Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Inspired by Thomas Merton...

I had learned from my own father that it was almost
blasphemy to regard the function of art as merely to
reproduce some kind of a sensible pleasure or, at best,
to stir up the emotions to a transitory thrill.  I had
always understood that art was contemplation, and 
that it involved the action of the highest faculties of man.

   This passage is from Thomas Merton's autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain which I re-read recently after an almost 40 year hiatus.  It was very interesting to note how influential his father, Owen Merton, was to his thought process.  As a landscape painter, the older Merton took the young Thomas with him as he traveled to paint...mostly in Southern France...after his wife died.  There were sown the seeds that would later bloom into Father Louie's (Thomas Merton's name after he became a priest) contemplative photography.
Landscape painting by Owen Merton
   Every experience, every person you meet, becomes part of your journey and influences, sometimes in small and subtle ways, the person you become.  We are all ever expanding chains of influences. Those of us who embrace contemplative photography do so for many reasons.  Our back stories are all different but I believe they all carry a thread of soul searching that will not leave us and which expresses itself in our photographs.

    I believe Merton's way of looking at the world, in part, was formed at the feet of his father as he watched him paint the landscape. To draw the scene in front of you, you must pay attention to the subtle nuances of line and shape, tone and color.  This intense form of seeing can only add to your personal understanding and appreciation of the landscape.  This is why I still draw and sometimes paint places I will later photograph.

   Studying the work of accomplished painters is also a way to inspire your own photographic work.  Next time you visit a museum to see a photography exhibition, wander into the painting galleries, notebook in hand.  Look at how the painter frames his work...where he places the horizon line...what details he focuses on.  You will be rewarded for the effort and you will add a few more links to your chain of influence.  


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