Watching the Clouds Roll Away

I’ve been doing a lot of cloud watching lately. Clouds are a metaphor for passing thoughts and feelings. They’re everywhere, yet always moving along – important to remember.

Alfred Stieglitz (1864 – 1946) was an American art promoter and husband to painter Georgia O’Keefe. He was also an excellent photographer and once spent a year photographing clouds (short video here).

The idea behind his project was to show how his photographs were not connected to subject matter but were “equivalents” to his inner state or feelings about the subject.

I’ve written about equivalents before, and about clouds (see the links below), but I’ve been noticing them more lately because of an Instagram account called “cloudreporter.”

Anyone can submit a photograph of clouds to this account via email and they’ll post it ( I’ve submitted a few myself. I thought that I noticed clouds before, but a series of recent road trips has me really paying closer attention.

I’m amazed and in awe of the many different types of clouds there are and how they’re constantly changing. Here are a few that I’ve particularly liked. You can see all at my Flickr album.

What are the clouds like where you are today?

I’ve Looked at Clouds

Thoughts on Equivalence and Contemplative Photography

Cloud Symbolism

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Wabi-Sabi for Photographers (Part 2)

IMG_7715Last week, I wrote about this book, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, by Leonard Koren, and how it confirmed for me that wabi-sabi includes subjects that are often overlooked.

This week I’ll share examples of the material qualities of wabi-sabi, as summarized from the book. I noticed that my examples lean towards walls and roads and rusty things. But, any object can be a subject for wabi-sabi.

First, wabi-sabi lives by the principle that “all things are either devolving toward, or evolving from, nothingness.”

Material Qualities

Natural Process – materials affected by weathering and human elements. Shows up as rust, tarnish, stains, warping, shrinking, shrivelling, cracking. Yet, they still possess a sense of poise and strength of character.
Irregular – odd, misshapen, awkward; what many would consider ugly. May be something broken (by an accident) or just happened by chance.
Intimate – small and compact, inward-oriented. They beg us to get close, touch, relate. Tranquil and calming, enveloping and womb-like.
Unpretentious – do not blare out their importance; not the center of attention; the overlooked. Understated and unassuming, yet still have a quiet presence or authority.
Earthy – coarse and unrefined. Made from raw materials; tactile.
Murky – a vague, blurry quality; sponge-like, faded colours. Hard edges take on a soft glow.
Simple – economy of means, pared down to essence (but still retain the poetry), clean and unencumbered, limited palette yet emotionally warm.

What does wabi-sabi mean to you?

Read: Wabi-Sabi (Part 1)

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Wabi-Sabi for Photographers

In the book, Thomas Merton: Master of Attention, author Robert Waldron writes about Merton’s photographs and wabi-sabi. He quotes from the book, Six Names of Beauty by Crispin Sartwell.

Wabi-sabi refers to an elusive and elegant beauty. Wabi is translated as ‘poverty.’ It connotes the life of farmers (peasants) tilling the land; back-breaking, simple, austere work – often a lonely life. Its aesthetic meaning implies ordinary, inexpensive tools that have aged from long use, wares that have become cracked, bent and worn. Such poor, lowly items mimic natures declension: like falling leaves, soil erosion, grass in drought, decaying trees and fading blossoms. Wabi, therefore, suggests a beauty of elegant imperfection. Sabi means loneliness or rather aloneness. It also refers to sparseness and austerity. Together, wabi-sabi suggests the beauty of ‘the withered, weathered, tarnished, scarred, intimate, coarse, earthly, evanescent, tentative, ephemeral.’

IMG_7715I’ve written about wabi-sabi before, specifically in this article, Urban Decay (part 2) – Wabi-Sabi and Wood.

Recently, someone asked me what wabi-sabi meant to me, and I told them that for me, it often shows up through subjects that are overlooked.

I didn’t think that this was a true definition for the term, but a beautiful little book called “Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers *” by Leonard Koren, has me thinking otherwise.

He says that “Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.”

Wabi-sabi originates from Zen Buddhism and Koren gives a very interesting history of the term, which I won’t go into detail here, but there is a connection to the Japanese tea ceremony.

Originally, the term had a negative connotation. Wabi meant “the misery of living alone in nature, away from society” and sabi meant “chill, lean, withered.”

In the 14th century, the hermit life began to be seen as a spiritually enriching experience and was associated with appreciating the minor details in life, where beauty could be found in the inconspicuous and overlooked aspects of nature.

I too enjoy my solitude and silence, which gives me the time and space to notice and appreciate these overlooked aspects of life.

This tiny book is chock full of information about wabi-sabi, as well as excellent photographic examples. Next week, I’ll delve into the qualities of wabi-sabi in greater detail, with my own examples.

* Credit goes to The Improvised Life for my discovering this book.

** My Flickr set on Wabi-sabi

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Adventures in Seeing – Beginning


Beginning is often difficult and always courageous.

I’ve attended two beautiful weddings over the past two weekends and it occurred to me that getting married is one of the most profound beginnings one can take. So fitting that this commitment is most often made in the company of supportive family and friends.

This couple met on a cruise ship and discovered that they lived in the same town in Kentucky. Here, the bride surprised the groom by recording her voice singing A Thousand Years for their first dance.

Heart beats fast
Colors and promises
How to be brave?
How can I love when I’m afraid to fall?
But watching you stand alone,
All of my doubt suddenly goes away somehow.
Darling, don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more.

There is so much hope and promise in a beginning, especially a marriage, where the odds these days are not great. We don’t know what the future holds, yet making that commitment together and in front of others is a good start.

We need a lot of love and support to carry us through a thousand years. Believe me, I know after 33 years and counting.

What are you beginning? Perhaps beginnings require the courage to ask for love and support.

This week at the Adventures in Seeing Google+ community, we’re depicting and discussing the word “beginning.” The words come from David Whyte’s book, Consolations.

Please be sure to check out the amazing contributions so far and feel free to join the community (if you haven’t already). Submit your photo and reflection, tagging it with the word for the week. Your reflection can be just the word, a metaphor, a poem, a paragraph, or an essay. It’s up to you. See how others reflect on the same word.


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Haiku and Photography

In Natalie Goldberg’s book, The True Secret of Writing, she introduces Shiki, a great haiku writer from the 19th century. He was “an invalid, who dragged himself to the edge of the tatami mat, overlooking his garden, where he sat all day waiting to receive a haiku. For Shiki the act of creating entailed an alert stillness.”

Goldberg says that “simple attention shifts reality” and “much can be done by doing little – with regard.”

I find that haiku poems are wonderful accompaniments to contemplative photographs. The words succinctly describe the experience of the moment without judgment. Charles Blackhall calls them “eyeku.”

What is Haiku?

Haiku originates from Japan. It usually consists of three lines, containing 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively. These three lines pare down an experience to its essence – meaning there is no interpretation, you say what happened in a few chosen words.

Last week, we were in Northern Michigan with my step-sister and her husband. A walk in the woods was both wonderful and annoying in equal measure, as you can see in the image to your right.

Try writing your own haiku with a photograph that describes a moment of simple attention.


Learn more about haiku here and here.

Read about Basho, a master of haiku at The Book of Life

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Adventures in Seeing – Beauty


Beauty is the harvest of presence. ~ David Whyte, Consolations

I loved David Whyte’s quote above – beauty as the harvest of presence. Since practicing contemplative photography, I’ve considerably expanded my definition of what is beautiful. When I look closely, and see with eyes of love and attention, beauty reveals itself.

The image above is from my morning walk this week, where I spent some time present to the stillness of Lake Ontario. For me, beauty is found in simplicity, which gets to the heart, core, or essence of the subject or moment.

When our eyes are graced with wonder, the world reveals its wonders to us. There are people who see only dullness in the world and that is because their eyes have already been dulled. So much depends on how we look at things. The quality of our looking determines what we come to see. ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace

John O’Donohue has a lot more to say on the subject of beauty in his book. And, I’ve been thinking of his sub-title, “The Invisible Embrace” all week. When we truly connect at a heart level, it is like an invisible embrace, and there is beauty in that connection.

What does beauty mean to you?


This week at the Adventures in Seeing Google+ community, we’re depicting and discussing beauty. The words come from David Whyte’s book, Consolations.

Please be sure to check out the amazing contributions so far and feel free to join the community (if you haven’t already). Submit your photo and reflection, tagging it with the word for the week. Your reflection can be just the word, a metaphor, a poem, a paragraph, or an essay. It’s up to you. See how others reflect on the same word.


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