Sunday, March 31, 2013

"Wherever you go, there you are"...

A Lone Lamb on Inis Oirr
   The title of this post comes from St. Brigid of Kildare, one of my favorite sources of inspiration.  It really speaks to one of my continual themes in this are your photographs.  It also underscores the idea that we will receive the images we need to make if we keep an open heart and a non-judgmental attitude.

     As I make final plans for my first extended road trip in April, it is good to remind myself that I will bring my own thoughts and struggles with me along with my luggage.  So many people expect travel to be something miraculous, live changing, and are often disappointed when it is - well - not.  We always expect the new place to be somehow better than the old place.  This is especially true when we make big trips overseas.  Ah, the demon of expectation!

   What I have learned over the last 10 years of extensive, round the world travel is that whatever happens, or doesn't happen, you will be where you need to be.  Don't worry about flight cancellations or pouring rain or, in the case of this image, sea sickness that  made me get off the boat at Inis Oirr rather that traveling on to Inis Mor, where I had wanted to go.  I trusted that I would see wonderful things anyway...and I did.  I could have regretted what I didn't get to photograph on Inis Mor or I could be thankful for what I was able to photograph on Inis Oirr....I chose the latter. 

   So, no matter what happens on this trip to Kentucky, what I see or don't see, it doesn't matter.  I will try to pay close attention to whatever does cross my path and leave my "expectations" on a shelf back at home!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Serendipitous Moment...

A Yellow Moment - Clifton, Ireland
   So much of this blog is about the thoughtfully considered image...the deeply intense dialogue with the landscape.  What I want to talk about in this post is its compliment...the serendipitous moment.

   I love to learn the origins of words and so it was only natural that I went seeking the source of "serendipity", one of my favorite words.  My inspiration came from one of my latest book, A Mapmakers Dream by James Cowan.

   In Medieval times, the island of Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) was called Serendip.  The word was coined by a 18th century British writer/politician Horace Walpole in 1754 in his tale, "The Three Princes of Serendip".  Walpole described the princes this way...

" (they) were always making discoveries,
by accident and sagacity, of things that
they were not in quest of."

   When I was walking the streets of Clifton in the Connemara region of Ireland, I was not on a quest of any sort.  Truth be told, I was window shopping!  This moment made me stop in my tracks. As my cousin would have said, "TGTBT!" (To good to be true!)  I had but a moment to frame the photograph and then the boy wandered away but looking at it now, many years later, it still makes me smile.

   It is not a deeply contemplative image by any means.  No great thoughts lurking within its edges...just a wonderful, "serendipitous" convergence of shape and color.  Those moments can be equally rewarding...keep your heart open to them!

Friday, March 29, 2013

In Their Own Words - Ansel Adams

"It's a strange thing that as techniques develop
[and] the materials, the lenses, the cameras
get more accurate and perfect, the quality of
perception and execution goes down because
they count on the machine to do it."

-Ansel Adams

The Twelve Bens - Connemara, Ireland 2009
   Cameras do not "see"; cameras merely record and they can only record what they are pointed at.  No camera, no matter how expensive or sophisticated, can replace the thoughtful and reflective mind of the photographer.  The contemplative photographer places the heart-felt experience of the landscape over the mere recording of the scene.  I have often gone to a place, like the Connemara region of Ireland, and been so caught up with the experience, so humbled by the sheer beauty of it, that I forgot to make any photographs of it at all!  I never regret the lack of a physical proof of my experience when it happens.  I am just extremely grateful for the experience.  I think if I were ever to get to the place where making photographs becomes more important than living and embracing the experience then it will be time for me to put the camera away for good.

   Here is a link to a short video on Ansel Adams, a true master in any definition of the term, which describes his unique and contemplative regard for the landscape.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Get Closer....

   I use just a simple 18mm-200mm zoom lens.  It does everything I want and what I often want is the intimate, close up view.  Removing the contextual element of a subject opens new possibilities for creating dynamic and thought provoking images.

   This image of a growth on an old tree would, at first glance, seem an unlikely and frankly unappealing subject for a photograph.  Something about it caught my eye though and I took the time to make the image.  It was the way the tree had adapted to the intrusive growth and simply grew around it...slowly, patiently but deliberately.  Later I found a piece of writing by Margaret Atwood and it made sense.

"Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does." important life lesson I think!  When we look into the heart of our subject, we can see all sorts of things.  Spend some time getting closer to what draws your eye.  Fill the frame with it.  Explore it's abstract qualities.  There are lessons to be learned everywhere!

   Here is a video of some lovely black and white photographs by a man who knows how to embrace the close-up view...



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

PhotoTao Card #23...

Card #23

Apprehending the Supreme
There are 4 levels in Tao - the Human Being,
Nature, Heaven, and the TaoIt is the material,
  the emotional, the spiritual, and the unknowable.
Become comfortable with each. 

- Exercise -
Look beyond the merely superficial quality of
a subject.  Take a more emotive or spiritual 
approach.  Experiment with lighting, angles
and cropping.  This is a time to experiment with
filters and to give your imagination full rein
when you work in the darkroom or with Photoshop. 

When You Can Go No Further....
      It is very easy to photograph the material essence of a subject...what is there, right in front of you.  So much more difficult to perceive the the other levels of your subject but they are there.  

   My friends and I had stopped at this lake in Connemara...stunning in it's stillness.  But it was when their daughter walked out to the end of the partially submerged pier that I saw my emotional connection to the landscape.  She stood so still at the end, just gazing at the water.  She could go no further.  It was one of those serendipitous moments that I love and which can have such a profound effect.

   What do you do when you think you've done all you can with a landscape, photographically speaking that is?  Where is there left for you to go?  When do you know, really know, that you've seen it all?  I guess the answer is you never do.  Go beyond the material...keep seeking the emotive, the spiritual and the unfathomable... 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Inspired by Andy Goldsworthy....

Link to Goldsworthy's Art
   Andy Goldsworthy is a British sculptor, photographer, and environmental activist.  He lives and works in Scotland but he has created his incredible installations all over the world.  His work is most often temporary, meant to dissolve, melt, blow away and otherwise return to the landscape from which it was created leaving only his photographs as evidence they ever existed at all.

   There are many lovely moments in the video I've attached to this post but I especially love his statement that he can begin his work once he has "shaken hands" with the landscape...a man after my own heart!

   Goldworthy's intimate caress of the landscape is an inspiration for every contemplative photographer.  Be sure to check out his work with the link below the prepared to be amazed!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hardware and Software...

"...the limitations of photography
are in yourself, for what we see
is only what we are."
-Ernst Haas

   This has been a constantly recurring theme on this blog - "We are our photographs" - so much so that I wondered if I should talk about it yet again.  But this is such an important issue to contemplative photographers that I decided that it cannot be discussed enough.  When I came across the quote above it seemed to pull together two crucial threads of inquiry central to this very important topic.

   The first is the idea of photography's limitations.  After all, the camera is only a tool.  While many photographers seem to fixate on the "hardware" - the cameras, lenses, tripods and the latest Photoshop program -the contemplative photographer embraces the "software" - their relationship to the landscape, their intuition and emotional responses to the subject.  No matter how sophisticated, expensive or complex your "hardware", without well developed "software" your photographs are only visual documents of the world and not the kind of spiritual encounters that will enrich your life or the lives of those who view your work.  When we are able to balance the two, the hardware and the software, we can make images that will truly speak volumes.

Stepping in Puddles
  The second thread of inquiry is the photographers limitations.  When I was studying creativity during a sabbatical leave from my teaching, I learned about a designation applied to thinking skills.  There was "hard thought" - primarily left brain thinking involving such things as analysis, objectification and rational thought processes.  "Soft Thought", in contrast, is more commonly ascribed to right brain thinking and includes things like intuition, emotional response and creative endeavors.  Out traditional school systems are profoundly geared towards "Hard Thought".  What I also learned was that while we use our whole brains - left and right - people tend to favor one or the other.  What is sad is that we tend to put down those whose preferential thinking patterns differ from our own. (Sound familiar?)  The scientific mind dismisses the artistic mind  and the artistic mind thinks the scientific mind is too uptight.  The truth is, both types of thinking are crucial.

   Contemplative photographers are definitely "soft thinkers" on the whole.  We are able to see the metaphors because these sorts of things are important to us.  We see not only what we want to see but what we NEED to see.  Contemplative photographers also tend to be playful and less likely to follow the "rules" that often define "hard thinkers".  I thought the photograph above was a good illustration of this.  Hard thinkers wear shoes and step over the the cracks in life...soft thinkers go barefoot and splash in the puddles!



Sunday, March 24, 2013

Seeing and Believing...

Walking the Rice Fields - Chiba, Japan 2007
   When I was an art teacher I would tell my students who were learning to draw that the reason they were having difficulty was because they were merely looking at a thing - they were not truly seeing it.  You look with your eyes, you see with your whole being.

  Contemplative photography is all about seeing with your whole self - seeing beyond looking - soul seeing.

   This is not an easy thing to do because our culture does not encourage this type of attention to the details of life.  We are all familiar with media "sound bites" but we practice "sight bites" as well.  Casual glances are not seeing but it is what most of us do everyday.  We are always in such a hurry to get on to the next sight bite.  Our collective attention span has shrunken considerably over the years.

   In my post Paying Attention, I spoke about the idea that nothing really exists unless we direct our undivided attention to it.  To truly see something, with your whole being, is to believe in its existence and to celebrate it.  Contemplative photography demands this sort of soul seeing.  To practice this kind of deep regard for the landscape, try these simple steps the next time you are in a place you wish to photograph...put the camera down and really see, not merely look at, what is there in front of you.

1. What are some of the elements in the landscape before you...which ones draw your attention? (The distinct and repeating textures in the fields...the terraced "steps")

2. What dynamic lines do you see in the landscape? (The photograph above has softly curving and repeating lines)

3. Use a viewfinder to frame different parts of the landscape...both horizontal and vertical.  Which seems more fitting? (I used a horizontal format to accentuate the repeating elements I saw.)

4. What do your other (non-visual) senses tell you about the place? (The smells, the warm sun, the still air, the feel on the grass and the buzz of bees all gave me a more intimate knowledge of the rice fields.)

5. Be patient and let the story unfold before you. (I waited a half hour before the woman appeared. Had I run off earlier, I would have had a photograph that lacked this essential human element...very necessary because my sense of this landscape was that it was a place sculpted by the hand of man.)

   Sometimes the landscape needs to be re-visited, over and over, to really know it.  After all, if you met a person for 5 minutes, would you have any idea what that person was all about? Hardly. The same is true for the living landscape. When you really see what is in front of you, it is an acknowledgement of its believe in it, fully.  Then and only then will you be able to receive the image you are meant to make.

"It's not what you look at that matters,
it's what you see."

-Henry David Thoreau 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Doing and Being...

"Great understanding is broad and unhurried;
Little understanding is cramped and busy."


   Those who follow a Taoist path often point out the wisdom of animals.  I thought about that when I watched my cat, Emerson, sitting placidly in the sun staring out the window.  Animals know how to be still.  Only people see mediation as something they "do"; for Emerson, it is simply his way of "being".

Church Shadows - Madrid, New Mexico
   Photography can be like that as well.  You can chose to "do" it or you can simply live it.  It has become a state of being for me over the seems as natural as breathing.  In many respects and at the risk of sounding a bit esoteric, I've become my camera.  I suppose the natural progression of this thought is to imagine a time when I will be able to dispense with the actual camera itself but I'm certainly not there a long shot.

   There are times, however, when I find myself slipping back into "doing"...when I worry too much about the technical aspects of the medium or the constraints of time and weather when on location.  Then I become, as Chuang-tzu describes, "cramped and busy" with it.  That never feels comfortable for me.  Fortunately, I've trained myself to recognize the symptoms of "doing" and I can step back, put down the camera and relax into the moment.  I can return to being a photographer and not just doing photography.  Then, and only then, am I able to make the kinds of images I need to make.

   Being a photographer is simply being an attentive and active observer of the world around me.  I search for the reality behind the reality...the message in the light and shadow.  I frame the world with the viewfinder of my heart for what I see is only a reflection of who I am.  Those who chose simply to "do" photography are detached from the process...they are the mind behind the camera instead of the heart. The next time up pick up your camera, try being instead of just doing.  I think you might be surprised at the result.

Friday, March 22, 2013

An Act of Faith...

   Every time I set out with the expressed intention of making photographs I am practicing an act of faith.  But what does that actually mean?

   Faith is one of those concepts that can be seen as a positive attribute or a naive state of being, depending on which side of the philosophical fence you stand on.  I don't think, however, that one needs to be particularly religious to be "faithful". Actually, just getting into your car everyday is an act of faith...we trust that people will follow the rules and stay on their side of the road but we can't be sure.

   As a contemplative photographer, faith is at the core of our practice.  We trust that the images we must make will be there.  We have a supreme faith in our internal GPS to guide us to where we need to be.

   On St. John last year I allowed this faith to direct my time there.  Circumstance and chance played a major role and I was very pleased with the outcome.  Walking into the dark unknown from the light of the safe and knowable is the only way to get to the essence of the contemplative spirit.  If we only photograph the "photogenic" and the easily understood then we will have very few opportunities for deep reflection and personal growth.  The path may be narrow, rocky and up hill and the destination obscure but that's where the faith comes in...


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Recovering from N.D.D.

"We place our souls in jeopardy to the
extent we live apart form the richness
of the rest of creation...We suffer from
"nature deficit disorder..."

-Matthew Fox

   After an especially long and tediously repetitive winter of snow (17 inches fell two days ago!) and forced in-dwelling, my heart aches for Spring.  I truly am, in Matthew Fox's words, suffering from N.D.D. (nature deficit disorder).  Traveling south in a few weeks, I am hoping the Spring washed hills of eastern Kentucky will bring me fresh inspiration.

Springtime in my studio garden here in Maine.
How I long to see this again!
    I think what I love most about being a contemplative photographer is this on-going love affair I have with the natural world.  It is a revitalizing tonic for my winter weary soul.  The greening of the world is mirrored in my renewed determination to surround myself with Nature.

   It's not that I don't love the winter's whiteness and subtle "Winter Etching" series is a continual joy... but there is something about Spring that lifts the heart in a special way.  One's own senses seem to prickle with anticipation. 

 "Spring is when life's alive in everything." -Christine Rossetti

     Join me in celebrating, at least on the calendar, the start of Spring and the Equinox.  Promise yourself that this will be the year you fully and truly recover from N.D.D.  Commit yourself to a daily dose of Nature's healing tonic.  Go for a walk in a lovely landscape and don't forget to take your camera!

"Sun and moon divide the sky,
Fragrance blooms on pear wood bones;
Earth awakens with a sigh.
Wanderer revels on the path alone."

Daily Meditations
- Deng Ming-Dao

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

PhotoTao Card #22...

Card #22

Trust the cycles, the ups and downs,
the ins and outs.  Trust equally when
things are bad and good. 

- Exercise -
Revisit your "failures".  Take a fresh look
at a photograph that didn't work for you.
If you can make a new photograph of the
subject, try a new approach.
If you can't, try re-printing it with a
completely different emphasis.  

It's the Winding Road that Leads Us Home
   I had disregarded this photograph when I first made it.  The light was wrong, or more likely my exposure was at fault.  For whatever reason, I didn't pursue it.  Recently, I have been re-visiting past "failures".  After all, I've learned a great deal over the years and maybe this new knowledge would make a difference.   

   One thing I have learned is that when I am drawn to photograph something there is a reason for it.  I'm not "snap happy"...I think a great deal before I make the exposure.  This curving, single track road through the machair on South Uist lead to an old ruined monastery and I loved the view of it through my lens.  After I played with it in Photoshop I was finally able to approximate my sense of the place. 

   Don't reject your initial impressions...let it stew for awhile.  There was something there that is worth pursuing....


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Turning Another Corner...

   Spring, they say, is right around the corner although it is hard to imagine that sitting here as I am watching another 12+ inches of snow fall today!  Officially, it begins tomorrow and I know those of us here in Maine can't wait!   Enough is enough!

    When the season changes I feel as if we have turned another corner and there is something wonderful about "turning a corner".  I think that's why I often photograph the corners of buildings, like this church in Ballyvaughan, County Clare, Ireland. 

   This church had buttresses at the corner; an architectural detail that reinforces the building at a weak point.  Couldn't we all use this type of external support as we make changes (or turn corners) in our life?  Our friends and family are our buttresses.  They offer the support we need in our weak moments.

   What makes turning corners difficult is the fear of the unknown.  What lies in wait for us around the corner?  Will we step into the light or into darkness?  There is no way of knowing until you turn the corner but if we are to continue to grow we must keep turning the corners in life.  No mater how long we live, there will always be another corner to turn and that's what makes life so interesting!

   In the Celtic tradition the year is seen as a wheel that is constantly turning.  Time is not linear but circular.  I think one could also make the argument that it is square as well, each season a corner we must turn; each turn takes us in a new direction but unlike a true square, you never return to where you are always one level higher.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

In Their Own Words - Francis Bacon

"The contemplation of things as they are,
without error or confusion, without
substitution or imposture, is in itself a
nobler thing than a whole harvest of

Francis Bacon
(posted on Dorothea Lange's
darkroom door)

In the Most Unexpected Place - South Uist, Scotland, 2011
   This quote always comes to my mind when I begin to toy with photoshop.  The digital age has given us the power to alter reality in profound and mind bending ways.  But I prefer to take my world "as is", straight up, with all it's imperfections. I may play with the tonal range a bit, burn, dodge, crop, all the things I've always done in the traditional darkroom, but I draw the line when it comes to adding things that weren't there or importing different skies  The world, even with all it's imperfections, is perfect as it is.  Perhaps I could have made this photograph more spectacular if I had cloned the heather so it completely covered the hill and I could have switched out the sky for something much more dramatic but I was satisfied with it as it was.  I feel no need to play God in my photography.  

   Being a contemplative photographer means, for me at least, the contemplation of things as they are.  I've never had any trouble with using what I find on location.  The artistic dimension enters into the equation when I make my choices - composition, lighting, viewpoint, etc.   I want to be sure that it reflects my feeling about the subject, whatever it is.  If I was content with just anybodies feelings, I'd just buy postcards!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

In Praise of Islands...

I'll admit it; I'm a HUGE fan of islands! So many of the places I've visited are islands...large and small.  In late June I will spend a week on Monhegan Island here in my home state of Maine and I look forward to re-visiting this charming place. It is a house share with other photographers/artists. I think sharing a house is a great way to stay inexpensively in interesting places with like minded folks.  I have a house share in Down East Maine this September and one in the Burren area of Ireland in May of 2014.  You might consider joining me!

     The photograph in this post was made on the tiny island of Inis Bofin (Isle of the White Cow) off the coast of Connemara in  Western Ireland.  A place not visited as much as some of the other Irish out islands but very beautiful.  I try to make a point to getting to these less touristed islands when I travel and I'm never disappointed.   So....what is it about islands for me?

They Were There That Day - Inis Bofin, Ireland, 2007
   Well, it might have to do with something an old gentleman said to me after I made this photograph that day.  I asked him if those distant mountains were the Twelve Bens in Connemara. "Aye," he said, "When you can see them that is." "And when you can't?", I asked.  "Well, they are not there, are they, so I guess you would say they are nothing."

   When the island is wrapped in fog it is if it is the only place on earth and the islander's comment held a sense of pride in the fact.  Even something as substantial as a mountain range ceases to exist.  It is the splendid isolation of islands that attracts me I think.

  You can't get lost on an island.  When you get to the water you just turn around!  There is a heavenly containment on an know your boundaries and it becomes for you a microcosm of the world. Since I'm a confirmed, dyed in the wool wanderer, islands have a sense of safety to them.

   In yesterdays post I spoke about the magical quality of living on the edge of the sea.  Being completely surrounded by this thin white line makes islands profoundly evocative for the contemplative photographer and, truly, if I could live anywhere in the world it would certainly be on an island.   But I think what I love most about islands are island the old gentleman that shared part of my walk that day.  Island people help each other because they are all dependent on each other.  It is not always easy to rely on the mainland for help at times of trouble.  You have to be able to rely on your own inner strength and the strength of your neighbors.  You have to be a special person to live on an island I think. You have to be able to accept the restrictions island living imposes on not being able to run out to the big box store whenever the mood strikes you...that would be perfectly fine with me!


Friday, March 15, 2013

Living on the Edge...

The Thin White Edge
   On February 19th I posted "The Layered Landscape" and spoke about trying to reach the deepest level of awareness in the landscape.  I also mentioned that I'd only truly reached that profound state of understanding twice...once in the Burren in County Clare Ireland and once on the Western edge of South Uist.  Both those encounters took place on the edge of the sea and I don't think it was a coincidence.

   Where the sea meets the land is a "Thin Place"...a place in the world where the veil between the knowable and the unknowable is the most transparent.  I've also found it is a place that opens your mind up to unimagined possibilities. Perhaps it is the sea air that clarifies the mind or the pulsing energy of the ebb and flow of the tide but that place, that thin white line between the land and the water is a special place.  There the energy and synchronistic partnership between earth and sea is its strongest.  It stands to reason that these places would also offer the most possibility for insightful experiences.

    I suppose that is why I am so drawn to islands whose boundaries are defined by this thin edge.  Island people have the wonderful opportunity of living on this razor thin edge everyday.  I envy them.  Tomorrow I will discuss this love I have for islands but, for the time being, consider where you can go in the months ahead to experience this phenomenon of living on the edge.  Who knows what insights you will gather there.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Consider the Lilies of the Field.....and Magpies!

On the Brink of Beyond
"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin..."
Matthew 6 : 28

    Yesterday I said I would, in future, consider the lilies of the field but what exactly can a contemplative photographer learn from them?  Well, for starters, stop working so hard for the "perfect" photograph...stop fretting over things that you can't control, like the weather...stop obsessing over the latest Photoshop program or what expensive camera is used by the latest media darling in the photography world.  Consider the lilies in the field.  They have perfect faith that what they need will be provided.

    A contemplative photographer needs that sort of faith as well...that their internal GPS will lead them to be where they need to be...that the image is there if they just look deeply enough.  Take this photograph for instance.  It was the end of an exhausting day of hiking and image making but on my way back to the car I saw something in this view that I loved...I wasn't so thrilled at what I saw in my camera's display though.  Not quite right but I was too tired to continue with it so it became, for the time being, one of those "throw aways" image that didn't make the cut.

   Much later, when I was wading through old images I came across it again and I thought, well, maybe I can do something with it, after all, I saw something in the scene...isn't that enough reason to look a bit deeper?  So I played around with it in my (very, very old version) Photoshop program and I was finally able to get an image that approximated the experience. Truth is, if I'd truly and completely been like the lilies of the fields I wouldn't have pursued the changes. You see, while there is much we can learn from the lilies, I like to think of myself as a bit of a Magpie as well.  In fact, my dear Grandmother use to call me her little Magpie. Insatiably curious birds, Magpies seek out shinny things in nature to take back to their carefully constructed nests...they admire these things, rearrange them and, never completely satisfied, go out looking for more.

   So, I guess the moral to this little story is, by all means, consider the lilies of the field but be also like the Magpie...have faith but be curious and persistent and never completely satisfied.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Inspired by William Blake...

To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.

William Blake

   Until fairly recently, I didn't photograph much in color, so enamored was I with the monochrome image.  I still am but I've now embraced color with equal passion partly because of William Blake and Rumi. (See my "Inspired by..." post on Rumi here.)

   In my exclusively monochrome phase, I didn't photograph flowers much with a couple of exceptions.  After all, isn't a major element of flowers their color? But the the mere idea of seeing "heaven in a wild flower" was a bit too much for me to ignore.

   These wild geraniums have such an ethereal quality to angel wings.  So delicate and sweet and perfect in their simplicity.  I think I will be paying a lot more attention to the "lilies of the field" from now on!

   So, what inspires you?  What causes your heart to soar at the mere mention of it?  If you keep a journal, consider spending a day jotting down things that spark your imagination.  I sometimes create what I call "inspiration chains".  I write down a word then later go back and add a word that spins off this word...on and on and on until I have a chain of words.  I may end up with an entirely different thought at the end but it will have it's own logic; its own pattern of thought. Remember, contemplative photography is half photography and half contemplation or deep thinking.  This simple exercise will help you fuel your metaphoric mechanism.  With time and patience, you to will be able to see "the world in a grain of sand."


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

It's a Matter of Life and Death...

   When I came across these two trees I stood and looked at them for quite awhile.  They probably sprouted at the same time, since they are of a similar size, and grew up side by side.  At some point, the tree on the left died but the tree on the right continued to grow.  These trees are on the grounds of Cong Abbey in Ireland.  The well tended landscape was a pleasure to walk through and I silently thanked the grounds keeper for not cutting down the dead tree.

    Instead of falling over, the dead tree has remained upright, perhaps supported by its cousin, becoming a haven for woodpeckers and squirrels.  In its death it became a home for the living.  The living tree is beginning to wrap around its dead cousin and the ivy will soon enclose it.  It made me think of a phrase...

"Even in Life we are in the midst of Death.."

   Here, in this image, it is literally true.  I cherish these moments when the metaphors ring so true and so clearly.  You don't have to dig too deeply to appreciate the message.  It is hidden in plain sight! The light was wonderful too.  The sunlight illuminated the dead tree while the living tree is the one in deep shadow...opposite of what you might suppose it should be.  And in the light there is also another form of illumination.  Death here is not seen as an end but a beginning of a new form of existence and isn't that a wonderful way to look at it. 


Monday, March 11, 2013

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever...

The View from Abbey Hill
   The photograph on the right is of one of my favorite spots in the Burren region of Ireland.  Located on the northern edge just outside Belle Harbour, it is called Abbey Hill.  While the view is spectacular, with Galway Bay in the distance, it is more the spirit of the place that draws me here each time I visit.

   As it is in so much of the Burren, there is a sense of time suspended here; held within the cracks of the limestone is a distant past and you can feel the pulse beat of those who have gone before...the ancient monks, the farmers, the warriors and the saints; they all come together in this place.

    You may think you are sitting alone on the rocky outcropping, enjoying your lunch or sketching or simply breathing in the beauty of it all but you would be wrong.  I came upon this face carved into a stone here and its enchanting demeanor captivated me.  It has come to represent the living presence of the place for me.  The past is never truly past blends quietly with the present in countless ways creating the unique layered energy this site has. It is one of the many "thin places" that exist in Ireland.

   Time in the West of Ireland, as my friend John O'Donohue loved to say, is more than calendar time and it is here, on Abbey Hill, that you can sense it best.  That is what I meant by the title of this post..."On a clear day you can see forever". The "forever" reaches backwards as well as forwards.  This location is a kind of crazy quilted history stitched together with the wind and the rock.  The past, the present and the future blend in splendid synchronicity.  This is where I go in my mind when the world is too much with me...everyone should have a place they can withdraw to, if not in reality then in a photograph.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

PhotoTao Card #21: Adaptability...

Card #21

 The sage knows how to let go of what she
wants and where she thinks she is going.
Give in...say "yes" instead of "no".  Watch
the way water always takes the easy way.
Force yourself to find a new focus.  When you are at
the seaside, photograph anything other than the sea.
Experiment with your ability to change direction.

   Keep your mind open to unexpected photographic opportunities.  Marching purposefully to the mountain top to photograph the view may lead you to miss great images just off the path on  your way there.

   Go for a walk and stop from time to time and look around to see what draws your attention.  Spend time on the journey and not just the destination...allow yourself to be "side tracked".

   I had been walking around Santa Fe for some time and thought I'd pretty much "done" this part of town.  I went into the amazing Georgia O'Keeffe Museum as a way to end my day. I was so inspired by her paintings that when I left the museum I began to see things quite differently.  This photograph was made at that time.  I'd already walked by this building twice and had not given it a moments pause.  Now it drew my eye to its simplicity and strong graphic quality.  What a difference a few hours in the museum made!