..."

Self Portrait in Paris
"Twelve significant photographs
 in any one year is a good crop." 
Ansel Adams 

   The longer I practice contemplative photography the less I am concerned with producing lots and lots of photographs. As I have said before, the "input" is more important now than the "output".  I search for and patiently wait for the one iconic image of an experience or a place.  Nonetheless, I was still amazed when I came across the Ansel Adams quote above.  He considered 12 "significant" photographs per year a "good crop".

The Heavenly Staircase - Rouen Cathedral
   In today's mass produced, mass media culture, where quantity has replaced quality in just about everything (no more rolls of 24 exposure film...memory cards hold hundreds of images!)  Adam's idea is even more thought provoking.  What he doesn't tell us is how many "near misses" he made to get his final 12 but no matter.

   I know that if I have a focus when I am photographing I tend to make fewer photographs.  This summer in France I was focused on light and, of course, its antithesis, shadow.  Not that I didn't photograph other subjects but the idea of light and shadow directed my lens.  It kept me looking more and photographing less which actually had a side benefit I hadn't considered.  I didn't experience France only through the camera.  I have a rich repository of sensory imagery as well. Like my trip to Omaha Beach.  I made no photographs of the beach where my Father landed in 1944.  I walked out through the dunes to bury my token in the sand as a recognition of my father's valor on that day.  I found the sand so soft and velvety.  Somehow I expected it to be grainy and rough. I loved hearing the children playing in the sea, laughing and having a good time.  I thought it very fitting that a place of so much pain and suffering is now a place of joy. I think my Father would think so too.   I collected a tiny amount of the sand to bring home and left my little mica token behind.

The Persistence of Time - Paris
   I've included 2 photos from my French "crop" in this post. (The "self portrait" doesn't count!)  All 12 are in the contact sheet in the side bar. Some I've already posted but I thought it would be good to keep the 12 images together.  I found the exercise of paring down the 100's of shots I made in France to just 12  "significant" images a very illuminating exercise.  Some incredible experiences, like standing on the D-Day beach, have no photograph to document the moment. In that case it was too emotional and I'm content to keep the encounter "unphotographed" but securely planted in my heart.  I did make two photographs in the Visitor's Center and one is included in my "crop".  To choose the 12 images I had to really consider what the trip had meant to me; what I wanted to take away from the experience.

   My 12 choices would hardly count as a documentary series of France...they are way more personally motivated.  These photographs are as far from the "travelogue" variety as they can be but that is what contemplative photography should be about I think.  Over the weeks ahead I'll be reflecting on these images and perhaps I will share some of my thoughts with you.

    I met a sweet couple from Sweden at a Paris cafe and when they learned I was a photographer they asked if I had any advice to give them to improve their images.  I simply said "Photograph only what you love...photograph through the lens of your heart."  That was the best suggestion I could give and the only rule I follow. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

On Location - Giverny

   I'm back in the states and I thought I'd write one more "On Location in France" post.  I wasn't able to get to a place to post as much as I wanted to while I was in France and that was both good and bad.  I did want to share more images with you but I loved being "disconnected" as well!

   I want to write a bit about my experience in Monet's garden in Giverney since I touched on it in the last post before I left.  It is a great example of the anticipation being so much better than the reality.
I had absolutely no time or place to sit quietly and experience the garden.  There were so many people there that the best I could do was to keep from being run over! I did find a bench to sit on for awhile and "people watch" and I was amazed at how little of the garden they were actually looking at!  Most just walked through - some even on their  cellphones!- barely glancing at the lovely flowers. I couldn't help but wonder what Monet would think about all this.

   I made some photographs but it was very difficult to work around the hoards.  I could barely stand still without being jostled.  I thought at the time that this was no place for a contemplative photographer!

 When I got back to our house I worked on some of the images and tried to make something of them.  I'm not much of a fan of severe photoshop manipulations but I used some on these images.  Not really my thing but alright I guess.

    After nearly an hour of wandering the huge gardens and feeling more and more frustrated I came upon an image that summed up the experience for me.  You won't find it on any of the calendars of Monet's garden for sure - at least a dozen were available in the huge gift shop -  but it appeals to me for its perfect metaphoric quality.  THIS was the experience of  Monet's garden for me!  Even the hint of the chain in the foreground that kept the tourists back was meaningful.
      I call it "Chaos"...and the twisted curving branches certainly reflected the thoughts and feelings I had that day.  I guess a contemplative photographer can go anywhere and still make reflective and meaningful images!  That revelation was the best part of my visit to the garden.

    I will be posting next week on more of my reflections on these past two weeks and I look forward to settling back into the peace and quiet of my little farmhouse in Maine where I can think about this trip and my images.  I found traveling with my friends and family fun but it is difficult to be with people that just want to "tour" and not spend time with the landscape.  Observing the other tourists in Giverny that day certainly showed me the kind of photographer I could never be and I'll need to be sure that when I next leave to explore the world I do it MY way, slowly and thoughtfully and most probably alone!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On Location - Mont St. Michel

Well, I finally made it!   Mont St. Michel is beyond description.  Although it rained off and on the entire time we were there, there were still moments when I could capture some images although I fear they can not match the reality of the experience.

I could just imagine how the pilgrims of 500 years ago  must have felt as they first saw Mont St. Michel rise out of the water like a mirage.  It gave me the chills!

We saw contemporary pilgrims trudging across the tidal flats and I was in awe of the dedication of these hardy souls.  The climb to the Abbey was arduous and on the slippery smooth stones a bit dangerous but I made it and I felt that my personal pilgrimage was completed.

In my books on pilgrimage, the authors talked about leaving small  tokens at especially memorable sites.  I gathered small pieces of mica from around my home in Maine to take to France as my personal tokens. They look like tiny mirrors when the light hits it and I've been placing them at all the sites I've visited.  My friend photographed me placing one at St. Michel and I love the way it catches the light through the leaded glass.

This final photograph is of the tidal flats and the curving "road" out to sea.  It was a very powerful image for me, one of my favorites from this trip.  You can see the storm retreating to the right and the sun light breaking through.  I'll let you muse on this  metaphor for yourself.

The next time I post I will be back in the states and I will have lots of photographs to wade through, reflect upon and share with you.

Trips always take on a life of themselves and, if you are wise, you will follow wherever it are bound to end up someplace wonderful!

Au Revoir mon amies!

Friday, August 10, 2012

On Location - Paris and Rouen

   This is turning out to be more about seeing the sites of France than doing my "own thing"...c'est la vie!

   This is a photograph I made in Rouen Cathedral.  All the cathedrals are awe inspiring but very difficult to photograph in.  I've been studying the effects of light on surfaces while I'm here and this just spoke to me.  The tiny angel sculpture became this enormous shadow effect on the wall...I loved it.

   The photographs below were from the Pere LaChaises Cemetery in Paris...absolutely incredible.  The sculptures and monuments were beyond belief really.  Au revoir for now.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On Location - Evreux, France

  Bon Jour from France!  No internet at the house I'm staying in so I need to find a place to post from time to time.

Evreux Cathedral is an amazing place.  It was built in the 11th century.  Lots of interesting compositions and a perfect setting for black and white photography. 

     Lighting is tricky inside...lots of places don't allow tripods so you really need to brace your arms!

     I'll try to post again by the end of the week.

Au Revoir!