Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Living in the Shadowlands...

   There can be no appreciation of the light without an understanding of the shadow.  I've been photographing shadows recently; fascinated by the cast shapes and patterns.  I find them a revealing metaphor.

   The chair's shadow tells us nothing about the chair; not its size, its shape or much else about it.  In fact, you would never be able to guess what the object was if you only had the shadow to look at.

   I was sitting on the observation platform of an old train which I took as a pleasant diversion on a late summer day.  And while the scenery was lovely, it was the shadows on the deck that held my attention.  As the train moved, the shadows changed shape, becoming more elongated and distorted.  By the time we had reached the station, they were gone altogether.

   Time and circumstance bend and twist our realities in many ways, like the shadows, but we remain as we are, regardless of whatever temporary shadows we cast...

Keep your face always toward the sunshine
 and shadows will fall behind you.

- Walt Whitman


   This post reminded me of a film I haven't seen in a number of years.  Shadowlands tells the true story of C.S. Lewis and his love affair and subsequent marriage to an American divorcee.  The acting is wonderful and it explores the hidden dimensions - shadowlands - that we all have.

    I bought the film, No Greater Love, by Michael Whyte recently. It depicts the cloistered lives of a convent of Carmelite nuns in England.  It is the follow up to Into Great Silence which documents the lives of an order of French monks. (You can read the post I did of it here...)  No Greater Love is like watching a Vermeer painting come to life and I paused it again and again to just savor the light and compositions.   I find myself doing that more and more with films...pausing them and savoring some detail.  Films created by true masters of the medium can be viewed that way...a series of beautiful "stills".

Monday, September 29, 2014

Inspired by Eeyore

  I find much wisdom and inspiration in children's books.  The stories of A.A. Milne being some of my favorite.  I've always held that the characters in his famous Winnie-the-Pooh stories are archetypes for the human condition.

   In general, I think I am a bit like Winnie but we all possess the characteristics of all the friends at Pooh Corner from time to time.  Who hasn't had a down day when the grumblings of Eeyore seem so apropos?   I'm taking these Eeyore quotes for today's inspiration. 

   I am a great fan of weeds.  There stubbornness and persistence and their will to live is admirable.  Perhaps we might wish they would choose to live elsewhere than in the beds of our flower gardens but some I allow to stay, like the wild phlox.

   The lady who helps me with my garden from time to time, a professional master gardener, shakes her head at this but I don't care, "Weeks are flowers too, once you get to know them."

   At the risk of sounding like a complete crack pot, I do talk to my plants on occasion. I always have.  But this final bit of inspiration from Eeyore is equally important and one I try to practice daily during the gardening season.

"I was just sittin' here enjoyin'
the company.  Plants got
a lot to say, if you take
the time to listen."
- Eeyore

  Even though the gardening season is at an end here in Maine, there are still plenty of plants you can commune with. The fall asters are still "buzzing".  Makes you want to take a cup of tea out to the garden, doesn't it!  Don't forget your camera!
A Related Past Post:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Landscape as Archetype...

  Sometimes I think my life is one big synchronistic dance!  I have been thinking a great deal about my little meditation garden and design possibilities for it.  I wanted it to be more than just another place with plants.  It triggered a series of connections that ended, as many do for me, with photography. 

  First I got my weekly newsletter from A Sacred Journey where Lacy mentioned a website that allows you to plot out your own archetype chart.  (Which is really fun to do by the way.  Try it here...)

   That got me thinking about the possibility of discovering archetypes in the landscape.  The next thing I knew, I was ordering a book, The Inward Garden by Julie Moir Messervy.   In it, she identifies seven archetypes in the landscape...the sky, the sea, the cave, the harbor, the promontory, the island and the mountain. (Of course, I saw my little meditation garden as the harbor.)

This whole chain of events happened a few days before I left for St. Joseph's Abbey.  It primed me to experience the landscape around St. Joseph's in a whole new way...as archetype.

   As I drove up the one mile long driveway to the abbey I was immediately taken by the rolling green fields that surrounded me.  The monks chose the center of the 2,500 acres, on a crest of a hill, to site their buildings.  From that vantage point you gaze out on vast seas of green.  It was the exact same "oceanic effect" I had on Star Island only now it was green rather than blue.

   In her book, Messervy also equates the sea with "withinness" associated with our first sensation of floating in our mother's womb.  With the immersion effect of the real or symbolic sea of the landscape we experience that inward world which was our first experience of space.  Very powerful and evocative thinking.

   The sky also seemed bigger to me here.  There was a kind of interplay between height and distance going on that was very appealing. Messervy calls it the "transcendent world". Now, I have a lot more reading and thinking to do about this idea of archetypes in the landscape as I immerse myself in this wonderful book but the seed has been planted.  (Oops!  Back to gardening again!)

   One can find connections everywhere you look.  The important thing is to recognize that interconnections exist in the world...visual as well as literary.  Thoughts, ideas, images...all are a great well the contemplative photographer can draw from. (Hmm, could that be another archetype?)

   I found that adults remember vividly their childhood contemplative places, and long for such spaces in their contemporary lives.  These images from our early lives carry strong physical, psychological, and spiritual meaning forever.
 The Inward Garden, page 26

   Do you  have special contemplative places from your youth?  One of my favorites was a tree house my Grandfather and I built in an old apple tree.  It was a place I could withdraw to...pull up the ladder and escape.  That memory has stayed with me all my life.  One of my saddest childhood memories was when my Father knocked down the old tree with his bulldozer as he leveled the backyard.  Something quite special was also leveled that day and I think I have been seeking that place of retreat all my life in some way or another.  My little meditation garden will be my recreation of this youthful sanctuary.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Living in the Border World...

   The monks at St. Joseph Abbey live in a kind of border world between the sacred and the worldly.  They have chosen a life that tries to walk the difficult line of being of this world but not in it.  Retreatents are given a small glimpse of this border world.

   The Trappist order is a cloistered order and the monks never venture outside the monastery except for medical reasons. It is a lifestyle that is hard to fathom for most of us but it certainly has it appeal.  They live a completely stress-free existence and we could all do with a bit less stress in our lives.  That is one of the reasons I stay in monasteries whenever I can.

   For the vast majority of the world, these brief respites are just that, brief.  At some point we have to return to the "real world" and deal with it all.  I found a breadcrumb that I've mulled over quite a bit since my return.

   It wasn't so much the dried grass that filled the crack in the sidewalk but that it seemed to separate the old, faded asphalt from the newer, dark section...a border world in miniature.

   I'd walked on this sidewalk several times already but this time it caught my attention and made me stop and look at it.  That is the real definition of a "breadcrumb" for me.  It is an image that makes you put the brakes on...an image that interrupts your day and says, "Hey...you who are in such a hurry.  Stop and look at me!  I have something to tell you!"

   The grass was soft looking and inviting...Nature bridging the gap between the old and new...blunting the hard surfaces with its appealing texture.  The asphalt was hot in the sun but the grass was many degrees cooler.  It seemed a good place to be.

   The monks, here at St. Joseph, live in this kind of world, this border place, and for a short time I did too.  Then it occurred to me that living in a "border world" is a choice I could make.  I could partake of both, the dark and the light, and rest serenely in between.  It is my choice, it has always been my choice.

    The monks acquire this land in 1950 and moved their monastery here when the one they were living in in Rhode Island was destroyed by a devastating fire.  They built it entirely with their own hands using the native field stone they found all over the property, mainly in stone walls that criss-crossed the landscape.

   In a video presentation I watched about the history of the abbey, I learned that the monks designed the buildings and built the entire monastery in less than two years. It was a finely crafted and beautifully designed group of buildings and I was extremely impressed. 

   In a way, this place reminded me of the Shaker Villages I have visited and that also represented an attempt to create a "heaven on earth".  The monks have succeeded admirably, I think.  To a much less extent, that is what I am trying to do with my garden...gardens are my idea of heaven on earth.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Gathering Breadcrumbs at St. Joseph's Abbey...

On my window sill...
   I had brought three books with me to St. Joseph's Abbey for my weekend retreat.  I planned to do a lot of reading during my stay.  I also planned to do a bit of "reading" of the landscape around the retreat house through the lens of my camera.

   Gathering breadcrumbs, my contemplative practice of randomly receiving images as I stroll through a location, is a way I read the "text" of that particular place.  Everywhere we find ourselves is like entering into a vast story book of place and time.  Gathering breadcrumbs is like flipping through the book and letting our finger come to rest on a single sentence.  It is not the whole story, just a tiny part.  Each person will find and respond to a different sentence in the story.

   Each breadcrumb is an opportunity to reflect on meaning; both personal and universal.  It is a dialogue with world around me...whispers from the landscape.  They can occur indoors or out but they all are moments of pause.

In the early evening sky...
   Some breadcrumbs are subtle and gentle, like the solitary leaf on the window sill of my room in the retreat house.  Some can be dramatic and evocative, like the jet trail in the sky about the monastery.  There is no need to go beyond the obvious...I saw this, it made me pause.  Metaphors, interpretations, the process I call Photo Lectio, can be done later...sometimes much, much later, sometimes not at all.

   The world is a vast, unending novel for me.  Each location another chapter.  But there is an undercurrent, a theme that runs through it all and that theme will be different for everyone who walks in the landscape.  It is a theme that each of us brings with us, along with our camera and journal.  Here are a couple more of my breadcrumbs from my time at St. Joseph's...

Hanging from a tree branch...

In a Mirror's Reflection...

   Tomorrow I will discuss one breadcrumb that had special significance for me...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Nature's Canvas...

Night Visions
   In the three months I've been visiting the pond, I've come to regard the surface of the water as an enormous canvas that Nature daily paints with wild abandon.  Great abstract expressionist renderings of light and color.

   Frankly, I am amazed to find that these images have begun to take on a life of their own...completely detached from the context of the landscape surrounding the pond.

   This is pure poetic expression and something I have never really experimented with before.  But that is what makes taking on a project like this so captivating.  It will often lead you to places you had never envisioned when you began.
   Except for minor adjustments to tone and contrast, these images are as Nature painted them.  I simply chose the section of her "composition" to record in the photograph.

   I can't wait to see what wild and wonderful compositions I will witness once the Autumn foliage begins to appear along the banks of the pond!  I can just imagine the swirling streaks of red and orange!

   Here is a link to a photographer that specializes in water abstractions.  These stunning images may inspire you to visit Nature's art gallery for yourself and bring home a beautiful "painting" for your wall.

Spilled from the Shore
J.W. Johnston - Water Abstracts

In every landscape should
reside jewels of abstract
art waiting to be

- Melissa Brown

In every landscape should reside jewels of abstract art waiting to be discovered.” – Melissa Brown - See more at: http://www.johnpaulcaponigro.com/blog/11090/38-quotes-on-abstraction/#sthash.L6iXVuZ1.dpuf
“In every landscape should reside jewels of abstract art waiting to be discovered.” – Melissa Brown - See more at: http://www.johnpaulcaponigro.com/blog/11090/38-quotes-on-abstraction/#sthash.L6iXVuZ1.dpuf
“In every landscape should reside jewels of abstract art waiting to be discovered.” – Melissa Brown - See more at: http://www.johnpaulcaponigro.com/blog/11090/38-quotes-on-abstraction/#sthash.L6iXVuZ1.dpuf
“In every landscape should reside jewels of abstract art waiting to be discovered.” – Melissa Brown - See more at: http://www.johnpaulcaponigro.com/blog/11090/38-quotes-on-abstraction/#sthash.L6iXVuZ1.dpuf

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My Daily Practice of Zuihitsu...

   Zuihitsu (随筆) is a genre of Japanese literature consisting of loosely connected personal essays and fragmented ideas that typically respond to the author's surroundings. It is roughly translated into "follow the brush".  I think it is a very apt description of my practice of gathering "breadcrumbs" in the landscape; something I very often do wherever I find myself.  In my case, zuihitsu is more like "follow the lens".

   Now that I think about the analogy, this entire blog is an example of zuihitsu!  My daily posts meander shamelessly from topic to topic and that is how I like it.  It is really how my mind works in most things so, why not this blog!

   I prefer to think of it as a kind of stream of consciousness thing.  One idea leads to another and you end up finding yourself in the most interesting and unlikely places.  Like the photographic breadcrumbs that lead me through a landscape.  

   This blog post was connected to a passage I read in a book, a breadcrumb I picked up at the pond, some signs I saw on Star Island, and a digital collage I made of them...talk about random!  But, like this photograph of the branch, there is a connection.

   All the topics I pursue are connected by the thread of my contemplative practice...my seeking metaphors in the landscape and the joy of finding commonplace enchantments wherever I am.  So, I must ask you...
  ...for that is where you will find your inspiration, Here & There and everywhere!  No need to travel to faraway places with strange sounding names, as the song goes.  Your contemplative landscape is as near as your back door in fact, you don't have to leave your house at all!

   Follow your internal GPS and make the ancient Japanese art of zuihitsu a part of your contemplative practice.  Who knows where it will lead you?

Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said: ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’

‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

― Lewis Carroll

   Now, how in the world did I get from zuihitsu to contemplative photography to Wonderland?  Curiouser and Curiouser....



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Seeing is what happens between the photographs..

   Honestly, if I never picked up a camera again I would forever me thankful for the way photography has opened my eyes to the world around me.  In many ways, however, the camera can inhibit pure perception.  When you bring the viewfinder to your eye, you immediately "exclude" something.  I've made it a contemplative practice to spend time with those excluded areas of the landscape after I make a photograph.

Lines of Communication
   Seeing is what happens between the photographs.

    Seeing is both an eye and a heart thing for me...the camera an intermediary in the process and sometimes, often really, it doesn't "see" what I see.  Perhaps the light wasn't just right or, more likely, I chose the wrong aperture or some other technicality.   For whatever reasons, I rely on my field notes, sketches, and memory to translate the image visually into what I felt emotionally on location.

      Perhaps it was the lowering of the water level at the pond that exposed the lily pad stems and the approaching Autumn that colored them but I don't remember seeing them this shocking magenta before.  It really brought me to a stand still.  The contrast with the green pads was stunning.

   I had photographed the area and then put the camera aside and really looked at what was in front of me.  It was then I noticed the red stems.  The camera cannot see anything it isn't pointed at just like a brush cannot paint without the artist setting it in motion.  Camera and brush are static and impotent tools without the thoughtful spirit of the artist behind them.  Artistic vision is when we are able to string together a series of these "in-sights" and those happen first without the camera pressed to our eye.

Vision is the art of seeing what
 is invisible to others.
 - Jonathan Swift


Monday, September 22, 2014

Settling into a Heightened Sense of Awareness....

   I always get such wisdom and inspiration from the daily meditations from Fr. Richard Rohr, the
founding director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

   I tried one of his exercises at the pond which, in many ways, is what I try to do with my visual listening exercises.  The first thing I notice was the rusty red tone of the sand along the water's edge.  I hadn't really noticed it before as I was usually focused on the sky reflections on the surface of the water.  It is probably a manifestation of the high levels of iron that can be found in this area but it was the color that drew me in and made me stay and look deeper.  Here is the exercise you might like to try yourself...

Rest: Practicing Awareness

   With your senses (not so much your mind), focus on one single object until you stop fighting it or resisting it with other concerns. The concrete is the doorway to the universal. This should lead to an initial calmness in your body and mind.

Surface Tension
   You must choose not to judge the object in any way, attach to it, reject it as meaningless, like it or dislike it. This is merely the need of the ego to categorize, control, and define itself by preferences.      

   You will thus learn to appreciate and respect things in and for themselves, and not because they profit or threaten you. This should lead to a kind of subtle, simple joy in the object and within yourself.

   “Listen” to the object and allow it to speak to you. Speak back to it with respect and curiosity. You thus learn to stop “objectifying” things as merely for your own consumption or use. You are learning to allow things to speak their truth to you as a receiver instead of the giver. 

  This will lead to the beginnings of love for the object and a sense of loving kindness within yourself.  A kind of contented spaciousness and silence will normally ensue. This is a form of non-dual consciousness. The concrete, loving consciousness of one thing leads to pure consciousness or “objectless consciousness” of all things.

    The Fr. Rohr's book, The Naked Now, is a favorite of mine.  It has helped me a great deal in honing my visual listen skills and I recommend it as required reading for all contemplative photographers.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Celebrating the Seasons - The Autumn Equinox

   The plants know it, the birds and animals certainly sense it, we have reached the tipping point.  Today there is an equal amount of light and dark but tomorrow the darkness begins to take over.  Slowly, but surely, the days will get shorter and shorter.

   We celebrate September 21st as the first day of Autumn but the ancient Celts thought it the half way point between autumn and winter.

   As a contemplative photographer, this is the day to take to the woods and begin observing the transformations that are well under way.  It is a time to let all your senses guide you and here in Maine my nose leads the way.

   There is a decided smell to autumn and on a warm late September day it is particularly noticeable.  Indian Summer, a period of warmth after the first frost, can trigger all sorts of delicious smells...like the old grape vine near my well.  It has a distinct and delicious smell.  So do the leaves and the smell of wood smoke as we light our first fires of the season.

"The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.
-   John Updike, September

   So take all your senses, your camera and your journal for a woodland walk this week.  Celebrate the season of in-turning and letting go. 

  What wisdom waits for you during these days of contrast when all that has gone before is fallen at  your feet?  And for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, what new signs of life are emerging?  What are your particular smells of spring?


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Polishing the Lens; Everything is Holy Now...

Above all else, contemplative photography is about seeing...seeing things as they are.  Seeing things with all the clarity of perception we can muster.  To do that we need, occasionally, to polish the lens.  Vision can get cloudy over time.  Despite our best intentions, we can fall into the trap of seeing what we want to see, not what is really in front of us.  We all have the tendency to want to "sanitize" our world...make it, perhaps, a purer more perfect place, as if the dark sides to existence are to be avoided at all costs.

   Then there are those who revel in the darker side.  Those haunting images of the decayed, broken and dark elements of our world.  For me, I try to find a middle ground.  I accept the dark but I don't dwell in it.  I also realize that the two, taken together, heightens the experience of both... 

What good is the warmth of summer, without
 the cold of winter to give it sweetness.
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

   The pond's water level is dropping, exposing the mud and muck that before was beneath the lovely reflections dancing on the surface.  It was always there, of course, but concealed.  Now it is there to offer us a glimpse at the underside.  The rotting vegetation may not be pretty, and it certainly doesn't smell sweet, but it is what feeds the pond.  It is what gives it life. We may prefer to photograph the water lilies but it is the rotting muck that makes them possible.  It is easy to turn away from the underside but it too has wisdom to offer us. 

    I call this "polishing the lens".  It is walking the borderline between the dark and the light, appreciating both but not dwelling totally in either.  It is the balance that is important and which the Tao teaches us to seek.  When your inner lens is clear then you will embrace both views and not judge them.  There are no "bad" locations or subjects for the contemplative photographer, only lenses than could do with a bit of a polish.

    The inspiration for this post comes from Richard Rohr.  You might like to read the original post...

  This weekend I am in the sheltering sanctuary of St. Joseph's Abbey surrounded by an atmosphere of sacredness. I want to end this post by offering you a beautiful song by Peter Mayer that really describes how my camera and I walk through the world now.  Peter would have felt right at home with the Concord Transcendentalists.  He seems to echo the words of Emerson and Thoreau in so many ways in this song.  The beautiful images that accompany the song will inspire you as well, I'm sure.  I often find myself humming this tune while I am sitting in the landscape and it's title can ring as a kind of mantra for the contemplative photographer...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Weekend Retreat at St. Joseph's Abbey...

   I leave for the St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts today.  It is my first monastic retreat since staying at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky last year.  (You can read about that experience here...)

   My friends often wonder about my fascination for monastic retreats.  Being raised Protestant, it is not something I grew up with.  I must confess, I love the sublime quiet and introspection I find in a monastery, especially Trappist ones who practice the vow of silence.

   After my wonderful and "wordsful" weekend on Star Island, I long for the serenity of having a "wordless" experience.  It will be only me, my camera and my journal.  I've often said monastic retreats are a way for me to recharge my contemplative batteries.  I have two wonderful and inspirational books to bring and the weather looks like it will be ideal but the weather would have made no difference.  If there is anything I have learned from my years of practicing contemplative photography it is this.  We will receive the images we need, when we need them.  We may think we are there to photograph one thing but, in truth, we are there to receive the photographs we are gifted.  Once I settled into this frame of mind I found the experience, wherever I am, so much richer and illuminating.

   I've never visited St. Joseph's but I've bought their jams and jellies for years.  They are also the only Trappist brewery in America and no, before you start to giggle, that is not why I'm going there!  I am just seeking out a contemplative location I don't have to travel 3,000 miles to stay in and this one is in a particularly beautiful location.  I hope you have a lovely and contemplative weekend as well, no matter where you are or what you do.

   You can read other posts from Gethsemani...


Thursday, September 18, 2014

What are You Thinking About?

   I've always liked the idea of having a "project" to direct my camera work.  Right now, I have three.  Not that I work on each one everyday, of course.  But they are seldom far from my mind.  In between I gather "breadcrumbs" when and where I find them and some of those go into my daily photo journal, Memories4Me.  I search for interesting photography and photography related articles to post on my Google+ and Pinterest sites.  So I would say, photography in some way, shape or form is always on my mind.  What about you?  What occupies your mind right now?  Here is a link to 21 different photographic projects that may inspire you...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Seeking the Stones...

   Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal on September 23, 1858 of Dogtown,

It's "hills strewn with boulders, as if they had rained down, on every side..."

    That is a very apt description of this wilderness area...everywhere there are stones of immense size scattered randomly through the landscape. This is what we had come to see.

    Seventy three years after Thoreau's visit, Marsden Hartley came and painted those same rocks, fascinated by their form and intensity of presence.  Just three years after Hartley's work in Dogtown, another man came to leave his mark, quite literally, on the self same stones.

     Roger W. Babson hired out-of-work stonemasons during the 1930's to carve many of Dogtown's largest boulders with mottoes.  After visiting the site of the now broken Whale Jaw formation, we set out to locate some of these motto stones.  It wouldn't be as easy as we had thought.

  I'd left our map in the car.  It wasn't that good anyway but it may have helped us avoid a two hour hike that took us up and down hills, along the railroad tracks and right back to where we had begun with no sighting of the famous boulders.  We were hot, sweaty and discouraged.

   On our way back to the road and our cars, we tried one more turning and there, just a few hundred feet off the trail we had hiked in on two hours before, were three of the stones! 

   Perhaps Mr. Babson was having a bit of fun with us or, more likely, we were able to see the lovely landscape above, along with many other sites just because we got "lost". 

   I've often said that some of the best things I've seen in my travels were discovered when I'd gotten side-tracked from my original destination...today was no different. 

   We were only able to see three of the twenty four Babson Boulders and vowed to return in cooler weather to see the others.  If you would like to see what they look like, you can visit the link below but if you are able, make your own trip to Dogtown.  You might want to bring along a map or just let your internal GPS lead you along, either way, you won't be disappointed.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Returning to Dogtown...

...as with sacred places, so with the murderous spots. The record of events is written into the earth.
  - Henry Miller
The Colossus of Maroussi

   The last time I was in Dogtown, on Cape Ann in Massachusetts, was in 1974.  I was a freshman at university and my photography teacher had taken us on a field trip that autumn to walk the wilderness trails of Dogtown.  It was the first landscape I had been in that had a powerful energy and sense of place.  Forty years later, it is the kind of landscape that I fervently seek out.

   I really hadn't thought of it for decades until a serendipitous occurrence brought it flooding back. I'd asked a friend to give me any unwanted magazines for my SoulCollage® work. One of the ones she gave me was a copy of the Cape Ann magazine which featured an article on Dogtown.  That's all I needed.

   I knew she and her husband had lived on Cape Ann before coming to Maine so I asked them if they would like to visit the famous, or perhaps infamous would be a better description, landscape.  They said their friends, the ones who had given them the magazine in the first place, would welcome us to stay with them so we were all set.
   The area is about 3,600 acre's so we knew we couldn't see it all on our brief visit so we chose two parts.  The first was a walk to the Whales' Jaw formation...one of the ones I had visited forty years before on my field trip.  It had, sadly, been inadvertently destroyed by some people building a fire under the big stone, heating it up to such a degree that it cracked and broke away.  Now it is a sorry sight, covered in even more graffiti and surrounded by cast away beer cans, not an auspicious start to our outing.

   I wish I still had my photographs from that field trip in 1974 but they too, like the whale jaw, have disappeared.  It was time to make new memories, as well as new photographs, so we didn't tarry very long at the broken jaw.  

An old photograph of the Whale's Jaw.
   Dogtown is a mysterious and haunted location, one that you are advised not to hike in alone  It was the location of a horrific tragedy just ten years after my visit which has added to it's tarnished reputation.

   A fascinating book, Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town: Dogtown, written by Elyssa East, will give you the complete story. In my next post I will tell you about my own minor adventure in this fascinating place. I had returned to Dogtown by a series of interesting coincidences which simply said to me that I was meant to return.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Cultivating the Art of Seeing Simply...

   Being surrounded with visual possibilities, it is sometimes easy to become overwhelmed.  I feel that way sometimes at the pond where there is so much to distract me, so much to pull me in.

   When I become visually over loaded, I close my eyes and whisper, "See Simply...Simply See." I repeat this little mantra several times and it calms the visual receptors in my brain so that when I again open my eyes I can refocus them to perceive simplicity rather than chaos.

   This day I tried to cultivate the simple image.  An image that is soothing and sparse but still rich with texture and meaning.  This is one of my pond "Simplicities" - Wind on Water.  Although there was a subtle sense of movement, it also had a contrasting sense of calm with the great expanse of textured blue water.

   Haiku is the poetic equivalent of the image perceived simply.  This is the one I wrote as I sat on the edge of the pond after I made the photograph...

Wind on water flows
Across a silent blue pond
Rustling leaves respond

   Seeing simply isn't necessarily a minimalistic approach, although it can be.  For me, it is, simply put, the art of appreciating a small number of visual elements within the pictures frame.  Textured blue water and oval green lily pads is enough...it speaks of wind and movement...nothing else is needed...anymore dilutes the impression.

   Photographer and teacher, Kim Manley Ort, offers an online tutelage in the art of seeing simply called  Keeping it Simple.  A new session begins October 6th.  You might wish to explore this type of contemplative photography for yourself.  Kim offers this quotation for the art of seeing simply...

The simple things are also the most extraordinary
things, and only the wise see them.
- Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Gathering Breadcrumbs along the trail to Diana's Baths, North Conway, New Hampshire...

Crossing the Threshold

The Tiniest of Toads
Leaf Lace
Tree Scar
Contemplating the Falls
Roots and Rocks
The Final View
   There was so much to see, to stop and photograph, along the trail to Diana's Baths.  My favorite one, however, was the final image, the one of the water reflections and river rocks.  I think my time at Little Clemons Pond, enthralled with those reflections, had "primed the pump" so to speak. We are always the sum total of our past experiences.  I spent some time just gazing into the hypnotizing undulation of light and color.  Quite mesmerizing to be sure.  Gathering breadcrumbs along the way always leads you to your final destination and this was mine that day.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Serenity of Fog...

   The lake was enveloped in a rolling fog bank.  It soften the landscape and imbued the water with lovely tints of blue and mauve.  I love fog.

The fog is an illusion—
A master of disguise,
Which hides the tangible
Before our very eyes.
 - Walterrean Salley
       Fog softens sounds as well, like snowfall does.  Before the lake awoke this particular morning, the landscape was hushed, wrapped in a cloak of silence and serenity.  A half hour later it vanished and the landscape came to life but for these tranquil few minutes, the world was at peace.

   In the Autumn in New England, we often awaken to fog.  The air is chilling but the land and water are still warm.  I experienced this lovely effect at "my" pond recently.  Even though the sun was shinning in my yard, less than a mile from the pond, here everything was enveloped in mist.  The sun was trying to break through but a moment later the distant shore disappeared entirely only to re- appear a few minutes later.

   I noticed the same raising and lowering of the veil out on Star Island where the Atlantic fog bank alternately revealed and concealed adjacent Appledore Island.

   Seaside or pond-side, the effect is always similar. There is a purple tinge to the air caused by the water droplets in the fog and always an enveloping silence.When you are by the sea you can almost taste the salt in the misty air.

   My poetic soul loves the metaphor of fog as well.  We see and then we don't see...things appear and disappear as if by magic.  There is a message here...

Sometimes we need the fog to remind ourselves
that all of life is not black and white.
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Inspired by Alexandra de Steigeur

I photograph and write in an attempt to understand my place within this larger context, to delve deeply into a subject that has become familiar, and yet retains mystery.

   I was transported by Alexandra de Steigeur's powerful images of the stark reality of Star Island in the winter months.  Stripped of the hustle and bustle of the summer season, it reverts to its raw essence of sea, sky and rock.

   Attending her lecture while I was on Star was a gift and her passion for both her subject and her medium, monochrome photography, resonated with me on so many levels.  I had put aside my first love for the black and white image for the recent color work that has occupied me over the last year.  Now I felt I was ready to return to the monochrome image...it was an "Ah Ha" moment for me which I spoke about in an earlier post.

   It wasn't just a shift in medium that I gain from hearing Alex and looking at her images, it was a shift in focus as well.  I am always turning my eye to the small view; the intimate detail of the landscape.  Alex encourages us to consider the "big picture"...the more universal connection we share with the vastness of Nature which is so profoundly felt on this little island.  She calls this the "oceanic effect".  It is what she experienced as she sailed the Atlantic on a tall ship.

    And finally, I found inspiration in her adherence to a contemplative lifestyle that puts a greater premium on being with the landscape than on doing the photography...the need to be totally present and open to what the landscape has to say and not imposing one's will on either the place or the creatures that live there.  I hope to take this inspiration to the pond when next I visit.

Without the camera, I loved going outside. It didn't matter that the light be "just right", or the day dramatic. Only with the camera was there a certain expectation. I spent more time looking than appreciating, more time searching than seeing.

    Being a photographer can be a blessing and a curse, simultaneously.  If the head dominates the heart, which it often does as we struggle with technical considerations, when making takes precedent over meaning then the whole concept of the contemplative eye is lost for me.  I must remind myself every day that the personal encounter is my primary goal, not the finished photograph.