Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Layered Landscape...

   In Western culture, we see the natural world as property.  Land is to be developed and made "productive" and more "valuable" as if it were neither of those things without the hand of Man interceding on its behalf!  As a contemplative photographer I must reject that mindset.  For me, the landscape is a living, breathing and layered experience.  It is overwhelmingly complex but capable of sparking stunning revelations in a person who embraces its many nuances.

   On the surface layer we have trees and rocks and plants and sea - the physicality of place.  For some people, perhaps most people, this is all it is.  Some places  may be more pleasing than others, some more appealing but they are all merely variations on the theme of "landscape".

   Just below this layer is the dynamic dance of all the creatures, including the human kind, that interact in an intimate give and take with landscape.  We have to look a bit deeper if we wish to see this splendid choreography at work but it is an important layer to appreciate and understand.

   At the deepest level is the pulsating essence of the landscape - its breathing in and out, its vital flow of energy and its essential and spiritual presence.  This is the level we can not "see" but only sense and it takes all our senses if we are to dig down to this layer.  We must taste it, smell it and touch it as well as see it and hear it but those five senses are still not enough.  We must try to awaken our third eye if we want to reach this level of understanding and intimate connection. (I'll talk more about the "third eye" in tomorrow's post.)

   Truthfully, I've reached that bottom layer only twice although I've sensed it countless times.  I reached that essential level once when I was on the Burren in County Clare Ireland in 2007 and once as I stood on the edge of the sea in a remote part of South Uist, Scotland in 2011.  They were both powerful experiences and the hope of another such encounter with the soul of the landscape is what keeps me motivated as a contemplative photographer.  I'm thankful, however, that it is a rare occurrence...it makes it, when it does happen, an even greater blessing.

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