This morning as I was waiting in line for a ferry, the clear pure notes of a robin’s song came to my ears. A pause, then that lovely clear song again. I stopped and just listened, and said out loud, “Thank you for your song, lovely bird.”
My photographs are the song I offer the world. They are my Namaste, my way of saying to the subject, “I recognize and salute the Divine within you”.
I am keenly aware that like the robin, I am allotted a finite number of days on this earth. Many hours are devoted to the mundane tasks of life, of course. But when I set aside time to make images, I have the opportunity, like the robin, to add to the beauty of the world.
And so, for me, photography is a spiritual practice. It’s about stopping to notice the beauty around me, the many blessings offered in this world, and composing from these blessings a hymn of praise to offer back to the world.
It a way of saying to the viewer of my image, “Stop weary traveller. Rest here a moment in the beauty of this image, and remember that you live in the midst of miracles.” Just as the robin shares the gift it has been given, I am moved to share whatever gifts I can with others along the way. Some will receive the gifts; others will not.
If this resonates with you, you can start right now. There are “schools” of contemplative photography (I took a Miksang course) and they can be inspiring and helpful, but you don’t need them to get started. It starts with noticing, with looking without an agenda, just open and receptive in each moment.
When something grabs you, stop and become still inside. Notice. Let the subject speak to you. Take your time.
Try to let words and judgments and even identifying objects drop away and just notice – lines, shapes, forms, textures, patterns, colours, and above all – light. You can practise this even without a camera… riding in a car, for example… but these days I carry a camera pretty much everywhere I go.
The things I photograph are often pretty mundane, but by opening my senses and attuning my eyes to the sacred, I can notice and then with my camera, reveal the sacred beauty that is hiding in plain sight all around us. A fallen leaf, a dead bird, a shrivelled flower, a weed growing out of a crack in the pavement… let these touch your soul and be fodder for your lens.
We’ve had quite a few hummingbirds dying around the building where I live, due to some architectural “features” that are now being addressed to prevent further deaths. I’ve been sad about this, but I’ve also let my sense of awe and wonder fill me when I see these tiny bodies.
I’m amazed at the perfection of these tiny beings, who weigh almost nothing yet fly up, down and backwards and also hover. What miracles! I hold one in my hand and am overcome with reverence. They are so achingly beautiful and like everything else – like me, eventually – they return to the earth. In a spirit of honouring this tiny life, I pull out my camera.
So when you notice something, stop. It might be as simple as a flower growing up through the pavement. Notice what drew your attention. Look closely and tune in to how you feel. Breathe in the beauty and the reverence you feel in the moment.
Allow yourself to be inspired. (The word inspiration has to do with breathing.) Let your subject take your breath away. Then – and only then – raise your camera and frame the shot in a way that captures what captured you.
When you are finished, pause again in gratitude. You might bow to your subject, outwardly or inwardly. Bless it and continue on your way, noticing all the while.
If you shoot in this way, you will find that your soul starts to shine through your work. Some of your viewers (not all, of course) will have their breath taken away by an image when their soul “rings” in tune with your vision and your presentation of the miracle you saw. That’s a pretty remarkable and gratifying impact to have as a simple photographer!
Judy Hancock Holland is a fine art photographer living on Vancouver Island, BC. Canada. You can see more of her work at JHHphoto.com and at Flickr.com/photos/judynanaimo