Book Club Thursday

Something different today, but still within keeping of the theme of Contemplative Photography.

I am a reader. I can devour books at the rate of one or two a day, depending on the kind of book. Of course, when I do that, nothing else gets done, not even writing blog posts or searching out new subjects to photograph or even the much needed purging and “fall cleaning.” (I’ve only lived in this house for three years. Where did all this “stuff” come from?!)

Today, I’m going to list a few of my favorite books about photography, especially contemporary photography and some of my favorite authors who may not call what they do “contemplative,” but who seem to express the essence of this practice.

Of course, my first recommendation is Eyes of the Heart by Christine Valters Paintner. She draws upon Christian contemplative and monastic practices as she writes about using photography as a way of engaging in contemplative prayer. She does not address the technical aspect of photography, but no book about the art and craft of photography can get away from discussions about the elements of photography.

A new favorite is Photography and the Art of Seeing by Freeman Patterson. He does not use the term “contemplative photography” in his book, but it is obvious that he does think of photography in that vein. His book is a workshop, if you will, that helps the photographer develop the ability to see the subject in different ways. Patterson does not address such technical aspects as focus, exposure, depth of field, and technique except to suggest that these are the tools of the craft. It is the seeing that is most important.

I just began reading Julia Dubose’s Effortless Beauty last night. So far, and I confess that I am only a couple of chapters into the book, she reiterates the same idea about seeing that Patterson and Paintner do: before making/receiving/taking a photograph, one must see the subject without judgment and bias, something that is hard to do. We approach our photographic subjects with preconceived ideas of what makes for good photography and appropriate subjects. Contemplative practices ask us to suspend those notions.

One of the key aspects of contemplative photography is seeing the everyday in new ways. Sometimes we take for granted the things we see and assume that because they are ordinary that they are not necessarily the “stuff” of photographs. A book that suggests otherwise (along with Patterson, Paintner, and Dubose) is Brenda Tharp and Jed Manwaring’s Extraordinary Everyday Photography: Awaken Your Vision to Stunning Images Wherever You Are. The subtitle is the key: you do not have to travel to exotic locations to find material to photograph. It’s right there in front of you at home or wherever you are. It’s a matter of seeing “differently.”

Liz Lamoreux’s Inner Excavation: Explore Your Self through Photography, Poetry, and Mixed Media takes contemplative photography a step further and invites us to explore our everyday as well, but with the idea of creating “art” from those photography explorations. Lamoreux moves from making images of the things around us to making self-portraits to tell the story of who we are at this moment in time.

One more recommendation, though not a book, but a magazine: Bella Grace published through Stampington presses. The magazine is a quarterly publication with rich photography and equally rich and thoughtful (and thought-provoking) writing. The publisher says the goal of the magazine is to find the beauty in the ordinary. The audience is definitely female, but the photography is so good. And another good magazine is Lenswork. The publication focuses more on the image than the words, but it is full of inspiration.

Two other authors I highly recommend for their online content are Kim Manley Ort and Guy Tal. Tal also published a book, More than a Rock. I think the title sums up the idea of contemplative photography. We may see a rock in front of us, but when we look closer, it is “more than a rock.”

There are probably some resources that I have not included. Please leave your suggestions in the comments below. I will update this list in the future. We can always use a good read, can’t we?

I love conversation, the close, intimate kind amongst friends. Won't you join me? I look forward to a good coze.

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