"Poetic Imagination is your ability
to discover a central image inside
you that makes sense of all the
thousands of other images you
receive." - David Whyte
When I read this quote by poet David Whyte I felt that it made perfect sense for the contemplative photographer as well. In the digital age, the ability to gather thousands of images is fairly easy. We can gather and discard them with abandon and in the end it seems to diminishes the individual photograph. But recently, I've been focusing on identifying one individual image that I can point to as an icon of the experience...one photograph that I can point to and say, "This one says it all!" It is a fascinating exercise. If I cannot find that one icon amongst the hundreds of photographs I made in that location then that says to me that I didn't get the true nature of the place or the experience.
I've been thinking a lot about my Hebridean photographs lately. It is, by far, my biggest body of work. I thought I'd try finding that one icon of experience amongst all the hundreds of images I made on my two month long trips to the Western Isles. I think this photograph would be my choice. I call it "Up Close and Faraway" and for me it contains the very essence of my Hebridean experience. The wildflowers of the machair, the vast, open, treeless landscape, the amazing ever changing skies, and the ruined house that speaks to the tragic history of the place. No, it doesn't show the sea or the sheep but it is the emotive quality of the image that I find so appealing. Even though the house is a ruin, it seems to sit proudly on the land. Because of the low point of view, one needs to "look up to it" which gives it a special presence. It is not a sad image but a hopeful one to me.
I think this is an exercise everyone would benefit from. Spread out a significant number of images made in the same place on your dinning room table and see if you can point to the one you can call your icon of experience then ask yourself, why? Why this image and not another? I think you will get at the true relevance of your time in that place.