Evolution of a Photo Project – Exploring Edges

Have you ever found yourself photographing on a particular theme? A few years ago, I noticed that I was taking a lot of photographs of “edges,” and decided to explore further.

We live in a world of boundaries. borders, and edges – things that separate and things that connect. Stanly Plumly, in his book, The Marriage in the Trees, writes,

“In ornithology there occurs the phrase, the abrupt edge, which is the edge between two types of vegetation… where the advantages of both are most convenient.”

Plumly says that natural edges can be very gradual or more abrupt, like a forest’s edge. On the edge can be found the greatest diversity, chaos, danger, and opportunity.

When I first heard this quote by Plumly, I was blown away. The edge is the place where things happen! Risk and opportunity go hand in hand.

A Project is Born

While walking the beach in Florida with my friend (and poet), Norah Oulahen, we talked about this theme of edges and came up with the idea to do a project together. I provided photographs with “edges” and she wrote poems inspired by the photographs.

This image below reminds me of those conversations.


Imagine how many deep talks and silent thoughts occur while thousands of people walk the beach every day. The surf constantly takes away the footprints but the thoughts and conversations live on.

“I think we are always running from the edge. We want to feel safe. There are risks waiting or disappearing there. Our lives are touched by rim hugs.” ~ Norah Weir Oulahen


This image was taken on the Western coast of Ireland, a place where my ancestors came from and set sail for Canada. As I stood on these rocks, I thought of them leaving their homeland for the unknown. Standing at the edge of a vast body of water sometimes makes us think of people we miss and love, whether alive or dead.

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut, from ThinkExist.com

Field of Layers, available on Imagekind

This is one of those photographic opportunities that you have to train your eyes to see. An ordinary field, yet extraordinarily beautiful when we see the textures, the lines (or edges), and the layers of colour.

Another poem and photo from the Gulf of Mexico. Instead of footprints in the sand, we explore what happens to all of our thoughts at the end (or the edge) of the day. We need to rest and let them simmer.

This is just one way to approach a body of work. You could create your own around a place, a colour, a subject (i.e. hands or solitude), a type of photography (impressionism or black and white). There are so many possibilities. Currently, I’m working on a project on abstract impressions of my hometown.

“For me, creativity is the stuff you do at the edges. But the edges are different for everyone,and the edges change over time. If you visualize the territory you work in as an old Boston Bruins sweatshirt, realize that over time, it stretches out, it gets looser, the edges move away. Stuff that would have been creative last year isn’t creative at all today, because it’s not near the edges any more.” ~ Seth Godin


Have you noticed themes in your own photography? Or, are you currently working on a project?

Check out: David duChemin’s Boat Abstracts and Guy Tal’s thoughts on Projects.

If you would like to learn how to uncover the themes, metaphors, and stories in your photography, please consider the visual journaling workshop coming up in March – Once Upon a Time: Your Photographs have Stories to Tell.

Early registration (at a discounted price) will open up next week for those on our interested list. You can add your name to that list here.


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Hidden Wholeness

Parker Palmer (writer, educator, and founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal) and Thomas Merton (contemplative monk, write, photographer, and activist) are two people who have inspired me by the way they live(d) their lives.

Merton is the author of this quote: “There is in all things … a hidden wholeness.”

He strived to bring out this hidden wholeness in his life and through his photographs.

Parker Palmer wrote a book called A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Towards an Undivided Life.

“Wholeness does not mean perfection; it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life” ― Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life

In this article, A Friendship, A Love, A Rescue, Palmer describes four key teachings he learned from Merton. They are summarized below and illustrated with my photographs.

1. The Quest for True Self


iron rust wikipedia

True Self

“Most of us,” as Merton brilliantly observed, “live lives of self-impersonation.” I cannot imagine a sadder way to die than with the sense that I never showed up here on earth as my God-given self. If Merton had offered me nothing else, the encouragement to live from true self would be more than enough to call his relation to me “a friendship, a love, a rescue.” ~ Parker Palmer


2. The Promise of Paradox



Embracing Brokenness

“Paradoxical thinking is key to creativity, which comes from the capacity to entertain apparently contradictory ideas in a way that stretches the mind and opens the heart to something new. Paradox is also a way of being that’s key to wholeness, which does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.” ~ Parker Palmer


3. The Call to Community



Community of Solitudes

“For the next eleven years, I shared a daily round of worship, study, work, social outreach, and communal meals with some seventy people in a spiritually-grounded community that was as close as I could get to my image of the life Merton lived. That image was of a “community of solitudes,” of “being alone together,” of a way of life in which a group of people could live more fully into Rilke’s definition of love: “that two (or more) solitudes border, protect and salute one another.”” ~ Parker Palmer


4. Hidden Wholeness in a Broken World


tree stump design

Hidden Wholeness

“There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all, Natura naturals.” ~ Thomas Merton

I highly recommend any book by Parker Palmer – especially A Hidden Wholeness, The Courage to Teach, and Let Your Life Speak.

My Thomas Merton Recommendations

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Transformed by the Moment

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the movie, Boyhood, which recently won the Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture. The movie was filmed over twelve years and follows the life of Mason as he grows from a boy to an adult. It shows how life is a process of co-creation. At the end of the movie, one of the characters says to Mason,

“You know how everyone says to seize the moment? I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around – the moment seizes us.” And Mason says, “Yeah. It’s constant, the moments. It’s always right now.”

I’m one of those that thought this movie was beautiful and the ending has stayed with me and inspired this post, about letting the moment transform us. But first, some thoughts about culture and openness.

Culture – a Definition from Merriam-Webster Online

: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time

: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

Culture, like everything else, is always changing, although some parts change slower than others.

While culture is useful as an organizing principle, it can be limiting if too fixed. It can too strictly define what is socially acceptable.It can create boxes that limit possibilities.

Our current culture encourages us to take charge of our lives – be the change, seize the moment, live our best lives!

Yet this mindset can be self-defeating when it doesn’t take into account the flip side – that we have little control. We are acted on by other forces and can easily be deflated when our best laid plans or intentions don’t come to fruition the way we expected.

This where the contemplative habit of openness comes in. And, openness is counter-cultural.


Openness teaches us to expect surprises. It shows us how to be resilient when unexpected circumstances arise. It encourages us to let go of outcomes and let our experiences change us.

As Amy Poehler advises in her bestseller, Yes Please, we have to “surf our life.”

We have the ability to transform the world by our words, actions, and creations, yet the world is also transforming us at the same time.

Our most transformative moments or experiences come unexpectedly, as beautifully described by Rebecca Solnit.

“Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go. Three years ago I was giving a workshop in the Rockies. A student came in bearing a quote from what she said was the pre-Socratic philosopher Meno. It read, “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” I copied it down, and it has stayed with me since. The question she carried struck me as the basic tactical question in life. The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration – how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?” ~ Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost via BrainPickings

Photography as Transformative

The act of taking a picture with our cameras is a metaphor for this way of being. The photographer’s role in “creating” an image is usually emphasized, but I see the process of photographing as an encounter.

The photographer brings to the image all of his or her previous experiences, memories, thoughts. Something in the environment catches his or her attention and there is resonance. The photograph comes from this moment of resonance or connection and the photographer (and hopefully, the viewer) is changed by the experience.

Patricia Turner delves into this idea of receiving a picture rather than taking it in this post.

P1150492This theme kept hitting home with me over the past week – through an article by Tara Mohr, a sign in a store window, and a video by Marie Forleo.

Tara Mohr talks about how the life-changing experience of motherhood is rewriting her. There are many life-changing experiences that do this – some chosen and some not.

Education rewrites us. A serious illness rewrites us. Marriage rewrites us. Living in a new place rewrites us. Books rewrite us. And, for sure, parenthood rewrites us.

The Vince Lombardi quote (to your right), which I saw in a store window, is another way of saying the same thing.

Marie Forleo continues the message in her audaciously contemplative way, when she says to bring your A-game – your attention, enthusiasm, love to each moment, no matter where you are, who you’re with, or what you’re doing. She says to make is-ness your business. Engage fully with the moment (put a ring on it).

Sometimes, it can seem like we have no control, that life is transforming us in ways that are overwhelming. Yet, we always have a choice in how we respond, as Parker Palmer reminds us.

“We are constantly co-creating the world, so we need not be victims of it.” ~ Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness

I was transformed, unexpectedly, by the movie Boyhood.

Has a moment seized and transformed you recently?


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