Friday, November 30, 2012

In Their Own Words - Paul Strand

" The artist's world is limitless.
It can be found anywhere, far
from where he lives or a few
feet away.  It is always
on his doorstep."
Paul Strand 

   In a recent post, "In Praise of a Leaf", I spoke about a book I recently got, The Garden at Orgeval.  Paul Strand lived out the last 20 or so years of his life in the small village of Orgeval, 20 miles from Paris.  No longer traveling the world, Strand focused his camera lens on the intimate confines of his garden.  This quote is used as an introduction to the lovely and intimate nature studies in the book and its message has even more meaning to me as I face the possibility that extensive over-seas travel will get more and more difficult in the years ahead.  It is an idea that those who love photography but may lack the resources to make extensive travel possible will find heartening.  In my post, Photographing the Familiar, I mention Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz.  No need to go looking for your heart's desire beyond your own backyard.  I will also throw in a quote from one of my favorite transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson which seems to compliment the Stand quote... "Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not."  The "beautiful" can be as close as your own back yard.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Smoke on the Mountain...

Smoke on the Mountain - Isle of Skye, Scotland
   I have made a special effort not to make this blog political in anyway.  Nor did I want it to be about my day to day personal life which is way too boring to be a subject for a blog post anyway!   I wanted it to be all about photography and the power it has to focus our own contemplative practice.

    It is hard, however, to ignore the rumblings in Washington right now.  After months of contentious election rhetoric we seem to be unable to let it go.  I won't talk specifically about the divisiveness and the out right hostilities from both sides of the aisle, you just have to listen to the nightly news for that.  I only offer this image as a possible focus for our meditations on the dilemmas we, as a nation, are facing. If you do not live in the US, no matter, politics (like death and taxes) is something we all share.  I thought it would be a good exercise in the practice of contemplative photography.

    Along with this image I include a quote from Henry David Thoreau (from Corrine Smith's new book, "Westward I go Free"). It was written in 1861 during an even more turbulent era in our history.  I've often found it helpful to pair the literary with the visual and when I read the quote, this photograph sprung to mind for some reason.

     I am not advocating a "head in the sand" approach for we all know where that leads us but sometimes we just need a break!  So, mull over the quote and the photograph above and make of it what you will....

"Blessed are they that never read a 
newspaper, for they shall see Nature, and 
through her, God."


Monday, November 26, 2012

Why I Use Pinterest....

    I'd never heard of Pinterest when my friend introduced it to me some months back.  When I first explored it I thought, "This is not for me..." but later, upon reflection, I realized that if used correctly it could act like an on-line filing system and a resource for my blog followers.

    Bookmarks are helpful but as we all know, in a short time they become unwieldy...impossible to locate what you so earnestly saved a month ago.  Pinterest allows a person to create pin boards and you can easily add items whenever you come across them on the internet. On my Pinterest site, you can find "On Location" boards for all the places I've photographed in, boards on Taoism and Contemplative Photography, photographers I admire and even my "Bucket List" of locations I hope to photograph in someday.

    This book is one of my latest "pins" - to my Inspirational Media board. I find Pinterest a great resource for those of us who need an easy and quick way to organize all the myriad of on-line materials and resources we use and collect in our lives and it is wonderful to be able to share them all with you. When you "pin" something it saves the original link so that you can go back and visit it whenever you want. Visit my Pinterest site (you can click on the link above or on the permanent link in the right side bar) when you have a moment and see what I mean.  I hope this site will be a source of inspiration for might even want to start your own!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

PhotoTao Card #10...

Card #10

The Valuable
What is the use of acquiring what you do
not need?  Think about what you would
want to hold in your hands as you die
 and you will know what really matters.
- Exercise -
This is a non-image making exercise but
 an important one nonetheless.  List the
reasons you have for making photographs.
Be honest and above all, non-judgmental.
Put the list away and don't look at it for at
least 6 months.  Make a new list and 
compare it to the first.  After practicing your
 craft for 6 months, have your reasons 
changed?  Make this a yearly ritual. 

One of the primary motivations for my camera work is the desire to see the beauty in the commonplace...the sacred in the ordinary.  My First Person Rural series was one of the results of this on-going passion for me.  It wasn't always that way.  In the beginning, back in the mid-seventies, when I was in college and majoring in photography, creating the beautiful print, the perfectly composed and technically strong image, was about the only thing that mattered to me.  I'm not surprised that after graduation, when making a living supplanted making photographs, I fell away from photography.  You see, without powerful and personal meaning the images didn't hold my interest.  Since returning to photograph, contemplative photography that is, I have discovered a reason for making images that will hold my interest until I am no longer able to hold a camera.  I hope you can also discover your passionate approach to the medium. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Turning a Corner...

Lamy Depot - New Mexico
   November is a time for turnings.  We turn the clock back and watch the shortening days drift slowly into darkness.  We, here in the Northeast, can watch the glorious spectacle of October turn into the raw umbers and burnt siennas of November and we turn our closets into a sanctuary of woolen coats and sweaters as we prepare for the coming winter. I prefer the ancient Celtic designations for the seasons.  For them, autumn begins on August 1 when the first crops are harvested and winter begins on November 1st when livestock were slaughtered because the grass that they foraged on was gone.

     I take my cue from the little creatures who have turned the stone wall behind my house into a "chipmunk condominium complex".  They are frantically storing seeds and stuffing their dens with dry leaves and grass for winter warmth.  We are both preparing to hunker down for the lovely, and long, Maine winter.  Nature too is hard at work planting its seeds for next years wildflowers beneath the fallen leaves.  There is a subtle sense of urgency in the cooling temperatures.

   I was so pleased and deeply gratified by the response I have gotten from those who attended my talk at the Thoreau Farm this past Sunday.  Corrine Smith, my host and the author of the book, "Westward I Go Free" which accounts Thoreau's final journey to Minnesota in 1860, told me she thought my ideas on contemplative photography had "fallen on fertile ground".  That certainly was my reaction as well.  I've thought a great deal about my talk this week of Thanksgiving, and I am truly thankful for the opportunity to connect with like-minded folks.  I hope I will see many of them in April when we return to walk in Thoreau's footsteps to Two Boulder Hill and try our hand on making some personally meaningful images of the experience.

   I am also very thankful for my ever increasing blog audience.  I hope that the small seeds I sow each week will likewise fall on fertile ground and you can begin your own journey of discovery and creative expression.  When we turn a corner in our lives, as I've felt I did this year, it offers so much opportunity to see things with a new and refreshed perspective.  Here in New England we feel the seasonal turnings so profoundly and I'm ever thankful for that gift.  So, to all my friends here in the United States and around the world I wish you all.....

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Turnings!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Folded Scroll Photography Book...

   On my trip to China in 2002 I was first introduced to Taoism.  Its philosophy would later inform my camera work but at the time, it was the beautiful scrolls of calligraphy and ink painting that drew my eye.  I especially loved the idea that the art form could be rolled up and stored in a relatively small space.  The art and thought contained in the hanging scrolls were meant to be savored and studied for a time and then exchanged for another, often seasonally.  We in the West are so use to hanging our art on the walls of our homes permanently, never taking it down unless we are re-painting the walls and then, most often, it goes right back up in the same place.  This leads to our becoming so use to its presence that we no longer notice it let alone meditate on its meaning and place in our lives.  It is purely decorative. The Chinese story scroll - a smaller version of the hanging scroll - could be rolled out and read inch by inch.  In time this evolved into the folded scroll or what we now call the concertina or accordion book.

Book cover with hand-made paper.
   Hand-made books have always been a fascination for me and I've adapted this particular form to contain my photographs, in this case, my "good crop" of photographs from my trip to France this summer.  Unlike other book forms, it can stand on it's own, displayed on a shelf or  table.  The pages can also be turned like an ordinary book should you chose to look at it that way.  I can take it out, enjoy it for a time and then put it away.  Its small size makes it intimate and easily looked at.  Like the traditional hanging scroll, it is never constantly on view and so more appreciated when it is brought out.  The hidden benefit of this is the light sensitive prints are protected while they "rest" on my shelf.  I have many of my prints hanging in my home but in time, well, you just run out of wall space!  The folded scroll book solves that problem beautifully.  For greater protection, slip cases or small boxes can be make to hold the book and they look lovely on your book shelf.

Front six images...the book can be turned to view the other six photographs.

      Below is a YouTube video that will give you step-by-step directions for making your own  accordion book.  I used two sided tape to attach my photographs to the pages.


Have Fun! 
...and check out my Hand-Made Books for Photographers on my Pinterest site for more ideas including making your own field journals.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

PhotoTao Card #9 - Virtue

Card #9

 Lao-tzu speaks of Te, or Virtue, not as
a ethic or moral stance but as a quality
of being.  Te is the human aspect of Tao.
- Exercise -
Our personality must inform our 
photographs.  Introspective people
tend to create images that are soul
searching while out-going, gregarious
types seek like images.  Don't apologize
for it - embrace it!  Seek out venues & 
subjects that speak directly to your being.

  I have this love of the simple domestic elements in my camera work...especially clothes lines!  This photograph was made in the Western Isles in 2005.  Some campers had stayed the night along the beach and hung their towels on the wire fencing.  I was taken by the pattern of squares within squares and the sense of the wind in the bulging towels.  However, I would probably not have even bothered to record this image if I hadn't allowed my personality to inform my work.  As I've said many, many times... "We are our photographs!"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In Their Own Words - Susan Sontag

   As a follow up to my Contemplative Photographer's Bible post, I am starting a series which features quotations from photographers and others that you can cut and paste and insert into your own "bible" of inspiration.  My first is from Susan Sontag who's book "On Photography" I purchased this summer in Paris.  You will probably see several quotes from the book in the months to come because it is a rich resource for thinking about the medium we all love.  Here's the first...

" For several decades American photography has been
dominated by a reaction against "Westonism" - that is, against 
contemplative photography, photography considered as an independent visual exploration of the world with
 no evident social urgency. "

   I found her definition of contemplative photography interesting.  So much of the photography of the 1970's (the time Sontag's book was written) had a social dimension. The years after WWII were turbulent and many artists wanted to break away from the traditions and values of the previous generation. There was a great need to make commentaries on culture and social stratification. At that time, I suppose, Weston's inward looking images seemed irrelevant. Now, over 30 years later, we are beginning to turn inward again. Perhaps as a result of the "me first materialism' of the 70's, 80's and 90's, many people are seeking a more meaningful relationship with their world.  Or perhaps it is just that all us baby-boomers, who came of age in the turbulent 1960's, are seeking a more spiritual dimension in our lives.   While I agree that photography has a roll to play in documenting the best and the worse of mankind, I equally feel that it has a role of introspection and reflection to play as well.  Photography, like all of the visual arts, owes its definition and context to the individual who practices it.  Isn't it wonderful that there is a place for all of us under the umbrella of photographic expression?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Contemplative Photographer's Bible...

"Women move differently through the world…A great traveler…is a kind of introspective; as she covers the ground outwardly, so she advances fresh interpretations of herself inwardly.”  
 Lawrence Durrell

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great Transcendentalist philosopher of the 19th century advised that everyone should compile their own "bible"- a collection of inspirations, quotations, poems and passages to fuel their contemplative practice.  Although the word "bible" has a strong Judeo-Christian connotation, it actually refers to any collection of  important texts or books gathered over time and for a common purpose.  In Medieval times a Book of Hours, or individual prayer book for the liturgical hours, was popular for people to refer to on a daily basis.  The books were often customized to suit the individual and were sometimes illuminated with lovely illustrations if they could afford it.  This summer I began to compile my own Bible/Book of Hours to inspire me on my journey as a contemplative photographer.  I wanted to create a holding place where I could listen to "the echo of inspired words" (- Phil Cousineau.) and who couldn't benefit from that!

   I have always been a collector of quotations.  Jotted hastily down on scraps of paper or post-it notes, they often suffered a similar fate...they ultimately were misplaced over time and hence the wisdom they had to offer me was likewise lost.  I pledged to begin a more disciplined practice with my new  Bible/Book of Hours.

The labyrith in Chartres Cathedral.
    If you begin your own, you can include quotes from your favorite photographers about their process of making images, passages from books that you find inspiring, poems and, of course, you should "illuminate" your book with your photographs or other pertinent visuals! For now, I am writing out the passages and quotes by hand.  I believe there is a subtle power in the hand-written word. Ancient people felt the written word was sacred.  I find that by slowly scripting each word, it somehow binds it to me on a very personal level. For the time being, I am keeping them in a file box.  Perhaps at a later date I will want to bind them more permanently in some way.

    Since this could quickly become over whelming, I'm going to create individual "books" in my box by dividing them with titled spacers.  My first, not surprisingly given this summer's trip to France, is called "The Art of Pilgrimage".  Down the road (pun firmly intended), when I have accumulated hundreds of quotes in all different areas, I can more easily find what I am looking for.  No sense having all these inspirational ideas if you can't locate them when you want to! I might even spin off the biblical metaphor a bit more and create a section entitled "Wisdom of the Prophets" to hold all the wonderful quotes from the masters of the photographic medium I come across! 

   One of my "illuminations" that I'm including in this first "book" on pilgrimage is a copy of the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral (above) so I can relive the amazing experience I had when I walked it this summer!  I purchase a "finger labyrinth" while I was there and I can retrace my steps whenever I wish, even sitting in my comfortable chair!

"Illuminations are not illustrations.
They are spiritual meditations on a text..."
Fr Michael Patella speaking about
the St. John's Bible project.
(This site shows the first hand
illuminated bible produce in 500 years!
It is an amazing work of art.)

    Now, when I think "What was that lovely phrase I read recently on pilgrimage?" I'll be able to find it in my personal Bible/Book of Hours (or at least, for now,  I can rummage through the box!).

"Traveler, there is no path,
Paths are made by walking."
Antonio Mchado
   If any readers have a quote they would like to share, please post a comment!  I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

PhotoTao Card #8 - Endurance

Card #8

 Life is at once spiritual and material.
With equal attention, we must attempt 
to understand the ways of both.
- Exercise -
Do not concern yourself with only the
superficial quality of your subject.  Try
looking for a more spiritual approach.  
Unusual angles, dramatic lighting,
even soft focus can all contribute to
a more intuitive photograph. 

White horses have fascinated me for a long time.  Since I first learned of their mythological connotations in the Western Isles in 2005 I've sought them out.  When I traveled to Ireland in 2007 this fascination continued.  Horses have a very mysterious and even a spiritual quality to just need to spend some time with these amazing creatures to sense this.  I tried a very different approach with this image to try to reveal this quality.  With a carrot in the left hand and my camera, set on auto, held high, I made image after image as the horse turned his head to follow the carrot. Most weren't worth  anything but this photograph has become my "icon of experience" as far as my interaction with these lovely, gentle souls.  I hope you try exploring the spiritual side of a subject by using unusual angles and lighting techniques. It will open up a whole new world to you.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

In Praise of a Leaf...

   After the inspiration of my latest photography book, "The Garden at Orgeval", which features photographs by Paul Strand made late in his life in his own garden, I went for a walk in my own backyard.  I've written before on photographing the familiar, the close to hand, but, honestly, I wasn't all that familiar with the woods that surround my home here in Western Maine, at least photographically speaking.  After hurricane Sandy blew through this past week, I thought I'd explore my property and see what damage it had done.  More to the point, I wanted to experience what Strand called his "limitless world" in my own backyard.
   Now I am sure some people would say that there is nothing drabber than a Maine woodland in November, especially on an overcast day, which today was. There's nothing of value to photograph here; the contrast is too flat.  The old Me, the "pre-contemplative" Me, would have agreed.  Now I know better than to make that kind of assumption.

    I sat on a fallen log, not a victim of this storm but a long past one or perhaps it had just succumbed to old age.  I closed my eyes and breathed in the rich, earthy scents.  I love November in Maine.  The glorious colors of October are gone and the bare bones of the landscape are clear; it feels hushed, waiting for the first snowfall to put it quietly to sleep.  A rustle to my left revealed a pheasant looking for, well, whatever pheasants look for in amongst the leaves.  My presence didn't phase the bird. Its scratching, however, made me look down.  A small, bone toned leaf lay atop a blanket of russet oak leaves and it fairly shimmered in the afternoons diffused light.  For me, it was an astounding sight.  I looked around and found several places where other leaves of this kind lay in sharp contrast to their subdued surroundings.  I made several photographs in praise of those leaves.  Had I said there was no contrast on such a grey day?

   When I looked at my photographs later on my computer screen it made me realize, yet again, why I love the monochrome image so much.  The luminosity of these leaves is wonderful and simply not as evident in the color version.  This leaf, like all its kin, has lived it's life; green in summer, golden in autumn and, now, forever silver in my monochrome prints.  Strand was right, the artists world is limitless and I now plan to make regular visits to the small woodland behind my house.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

PhotoTao Card #7

Card #7

The Cycle of the Tao
 The endless process that continuously
gives birth to itself is the source of
all creation; it has no beginning or end.
- Exercise -
Do a series of photographs over time; a day
a month, even a year.  Watch the changes to
your subject.  Like Monet, begin to experience
the variety of light and weather and how
it changes your perception of the subject.

Living in northern New England, I get to experience the changes in the seasons in a profound way.  I started a series called "Winter Etchings" a few years ago that got me looking at objects in context with the snow.    Revisiting a familiar place at different times of year, in different weather and at different times of day is always an interesting approach.  I find that I have totally different reactions to the objects when I do this...perhaps you will too.