Saturday, November 30, 2013

The A, B, C's of Contemplative Photography - T

T is for Transience (and also for Taoism, and Transformation, and Threshold, and Texture, and...)

the state or fact of lasting only for a short time

   Nothing is more transient for the photographer than light.  Those times of superb light are fleeting and rare.  Perhaps that's why photographers venture out at sunrise and sunset and on foggy days.  It is the luminous light they seek.

   Feelings and impressions can be just as fleeting.  When we sit or walk through a landscape we may experience these transient moments when some hidden mystery is exposed for just a short period of time.  This is when the contemplative photographer must either pull out the camera or the journal.

   One has to have as quiet a mind as possible for these moments to occur.  It isn't as simple as choosing the right time of day or the right weather conditions.  It is only achieved with heightened receptivity.  The soul must be tuned into the right frequency to hear it.

   Some days, for hundreds of different reasons, my inner frequency is simply not tuned in.  I can stay outside for hours and I receive nothing...a big fat zero.  I don't let that discourage me.  I know if I just continue to venture out those transient moments will occur.  It will happen when I don't force it and when I least expect it.  That's the wonder of it for me.


Friday, November 29, 2013

It's All Uphill from Here...

   Pathways...all year I've mused on their message, their meaning for me.  Here on St. John I confronted them yet again.  This is the driveway at the B&B I'm staying at in Fish Bay.  Believe me when I say, ALL the roads and driveways on the island look like this!

   St. John, like most of the Caribbean islands are really volcanoes jutting out of the water. That is why you have to fly into St. Thomas and take a ferry to St. John.  You would have to take a helicopter if you wanted to fly to St. John.  Because St. John is such a small island, it has very little "flat" land.  It is like driving on a roller coaster!  You also have to drive on the left side but the cars have the steering wheel on the left as well all of which makes getting around on St. John a bit of a challenge to say the least.

   My friend, who owns the B&B, parks at the top so her guests don't have to walk up and down the drive.  It was my daily challenge and also my daily reminder of my creaky knees.  Each year it seems to get more and more difficult.

   You do what you have to do and even if it seems all "up hill from here", you go on.  Who knows what awaits you at the top...around the bend...or down the other side?  It is the question and the quest.

   It reminded me of my trek to the top of Mont St. Michel in France last year.  It seemed so daunting but you do it because it is a much greater emotional pain to not do it!  After all, pilgrimages have their element of physical strain and discomfort.  If it was easy it wouldn't be as meaningful and I've never been one to take the easy path.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Annaberg Sugar Plantation Re-Visited...

See note below...
   One of my favorite experiences when I visited St. John in March of 2012 was the visit to the Annaberg Sugar Plantation.  (You can read that post here and you probably should re-read it just to set the stage for this post. ) In March it was a startling encounter for me.  This time I wanted to see if I would see it and, more importantly, feel it the same way.

   On this visit it was a grey, overcast day.  In March it was a steamy day with a blazing sun.  My friend accompanied me this time and the experience was quite different but not initially.

   When we walked up the road approaching the mills, with the ruins of the slave quarters on our left, I started to get that same oppressive feeling I had the last time.  We went in and out of the ruins and I tried to describe my feelings to my friend.  She agreed that there is definitely a feeling about the place and it is not a happy one.  But then we met Miss Olivia...

Miss Olivia
    Miss Olivia met us at the door of the cook house where she was making johnny cakes as part of a National Park's cultural event.  It was like the sun came out with that smile.  She told us all about the process of bread making while we nibbled on samples of the warm johnny cakes with papaya jam and her sweet iced tea.

    She seemed to radiate goodness and kindness and in the process dispelled our initial gloom.  It is a good example of how putting faces with the places makes such a difference. Last time I walked around by myself and there was nothing to lift my spirits from the overall sadness of the place.

   Although I still had the feeling of this thin place that I had felt before, my encounter with Miss Olivia created the counter balance I needed this time.

   Lesson for sure to engage with local residents when you travel.  Seek them out and listen to their stories.  Embrace the place through their eyes and not only yours.  It will make all the difference in the world to your experience.

For an in-depth story about Annaberg's history visit this link.....

Note: You can see the type of construction that is used on the island. Stonewalls are filled with whatever the mason could find...old bricks, pieces of coral, and sea shells. It makes for a lovely textured surface and today you see this type of wall everywhere in new construction. This is a little detail from the house I am staying at...Treetops.  People become very creative with their wall construction!

   Each location I've visited around the world has its own unique eccentricities that add to the sense of place.  These are what you must seek out and embrace.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Eye (and the Ears and the Nose) of the Beholder...On Location in Cruz Bay

The ferry terminal at Cruz Bay
As I sat by Cruz Bay at a little outdoor cafe basking in the late afternoon light, I made what has to be the most touristy of tourist photographs...the ferry terminal.  The raking light was lovely with the dark clouds behind but it is definitely a "post card".

   Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with "postcards".  These sorts of images draw us into a location.  They are the general view of a place or what I sometimes refer to as "big picture" views.  They are our first encounter with the landscape.

   What is important is that I wasn't content with the big picture...I got up off my duff (after I'd finished my pina colada of course!) and wandered over to the dock.  I first saw my letter "P" (I'm nearly done with the alphabet!) but then I just sat on the edge of the dock and let the breezes and soft light wash over me.  Closing my eyes, I relied on my hearing and smell to replace my vision. 

Seaside Simplicity
   Eyes are the King of the senses.  And like most kings, they can be a bit dictatorial, always wanting their own way.  We can become slaves to them.  After all, we experience the world with our eye firmly affixed to our camera's viewfinder.  Shutting your eyes on occasion is a helpful thing for the contemplative photographer to do.  Let your other senses have a chance!  When I finally opened them, my eyes were drawn down to what laid right below my feet...

   The late day light cast a pink glow over the water's edge as the soft waves kissed the shore and, like a shy lover, immediately retreated.  It was the sound of the waves and their salty smell that drew me to this view.  Walking on the dock before, I hadn't heard them at all.  My eyes were fully occupied with it all.

   Embrace the "big view" by all means but close your eyes and see what intimate views your other senses draw you to.  This is a way to slowly walk into the landscape, to become more engaged with the location.  You will gather an enriched and more personal sense of place this way.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Lions and Tigers and Wild Boar...Oh My!

   If there is a light and sunny side, there must be a dark and foreboding side and there is one on St. John.  It can be in the intense sadness of the Annaberg Sugar plantation or in the deep forests along Center Line Road.  Here, especially along the Reef Bay trail, wild boar roam.  Elusive creatures, I got this image from the See St. John site (link below).  I was unlikely to run across one but on my last trip I did hear them crashing through the forest as we made our way to the petroglyphs.

   There are trees that are dangerous as well.  I won't mention the various bugs and such.  Just be aware if you visit  any of the Caribbean islands that " your not in Kansas anymore, Toto!" 

   After glorying in the beauty and tranquility of the island, it was good to contemplate the other side of the coin.  This place may be dubbed "paradise" but, as we know, there is always the flip side.

   I especially enjoy driving through the mangrove forests.  They look like walking trees to me. Really quite eery looking.  This one also carried a "backpack"...a giant termite nest! (Termites won't hurt you of course, just your house!) These strange looking trees have a gentle side as well.  In Hurricane Hole on the East end of St. John, these trees grow in the water along the shore and are nature's nursery for many species of fish.  The barracuda (those scary guys with the BIG teeth!) can't get in between the mangrove roots so the baby fish seek sanctuary there.  We all need such places.

   I hope I haven't put you off a visit to St. John! Take a look at the site linked below and I'm sure you'll see the balance here definitely favors the "sunny and light" side!

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Thought for Today...Brother Wind

    The first chapter of Christine Valters Paintner's book Water, Wind, Earth and Fire deals with, as St. Francis calls it, Brother Wind.  I've taken a quotation from the book for my thought for today.
A view o Trunk Bay, St. John US Virgin Islands

   Here are some of Christine's suggestions from the book for getting in touch with the element of wind.

Go sailing.
Blow Bubbles.
Watch birds flying overhead.
Lay on the cool grass 
- or the soft sand -
and gaze at the clouds drifting by.
Take time to relish the cool 
breeze that refreshes.

   Except for the bubble blowing, I've been doing all of the above here on St. John as I try to experience this unique place through the elements.  Photographing the wind isn't easy but the image above suggests it with the swooping shape of the cloud.

       When I get back to Maine the second week of December, the wind will have a whole different meaning for me but isn't that the point?  Everything in nature is in a state of flux.  It changes day by day and our only obligation is to embrace whatever it brings.  Try to remember, in the words of Meister Eckhart:
The soul rides on the feathers of the wind.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

PhotoTao Card #50 - Evidence of SImplicity

Evidence of Simplicity
Take time to listen to yourself.  Become
familiar with the voice that speaks directly 
from your heart.

- Exercise -
In your daily journaling, ask yourself
these questions:  "Why photography and
not painting or sculpture?  What is it about
the medium itself that inspires you so?
Choose one image that you've made in the last 
year that is your "icon of experience".  The
one image - if all others were lost - that most
represents your voice as an artist.

Finally we have come to the last PhotoTao card! I think it would be helpful to bring back what I said when I posted the very first card way back on September 18, 2012.   I was inspired by the collection of Tao cards created by Priya Hemenway but...

    "Unfortunately, the original "Tao Box", compiled by Priya Hemenway, is no longer in print. You can get a used one on and I recommend you get one if you can.  The illustrations on the front of the cards are beautiful and the translations on the back are illuminating.  My cards are really just little prompts for me to try if I'm in a bit of slump with my photography. I mentioned a few of these ideas in my series "Characteristics of the Photographic Sage" but this will give you an easy format to duplicate. You can create your own cards from the ideas I provide, using your own photographs to illustrate the front of the card, or invent your own! Copy and print the text on card stock and cut out.  After you have a few keep them in your camera bag.  Pull one out from time to time and try the exercise.  I used this idea of "prompts" when I taught art. The kids loved the randomness of just drawing a card and following it's instruction...I do too!  It's a great way to jump start the process of creating interesting and inspiring photographs or to just think a bit differently about your process. I am always amazed at how beautifully the wisdom of the Tao applies to the art of photography."

   These cards are free for you to copy and pass on as you wish.  They might offer interesting challenges and focus for discussion at your camera club.  I've had the great pleasure of talking to various groups over the last year and a half about contemplative photography and I am available, in the New England area, to be a guest speaker should you want this.  I will try, in time, to offer the whole set of PhotoTao cards as a easily printed PDF.

   I hope you have enjoyed reading the weekly cards and that you have tried a few of the prompts.  The important thing is to stay open to many different ways of photographing your world and, most of all, to enjoy the process.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

The A, B, C's of Contemplative Photography - S

S is for Self-revealing (and also for Shadow, and Soul Searching, and Sanctuary, and Seeing, and Sense, and....)

Revelation of one's thoughts, emotions,
 or attitudes, intentionally or unintentionally.

   All images a photographer makes, whether he is a contemplative photographer or not, are self-revealing.  It is the nature of the medium.  We are attracted to things that reflect some facet of our self and those are the things we make photographs of.

   I think the important part of the definition above are the last three words...intentionally or unintentionally.  For me at least, it is very often an unintentional process.  The "Ah Ha" moment comes later, when I spend time with my photographs.  It also comes when I am photographing with other people.  I sometimes just stand back and watch what it is that is pulling their lenses to it.  Sometimes I'm quite surprised.

   I don't think it is a good idea to intentionally go looking for particular subjects but, rather, to let them find you.  I remember an old adage that is apropos here:

"If you hunt where only rabbits live, all
you will catch is rabbits."

    I suppose you could re-word it a bit and say, "If you look only for rabbits, you may miss the fox or the mushroom or the....".  Well, you get the point.  Let the landscape reveal what it will.  All you need do is to stay open to it.  I'm sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Water, Wind, Earth & Fire...

The Beach at Caneel Bay
    I am reading Christine Valters Painter's book  Water, Wind, Earth & Fire while I'm here on St. John. *  I think you experience the elements more profoundly, and certainly quite differently, when you venture into a climate that is far different from your own.

    Here, the water is a stunning blue and embracingly warm (and with its high salt content, it seems to cradle you in its warm arms as you float along), the trade winds are so refreshing on a warm day (at this time of year they are called the Christmas Winds), the earth is ground down to soft, welcoming pink sand and the fire of the ever present sun must be, above all else, respected or you will be pinker than the sand!

   The beauty of this place is beyond description.  What I love most about St. John, and what sets it apart from the other nearby islands, is the fact that 60% of the island is a National Park thanks to an initial gift by Laurance Rockefeller.  He wanted to preserve this place, safe from development, for generations to come.  Although I could hardly afford a night's stay at the Caneel Bay resort,  parts of the beautiful beach are still open to the public and we spent a day there.

   Here on St. John, in the forests of the mountains and along the shore, you can appreciate the elements in new and enlightening ways and I'm reminded of a quotation from Hildegard of Bingen I read in Christine's book:

...humankind cannot live or survive without nature.

   I am so thankful to be here to experience the water, wind, earth and fire in such natural beauty and know that it will be like this for years and years to come.

* I have mentioned, ad nauseum, that having a literary inspiration is important to me when I travel.  When I received Christine's book a few weeks ago I decided to make it my book for St. John.  I liked the idea of referencing the four elements here and contrasting them to my usual relationship to them in Maine.

PS...Here is another of my St. John Alphabet finds! It is from Honeymoon Beach on Caneel Bay. Snorkeling is a passion here and I love to float with my face in the water watching the sea turtles and spotted rays.  I'm having such a lot of fun on my alphabet scavenger hunt!  So different from the one I did on Monhegan Island in Maine.  I'll upload all of them when I'm done.

   This sort of search needn't be related to letters.  One could easily search for circles or shades of blue.  What this does is heighten your discriminating skills which is always good.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Beach Breadcrumbs...

   My first full day on St. John and it was off to Maho Bay beach.  Coming from the cold North, the warm Caribbean water was heavenly.  I was not thinking about photographs but I did pick up a few "breadcrumbs" while I was there.

   It seemed the light was illuminating little patches in the sea grape trees I was sitting under.  When I looked up above my head, this beautiful yellow leaf was glowing, radiating happiness it seemed to me.  All the other leaves around it were a deep, sober green.  I did feel, I have to say, that the universe was winking again.

  Later, as my friend and I walked the beach, my eye caught another patch of bright yellow amongst the green vegetation.  The little heart shape was charming and quite unexpected.

   Back at our chairs I put my camera away.  I was content with my two little breadcrumbs but the landscape wasn't through with me yet.   When I looked up from my book I glanced at my friends chair and there it was...the letter "D", as a shadow on the sand!  A possible St. John alphabet?

   Now really, how could I possible resist that invitation from the landscape!?  So, I guess I'm on a mission for the next two weeks to see if I can find the other 25 letters of the alphabet.  It is something my friend, who is not a photographer of any sort, and I can do together.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

View from Above...

   My cell phone is opening all sorts of new doors for me.  With the many trips I've taken, I've never done the "view from the window" as I flew.  This view was made just as we made our approach to St. John in the US Virgin Islands where I will spend a couple of weeks.

   As I looked out the airplane window I was instantly reminded of the Georgia O'Keeffe paintings she did later in her long career which she called "Sky Above the Clouds".  We only see the clouds from below.  They look amazing when view from above.

   As with so much in our world today, this miraculous view is now common place.  Now no one gives it a second glance.  On our flight, I was the only one gasping with delight as I looked out my window.  I tried to see it as if I'd never seen it before and, because of my cell phone camera, I was able to record the image.

   What I found interesting was how much it reminded me of a terrestrial landscape with a distant mountain range and lakes and even clouds above the clouds.  That one puffy white formation was what made me want to record this image.  I found it all stunning to behold.

   I hope I will always keep this sense of awe of the natural world.  I can't imagine a time when a view such as this becomes ho hummingly mundane.  I guess that will be the time for me to hang up the camera.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Are you a Nemophilist?

   It's alright...I'm one too.  Just in case you aren't sure if you are a nemophilist or not, I'll give you the definition:

A haunter of the woods;  one
who loves the forest and its
beauty and solitude.

   I think I would also add, "and its mystery" to that definition.  I particularly love the mystery of a dark forest.  It seems to hold onto things we can only guess at.

     There is such a wonderful embrace when you walk a woodland path.  You are surrounded, enclosed.  Sometimes you can hear the rustle of leaves but most often you cannot see what is making the noise.  You often cannot see the sky or what is in front of you.  You aren't sure whether to go on or turn back.  "Back" is knowable..."forward" is a risk.  But with the "forward" comes the possibility of new discovery.  It is that possibility that must overcome the risk.

   You pathway is uncertain.  There are roots and rocks and plenty of opportunity to trip and fall.  It is a lot like life really.  This is where faith is needed.  Faith that you will come out of the forest, that you will find your way.  Faith that you will overcome whatever adversity the path presents you.  Faith that just because you can't see the sky doesn't mean it is not there.

   And like life, you can focus on the dark shadows with fear or the light infused spots that speckle the way with really is your choice.

   For those of you who haven't given in to your inner nemophilist this Autumn, here is a lovely video to savor....

   ...and here is a link to a lovely look at the fallen leaves in Harvard yard with accompanying quotations from famous writers.  My favorite, and the one that really resonates with today's post, is by Henry David Thoreau (definitely the supreme nemophilist!) - "I have a room all to myself.  It is Nature."

Monday, November 18, 2013

"The soul speaks through images." - Carl Jung

  I came across this quotation by Jung awhile back and have been thinking a great deal about the implications of it.  If the soul truly speaks through images, what is it saying?

   I think the first thing it is saying is that our need to record, almost incessantly, our daily life in photographs is telling us we are desperate to hold onto moments, even silly and shallow ones.  You just have to look at Facebook to see the obsession for this daily validation.  It is, perhaps, not the images so much that are speaking but our need for them.

   When making photographs was a whole lot harder to accomplish, people had to be much more thoughtful about what they photographed.  As the ease to record has grown, the quality of the record has fallen.

   Now, enter the contemplative digital photographer.  Is that a somewhat contradictory designation?  Can you be contemplative at  3 frames a second?  Of course the answer to that is a resounding NO.  Contemplation is what you do before and after the image is recorded on your memory card.  In fact, the actual recording is almost an afterthought and perhaps not even necessary. 

Let the Light Touch You
  After thinking more about the quotation I've come to the final conclusion that what Jung is speaking about is how we reflect on the images we make or the ones we look at.  The soul will direct our vision to see what we need to see and no two people will see the same thing.  The photographic image is a powerful stimulus for self reflection.  This all brings me to the idea of composite images; images made from two or more photographs.

   Soul Collage is a process of making photomontaged images from magazine photographs.  You can use your own photographic images  as the surrealist photographers of the early 20th century did.  Soul Collage is the name of a specific process which was developed by Seena Frost.  I've been doing this sort of collage for a long time - the collage card above, a montage of 4 different images, I did quite some time ago. I call my cards Transformation Cards.  Bringing together unrelated images from diverse sources transforms them into another way of being.  It is an intuitive and subliminal process that is great fun to do.  It can also be very enlightening.

    I just came across Seena's book on her particular process and card designations and thought I'd pass it and the idea of photo collage on to you.  No matter how you do it or what you call it, this form of photomontage is a fascinating way to give voice to your unconscious mind and it may be something you might like to explore.  (Those of you who are computer savvy can create these composite images digitally.  I prefer the old fashioned "cut and paste" technique.  There is something very primal and soothing about it.  It sort of speaks to the inner child!)   There is a good video introduction to the process in the link below...

"The Soul cannot think without a picture."
- Aristotle

Sunday, November 17, 2013

PhotoTao Card #49 - Freedom of Action

Freedom of Action
The net of Tao is cast and no one knows
how or why.  There is no way to understand 
how things are kept in balance.

- Exercise -
People have all sorts of reasons for
making photography central to their lives
but what is it about contemplative photography -
as you understand the term - that engages you the
most?  Why do you embrace it and what do you
hope to learn from it?  Choose one image that
represents what contemplative photography 
means to you.  Why did you choose that image?

   There were many photographs I could have chosen for this card. I've chosen one of my latest metaphors.   This one I made while I was waiting for the ferry to take me to Deer Island in September.  

   Sanctuary means different things to different people.  For me, it is a safe haven from the storms of life.  These stones are sheltered within the safety of the driftwood and it says "sanctuary" to me. 

   That would have been enough except that when I got the image home and looked closely at it, I discovered the little heart shaped stone nestled in the space. Can you find it? Sanctuary is a place where the heart can rest.  This adds so much to my understanding of the term.  So many subtle messages, like this one, are left in our paths all the time!   We just have to be open to them.   This is why I love contemplative photography so much!

   Believe it or not, next Sunday is the last posting in the PhotoTao card series!  What a wonderful journey it has been for me to share the wisdom of the Tao with you and to imagine creative ways to apply it to our camera work.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The A, B, C's of Contemplative Photography - R

R is for Rumi (and also for Reveal and Reflection and Rhythm and Receptivity and...)

   Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, and more popularly in the English-speaking world simply as Rumi, was a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic.

   I love the writings of Rumi.  He is a constant source of inspiration.  I think contemplative photographers benefit by using literary sources as a foundation of their guided meditations.  I have many Rumi quotations that have helped me focus my attention when I am on location.  One of my favorites is:

Sell your cleverness & buy bewilderment.

   Reflecting on a Rumi quotation heightens my receptivity and will then reveal some hidden wisdom in the landscape. (Indulge me, I've been wanting to do an alliteration line for awhile!)

    I find I am much more open to the whisperings of the landscape if I quiet my mind through some form of guided meditation. A poem, a passage, a musical piece are all ways to focus your attention on what is in front of you and quiet that chatter in your mind. Here's another Rumi quotation that I particularly love...

The wound is the place where the light enters you.

  Perhaps you have a favorite Rumi quotation you would like to share?

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Light Beneath it All...

   I am reading a book by J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation - an introduction to Celtic Spirituality.  Next to Taoism, Celtic spirituality is what underlies most of my contemplation.  It informs my thinking when I look at my images.

   Light is at the center of Celtic thought and rather than being separate and detached, it is the very essence of all created things.

   Light is also the grand metaphor of wisdom as is seen in the Buddhist idea of enlightenment.  It is the basis, the beginning, the energy that empowers and flows through everything.  It is also a good metaphor for the exploration of the contemplative photographer.  We seek, through the images we receive, the light beneath no matter how obscured or blocked it may be.

   Even if we cannot see the light we know it is there because of the shadows it casts but the shadows do not define the light for shadows can be distorted.  For some, I fear, they see the shadows as reality and fail to understand the light behind them.

   In his book, Newell presents a poem by the great Celtic poet Kenneth White...

the loveliness is everywhere
in the ugliest
and most hostile environment
the loveliness is everywhere
at the turning of a corner
in the eyes 
and on the lips of a stranger
in the emptiest areas
where is no place for hope
and only death
invites the heart
the loveliness is there
it emerges
it rises in its own reality
and what we must learn is
 how to receive it
into ours

   I think it would be appropriate while reading the poem to liken the "loveliness" to the light...the light that illuminates our images and our hearts.  Try reading it again using the word light in place of loveliness.  Without light there would be no photographs.  The light defines our medium but also refines our reflections.

   When you are next out photographing, concentrate on the light.  See what it has to teach you.

   Here are two past posts you may find interesting...


Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Infinite Spirit of the Landscape...

I call that mind free which discovers everywhere the radiant signatures of the infinite spirit, and in them finds help to its own spiritual enlargement. 

- William Ellery Channing  

   The early Celts, after their conversion to Christianity, chose to practice their new faith in the same sacred groves as their druid ancestors.  St. Brigid had a druid father and a Christian mother and built her monastery on the site of a sacred oak grove, hence its name, Kildare which means "church of the oaks".  St. Columba himself, who brought the faith to Scotland, often referred to Jesus as his Arch-druid. 

    Even when they eventually constructed small chapels, the Celts sequestered them in solitary landscapes to which they could retreat and feel surrounded by their living landscape.  For make no mistake, the Celts saw the landscape as a living breathing manifestation of divine spirit not a dead space that they walked through to get from here to there.

   It is always my goal to try to tap into that spirit when I am photographing the natural landscape.  Whether it be through guided meditations, visual listening exercises or simply being completely still and open to what is before me, it this infinite spirit I hope to connect with.

   The Transcendentalists, a group to which both Channing and Emerson belonged, practice self culture.  Through their interaction and spiritual connection to Nature, they hope to perfect the human soul.  I believe that even if you don't make a single photograph, simply being within Nature's warm embrace enlarges one's spiritual connection.  Keep the camera on hand, however, for the landscape will surely gift you images that will enhance your spiritual practice no matter what it is and from where it originated.

Within us is the soul of the whole,
the wise silence, the universal beauty,
to which every part and particle is
equally related, the eternal One.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

You Know You are a Contemplative Photographer When.....

What you seek is also seeking you. are able to embrace the metaphoric capability of the living landscape. practice heightened awareness and hone your perception skills to look beyond the surface quality of things. consider your journal as important as your camera. follow your heart's GPS trusting that it will never lead you astray. remain open to the spontaneous and the serendipitous. know that wherever you are is where you should be and you will receive the images you need. stop being a "taker of photographs" and become a "receiver of images". enter into a co-creative conspiracy with the landscape. learn to see the divine fingerprint in the natural world and the sacred in the commonplace. travel with the heart of a pilgrim and not the mindset of the tourist. can read your photograph as easily as the printed page. realize that the wisdom of the landscape is everywhere and that there are no unsuitable places or unworthy images.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Metaphors - Alienation...

   After the terrible debacle of the government shutdown and debt ceiling showdown, I've been thinking a lot about the idea of alienation.

   Turning our backs on each other because we have different visions or viewpoints solves nothing.  We have, unfortunately, become a nation of disassociation and the separation seems to get larger every day.  Hard to reconcile anything if you can't even look at each other directly.

   These two chairs were outside the Maynard Ecology Center where we had begun our contemplative stroll around the Fresh Pond recently.  I'd come back a bit early to await the other participants (since, with their field journals in hand, I wanted them to engaged the landscape in a solitary fashion).  As I approached, in the late afternoon light, these chairs fairly screamed at me.

   Metaphors are all around us, everyday and in every place we pass.  Most we simply walk by but some refuse to be ignored.  When you practice contemplative photography for any length of time, these metaphors become more and more insistent.  Now, if we could just get our friends down in Washington to turn their chairs towards each other for a change.....


Monday, November 11, 2013

Inspired by Bradford Fuller: Meditating on the Mandala  This gorgeous digital mandala was created by a friend of mine, Bradford Fuller of Brownfield, Maine.  He and his wife Rebecca run the Edge of Maine Gallery and the Stone Mountain House lodging.  They have hosted exhibitions of my work in the past in their gallery.

   Brad is an accomplished photographer and graphic designer and in this post I am featuring his mandalas which he creates using photographic flower studies.

   Frankly, the computer knowledge necessary to create these kinds of images is a bit beyond me but I can meditate on Brad's spectacular creations and that's enough for me.

       So many cultures and faith practices use the mandala as an aid to meditation.  Brad's mandalas have the added benefit of using nature herself as a focus in their creation and that of course is a nice tie in to my form of contemplative photography.

   I've always been fascinated by the symmetry of flowers.  The beauty of their design and unfolding.  How some turn their faces to follow the sun while others bloom only in the night.  Their fragrance and their co-dependency on insects.  Oh, I could go on and on. 

  Here is poem by Hildegard of Bingen, a favorite of mine.  I've mentioned her several times on this blog.   This poem relates nicely to mandalas. (You can read my post about her here.)

A wheel was shown to me,
wonderful to behold...
Divinity is in its omniscience and
like a wheel,
a circle, 
a whole,
that can neither be understood,
nor divided,
nor begun nor ended.

   The computer has given us - well, at least the creative and talented ones like Brad - the amazing ability to create stunning images using simple images from nature.   I invite you to visit Brad's website and see more examples of his mandalas as well as his other photographic work. 

ps.  I've ordered the white chrysanthemum mandala above from Brad. After photographing "Eleanor's Flowers"  on Campobello this past September,  I just had to have this one.  He creates back lit pieces, constructions designed to illuminate the gorgeous image.  The mandala is printed on clear acetate and placed behind glass. They seem to glow from within which only enhances the beautiful symmetrical design and the meditative effect. I have to say that this particular mandala is reminiscent of Celtic knot work.  Perhaps that is another reason I am drawn to it.   In the end, however, it is Brad's mastery of the medium that makes this such an exquisite  piece.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

PhotoTao Card # 48 - Disease of Knowing

Disease of Knowing
Your own experience is the only
 reliable teacher.  Borrowed wisdom is
 not wisdom at all.

- Exercise -
If you draw this card, put it and all
the other cards away.  Put your books away.
Put all evidence of "borrowed wisdom" away.
Spend one month experiencing the world
through your photography and your own heart.
At the month's end ask yourself, "What have
I learned of myself as my own best teacher?"

Echos of Past Lives
    I suppose we don't give ourselves enough credit. We look to those whose opinion we value to direct our work. It is, of course, only natural. Especially when we are new to something, we look to the "masters".

    But this card encourages you to put aside all the masters and trust yourself. See what draws your attention, without judgement and without editing. I think you have to do this for at least a month and getting their words out of your mind is no easy task. (Although I hardly consider myself a "master", I include my words on this blog as well!  Forget it all!)

    If you are able to walk through the world with simply an open and engaging heart you will see wonderful things. Even in the most unusual this stalk of withered and dry leaves.

   Take a month to relax into your own deep awareness of the landscape or whatever else captures your imagination.  Come to recognize that many times you are your own best teacher.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The A, B, C's of Contemplative Photography - Q

Q is for Quest (and also for Qi and Quieting Your Mind and Quotidian and...)

   A long arduous search for something.

   Back in June of 2012 I wrote a post entitled, "Inside Every Question is a Quest".  I still believe this is true and an excellent motivation for contemplative photographers.  It really comes down to how you word the question.

   The practical, results driven photographer will word the question like this...

"Where can I find the best view of _______ (you fill in the location) so my photographs will be perfect?"

    The contemplative photographer may word the question a bit differently...

"Where is the best location to sit so I will be able to hear what this place has to tell me?"

   As I mention in the "O" post, it is important to remain an open-ended question so that your search for meaning in the landscape is fluid and not tightly defined.  For me, my daily quest is prefaced by a very simple question..."How can a stay calm and fresh sighted today?"  This is all I need to do to assure that my quest is always fulfilled.

   I think I'll print this out and laminate it and keep it in my camera bag!  Feel free to copy this from my Pinterest site's contemplative photography board and make one for yourself.  Here's the link....



Friday, November 8, 2013

Rawiya - She Who Tells a Story

  During my recent visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston I got to see this amazing exhibit of photographs by Iranian women photographers.  It was breathtaking and incredibly moving.

   The image on the left is a detail of an immense triptych that greets the viewer when you enter the exhibit.  What looks like mosaic and beads is actually gold and silver shell casings.

   The image on the right was equally large.  You think you are looking at earrings but you are gazing down the barrel  of a gun.   I had to try and record what I saw so I could share it with you and all I had, of course, was my cell phone but I think you can certainly get the feeling of the powerful and yet subtle photographs.  The stories these women tell is compelling and thought provoking.

   I loved the way some of the photographers wrote directly on the finish print.

   As a contemplative photographer who writes a lot about my images, the idea of writing on them was inspiring.  I might experiment with this idea in a book project.

    I think combining the words with the image makes the photograph into more than what it first appears. In an art process that is very mechanical, this simple act of physically writing on the finished print engages the artist/photographer with the artifact/photograph.  In fact, all the photographs in this exhibit were, I felt, documentary photography as a fine art.  Even if you didn't know the back story of these pieces, they would stand alone as masterful works of art.

   Inspiration can come at any time and through ways you couldn't imagine.  That's why I encourage you to seek out exhibits of all sorts.   Here is link to the exhibit and for those of you within driving distance of Boston, it is up through January.  Do try to see it, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Finding Inspiration at the Museum of FIne Arts, Boston...

Instructions for visiting a museum...
  I visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston recently and I always find it an inspiring place to be.  This is a neon art piece (tough to photograph, especially if all you have is a cell phone!) I saw there.  A very innovative way to greet visitors.

   I use to bring my Grade 8 students to the MFA every year.  Now I just get to experience the place on my own.  Although the vast majority of the museum is about everything other than photography, it is still an amazing experience to just be in the presence of such beauty and creativity.

   I've mentioned before that visiting museums to see art, not just photography, is a great way to get the creative juices flowing.  Here are a few things I saw on my "field trip" to the MFA.

The photograph on the left is of the lobby in the new wing of the museum and the sculpture on the right is in the "old" section of the museum.  

  ( Read my post, Revealing and Concealing here.)
     I'll say one thing, I was having fun photographing with my cell phone camera! 
   A hundred years ago (well, it seems like 100 years ago...) I worked at the MFA during my graduate work at Harvard.  It was a very different museum then.  No contemporary art at all and the stuffy old galleries seemed to scream 19th century.  Now it is a world class museum.
     Some things never change this breathtaking view of the rotunda in the main museum.  They now have mirrors (which is how I made this photograph) to look at it with so you don't get a stiff neck .

   I saw an stunning show of watercolors by Boston native, John Singer Sargent.  His very impressionistic studies were marvelous, light infused masterpieces .  I particularly loved this study of a clothes line but this quotation of his landscape paintings resonated with my contemplative soul.

Sargent ignored grand, expansive vistas in favor of
 the scene immediately before him. 

   In a photography exhibit, An Enduring Vision which represents part of the extensive Lane collection of photography, I saw a work by a former professor of mine, Gyorgy Kepes.  Professor Kepes was teaching at MIT but came to Harvard where I was studying to teach a class in visual design.
Untitled - Chicago, 1939

   Kepes was a pioneer in the post war movement towards modernism and I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to study with him.  So many of my ideas on structure and composition were formed during his class.  I will end this rather lengthy, for me anyway, post with a quotation from Professor Kepes...


The most convincing artistic forms of our time are inner models of structural vitality and social relevance. They give us confidence that in spite of everything there is still quality to life.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Guided Meditaiton - Autumn


In Autumn I can smell somebody drinking their hot chocolate and making noise as I walk by their houses.
In Autumn I can smell the cold, frosty wind blowing by as I am walking on the grass.
In Autumn I can touch the wind blowing my hair and the Autumn  leaves stuck in it like a bee in a flower.
In Autumn I can touch the crunchy leaves in my hands, turning into pieces and being blown away by the wind.
In Autumn I can hear footsteps stepping on the leaves making sounds like crunchy crisps.
In Autumn I can hear the birds singing on a chilly morning from my window.
In Autumn I cans see the wind blowing the leaves like a fan blowing a paper.
In Autumn I can taste the orange, green, red leaves that are crunchy, wanting to eat and hoping to taste like crisps

- sanjita gurung

   Here in New England, November is a humbling month.  The glorious colors are gone and the trees are stripped of their leaves.  Everything seems to be holding its breath in anticipation of what is to come.  There is still a lot a contemplative photographer can experience in a walk through the November landscape.

   The poem above seeks to stimulate all the senses to participate in the experience of an Autumn wood.  Copy it, print it out and take it with you...find a place to just sit, an old fallen log perhaps.  Let all your senses revel in the joys of November. 

   I've always felt that November has a particular smell about it.  Near my home are wild grape vines and when I can smell the ripen grapes I know it is November.  I also love seeing the bare bones of the landscape, the dark trees etching lace-like patterns in the grey sky. Pulling the seed heads from the wild flowers and scattering them is my way of believing in the future.  Some will sprout no doubt and I can feel I've aided their survival in some small way like those plump grey squirrels burying acorns they'll forget to dig up.

    After a time of just sitting and taking in the "Novemberness" of the landscape, see what draws your attention and what inspires you to release the shutter.