Sunday, June 30, 2013

Inspired by Freeman Patterson...

   One of the nice things about staying with a group of photographers for a week is to discover their personal sources of inspiration.  Steve Dunn, who will be the subject of a later blog post, introduced me to Freeman Patterson.  Perhaps, I should say re-introduced me to since I did know of his work back in the late 1970's when I was studying photography but it was wonderful to find and re-connect with this amazing photographer again.

   His famous book,  Photography and the Art of Seeing, is a classic and a must read for any contemplative photographer.  Although he doesn't call himself such, looking through his book last week on Monhegan brought so many connections that I felt like I was listening to an old friend.  His master's thesis at Columbia in 1962 was Still Photography as a Medium of Religious Expression. This, surely, was a monograph for a contemplative in training.

   I love the synchronicity of life.  While I was writing this post yesterday as I waited for the ferry to take me back to the mainland, I saw Kim Manley Ort's post on texture and her reference to Freeman Patterson.  You can read it here.   I love the analogy of texture and community.  I had never thought of it in that way before.  It is so important to keep your mind open to new influence wherever you are.  Revel in the surprising encounters.  My week on Monhegan, in the company of other photographers, was both inspiring and enriching and I can't wait to wade through all the images I received there in the weeks ahead.

 Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, you intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you. 

   - Freeman Patterson

Saturday, June 29, 2013

PhotoTao Card #31 - Creativity

Card #31

Tao's creation is infinite and endlessly 
various.  Everything is unique, complete
and interconnected.
- Exercise -
  Visit a quiet and personally meaningful
place.  Spend several hours photographing
every element in the landscape, from the
"large view" to the smallest detail.  As you
do, try to see how each tiny part is connected
to your whole sense of the place.  Photograph
it as if you will never see it again.  Choose 12
images that, for you, tell the story of this one
place in one moment of time.

   This card relates nicely to the previous one but instead of a walk through the landscape, it asks you to find a place to explore in intimate detail.  It can be a corner of your back yard, a favorite park, or even a busy street corner.  The important thing is to leave no photographic stone unturned.

   On my walk on the coastal trail in Quoddy Head State Park, I had spent a half hour watching a solitary crow on the cliff. (read that post here if you missed it.)  I walked on and when I passed by the same place awhile later, there were two crows there.  I'm not sure if it was "my" crow or not but I like to think it was, joined now by his mate.  Perhaps he was waiting for her all that time!  I photographed the pair through the bleached limbs of a pine.

     I've always admired the crow.  Such intelligent and curious animals.  I think they don't get the respect they deserve. (Find out about these amazing birds can even listen to their distinctive call on the site!) When I read about them it mentioned that crows are rarely seen alone so my time with my solitary crow was all the more special.  

   See what new things present themselves to you as you spend an extended time in your special place.  This is another dimension of contemplative photography...the call to curiosity.  Read Kim Manley Ort's lovely post on curiosity...

Friday, June 28, 2013

Staring Into God's Own Emptiness...

Leah Photographing the Emptiness
A longing pure and not to be described
drove me to wander over woods and fields
and in a mist of hot abundant tears
I felt a world arise and live for me.

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

   Monhegan is an island of contrast.  From the sheltered and cultivated cove of the village to the wild and unspoiled cliffs at the end of rugged woodland paths, there is something here to appeal to everyone.  At the trail's end we came to Burnt Head and the dizzying cliff edge.  John O'Donohue's words came rushing in to me - You never know how close your feet are to the edge.  Believe me, I kept my feet well away from the edge!

    As my friend scrambled over the rocks to photograph over that scary edge, I opened my book Pilgrim Heart and found the Goethe quote above.  (Have I mentioned how important books are to the contemplative photographer/pilgrim on location?  ;-)  Nearly as important as your journal.)  The chapter was about a man who was facing his fear of heights during an Outward Bound experience.  I could really relate to that as I tentatively photographed the swirling waves and rocks 140 feet below my feet.  My vertigo kicked in I'll tell you!  The title of this post comes from something he said as he prepared to repell down the huge cliff.

View from the Edge
   We all have fears we must face and try to overcome; whether it is the fear of getting lost or the fear of being too close to the edge.  This Outward Bound motto the writer learned that day is one we all should embrace:
If you can't get out of it,
Get into it!
- Amen to that!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Monhegan Island Patterns...

   After spending time with color monday morning, I went in search of patterns in the afternoon.  I think I was still feeling the influence of Kim Manley Ort's workshop back in April, fine tuning my perceptual skills by limiting the focus of my photography.

    I loved the reflection of the pickets in the house window and the simple red and white color combination.  I think it will look good in black and white as well.  Despite the glorious colors here, I am still attracted to the monochrome image and I'm putting a folio of images together called Monhegan Monochrome.  I'll post some of those later.

   The photograph on the right is a shadow study of some lobster traps.  Lobstering stops the first of June so the traps are "resting" for the summer.  Everyone photographs them but I chose, instead, to photograph their shadows for the patterns they created on the old wood of my more abstract images for sure.

   The fire hose curled up by the fire house offered an unexpected spiral pattern.  The design principles - pattern, contrast, unity, etc. - also offer the photographer some interesting possibilities for focusing attention.   As I said yesterday, contemplating the intrinsic design of the man-made or natural landscape is always an interesting activity for the's all about perception.  What you chose to see and what you over look can make all the difference in the world.  Both are fuel for the contemplative photographer to consider.


Art is pattern informed by sensibility.

-Herbert Read

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Monhegan Island Colors...

   Monday was a perfectly glorious summer day and I went out for a walk determined to only begin photographing when something tugged on my heart strings.  It must have been the sunlight or the breezes or the clear blue sky but all of a sudden I began to see color all around me.  I had my focus.

   Limiting yourself to a single theme or idea is often a great way to spend the day.  It was like going on an Easter egg hunt!  I was thrilled every time I came across bits of color in the landscape.  These nets and rope are positively Caribbean!

    And then there is Milly!  A golden retriever next to a lime green door...perfect!  Milly is the official mascot of the Black Duck Emporium on Monhegan.  She greets everyone in the way only retrievers have of dispensing love, with gentle eyes and a lick.

   When you are in a new location and become over whelmed by photographic possibilities...when everything is speaking to you at once...try to focus on one of the visual elements; line, shape, texture, value (lights and darks) or color.  Be sure to look for it in unexpected locations too, like a golden retriever on a porch.  It's  great training for your photographic eye.  It may not, necessarily, have deep contemplative possibilities but it doesn't hurt to simply take joy in the colors around you!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Don't be Afraid...
   One of the things we discussed when we got to the island was safety.  Monhegan is criss-crossed by miles of unmarked trails.  Although it is a small island, 1 1/2 miles long and only a half mile wide, it is heavily wooded and it is very easy to get lost.  So, when my friend and I headed out for an afternoon walk to White Head, the cliffs on the back side of the island, we were very careful to keep referring to our trail map.  I had also brought with me a book I had gotten just a few days before the trip...Pilgrim Heart by Sarah York.

   In Medieval times  pilgrims often encountered danger on their way and the uncertainty and possibility of these encounters was part of the pilgrimage so I had that in mind when we headed into the dark forest along rough and rutted trails.

   When we stopped to rest, I took out the book and opened it at random.  There was a lovely poem by David Wagoner called Lost. (There are no coincidences my friends!)  I read it out loud to my nervous traveling companion.  I'm sharing it with you here because it so important for the photographer with a pilgrim heart to bear in mind wherever you travel...

Stand still.  The trees ahead and the bushes beside you
Are not lost.  Wherever you are is called Here,
And must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are.  You must let it find you.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Cottage Still life....

   Sunday morning brought - surprise, surpirse - rain!  I am staying with a group of photographers
and it was inspiring to see how they were completely unconcerned by the inclement weather.  I have done very little still life but this rainy morning turned my eye to the rich detail of this 85 year old cottage.

   The one thing that is wonderful about rainy days is the softly diffused light.  These glass balls and bottle would have been very difficult to photograph on a sunny day but this morning it was quite lovely.  The reflected light and even the blurry raindrops on the screen made for a nice study...I love its simplicity.

   This arrangement of old lobster buoys and a glass ball that floated the nets is very iconic here on Monhegan...they are everywhere.  This is still a fishing village even though the numbers have dwindled significantly over the years as most of the fishing in New England has.  I was pleased to see the tough little lobster boats in the harbor along side the yachts although they will, I fear, be severely out numbered in a few weeks.  It is a quality I admire on Monhegan.  It is a hard working community that continues to struggle to make a living amongst this incredible beauty.  I feel blessed to be able to spend a week with them.

   Here is a short video of the island.  You may just find your feet itching to take a road trip!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

On Location...Monhegan Island

Looking out to Sea
    Monhegan Island is located about 12 miles out to sea but 50 years back in time.  There are no paved roads (cars and bikes are not allowed); a one room school house and a tiny library that is beyond charming.  I have not been back for over twenty years but as I mentioned yesterday, nothing much has changed in those years.  The weather cleared and it was a glorious afternoon to stroll the lanes.

   There is a sense of peace and splendid solitude here.  Of course, in a week or two the swarms of "day trippers" may take a little of that away, at least around the village. However, if you take one of the 17 miles of trails around this small island you will discover places that are beyond description and wonderfully tranquil.  Yesterday I was just content to settle into our cottage and explore nearby.

Room with a View
   Last night, I could hear the soft sound of the fog horn warning seafarers away from the rocky coast as it has for 200 years.  There is an amazing sense of security in that sound.  As if some gentle protector is watching out for you as you sleep.  This is one of the wonderful attractions for me to the islands off the Maine coast.  All is well here and one can relax completely.

   If the weather co-operates, I'll explore a bit further afield today and I hope to bring you more "On Location" images in the days ahead.  I was thrilled to see the lupines were still in bloom and I saw this field of them on my walk yesterday.  The bird house hanging on the limb of an old apple tree made me think of the importance of location.  Here, on Monhegan, every where you walk is the perfect location and most come with a stunning view!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

On Location at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens...

A Solitary Visitor
   I spent the summer solstice in the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay Harbor.  It was the day before my trip to Monhegan Island and I came a day early just so I could walk these amazing gardens.  I also wanted to check out their labyrinth prior to starting to lay out mine. (More about that later!)  It is an experience I want to share with you all.

The Way is Clearly Marked
   This garden is absolutely stunning and so completely different from the created landscape of the Arnold Arboretum (which I wrote about here).  As a passionate gardener, I appreciated the amazing plantings and stonework.  It is a lovely balanced of formal and informal as well as a woodland walk.  It would take me a dozen posts to even begin to describe this place.  I was with another photographer and, unfortunately, a bit pressed for time but our two hour stroll was nonetheless inspiring. 

   I have to say, I really preferred the woodland walks and secluded meditation gardens to the more formal areas of the garden.  The shadow patterns were gorgeous and the little creatures seemed to enjoy posing for visitors...completely unafraid of the human presence.  I particularly liked this little frog who was so content to just sit on his rock and regard his tiny world through half open lids.  If I could achieve his Zen-like tranquility I would be delighted!  We have much to learn from nature.

Contemplating Frog
   Despite all the amazing flowers around me, I seemed more drawn to the stone and the shadows! Such is the power of attraction...we must listen to its tug on our heart.  I'll try to share some of my floral studies tomorrow if I can.  I will be taking the ferry today for Monhegan which is 20 miles out to sea. I haven't set foot on the island in over 20 years but I doubt much has's just that kind of place. The internet service on the island is sketchy at best but I will try to continue my daily posts...there is so much I want to share with you all!

 Here is a short video tour of the garden...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Moving From the Word to the Image and Back Again...

   I think the one question I am asked the most about contemplative photography is how I tie the image to the written word and visa versa. When I share my reflections about a particular photograph with people they often wonder how I "see" that in the image. That is a very important question and it has several dimensions to it.
The Two Halves Coming Together

    For me, writing about my images is merely responding, in words, to what I first experienced in the landscape. I developed a sequence I call Photo Lectio (reading the image) based on the monastic practice of Lectio Devina or sacred reading. (Read the post about PhotoLectio here...) That is a process that takes place after the image is made. But in this post I want to talk about the more abstract concept of internalization which occurs before the image is made. That is where my written responses begin.

   When you are in the landscape you are, at the same time, both observer and participant. You move back and forth between the two ways of being. As observer, you make lists, record "things", document specific elements in the landscape including making photographs. As participant, you enter into a more intimate engagement with the landscape. It is an empathic relationship and you internalize the more subtle nuances of the natural world in front of you. In essence, you are reading the atmosphere and energy of the place. For comparison, imagine the different ways a botanist and a poet would engage with the landscape. The first would list the plants and their characteristics, the latter would speak about the more ethereal qualities of place that they encounter.

   For me, it is the gentle dance between the two modalities that satisfies me the most. When I am able to enter into this rhythm, the words just seem to flow. Try it the next time you are in a landscape. Ask yourself...What would the scientist observe? What would the poet respond to? Write these in your field journal and then make your photographs. Later, as you sit with your image look back to your words. See what this dance inspires in you.

   Below is a link to an interview with Christine Valters Paintner on the wonderful blog Faith Squared where she talks about this relationship between the image and the word. You'll have to scroll down about half way to see Christine's interview....

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Looking Down...

    "Rain, Rain go away, come again another day..."  or so the children's song goes.  My recent few days in Down East Maine got me thinking a lot about the weather and the effect it has on the photographer. (I encountered the same sort of weather in Chatham, except for one glorious day.)  I never saw the sun once in the three days I was in Pembroke, Maine but it was fine.  Besides, the weather is something none of us can control so it is best to stop fretting and embrace it!  For me that means to stop looking up at the grey clouds and start looking down at the world at my feet.

    This is a study of a small plant by the cottage I was staying in.  I loved the way the water droplets were held individually, almost as they fell.  Some quality of this plant, a ladies mantle I think, created this charming effect.  When nature sends you rain, turn your attention and your lens downward to the small details of the landscape.  The puddles and droplets make worthy subjects for the contemplative photographer.  (Contemplative photographer Kim Manley Ort has recently dealt with this same topic on her wonderful about it here. You'll have to scroll down a bit.)

     Later on, this downward focus was rewarded as we strolled the property's beach at low tide.  Beach combing is an excellent way to hone your discriminating skills.  I found this washed up kelp which had created a provocative spiral. (You can visit my Pinterest board, The Spiral is a symbol that has ancient antecedents, especially in the Celtic world and I love collecting examples.)  I could have easily stepped over it had my attention not been focused on the ground at my feet!  Walking slowly and deliberately is important as well.  Take your time and follow Thich Nhat Hanh's advise:

Walk as if you are kissing the 
Earth with your feet.
    A lot of what we do as contemplative photographers involves this discriminating practice and it is well we work on the skill whenever you can.  This summer make a point of doing a little beach combing of your own whether it is by the ocean or on the shores of a lake.  Take the time to look down...   


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Open Yourself to the Mystery...

Mystery is what happens to us when
we allow life to evolve rather than
having to make it happen all the time.

- Joan Chittister
The Gift of Years

The Empty Chair
   Human beings are rational, fact-based creatures on the whole.  We need to know and to explain everything.  Of course, that obsession for getting to the truth of things has brought us far over the millenniums but in the quest to answer every question, we have lost the appreciation of the mysterious side of life; the acceptance of the unknowable; the joy in the hidden energy of existence.

   So much of Taoism is rooted in this acceptance of the mystery...being open to the natural flow of life without needing to direct the outcome.  I see contemplative photography that way as well.  Part of my process is to simply let go and allow the mystery to unfold and enfold  me.  Why am I drawn to a place?  Why am I urged to take my time and absorb the energy of the landscape?  You must ask yourself if you are content to skip over the surface, like the flat stone thrown from the shore, or do you desire to sink below the surface to experience the hidden truths, the true mystery behind the veil?

   This doesn't mean you need to "know" the landscape, as a geologist or a botanist would.  You can simply revel in the mysterious energy of place and see what it can teach you.  You can always recognize those for whom this mystery is most important.  They don't walk through a landscape with their nose in the guide book but, rather, with their face turned towards the sun and wind or they simply sit quietly and still content with just being there.  The former will get the facts, no doubt, but the latter will absorb the essence, the true sense of place.

   So much of life, I think, is mystery and I  prefer to keep it that way.  I will get where I need to go and I'll receive the images I need to receive - that's enough for me.

I see my path, but I don't know where it leads.
Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires
me to travel it.

- Rosalea de Castro

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Living in Liminality...

Descent into Lightness
   One is always becoming - we are always giving birth to ourselves but there are times when we feel it more profoundly, the crossing of the threshold.  These are our liminal moments.  The word liminal comes, as so many of our words do, from Latin -"limen" meant the starting place of a race, a beginning or a threshold.

   Contemplative photography gives us the opportunity to reflect on these moments through our images.  What I've discovered, over time, is that these moments are much more frequent than we imagine and they are not necessarily momentous moments either.  In fact, the vast majority of these threshold moments are seemingly inconsequential; so much so we hardly notice them at all.  We simply step from one way of being, one mode of thinking, into another subtly different one.  These slight shifts of consciousness, over time, transform us.

   As a contemplative photographer, I can sometimes record these liminal moments which really don't reveal their true nature to me until much later.  Hindsight is, after all, 20/20.  When we finally and fully resign ourselves to living in liminality the journey becomes more interesting and at the same time more mysterious.

   I've been dwelling on the photograph of the staircase at Rouen recently.  When I wrote the post of the metaphor of staircases I realized that I had described those stairs as an ascent into "simplicity and light". (read it here...)  I named my folio of Shaker images that eight months later.  The folio includes this image which I had labeled the "descent into lightness".

   This is one of those liminal moments for me.  Seeing the search for "light", with all its metaphorical connotations, as an underlying theme in my work.  Light may be a universal metaphor but what I've also discovered is that metaphors are intensely personal things.  What "light" means to you may not be what it means to me.  The meaning will come in time to each of  us but these images have certainly awakened a new sense of myself and a new avenue of reflection.  That is, in the final analysis, the real worth of pursuing contemplative photography for me  and why I have become such an advocate of it through this blog.

Monday, June 17, 2013

PhotoTao Card #30 - Following Tao

Card #30

Following Tao
Be content to watch your life unfold step
by step as you move through it.  It can
only be comprehended in the present.
- Exercise -
   If you have a favorite place to walk, do it
"step by step"  If it normally takes you 20
minutes to walk it, spend 3 hours.  Stop 10
times and sit down, absorbing the "present".
Make one photograph and then move on.
What do the 10 final images reveal to you?
Will the walk ever be the same?

Tree Textures
   It is so easy to move quickly through a place to get to your "destination".  When we walk through a familiar landscape it can become invisible to us.  This exercise asks you to move in slow doddle and tarry - two old fashioned words I love.  

   I remember many years ago teaching at the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston.  Many of the students had been blind since birth but I spoke to a young man who had only recently lost his sight.  Something he said has stayed with me all these many years and it may encourage you to take this slow stroll.  He said, "I wish I had taken the time to memorize the people and places I loved so that I could see them more clearly now with my minds eye."   Wise words.  Take some time this week to "memorize" a much loved spot...


Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Walk Around Monomoy Island...

Down to the Beach
   I don't often preach on this blog unless it is something I feel very strongly about.  This is one time I need to step up on my soap box.  While I was in Chatham I took a walk in the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge.  It is a spectacular setting clinging to the edge of the sea.  It is the only designated wilderness area in Southern New England.  Without that designation this entire area would have succumbed to the crazed builders of multimillion dollar homes that ring the reserve. It is a primary stop on the Eastern fly way of migratory birds and the seals seek solitude on the sandy islands.

In wilderness is the preservation of the world. - H.D. Thoreau

   This place in Chatham surely validates Thoreau's thoughts. Chatham, on the whole, is a sanctuary for the wealthy and well connected.  Their estates dominate the shoreline with "private property" signs in abundance...except on Monomoy.  The wealth I had to drive by to get to the refuge made it all the more stunning in its contrasting unmanicured, natural landscape.

    As contemplative photographers we can, if we wish, try to show the world the beauty of these wild places.  Perhaps in so doing we may encourage others to work with us on their preservation.  The world has enough seaside doesn't have enough of these sanctuaries for our fin, fur and feathered friends.  Is there a wild and threatened place you care about?  Consider ways you can use your photography to save these special places for generations to come.  I can think of no better use for our work.

In-coming Tide on Monomoy Island
     One resource to explore:

   Find a way to become involved preserving what is left of our wild spaces before places like Monomoy Wildlife Reserve cease to exist.

The benefits of wilderness are numerous. Wilderness provides so much more than a place to camp, hike or fish. Wilderness cleans our air and filters our water. It provides a home for wildlife and an economic driver for local communities. - See more at:
Not all federal wildlands are "wilderness." Wilderness is a type of protection given to the most pristine wildlands — areas within national parks, forests, recreation areas and other wildlands where there are no roads or development. This officially designated wilderness is the last remnant of the wild landscapes that once stretched from coast to coast. - See more at:
Not all federal wildlands are "wilderness." Wilderness is a type of protection given to the most pristine wildlands — areas within national parks, forests, recreation areas and other wildlands where there are no roads or development. This officially designated wilderness is the last remnant of the wild landscapes that once stretched from coast to coast. - See more at:

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Meditations in a Graveyard...

   In an earlier post I wrote about the power of attraction.  Without getting into the quantum physics thing I will only say that it happens and we need to pay attention to it.  If you look back through your photographic files you will, no doubt, notice a recurring theme.  Certain subjects or locations have a strong attraction for us.  For me, one of my attractions is old graveyards. (You can read about another of my "lodestones" here.)

   It is not a sense of morbidity that draws me to these places.  I simply love to read the inscriptions and wonder about the people.  What kind of life did they have?  How many mourned their passing?  Sometimes the sculptures and carvings are stunning, like in the Pere LaChaise Cemetery in Paris, and make lovely subjects to photograph.

   In this cemetery, in Chatham on Cape Cod, the thing that drew me and my camera's lens was the lichen on the old stones.  It was the most shocking shades of chartreuse and orange!  It coated the monuments in a velvety flocking making them look even more ancient.  This is a particular phenomenon of seaside cemeteries I believe.  You would never find these colors in an inland graveyard.

   We sometimes think of the colors of nature as being more subtle and even muted but it is instances like this that remind me of the wild abandon natures palette can reach.  I wouldn't have thought that color was part of my attraction to these ancient places but now I can see that each time I visit one, it is a whole new experience that I doubt I will ever tire of.

   A little, non-photographic, footnote.  I have always used the terms "cemetery" and "graveyard" interchangeably.  I've since learned that there actually is a difference...who knew! Cemeteries are most often owned by a town and a graveyard is most often associated with, and located next to, a church. These are also sometimes called church yards.  They were usually  laid out at the same time the building was constructed as a last resting place for parishioners.  If you  want to look into this more, and maybe find a little inspiration for a contemplative stroll, visit this link.  (And you thought this blog was just about photography!  You can never tell what juicy bit of information you will pick up!)

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Nature of Solitude...

We should remember that loneliness is the pain of being alone,
 yet solitude is the splendor of being alone, and that to have long-lasting
 happiness we should remember the difference in between.

- Arzu Kaya Uranli 

   When I recently told some friends that I planned to spend two weeks alone in a stone cottage deep in the Wicklow mountains of Ireland they responded: "Won't you be lonely?"  It got me thinking about the nature of solitude and how so many people are uncomfortable being alone.
The Solitary Boat
    As a contemplative photographer, I thrive on solitude.  In fact, if I am traveling with other people I find it nearly impossible to practice my craft.  I often excuse myself and head out on my own.  You can't do contemplative photography in a group!  When I led my contemplative stroll in Concord this Spring I struggled with the idea of leading 15 people into the landscape as a group.  I, instead, created a little field journal of guided meditations that they could take off on their own and I let them walk where they wanted...I returned to the farmhouse.  I wasn't abandoning them, I was letting them relate to the landscape through their own senses, not mine.

   Here on Cape Cod, while my companion headed off for her day of painting, I was able to seek out the solitary places in this lovely landscape.  Her experience in her workshop is so different from the solitary nature of contemplative photography.  The students were there to learn the techniques of another artist and it was best nurtured in this group environment.  Everyone had a similar goal.  These types of workshops are an exclusively external process whereas contemplative photography is a completely internal process.

     Being just a bit ahead of the "summer crowd" and visiting during the week and not on the hectic weekend, it was not hard to find these quiet places.  One tiny boat bobbed in the tranquil water and the only sound was the far off cry of the gulls.  Somehow, the little boat added to my sense of solitude.  I urge you to set aside some time each week to practice the fine art of solitude and silence.  Nurture the stillness of your own soul and feel comfortable with your own thoughts...they are the essence of contemplative photography. 

I never found a companion that
was so companionable as solitude.

- Henry David Thoreau


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Returning to Chatham...

   I hadn't visited Chatham on Cape Cod for over 25 years.  I am spending a few day in this lovely sea side village this week and it is so interesting to see how things have changed.  Not so much the village, which of course has seen some modifications, but how my way of looking at the village has changed in the ensuing 25 years.  Chatham was always just a quaint little town with my favorite inn, The Chatham Bars Inn, and lovely shops.  Now, it is still all that but my perceptions have shifted to the more subtle aspects of the place.

   Over time, the practice of contemplative photography does alter the way you approach a familiar or remembered location.  My priorities are just not the same.  In a very real way, I am in fact seeing Chatham for the first time and it is wonderful.

   Yesterday was the first day we saw the sun and I headed for the beach.  Strolling the water's edge before the summer crowds arrive is one of my favorite things to do.   Finding this boat stranded at low tide reminded me of why I love the ocean so much.  It is the cyclical nature of the tides.  Each low tide reveals something new, from the patterns in the sand to the things left behind.  Each day, twice a day, the slate is wiped clean.  Someone walked their dog earlier and their paths converged.  Soon, if the sun comes out fully, the beach will host sun bathers, children will look for shells, someone will toss a Frisbee and the seaside will be a buzz of activity.  Later, the ancient and eternal sea will, again, wipe the slate clean for the next day.  This is a lesson we all can take away; each day we have the opportunity to begin again.  Each day is a fresh start.  We only have this day, this moment and it is our duty to make the most of it whether it brings fair or foul.  Tomorrow we will begin again...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

In Their Own Words - Robert Waldron

Photography is a solitary endeavor; one
must be alone.  One also needs silence.
Solitude and silence are the sine qua non 
of being a contemplative.  In fact, a photographer
is a contemplative in his own right; he too
must become a master of attention. - page 77

   I was encouraged to read Robert Waldron's book, Thomas Merton: Master of Attention by Kim Manley Ort during our recent contemplative photography retreat in Kentucky.  This book fit in perfectly with our weekend study of perception and in our own small way we too tried to become "masters of attention".

   All photographers, whether they call themselves "contemplatives" or not, need this skill.  It is really what is meant by saying that one has a "photographer's eye".  The entire world is reduced to the narrow confines of the camera's frame.

   For the contemplative photographer the entire universe could be contained in that frame.  All the wisdom of the ages, everything worth knowing, the divine itself, can be in that tiny space.  So easy to pay attention to the big and "important" things but so much more revealing are the little and "insignificant" things.

   There is a saying, "If you want to judge a person's character, observe how he treats those who can do nothing for him."  I think that might be a good way to view photographers as well.  Observe how they react to the insignificant, the so-called unimportant landscape.  It takes no great skill to be awed by the Grand Canyon but what of a crack in the sidewalk?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tethered to our Beliefs...

   This image began as an "OMG" moment and ended in an interesting contemplative moment.  While I was in Eastport, Maine recently I noticed this young man repairing something on the top of a very tall mast.  Being somewhat daunted by heights myself, it was a stunning thing to watch.  Clearly, he had on a safety harness so a slip would not have spelled instant death but I was still awed by his skill and courage.

   After I made the rather hasty image, I didn't think much more about it until I was going over my files a few days later.  It made me pause...what was it about this sight that made me raise my lens?  It occurred to me, at first, that I was just gathering a tantalizing moment, like all tourists do but then I had one of those "Aha" epiphany's.  I realized that every moment, no matter how trivial or momentary, has the potential for contemplation.  There are no inconsequential, no meaningless images if one thinks about them enough. What attracts our attention has revelatory merit.

    Beliefs can work for us or against us.  If we pursue our contemplative photography with the belief that only certain kinds of images "count" then we will be hampered in our efforts to use photography to enhance our contemplative practice.  But if we believe, as I do sincerely believe, that every image has merit (and a message) then that belief will allow us to see our world with less prejudicial eyes and that must surely be a good thing.  This belief will give us our own safety harness in a manner of speaking.  We can't fall, or at least not very far.  It will give us, like this young man, the courage to take risks in our picture making.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Thought for Today...Look Inside

The Closed Door
Cong, Ireland     2009

   Contemplative photography is all about "looking inside"...inside the image and inside yourself.  Sitting with my images, over time, seems to always open up an interior door and I find myself somewhere new.   Not every photograph you make will lead you inside but I've found that if I sit with an image long enough...if I let it simmer for a inevitably leads me someplace.  This is because you never photograph anything that hasn't drawn you to it in some way.  There is an element of attraction at work that deserves to be explored.  Treating your images as if they hold a hidden message rather than merely documenting a place or time is a good way to begin cracking open the door...


Sunday, June 9, 2013

PhotoTao Card #29 - Tao's Path

Card #29

Tao's Path
Feel the cycles, the eternity, and the all-
inclusiveness of things.  Feel that there is
nowhere to go and nothing to do.
- Exercise -
  When you travel, put away the 
guidebooks and turn on your heart's
GPS.  Then, follow its directions! A
fine-tuned internal GPS will always 
lead you to where you need to be and
that's where you will make your most
profound images.  Talk to people,
discover the hidden places, the less
familiar landscapes.

The Disappearing Path
   I'm all for preparing for a trip, reading up and living the experience before I even depart but when I get there I try to put all that out of my mind.  I try to engage the landscape first hand, up close and personal.  

   All that preparation will sink into your subconscious.  In a subtle way, it will shape your inquiries but never let it over-ride a new discovery.  I can't tell you how many times I set out with one destination or experience in mind to then find myself someplace entirely different and it very often turns out to be a wonderful diversion!

   The practice of living in relationship to the Tao is to embrace these inconsistencies and synchronicities.  You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Labyrinths - the Interior Pilgrimage

Labyrinth at the Convent of the Sister's of Charity in Kentucky
   I have been fascinated with labyrinths for a long time and I try to find them wherever I travel.  They are becoming more and more common place as people discover their wonderful meditative qualities. I've been talking about pilgrimage for several days now and I just want to end with the idea of the Interior Pilgrimage.  You can still travel with the heart of a pilgrim in a labyrinth.  In fact, if you don't then you are just taking a walk!

   The ancient Medieval labyrinths in the great cathedrals of Europe, like the wonderful one at Chartres that I walked last summer, were designed for pilgrims who were unable to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Santiago.  It was, for them as it is now,  a "virtual" pilgrimage.  It has all the twists and turns of a real pilgrimage and people walked it slowly and with intensely thoughtful prayer.  It brings you close to the center and then draws you away.  Just when you think you are approaching the center, you find yourself practically back at the beginning mirroring some of the frustration you feel when you travel.

    It is also a wonderful metaphor for life.  There is only one way in, through birth, and one way out, through death.  Unlike the maze, which is meant to trick you with dead ends, it is a solitary tract and you can't become lost or trapped as long as you continue to put one foot in front of the other and walk.  There are also finger labyrinths that can be "walked" in the comfort of a chair if you can't get to a real one or are confined to bed due to an illness.  They still have the same meditative quality and I have one of the labyrinth at Chartres that I use frequently.

   I plan to construct my own labyrinth in my back yard this year.  At least I will begin the process this summer.  I know that at some time in the future all these worldly pilgrimages of mine will have to cease but through my labyrinth I can continue to use my pilgrim's heart at home.  I can use it now, in between my trips, to fine tune my inner reflections.  I suggest you try to find a labyrinth near your home this summer.  You can use this Labyrinth Locator to assist you.  You can also visit my Pinterest board for more resources.  Don't let time or finances or health concerns keep you from taking a pilgrimage to the center of your soul.  Remember...


Friday, June 7, 2013


Memories of Trips Past
  Today, when we think of "souvenirs" we think of objects...souvenir as a pure noun.  The origin of the word is more complex however and more food for thought for the contemplative photographer.

   Originally from the Latin word subverire,  it means "to come to mind".  It made its journey into the English language through Old French in a word which came to mean "to re-call". A far cry from the trinkets we bring back from our travels, a true souvenir is a recollection, a specific memory of experience.

   As contemplative photographers we are able to collect our own, personalized souvenirs in the photographs we make on our travels.  Photographs that don't merely say, "I was here and I saw this..." but "I experienced this...", "I was impressed by that...", "I was moved (changed, inspired, overwhelmed, etc.) by this..."  They needn't be the "big" things either for true revelation is in the tiny details of a place...what most tourists over look.

   Now, as you can see by this photograph of my sitting room mantle, I am not immune to bringing back objects from my travels...a ivory figure from China, a crystal Faberge egg from St. Petersburg, Russia. (You can also see the little leather scallop shell I use to carry my tokens which I mentioned yesterday.) Some of my favorite souvenirs, however, are little found objects I bring back...a snail shell from my first escargot in France and the twin pine cones from the front porch of Thomas Merton's hermitage.  The ivory and crystal will be kept by my heirs after I'm gone I'm sure...the snail shell and the pine cones will most likely be thrown away.

   As for my photographs, those same heirs will probably puzzle about why I have no pictures they can recognize of the places I traveled Eiffel towers and no Red Square "postcards".  Ah well, perhaps they will stumble onto this blog someday and then they'll know why....

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Traveling with a Pilgrim's Heart: LEAVING YOUR TOKEN & BRINGING BACK THE BOON

Leaving my token at Mont St. Michel
   I think what amused my friends the most in France last summer was the way I went about leaving tiny mica tokens in places I visited that had special meaning for me but this is actually an ancient practice of pilgrims.  I use the mica because it's a natural element that I find around my property in Maine.  It's light and easy to carry, and its shiny mirror-like surface gives it a magical quality.  Depositing the little token is a way to leave something of myself behind in significant places.  It is a way of paying homage to the experience as well.  In Ireland, at the holy wells I visited, I often saw little bits of cloth tied to a nearby bush.  These are called "clooties".  They are another form of pilgrim tokens.

    I was thrilled to find, in Rouen, a leather scallop shell pouch that clipped onto my belt to carry my tokens in.  The scallop shell is the symbol of the pilgrim and those who walked the El Camino to Santiago in Spain tied a shell to their coat so that people knew they were on pilgrimage...they still do.

   The one thing with which the pilgrim returns home
with is wisdom and the responsibility to share the
truth gleaned from the profound pilgrimage.  The
 story that we bring back from our journeys is the boon.

-Waymarkers, Mary DeJong, page 33

   One way I bring back the boon is in my photographs.  I am able to share the experience with friends (including my blog friends!) and pass on what I've learned.  I like to make little accordion folded books in which I can insert my images and reflections.  Other people create scrapbooks.

   Souvenirs are whatever you bring back that will trigger a memory of your trip.  I like to buy a small work of art by a local artist or, more frequently, I bring back a small, natural object to add to my continually growing collection of memories.  Having a real and meaningful way to re-live your trip after you return is very important.  You will never have the reaction my friend had to her Hawaiian trip, that it felt like it never happened at all.  Traveling with the heart of a pilgrim is such an enriching experience and that's why I try to make every trip I take a kind of pilgrimage.

   When I got back from my trip to Kentucky and was sharing the "boon" with friends, one commented, "You always have amazing encounters when you are a lucky traveler!"  I wouldn't use the word "lucky".  I would say "open".  When you travel with the open heart of the pilgrim you to will have these wonderful encounters.  I love this quote and it seems to explain these seemingly serendipitous engagements...

What you are seeking is also seeking you.- Rumi

   Finally, here is a link to my favorite book on pilgrimage.  It will inspire you in so many ways.  For more inspiration, visit my Pinterest board.  I'll be adding new links from time to time.  I wish you safe and meaningful travels this summer, no matter where you go.  Remember one half of the word "pilgrimage" is "image"!  Keep your pilgrim's heart open and see what images you receive...