Friday, August 29, 2014

In Their Own Words: Walker Evans

  I was reading an old piece in the New Republic recently.  It was the talk that Walker Evans did for a class at Harvard in 1975, just 2 days before his death.

   He spoke in an off the cuff, free-flowing manner of his life as a photographer but one particular phrase jumped out at me:

"...some of the best things you 
ever do sort of come through you."  

   Now, Walker Evans would never be described as a contemplative photographer.  He was one of the premier social realists of the 20th century and I am a great admirer of his work.  But here is an illusion to something I've often felt as a contemplative photographer...that it isn't so much my doing that makes the image.  I am merely an instrument through which something flows, a conduit of sorts.  I may hold the camera but it is the landscape that creates the image.

   I hope that doesn't sound overly mystical.  It isn't that at all.  It is simply that when I am in the landscape and I allow myself to be totally open to the energy of the place, I sometimes find myself directed or drawn to particular images.  I try not to think too much about it when it happens...I just let it be what it is and I make the best photograph I can.  It is why I often refer to my photographs as being "received", gifts as it were.

   In many ways, this is what defines the contemplative photographer for me.  This ability to allow things to "come through you".  You abdicate control in a manner of speaking.  You let the landscape direct your lens.

   I leave tomorrow for the contemplative photography retreat on Star Island where I will try to open people to this sort of experience through visual listening exercises.  It isn't easy to "teach" something that has to be experience first hand but I will try. It all begins with practice true mindfulness.  The best I can hope for is that people will begin to understand the importance of letting go...the need to remain an empty vessel.  When you can do that, all sorts of wonderful things will pour in.

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