Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Visual Listening Checklist...

  I think the part of my practice as a contemplative photographer that I am questioned most about is my visual listening exercises.  For me, contemplation is something I do before and after the actual photographing.  While I am engaged with making the photographs I turn to a more intuitive mindset.

  What I mean by "visual listening" is that I'm using my eyes as the ears of my hear what the landscape has to say to me by the images I am drawn to.  As I said in a previous post, "light is the language of the landscape" and that can only be 'heard' through the eyes.

    The way I look at and engage the landscape effects the quality of the experience I have with it. So these visual listening exercises are very important for me.  I try to switch off my brain, which can be very judgmental and rational, and turn on the heart's sonar system.  It scans the landscape for visual clues.  Anything I can do to slow down will help this process.

   I thought it might be helpful for those who wish to try this way of easing into their location to have a checklist to follow.  Keep in mind, however, that these are my ways of establishing a link to the landscape and are not the only ways...just a starting point.

I.     Find a comfortable place to sit.

II.   Close your eyes and just listen to the sounds of the place you are in.

III.  With your eyes still closed, take in the scents...touch things around you...make physical contact with the landscape.

IV.   Open your journal and record your first impressions.  Do not edit not think too deeply about it...just record your initial reactions.  Let this play itself out for as long as it takes.

V.    Sketch if you like.  This step allows me to slow down and take in the essential elements of the landscape but isn't absolutely necessary.  These are not meant to be "fine art" just intuitive and spontaneous doodles.  You can make notes right on the sketch as a visual journal.

VI.   What draws your eye? Now you can take out your camera and do some photographic "sketches". Look up, down, left, right and behind.  Use vertical as well as horizontal formats. Try not to think too much about it at this stage.

VII.  I often return to the journal and continue my thoughts on paper.  If I've brought something to read or listen to, something to inspire me further, I will do it at this time.

VIII. Now, put everything down, take a deep breath and just listen...give the landscape a chance to filter into your heart.  This time can last for several minutes.  Now is the time to do more serious photo-making if you want.  You will know when it is time to get up and move.

IX.   See where the landscape leads you and gather "breadcrumbs" as you walk.  When you feel the need, sit down and rest, reflect, listen.

X.    Take out your journal/sketch and make further notes on things that seem important for you to remember about this place.  If you can, try returning to this location at a different time of day or in different weather and see if there is more to learn here.  One thing I often do as I leave a place is to stop, turn and look back.  Last looks can be powerful.

   I hope this checklist will aid in your endeavor to forge a meaningful link with the landscape.  Through it you can realize the divine presence in all created things in your own unique way.  For at the end of the day, the whispers we receive are meant for our ears only.  We will hear what our soul most needs to hear at that moment.

   Consider joining Kim Manley Ort and yours truly over Labor Day weekend for a Contemplative Photography retreat on Star Island in the Isles of Shoals off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  I will lead a morning teaching in the techniques of Visual Listening and Visual Journaling.  You will be able to practice this concept in a truly unique location aided by a personal guided meditation journal which you will receive.  Check out the link in the right side bar.

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