This week, I have found the camera. Actually, I’ve been carrying it around. I took it with me to a family reunion on Sunday, and it sat on the table unused. Instead, I spent the time talking with relatives I see only once a year or so, but have contact through social media and email and such.
I made memories.
I mentioned earlier this week that I took my mother on a road trip to North Carolina to get apples and to visit a vineyard for a wine tasting. The camera rode along, but stayed quietly in the back seat. Instead, Mama and I talked and shared memories of Daddy.
Sometimes, it is important to create the images in my head rather than on a camera sensor.
But now, that Canon 7D calls me and begs me to take it out. The part of me that still grieves four losses in the last two months resists that call. The abyss still looms. Yet, in the abyss, I see beauty.
I am reading Freeman Patterson’s book Photography and the Art of Seeing. While Patterson does not call what he talks about “contemplative photography,” it is very much in that vein. He gives the “theory” of learning to see the photograph, not just through the lens of the camera. It is very easy to “point and shoot” with a camera these days, and digital photography makes it easy to shoot images without thinking, as we had to do when we were limited to twenty-four or thirty-six frames on a roll of film. I’m finding that as I practice contemplative photography, I take fewer images and spend more time looking.
Both Patterson and Christine Valters Paintner advocate looking at the world through what Paintner calls a “soft gaze.” Patterson describes it this way: we look at the scene or subject in front of us taking note of what’s there. Then we allow our vision to go out of focus, still noticing, though what is there, this time in terms of lines, shapes, colors. Then we bring the scene back into focus, looking at specifics until we take our vision out of focus. We repeat the process until we are ready to photograph.
As I walk, I seem to walk without that sense of “focus.” I become conscious of color and shape and even lines (although sometimes I think I resist the lines because of my very global learning style and tendencies). And these are the things that I tend to photograph.
The purpose of the practice of contemplative photography is not to make great art so much as it is to teach us to see the world as it is. In this practice, weeds become wildflowers, and wildflowers become beauty.