Category Archives: ReFrame

A Year, Really?

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I opened WordPress this afternoon to discover that I have not written or published anything since sometime in 2018.

What happened?

I suppose it’s just life. . . . The busy-ness of school from August to May, I suppose it could be pursuit of other interests, even. It may even be a loss of interesting in keeping a blog.

Yet, as a teacher of writing and composition, I know I need to write, and I need to write often. So today–on the 7th of April, I shall begin again–writing, photographing, and, most of all, finding the time to do this thing called blogging.

I am taking a course with Kim Manley Ort–six weeks in length–called “Place”. It’s all about developing a deeper sense of the place(s) we live. We began this week with a deep dive into geologic history. I have not yet taken out my camera to get a picture of the geologic sense of place. I should do that very soon! I am, perhaps, waiting until spring break in a week.

Here’s what I have learned, and what I already knew. I live in the Midlands of South Carolina, between the Low Country and the Piedmont/Foothills. It’s relatively hilly, unlike the Sandhills to the east, but not as hilly as the Upstate! The primary rock formations consist of quarts and mica, and a few other minerals, and I think there are even some gemstones around. At one time, there was a diamond mine over around Blythewood. I live near a small town (as in one “main” street, Highway 76) called Little Mountain. It is so named because it was founded at the base of a monadnock named Little Mountain. This area is also part of the Carolina shale belt. Millenia of erosion have taken down everything else but this rise, which geologists say is “highly mineralized” with the aforementioned quartz and other mineral rocks. Little Mountain is the highest elevation between the Coast and the Foothills. At one time it was probably a bustling train stop, but no more. The train tracks are still there, and the train does go through Little Mountain at least once a day, but there is no longer a depot, though the buildings remain, and the train no longer makes regular stops for pick-ups and deliveries.

At one time, the ocean did reach the Midlands. The Sandhills to the east are the vestiges of that prehistoric ocean front. I am afraid I wouldn’t know a fossil from a rock, though, so I’ve never gone fossil hunting in this area. Perhaps, if I could find someone who would help me, I wouldn’t mind looking for fossils in the rocks of the area. It could be an interesting pursuit.

There are no pictures today, but they are coming soon.

Notes toward a New Course

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In a previous post, I hinted at a new course I want to develop in my “ReFrame” classroom on Teachable.com. I’m thinking about how words and images, especially paintings and photographs, seems to fit together almost perfectly, as if cut out to make a jigsaw puzzle. In particular, I am exploring the idea that writing and photography are both contemplative practices. I won’t give away everything I’m thinking in the blog entry, but I will give you some “sneak peaks.”

Andy Carr, a “contemplative” photographer and author of the Seeing Fresh website, defines the term contemplative photography this way:

Contemplative photography is a method for seeing and photographing the world in fresh ways, to reveal richness and beauty that is normally hidden from view. Instead of emphasizing subject matter or the technical aspects of photography, the contemplative approach teaches you to see clearly, and make images based on fresh perceptions.

Notice that contemplative photography is not about the subject or the technique. It is all about seeing. It’s about noticing the “richness and beauty” of things that we often overlook. We often use the expression that we can’t see the forest for the trees when we get so caught up in details. However, sometimes, all we see is the forest, and we overlook the trees that make the forest beautiful and rich. (One reason for that, I believe, is that we live in a world that is too fast paced, and beauty rushes by us.)

Simply slowing down and paying attention to what catches our eye forces us into “noticing.”

I know that light shines through the windows at my house. There are two eastward-facing windows in my living room. As the sun rises in the morning, the room fills with light. I could be satisfied with that idea of “lightness” in the room. But one day, this caught my eye:

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This image is not technically perfect. The white balance is all out of whack. Composition is “off.” Cropping leaves a lot to be desired. Yet, it is rich and beautiful and reminds me of golden light. This is contemplative photography.

Contemplative photography is not about making images for others’ “consumption.” It is about YOU, the photographer. These are things that speak to YOU, first and foremost. I share a lot of my images, and if others relate to them in some way, I am glad, and if not, that’s okay, too. Contemplative photography is all about the noticing.

Contemplate, the verb, is defined this way

to look thoughtfully for a long time at [something]; to think about; to think profoundly at length, meditate

Do you notice that first definition, “to look thoughtfully for a long time at”? When we approach photography from a contemplative practice, we don’t always just press the shutter at the first thing we see, or the first thing we notice. We look at the thing thoughtfully for a bit to see if it resonates with us somehow, and then we press the shutter.

This is one of the practices I’ll take up in the upcoming “Words and Images” course. And I’ll explore writing as a contemplative practice that also slows us down to “think profoundly at length.”

Today, take a walk and slow down. Notice what catches your eye, and then stop and look at it at length. If you should have a camera, even your phone camera, with you, make the image. Don’t worry about the technical aspects. (You will be surprised, though, that you actually become a better photographer technically when you practice contemplative photography regularly!)

Enjoy your time of contemplation.

While I Was Not Looking

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THIS happened:

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Things started blooming.

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I have “prided” myself on being observant, of seeing the world, but somehow, all of this happened, and I didn’t notice.

I’ll blame it on

getting ready for Aaron and Sherry’s beautiful wedding on April 1.

going back to work and writing lesson plans and grading papers on March 20.

being “busy.”

getting ready for Easter.

coming down with bronchitis and sinusitis.

You get the idea. I have a million and one excused for allowing all this beauty to go unnoticed. Yet, there it is. I noticed it Saturday, the first day I went out of the house for a reason other than necessity. I saw the white bloom of the blackberries, but I didn’t have the camera. I noticed it.

On my way back to the house (coughing, short of breath, thanks to the bronchitis), I saw the yellow and red of the trumpet vines (or whatever they are). I noticed it.

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And the red Knockout roses are in bloom.

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I noticed it.

This morning, I went out with the camera, and I noticed other things—holly berries, wildflowers, dandelions, even some honeysuckle. It’s all there.

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And today, I noticed it.

What did you notice today?

He Said, She Said

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I posted some pictures of “spring” that I received during my walk through the Dreher Island State Park on Thursday. Folks, it’s FEBRUARY, and I was wearing a short sleeved T-shirt. Temperatures are almost 80 degrees! It was gorgeous. My “fan club” appreciated them; I received a few “likes” and “Loves” and “Wows” and a couple of comments. And then, there was this:

You are an artist, lady.

This comment came from a colleague with whom I had taught for quite a few years. He taught chemistry and physics, and, interestingly enough, he has degrees in theology as well. And he said, “you are an artist.”

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My first response was (in my head), “Boy, do I have you fooled!” My written response was, “Well, thank you. It’s a passion.”

Like so many others I know, I have trouble accepting that label: “you are an artist.” I tend to compare my work to the work of other photographers, both amateur and professional, friends in-person, and friends on-line; and I feel that I come up short.

Last night, I stepped back a bit. I looked at the images I created. I thought a bit about what art is. And here is what I’m thinking this morning, at the edge of a weekend. Art is the way we share our vision of the world. For some, that sharing comes through painting or sculpture or sketching and drawing, through cooking and recipes, through musical compositions or performance, through writing poetry or novels or essays or nonfiction or drama; through acting, through designing and building—I’ve discovered there is an art to hammering a nail straight into a board! (I don’t have that art.)

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I choose to see beauty in the world, and my photographs receive that beauty. I, like so many, can get caught up in the “big picture”—the sight of that majestic pine that has stood in place for years and years and years; the expanse of water where it meets the horizon, a whole field of sunflowers or grain. . . . But then there are the details, that cluster of “baby pine cones” (did you know they are pink?), the end of the stamen covered with thick yellow pollen standing out like spider legs, the amazing depth of blue sky, white clouds rimmed with gray (for contrast!).

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I suppose I am an artist. I have “the art of seeing” and receiving those images reminds me that there is beauty everywhere.

Being Daring Isn’t All That It’s Cracked Up to Be

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Yeah. It’s hard work.

After sitting with the word for a month, I felt as though I needed to do something with the word. I’m an introvert. I don’t do things to call attention to myself. I much prefer to be on the sidelines. You know—just kind of blend in and let everyone else be the spokespersons.

But then, I had to DO something. I mean, the call is there, and I have to answer it. I have to be put myself forward and be in the spotlight for a bit. I have to “take chances; get messy,” as Ms. Frizzle encourages her science students in the Magic School Bus series on TV and in the books.

My first real dare to accept is to write and promote a photography curriculum. I am in the midst of that now. It’s called ReFrame: The Thin Places. It is contemplative in nature rather than technical. I’m not teaching anyone how to take better photographs, but rather how to “live in” the process of making images, of receiving the gifts the world has to offer—when we take time to see. Christine Valters Paintner calls this seeing with the eyes of the heart.

And as I take this dare, I find that I am reluctant. No, that’s not right. I’m just plain scared witless! The procrastination habit kicks in, and I find that I would prefer to vacuum floors, clean bathrooms, wash dishes, do the laundry, sweep the kitchen, clean out and organize the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom closets, go to the dentist/doctor/mammographer, etc, than write the curriculum for this class! (I hope I am not the only one who has this kind of crazy going on internally!)

In the end, though, the “dare” comes back, and I find myself drawn to that corner of the couch next to the window where I can see the birds at their feeders, see the pond in the back yard, listen to the wind chimes, and pull out my notebook and begin to plan and write. The camera calls me to pick it up and use it. And I accept the dare and take it on—until the fear and anxiety and reluctance to put myself out there for the world to see kicks in. Then, I will take five deep breaths and hold the oxygen in my lungs for a bit, allow “spirit” to enter, and take on the dare once more.

Join me for a journey to find our thin places where heaven and earth come close. I am offering ReFrame: The Thin Places, a free contemplative photography class on the Teachable website. You can join the ReFrame school and the Thin Places class here. I look forward to meeting you in the classroom!

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ReFrame: The Thin Places

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Last week, I was reminded of the Celtic spiritual practice of abiding in thin places where heaven and Earth feel closer. I felt a tugging, and then a pull, and finally a yank that left my eyes spinning in my head. I spent the weekend researching thin places and started digging into the Celtic Christian tradition (such a very different expression of faith from the American tradition, I have to say), and the research is nowhere near complete.

Then, I opened my big mouth, or rather let my fingers run away with themselves before I could put the brakes on, and suggested to one of my favorite Facebook groups that there should be a curriculum developed around the theme of thin places. One of the members told me to “go for it.”

Gulp.  That was not the expected response. I wanted someone else to say, “sure, I’ll do that” or “I’ll be glad to help you.”

Be careful when you choose a word for the year. You might be asking for more than you planned.

Here I was—practically DARED to write the course. So, I began. I took notes on my reading. I drew little cluster maps. I drafted. And I researched more.

I am ready to say that I am launching the draft today in a closed Facebook group called ReFrame: The Thin Places. The plan is to issue invitations each week during February with some kind of reflection on the theme of thin places and the sense of place along with an invitation to creative response, whether it is photography or writing or something else. Based on the feedback, I am hoping to create a more “permanent” kind of course that could be marketed (something else I have to learn).

But for now, I am living the dare. And that’s what’s important.

Thin Places

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In Celtic spirituality, thin places, or thin spaces, are those places where heaven and earth are closest. We have places that feel sacred and holy. “The Wall” honoring the Viet Nam soldiers in Washington, D.C., is one of those sacred places, even though every time I have been, it has been crowded with people—women, children, men, soldiers, tourists. It is “sacred ground.”

Arlington National Cemetery is the same. It is sacred ground, in part because it is a cemetery, but because it feels different somehow from other places.

It is easy to find these “thin places,” or sacred places, when we travel, but the challenge is to find the thin places at home in the “known world.”

I thought about the idea of thin places today after reading a Pacebook post from a friend who lives in Atlanta, a sister photographer and photographic artist. I went out seeking my own thin place. I have written so much about the ponds and have photographed them so often. I hesitate to guess how many images of the pond and the area around it I have in my archives. Yet, no matter how many times I walk around them, there is a thinness there that is at once isolated from “the world,” and yet very much a part of it. While I am walking, I feel as though I enter a different kind of space. Yes, today, the ground was a bit mushy and soft after several days of rain and downpours. It was breezy, but it was comfortable. There was still traffic zooming past up and down the road.

I am thinking now about the “meaning” of thin places, and how they manifest themselves to me. For now, I am content to know that they exist, and that they are welcoming places, places that are holy and “set apart” if only for a few minutes.

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