We received a lovely snowfall, a baptism of huge wet flakes that spiraled to earth and settled in mounds of glittering crystal. It began last night and ended as the sun rose, which is when I headed out in Phillip’s huge boots to listen to the world through my camera.
When I was eight, I received an old Kodak box camera from my grandfather. I think it required 110 film, and even then I preferred black and white images.
Love at first click, and forever enchanted, I said yes to a lifelong passion. It is one I never interrupted with formal classes or instruction (although those who view my photographs have often hinted such training might technically and artistically advance my use of the camera and images I create).
But that’s the thing with avocation (“a calling away”); it isn’t formal at all. It’s deeply intuitive, and sensual, and private. My camera and I have a relationship like any artist has with her tools: photography is one way I make love to the world, and who wants interruptions from “professionals” when she’s making love?
For me, time with my camera, like time in the garden, is a form of holy engagement. The world is always revealing, bearing, translating, and sharing communications from Spirit; I know this is true. Most of our lives, I think, are spent sending and receiving messages within a sadly constrained and diminished end of the language spectrum. We hold our lives, others, and the Sacred in such small and indifferent regard, as though love, life, and meaning could be neatly and summarily corralled only by words and behaviors of our own invention.
When we engage in art of any kind, we’re called away from false interactions. We shatter these ego-created boundaries, both the singular and collective, and let the world and Spirit speak to us and through us in other languages, those which our hearts have always understood and beyond the boundaries that separate us from self and other.
When I leave a film, or dance, or play, or art exhibit, and the first tendency of my companions is to analyze the feelings and responses washing over us, I leave them, too.
Everything doesn’t have to be put into my words, or yours. Everything doesn’t need to be evaluated, packaged, and labeled. We are still, always, at least in part, wild and in wilderness, and that is wonderful. And terrifying. And delightful.
When I set out with my camera, the world speaks in what is and isn’t language; it’s closer to music, and requires deep listening. Slowly, my learned language leaves me; the inchoate within finds resonance with dust, and wind, and angles of light. A kind of emotional and spiritual articulation emerges as I interact with the Sacred through my camera and enter the holy flow… The tree branches may begin the story, and then the birdsong continues until the river and clouds conclude a chapter in two voices. Patterns and rhythms, sometimes synchronized and at other times in syncopation (but always perfect), begin to create meaning, and I know I’m woven into this story as tightly, tenderly, and purposefully as hawk and stone.
When I am anxious, distracted, or rushing through my life and the world, I am utterly disconnected from these songs and stories all around me. But when my camera and I set out, my thoughts still and my spirit opens her doors and windows, and the Holy rushes in with messages about how we are loved and made to love.
I read a wonderful story this week about a woman named Vivian Maier, whose photographs were discovered posthumously. Thousands of photos were discovered by a young relator who—thankfully—recognized their value. These photographs were taken over the course of Vivian’s life, which was largely lived in the shadows of the wealthy families she served, caring for their children. I understand Vivian’s need to record and engage, and I understand her choice to leave the photos, once developed, in boxes. The finished photograph isn’t the point; the point is to make love to the world however and whenever we can.
When I Heard the Learned Astronomer ~ Walt Whitman
When I heard the learned astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When, I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wandered off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Looked up in perfect silence at the stars.