One of my husband’s best friends passed away yesterday, suddenly, without notice. It is part of this season of grief.
In her books The Artist’s Rule, Lectio Divina, Eyes of the Heart, and Soul of the Pilgrim, Christine Valters Paintner recommends using some key practices to put us in the state of mindfulness. One of these practices is lectio divina, or “sacred reading.” Paintner outlines the process in Lectio Divina–The Sacred Art of Transforming Words and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer with four “movements.”
The first movement is “Settling and Shimmering.” In other words, the reader settles and quiets the mind (and body) and reads through a selected passage while listening for a word, phrase, or sentence that “shimmers,” or stands out for some reason.
The second movement calls for the reader to re-read the same passage. Literacy experts often point out that current practice does not value re-reading enough. It is a powerful strategy, not only for comprehension, but for letting a text settle further into the mind. In this second phase, Paintner encourages the reader to allow that word, phrase, sentence, passage, to sink in and to work in and on the mind. She encourages the reader to allow the passage to help us recall memories and make connections with the physical senses and to savor this experience.
In the third movement, Paintner asks the reader to consider how the passage is affecting the reader or leading the reader to a “new awareness” or understanding.
And, finally, the fourth movement calls the reader to slow down and be still. At this point, the reader can move into prayer or a prayer-like state. This final stage calls for even more stillness and allowing ourselves “simply to be.” Allowing ourselves this kind of stillness is not always easy to do. Yet, stillness an awareness are key.
Of course, in the Benedictine practice, the texts used would be sacred texts. But I think you could use any inspiring text to practice lectio divina. For example, for the last couple of years, I have been fascinated with “day books” of readings from a variety of authors: Rilke, Rumi, and Thomas Merton. I especially like Rilke and Rumi because of their use of imagery.
I see using lectio divina in this way, which is also the way Edward Goode outlines in his article, “Imago Scriptura: Imaging the Scriptures.” Goode follows Paintner’s outline and takes it one step further. After reading and praying and meditating over the passage (Goode actually began praying the Psalms in this way), he went for photo walks and allowed himself to receive images that reflected the literal or figurative word he received from his daily reading.
This week, in my Thirty-One Days series, I’m going to (try to) use passages from A Year with Rilke to practice some variation of lectio divina. I begin today:
“The Moon” (from Uncollected Poems , a reading for October 25 in A Year with Rilke)
The way that body, the moon, sublime, purposeful,
suddenly steps over the peaks,
bringing the night to serene completion.
Just so my voice rises purely
over the mountains of No Moon.
And the astonished places you inhabited
and left ache more clearly for you.
Those last two lines speak so clearly to me, especially in my season of grieving for my father. I thought about how I could illustrate this poem and these lines, and I thought of an image I made last week. In my walk around the state park, I come to this chimney, or at least the remains of a chimney, a reminder of a house place or a homestead long abandoned. Sometimes, I feel an “ache” to know who lived there “once upon a time,” to know why those persons left, and why the chimney is all that remains. Thus, this is my image that comes from this poem:
Will you join me this week and share your images that you received after reading and pondering and meditating on some passage of inspiring literature?
As a child, I heard the saying “Practice makes perfect.” But I’ve changed my thinking: only perfect practice makes perfect. But practice does create habits. Contemplative photography is a practice, like yoga. The more we practice, the better we get.
I was reading in Effortless Beauty about seeing. Julia Dubose states several times that we often do not really see what’s in front of us because we we have our minds elsewhere. And sometimes when we focus our minds on something, we see that thing. For instance, if we go out looking for color or shape, then we will find those very things. It’s as if we can’t see anything else for those things.
I am taking a “weekend break” from the contemplative practice of photography. My older son is a high school band director, and his band is competing this weekend in the SC Lower State Marching Band Competition. This will be the first time that I will see his students perform. Therefore, I am stepping away from the series for a couple of days. I’ll be back Monday, though. (Sometimes a mom has to do what a mom has to do!)
I will leave you with a question: what will you see through your camera lens this weekend?
I went out looking for shapes in August. I found these beautiful heart-shaped leaves on this morning glory vine.
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?
There are a couple of ways that we can think about the word abstract. In the academic publishing world, authors often must write “abstracts” that provide the reader with an overview of the essential points of an article or a dissertation or a book. The writer focuses in on those points that give the work its shape and direction. In art, “abstract” often refers to a nonliteral artistic representation of an idea, theme or subject, often relying on color or shape to suggest the subject.
I’m going to refer to Freeman Patterson again. He writes of the photographer’s need to abstract a subject or scene to see the lines, shapes, and colors and tonality. He suggests that since our subjects are made up of these things, then it is necessary to see those things. And sometimes, we can use these elements to suggest a subject in a non-literal way.
I am often fascinated by reflections in water. There is enough literal detail in this image (the shoreline with the bottoms of the trees) to indicate that I am making a photograph of trees. However, the main part of the image is the reflection. When I took the image, the wind was blowing and the lake surface was ripples.. Nature made the image an abstract. The trees reflected on the water’s surface suggest autumn color without being a literal representation.
There are other ways to make abstract photographs. David du Chemin suggests horizontal or vertical camera movement to blur the image. Using a subject with straight lines works very well for this type of photography.
Kim Manley Ort suggests focusing on a part of a subject and capturing just enough of the subject to suggest what it is, as I did for this image of the zinnia.
Andy Carr in his book on the practice of contemplative photography takes it a step further and says that we can focus on the color alone or a particular shape or line. There really is no one way to “do” abstract photography.
Making abstract photographs, though does force us to slow down and look closely at the object or the scene and pick out the most telling detail. In some ways, it is like deconstructing the subject and examining each part. Sometimes, the abstract says more to the viewer than the literal interpretation.