Tag Archives: Kim Manley Ort

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.

Intentions: Write 31 Days

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You know, this “Write 31 Days” challenge has been around awhile. I discovered it three or four years ago, back when I still used the craftroom as a sort-of office for the photography “studio”—meaning, I had no studio except the outdoors. I read a series of 31 days of editing in Lightroom, which really changed the way I do things. At first, Lightroom was very convenient for downloading and cataloging my images, but I really didn’t understand how to use Lightroom to edit. I’m not sure I do, yet, but I am constantly learning new things.

I thought after reading this series that, surely, I could use Lightroom to edit, and that I could write a series of blog entries for thirty-one days. I start strong every year (I skipped last year). I am trying it again this year.

My theme is pretty general: Thirty-one Days of Photography. I’m envisioning this as a kind of “photo-a-day” project: one or two really good images from that day. This first week, I’m simply going to focus on everyday images—the things that are right in front of my eyes that I see day in and day out, that I barely notice. Like the light on the yellow wall in the living room, the orchids that are not in bloom right now, the birds at the feeders, the hibiscus in the backyard planters. . . . I drive by those daily as I head out to work. There is such beauty in the ordinary and the everyday.

Although I know the intent is to WRITE everyday, sometimes, I will let the images speak for themselves. Other times, I will write about the day, the events, or the thoughts that surround my images. There is always a contemplative element to my approach to photography, thanks to such writers as Christine Valters Paintner and photographers and teachers like Kim Manley Ort and Kim Klassen and a host of others I can’t think of right now. Sometimes I may write about technical aspects of photography or editing and post-processing. I am keeping my options open.

Today, I begin with my first image: nothing fancy, just a simple cardinal at the bird feeder. Beauty in the everyday:

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Book Club Thursday

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Thursday Thanksgiving: The Week Is Nearly Over

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It has been that kind of week. It started off just fine. I had some time to read and reflect and create as I read along with others in Liz Lamereux’s Inner Excavation read-along for this summer. It’s based on her book of the same title. Each week, we will explore a new idea and a new chapter. This week, it’s all about beginnings and taking some first steps. I am trying to “reframe” my attitude, especially during these last two weeks before I return to the classroom for one of the marathon teaching schedules in which I begin the day at 9:00 a.m., teach two classes, have a three-hour break, and then teach two more classes beginning at 5:30 and leaving campus at 10:30 p.m. Yes, it’s going to be some very long days.

Even Tuesday was a good day. I went out for a photo walk along the pond. I noticed some wild flowers I had not seen before, or perhaps I have seen them; I just haven’t paid attention to them before. That’s the beauty of contemplative photography as a practice (it’s not technical, so don’t expect a “how-to-do-contemplative-photography” post any time soon!). With contemplative photography, the photographer learns how to see differently and to accept what he or she sees as a “gift,” if you will. It’s a way of acknowledging that there is beauty in the world, in the ordinary, and what some people may see as the mundane.

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Wednesday was a different animal altogether. First, I knew I had some errands that I needed to complete, but I woke with some severe pain which colored my outlook. I did not want to get out of bed because lying flat on my back was the only position that was in any way comfortable, and that wasn’t the most comfortable! I don’t know that I’ve had this bad a sciatic attack before. Then there were the other phone calls that put some additional demands on my time. But begin “Mom,” I answered the call, and helped out. At least by the end of the day, I had some relief from the pain. Moreover, I had some encouraging words from some online friends in the Inner Excavation group. What I needed to hear most clearly is, “you are not alone.” Sometimes, this journey of mine seems to be a solitary one.

Today, I have been catching up on my writing, my dreaming, my responding. In a few minutes, I’ll pull out the piano bench and practice and play some music to set my soul singing. I will read some inspiring words, and I will sit awhile with my Inner Excavation journal. Perhaps I will pick up the camera and walk around the ponds to see what has changed since Tuesday. 

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Sometimes, life is just hard. Sometimes, I have to create space. And I am thankful that I can do these things.