Tag Archives: Freeman Patterson

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?

Abstract Photography—Contemplative Photography


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.

Contemplative Photography Journey—Day 9 (on the 16th)


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.

untitled-2My red hibiscus is blooming even in October. Warm days and lots of rain have encouraged it. The softness of the color, the yellow and sort of pink and the cone shaped bud captured my attention.

untitled-14The contrast of the purple and the yellow caught my eye as well as the rays of the petals of the zinnia around the center.

untitled-24 Goldenrod may make me sneeze and my eyes to water and my nose to itch, but there is so much texture in the flowers and the grasses behind it.

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.