Saturday, January 22, 2011

More than you ever wanted to know about the working of a contemplative photographer's brain

Because I'm supposed to be preparing for the talk I'm to give at Seattle U in February,   I'm a little more conscious than usual about what goes into this daily practice of mine -- which (of course) means that it's not flowing quite as smoothly as it normally does.

Some of that has to do with time constraints -- interruptions, changes in plans, people getting up and coming downstairs unexpectedly when they normally sleep in -- but some of it is also just the experience of being observed by my own analytical brain.

So you may remember that yesterday I had intended to share Ed Bastian's definition of contemplation, when I got sidetracked.  So today I knew I wanted to come back to that, and so first I looked at it again, to see what it was that struck me.

"Contemplation," he says, in his new book,  Interspiritual Meditation, "is not an aimless meandering of thought, but a disciplined activity by which one explores and investigates an idea, an insight, a sacred persona, or a truth, in a thoroughgoing way, pursuing its consequences for all aspects of our lives."

This definition struck me particularly because I'd been preparing for this talk, and it seemed to me that in all my preparation I'd actually neglected to say anything about what I think it means to be a contemplative photographer, which is... um... kind of the basic concept that frames everything I do?  Well, duh! 

But then, of course, I thought -- well, this is a pretty dry description, and if I begin with that the whole talk is going to be a bit of a snore.  So then I thought, well, maybe if I just talk about it in the blog I'll be able to get it out of my system, or clarify it.  Which meant I should begin by finding some sort of image that reflects or illuminates the subject.  Which meant I went browsing through my image collection -- and half an hour later I still had... well, nothing.

Because that's not really how it works, most of the time at least.  The image really has to come first.  So then I gave up and let myself just hunt for an image that called to me, and then I would just work with it.  And wouldn't you know something like this rusty thing at the top of the blog would appear.  I mean, hello: what am I supposed to say about this?  There's beauty in disintegration?  Getting rusty isn't necessarily a bad thing?  And what does that have to do with contemplation? Because these thoughts are just coming off the top of my head; it's not like they're deep or anything.

And now the blogging process  -- already thrown off this morning by my husband needing to cook in the kitchen while I was meditating -- has been interrupted by 3 separate phone calls and I'm basically thinking I should stop trying to write, just quit while I'm ahead and let YOU figure out what that image could POSSIBLY have to do with contemplation.

But then some part of me -- you know, the brain that thinks I might have something important to say if I could just slow down for a minute and LOOK at the damn thing -- thinks there must be SOMETHING I could say, so I go back into Photoshop to look at the image again and realize, no, actually, that wasn't the image that really called to me today; it was THIS one -- which I rejected, because it was sort of obvious; so much so that I suspect I may have already used it?

But now, whatever the initial message it may have wanted me to explore might have been, it seems clear that the time has come to just STOP.  STOP WRITING.  STOP THINKING.  STOP WORRYING ABOUT IT -- and stop isolating yourself from the rest of the family, which has now gathered in the dining room for breakfast.

So I will.

So there.


Maureen said...

Dawn Potter, a poet, wrote this morning about just accepting that we sometimes can't write and that giving in to the silence may be the best thing we can do. I noted that a lot of wonder can come out of quiet. The words won't come until the expression finds its way.

You ask is there beauty in disintegration. Some would say the obvious answer is, no. I don't agree. That rust in the images isn't stagnant; it's occurring over time and it's changing what was, and what we're seeing, into entirely different things. The process itself is fascinating from more than the scientific explanation of how it happens. Imagine if nothing ever disintegrated. And where does the rust go when the disintegration is complete? And why, as in the 2nd image, are we impelled to etch our marks in it, to change it further? The beauty is not just surface color and process but in the questions the seeing prompts.

Diane Walker said...

You're so great, Maureen. And yes, if I hadn't already decided the post was SUPPOSED to be about contemplation, that's exactly the direction I would have taken it.

We humans are so afraid of loss, and have such short memories about what gets found with every loss...

Unknown said...

Diane, I love this post and am wishing I could post an image that came to me as I read your post!! I'm going to go link to your post and post my image response on my blog,

I like your reflection that "the image really has to come first." When I think of my photography as contempative photography, I imagine myself hither and yon, being captivated usually by some small detail in nature which compels me to contemplate it (and in the process make the image).Last summer, my friends thought I was crazy to spend forty-five minutes with a rock under an icy cold mountain stream. But it was an act of contemplation, which act I remember actually better than the image I took away.

Thanks for your inspiration!

Louise Gallagher said...

I like what Maureen wrote -- about not writing.

It's how I feel when I write my blog -- I seldom come to the laptop with a 'what I'm writing about today is...' thought. I come with -- wonder.

which is what I feel and hear and see in your work. It isn't the disintegration that I see captured. It is the wonder -- of nature, man, objects, visual clues -- that map our journey in such seemingly concrete ways -- while all the while -- nothing is concrete because it keeps disintegrating. Even when we put our stamp on it -- the skeletal white handprint in the second photo reall speaks of that for me -- I don't see stop -- I see a beckoning into the 'third palm' -- that space where wonder exists. When I move into that hole, I feel like Alice -- and anything can happen in this photo -- and it can 'mean' anything -- or nothing. The meaning comes through me and my willingness to move into that third palm.

LOL -- powerful ideas you've awoken with this blog Diane -- thanks!

Hope you enjoyed your family time. Maybe -- the Stop worrying about it is the most powerful place of all for all of us. Maybe -- the stop is the beginning of simply being present to the experience and wonder of now.