contemplative living, contemplative photography
Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending time photographing with 11 others in the rolling hills of Kentucky (near the bourbon trail).
The monks continue their way of life, chanting prayers several times a day, living in silence most of the time, doing their work making cheese, fudge, and fruitcake, and modelling the contemplative life.
Throughout the weekend, the 11 of us were open to seeing what came to us, especially light, colour, textures, patterns, and space.
On the last day everyone was asked to take a contemplative walk and notice the space between things. This exercise is difficult because we don’t normally see this way. We see “things” and rarely think about the surrounding space. It’s a great way to change perspective and experience life in a different way.
You can see a 5 minute slideshow of our work from one day here.
I also had the chance to meet in person someone whose work I greatly admire online. Patricia Turner writes about contemplative photography from a Taoist perspective. Her writing is superb and her photography and delightful personality are even better.
She has created a field guide for contemplative photographers. From what to bring to how to prepare the mind, you will love this little booklet and can download it here.
There is so much value in doing a photography workshop, whether online or in person. We learn so much from being together and sharing our unique perspectives.
This post is based on a webinar called Listening to Our Eyes: Seeing as Meditation (The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society). You can watch the whole video below (30 minutes) but I will highlight some of the main points.
I used to love to draw as a kid, however, I liked to copy existing drawings, especially cartoons. I didn’t think I could draw from my imagination.
For awhile, I thought I might like to be an architect because I was good in Math and liked to draw. I stuck with the Math but gave up the drawing.
Much later in life, I discovered a love for photography. It made sense to me that I would photograph as an art, because I couldn’t draw or paint. At one point, an acquaintance suggested I take a drawing class – that it would help me with composition for photography – so I did.
The class was based on the phenomenal book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I learned from this class that anyone can draw – yes, even you and me.
I did learn aspects of drawing that helped me with my photography, especially in terms of visual design, what to include and what not to include, and how to see. The final chapter of the book introduced me to Frederick Franck, artist and author of the classic book, The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation.
Frederick Franck has since become one of my heroes (he passed away in 2006). In 2007, I was able to visit his home in Warwick, New York where he and his wife, Claske, created a sanctuary of peace and art called “Pacem in Terris.” It was from Franck that I learned of the Hui Neng quote, “The meaning of life is to see.”
Franck was not a fan of photography. He felt that drawing was the best form of active meditation because it was slow. It is true that the camera can become a barrier between photographer and subject, especially when we shoot too quickly.
I have found, though, that the camera can be a tool for slow, contemplative practice if used in the proper way. Most professional photographers have learned to slow down, to see, and to compose in such a way that expresses what they see.
* “Looking at the world with new eyes can begin the real voyage of discovery and reflection and meditation.”
* “We often look at things but we rarely have the ability to really see.”
* “The act of drawing is the most direct way we can learn from the object or nature. We give praise and acknowledgement to the truth of our observation. To draw what we see, we need to feel connected to it. We become what we see. We imbue dignity on what we see. The pen or the pencil become an extension of the heart.” (I believe the camera can too.)
* Learning to see negative space (the space between things) connects us to the right side of our brains.
* 7 Attitudes of Drawing (photographing): Non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, letting go.
* Seeing Exercise: Illustrate a poem with your drawing or photograph. He uses the poem, Thirty Spokes by Lao Tzu, as an example.
* Seeing Exercise: People watching. Focus on one aspect, like the foot. Watch how it moves.
* The importance of just being there (the pause) before beginning the drawing or taking the photograph. This allows us to draw or photograph what we see (true perception), not what we think we know and see (symbols).
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Images Copyright Kim Manley Ort
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