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.


Read More

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

Read More

How is your seeing maturing?


“To see a world in a drain is grand.”

I’ve enjoyed articles by Robert Hecht in the past, and recently discovered this one – The Maturation of Individual Seeing, originally published in LensWork Magazine.

He ponders William Blake’s poem about seeing the world in a grain of sand, and wonders if, as photographers, we can touch the infinite in just about anything – humorously adding the subtitle “to see a world in a drain is grand.”

He inspired me to spend some time photographing the drain in my bathroom sink (see above).

I hope you’ll read the entire article about his maturation of seeing over 30 years of photographing. His stages (all necessary) are summarized below.

* emulating admired photographers

* striving to become technically proficient

* producing perfect and beautiful landscape images

At this point, he felt a little emptiness in his photography and moved on to the next step.

* seeing beauty, rather than looking for beautiful subjects

“I believe now that my growth has involved a subtle, yet profound, shift from perceiving beauty as something outside of myself, as separate from myself, to that of experiencing it internally, as fully integrated within my self and my values. I had been mistakenly looking for beautiful subjects, for things that were already dazzling and amazing.”

They key, he says, is being more present and having fewer preconceptions about what to photograph. This opens up possibilities for photographic subjects exponentially.

I can relate to several of these stages, although I’ve never mastered taking perfect landscape images!

Learning to photograph anywhere not only opens up possibilities, it expands our definition of beauty. I’ve found that I see beauty where many don’t. To me, that’s a good thing since it greatly increases my appreciation for life. On the flip side, it also makes me feel greater sadness when I see things dismissed, unappreciated or not cared for.

By sharing the beauty we see through the lens of our camera, we help others to see in new ways.

“The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is…” ~ Marcel Proust via The Improvised Life

For me, another stage has been the exploration of abstract photography, and how colour and design can express beauty and emotions. My current stage is exploring the psychological aspects of photography, or what our photographs have to say about us.

It’s a fascinating, evolving journey, is it not? Can you relate to some of these stages?

See Robert Hecht’s Still Life gallery here.

Read More

Inspired by … Carol Albers

20140514__untitled shoot_01_Albers

Copyright Carol Albers

Every time I finish a workshop, I marvel at the people who are a part of them – thoughtful and kind, as well as excellent photographers in their own right. They all seem to have a thirst to continue to grow and evolve, and to do it with others. We really do learn from each other.

In this series, I feature some of these wonderful people on this blog – to show you their work, and allow them to tell their photography story.

Today, you’ll hear from Carol Albers, who contributes to the wonderful site, Focusing on Life.

Carol has been a part of my workshops – The 50mm Project, Going Abstract, and Adventures in Seeing. I had the pleasure of meeting her in person at Star Island, New Hampshire last year, and she is as delightful in person as she is online. As you will see below, she values community learning and growing experiences.

Meet Carol Albers

How and when did you get started in photography and what drew you to this medium?
My parents gave me a Brownie camera when I was about 8. I owned a camera, pretty much, from then on. Despite my father’s interest in photography as a hobby, I was not encouraged to major in the arts in college. My parents wanted me to be able to earn a living. I have come full circle on this one, because I later ended up a single mother with a newborn and a one year old, and I was grateful that I could support them in my job as an audiologist. When my younger child left for college, the first thing I did was sign up for a photography course. I “was bitten” and have indulged myself ever since, doing the thing I love!

Copyright Carol Albers

Copyright Carol Albers

Describe your evolution as a photographer. Who are your mentors?
You asked previously what drew me in. In my mind, that ties right in to my mentor. I have a large “box store” near me that offers equipment, as well as classes. You can do anything from seeing a one hour slideshow by a National Geographic photographer, to taking a 5 week PS course, or joining a group shoot. I sign up for almost everything. Eventually, I took a course there from Nancy Ori, owner of The N.J. Media Center, and founder of The N.J. Photography Forum. Nancy is a lifelong professional photographer, with corporate, fine art, and teaching experience. That allows her to teach clearly and concisely about art. I have found that to be a rare combination of skills.

In my job as an audiologist, I spend my time teaching people how to relearn to hear with their new hearing aids. When Nancy talked about “learning to see,” I was drawn to the parallels. I have since started a research base about retraining our senses. I don’t know where that will eventually lead, but I am interested in reading and writing about it. And contemplative photography fits nicely into that.

Then I took the leap. Despite my nervousness, I signed up for one of Nancy’s destination workshops – a week in Cape May, NJ for a course in “Color, Light and Composition. “ I ended up meeting 5 women there. We realized we lived within a few hours of each other and began to meet up every few months to shoot events in our area. We returned to the Cape May workshop for 5 years running. We encourage each other to try new things. We share our books, articles and supplies. We send our work to each other to critique; we travel together; we enter exhibitions. These women are my safe environment, and Nancy has long since become a good friend, as well as mentor and generous teacher.

Copyright Carol Albers

Copyright Carol Albers

Why do you photograph and what types of subjects are your favourites?
There are so many reasons I photograph. It gets me outdoors in every season. It has taken me to many interesting places that I would not otherwise have seen. This year alone, photography has taken me to France, Star Island New Hampshire, and Texas. That is not even including all the local fun I’ve had – miniature donkeys, wolf preserves, glass blowers exhibitions, the Martin Guitar Factory – anything out of the ordinary is worth a visit!

I also am aware that I am a worrier (you have written about this, Kim). When I am photographing, or even post-processing, I have no worries – I am totally in the zone. And all the experiences I just mentioned have given me much courage to pursue my interests wherever they may take me. I have a new-found confidence that allows me to benefit from critique, and to grow in every direction!

I love the process as much as any particular subject, but I have to say that water and boats are everywhere in my work, with trees a close second. I am most comfortable out in nature.

Copyright Carol Albers

Copyright Carol Albers

Tell us more about your involvement with Focusing on Life and how that’s affected your photography and life.
My collaborative blog, Focusing On Life, is another unexpected gift that photography has brought to my life. Years ago I took an on-line course with Shutter Sisters, called Picture Winter. It was a new experience for me having a daily prompt, and then photographing for the prompt and posting it at night. I found that similar people are drawn to similar photos. As I progressed through Picture Spring, Picture Summer and Picture Fall, I began to see the same people commenting on my pictures, just as I searched out their prompts. We became more and more familiar in our comments to each other. And then – the course ended! We were bereft! We began our own group, called Prompt Addicts, and voluntarily posted prompts to a growing group.

Then one day I got a telephone call from Claudia Wrightson, inviting me in on the development of a blog featuring 10 women, of differing ages, from all over the country. The concept was to explore life and women’s’ experience through photography and inspiration. Three years later, we are still going. We communicate almost daily behind the scenes, and have become good friends or – as we call ourselves – Life Sisters. Many of us had never met, but last October we managed to get the whole group physically together in Texas! We were all beyond excited at the prospect of being together, and I found each woman to be exactly as I had pictured her! It was like we had known each other forever and we had so much fun, talking, shooting, and planning for the future of the blog. We even got some contemplative photography in there, as we are all of similar minds when it comes to this wonderful field of study! What a blessing each of those women is in my life!

Copyright Carol Albers

Copyright Carol Albers

Do you sell your work? If so, where can we find it.
I have sold my work locally and through exhibitions. On The N.J. Photography Forum site you can see a drop down menu under the “Exhibitions” tab that contains the shows in their entirety. I am in two shows currently, and have just been approved to add a personal gallery to the site. (a fall project!). I have also sold images through my personal website, carolcalbers.zenfolio.com (be patient with the empty categories – it’s currently a work-in-progress).

I write every other Monday on FOL. And if you follow the “About Us” tab on FOL, you will see my Flickr, and Instagram streams as well.

So, as you can see, photography has enriched my life more than I ever could have guessed when I signed up for that first adult school class! I have avoided the empty-nest syndrome.I have gained acquaintances and close friends both near and far, and my personal growth cannot be measured. I look forward to many more years of learning and SEEING.

Thank you, Carol. You can see all of her posts at Focusing on Life.

Read More

Devotion – my word for 2015

Happy New Year’s Day, 2015! For the next year, the word that will be my mantra is “devotion.”

Devotion means “profound dedication; consecration; earnest attachment to a cause, person, project, etc.” (Dictionary.com)

It’s often associated with religious observance or prayer, or an attitude towards someone you love. But, as the definition above says, it can also be applied to anything – a cause, a project, work, or play.

Devotion is about where we place our loving and focused attention.

For me, devotion is about making the best use of my time, financial resources, and energy to bring about a purpose of teaching about and modelling contemplative living through photography. For 2015, I will be devoted to the following:

* Leisure – which is much more related to contemplation than I ever imagined.

“Leisure … is not the privilege of those who can afford to take time; it is the virtue of those who give to everything they do the time it deserves to take.” ~ David Steindl-Rast via Brain Pickings

In 2015, I will be devoted to giving everything I do a sense of leisure (or play). That means reining in my impatience when my dog just wants to sniff along the street in front of my house. It means opening up my senses while cooking and cleaning and running errands. It means simplifying my life, so that my days are spent doing what’s important for me and for the world.

* Contemplation – or, considering with attention, can only happen when we bring this attitude of leisure to everything we do. To me, it’s the only way to live because it leads to presence, appreciation, and a clear picture of what’s needed.

Read: How to Know If You’re Contemplative.

IMG_6252* Going to the Edge – where serendipity, creativity, and awe live (thanks to Jason Silva). This means making connections, getting out of my comfort zone, and always trying new things.

* Vulnerability – because it’s what gives wholeness to life. If you haven’t yet seen Brene Brown’s TED talk on this subject, please do so now.

I’m devoted to exploring my inner world for greater emotional and self-awareness. I hope to discover untapped potential and what continues to hold me back.

* Photography as Therapy – which is my passion. I’m utterly devoted to my daily photo walks, and exploring what my camera teaches and shows me about contemplation and living a life of adventure.

This year, I’ll be devoted to the practice of visual journaling, resulting in a greater understanding of what and why I photograph, and uncovering themes and patterns in my photography.

* Workshops – are my passion because I get to meet the most interesting people. I’ll continue to give everything I have to each workshop, no matter how many times it’s been offered. I’ll continue to tweak each one with new information and inspiration. I’ll follow my intuition to create new workshops and collaborations.

By the way, Adventures in Seeing starts in four days!

* Personal Projects – This year the projects I’ll be devoted to include visual journaling, exploring archetypes through mandalas, writing a book on seeing, and creating a portfolio of abstract images of my hometown.

* Relationships – which are the foundation of life and require time and attention. In 2015, I will make time and pay attention to the people that are most important to me, because it’s what makes life worth living.

* Health – makes everything else possible. In 2014, I started to run/walk and learned what my body needs as fuel to feel its best (read Grain Brain or watch the documentary, Fed Up to learn more). I’m devoted to paying attention to what my body is telling me, which at this point means more stretching and strength training.

* You – the readers of this blog and participants in workshops, continue to motivate and inspire me. You make this work/play a joy. I’m devoted to you. So, if there’s something you need that you think I could provide through my work, please let me know.

Is there a word that will guide you this year?

Who got me started on devotion? Alexandra Franzen (a free worksheet and an e-book of essays).

Read More

These are a Few of my Favourite Things


In reflecting on the past year, I’m so grateful for people, books, movies, sites, and images that inspire and transform me.

If you’re looking for a little inspiration in 2015, here are a few recommendations, based on what I returned to regularly in 2014 – on contemplation and creativity, but mostly photography.

Emails I Always Look Forward to Reading

Brain Pickings – still my favourite site about three years running. Maria Popova writes about books and ideas. She’s prolific, so it can seem like too much, but pick and choose which articles attract you. I get her weekly email on Sundays, and usually spend a very happy hour perusing the articles.

Robert and Sarah Genn’s twice-weekly letter – thanks to a reader for turning me on to this letter on creativity. It’s always insightful.

Photographers who Inspire Me

Guy Tal Photography – those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile may have noticed me quoting Guy Tal a lot more this year. He’s a great photographer, but what I love most about him is his ability to write about photography and life. His collection of essays, More than a Rock, was one of my favourites of this year.

Patricia Turner – is a photographic sage. She’s a retired teacher who loves to travel and write about contemplative photography, just for the fun of it. She’s also prolific and has an amazing yearlong project she’s working on called A Poetry of Place, where she’s visiting and photographing a pond near her home for the entire year. I had a chance to co-teach a workshop with her at Star Island and she’s a delightful person all around.

Photography Movies/Videos that I Kept Revisiting

Dorothea Lange – Grab a Hunk of Lightning (112 minutes, PBS Video)

Art Wolfe – The Art of the Image (51 minutes, Photographers at Google)

Photography Books that Changed Me

A Beautiful Anarchy – by David duChemin, another of my favourite photographer/writers. This book is about being courageous and living your life the way you really need and want to. Inspiring. Subscribe to the blog.

Looking into the Light – by Sean Kernan offers exercises in learning to see and enhance your creativity. It is written for photographers mostly. What could be better? It’s the book I wish I’d written and I’ll be referring to it much more in the coming year.

But Most of All …

I’m inspired by my daily walks, the power of photography and the creative life, friendships and family, and the incredible group of people that I interact with online. Happy New Year!

p.s. There are many other sites and people that inspire me on a regular basis. These are just my favourites for now.

Please share a favourite site, book, movie that inspired you this past year and is not on this list.

Read More