Monday, September 8, 2014


by Carol

I was given a gift this morning - a thought to mull over. And that thought fits perfectly into my experiences of the past week. Over Labor Day weekend I attended Kim Manley Ort's Contemplative Photography workshop, co-taught by Patricia Turner,  on the incredibly beautiful and raw Star Island. I should have taken the name of the workshop literally - because the weekend left me much to contemplate - not only about photography, but about life. Oh my - I've had some big thoughts since then! And I am very aware that a door has opened a little bit wider. Another path has appeared for me and I can't wait to walk it.

My gift this morning came in the form of a quote from Polly Young-Eisendrath. Here is the sentence that started my mind rolling: "People did not live with mirrors or photographs or anything like that for eons of time, " and in many places still those things are not a part of daily life. Think about the impact of that - the change in perspective it creates. Looking in a mirror creates a separation. There is you , and there is the image you are staring at. It feeds comparison and insecurity and separation from others. Polly, a zen Buddhist and psychotherapist, encourages us to look away from ourselves and out into the vast world. Move from that narrow, self-important position - and look - no REALLY LOOK at your surroundings. That simple action will create an earthquake - a seismic shift away from that tiny, narrow focus of worry and regret and judgement to a view of all we are given. It is so much better to feel insignificant than insecure; so much better to focus on gratitude, rather than judgement.

Star Island is an outdoor paradise, not much spoiled by human contact. The entire Island is only forty acres and nature is on full display! Life there is simple by necessity, because it takes great effort to bring anything there from the mainland. Ever since camp as a little girl, I have enjoyed the way people (myself included) settle into a nature experience, and I watched it again on Star. At the first class everyone is a bit self-conscious. They have dressed the way they choose to present themselves; perhaps they have given thought to how they will introduce themselves. They are deciding how much of themselves to reveal - they are still using the mirror.

But as Kim and Patricia led the workshop, the pretense began to drift away. Thankfully, they taught the workshop with much free time. A workshop on contemplation should provide you with time to contemplate! That may seem obvious, but it is so often not. Kim and Patricia toiled as guides - giving us  methods, like "visual listening," and "meditative drawing" -  to help us see and receive our surroundings. And then they released us out into nature, where we were free to discover the earth's message to us. True teachers, they realized that our lessons come to us when they are needed. They refrained from being "the experts," so that we could discover our own expertise.  I am so grateful that they realized their roles as cultivators, rather than pontificators.

I watched, and enjoyed as we all progressed from that first introduction, to that last day when the mirror is not given a thought and you hop out of bed at 5 AM, to wander out into the fog, forgetting to brush your hair or teeth! There will be time for that later - right now I have to watch the show!

And what about photography? Well, when you "keep calm and receive the image," it is an emotional experience. You are a participant in it, and not an observer of it. The message from an image taken like that, transcends the paper the photo is printed on. When you have an emotional attachment to your image's subject - so will the person viewing your photograph - and isn't that our goal as photographers - "true creative expression?" 

Kim and Patricia left us with a traditional Celtic blessing: 

May the stars light your way
And may you find the interior road

(p.s. - If you would like to see some images from our group, Kim has published our final slideshow. You can see it here. You will not regret finding Kim's blog. If you want more of this philosophy, I also encourage you to visit Patricia's blog here.
And would you share what called to you today in our Flickr group?)


Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful post, Carol! I was hoping that you would write about your experience on Star Island with Kim and Patricia. I watched the slideshow with excitement and admiration at the wonderful images that all of you received and I could feel the contemplative environment through them. We all say we need to slow down and really listen and receive, but it is actually quite hard to do that on a daily basis. A dedicated time like this really helps to cement a practice. If Kim offers this again next year, I really hope to attend!

kelly said...

my goodness carol...what a thought provoking post to start the week with. through your words and photos I can sort of taste a glimpse of your experience. I love how you put it that the door was open a bit exciting!

kimmanleyort said...

What a thoughtful and inspiring post, Carol. The title is perfect. We came together and created the weekend together and you were a part of that - a gift to us with what you brought to the mix. And, you took to heart the advice to look inside and see what Star Island had to say to you. I'm so glad we connected in person.

Kim Stevens said...

Yes, yes and more yes....This is exactly the journey I've been on for the past couple of years and it has been life changing. Receiving can't be rushed either, it requires patience and I think it's why so many miss it in our society - people don't know how to slow down. And oh yes, when we receive an image as a full participant we give back a little of ourselves. I'm so glad for your experience there, for the door opening a little wider...and I can see it in your beautiful photographs! xo

leigh said...

"Keep calm and receive the image"….oh my word…this is perfect! I sometimes struggle to find the way to explain how I see….and feel…about photography and you have summed it up beautifully! If Kim offers another workshop like this soon….sign me up!

terriporter said...

I think Kim would be able to fill up a workshop with just us from FOL! Sounds like it was fantastic and such a calming atmosphere. Something I think we all could learn from. Slowing down and just receiving is so hard for me and it would truly be a gift to be able to do that, even if for a few days, but hopefully to learn how to do it all the time. Thanks for sharing what you learned with us.

Patricia Turner said...

This is truly lovely Carol and I am humbled by your accolades. My pure enjoyment is being able to share my thoughts and practices with such wonderful, like-minded photographers as yourself. I knew, when I visited Star Island last year that this is the ideal place to practice contemplative photography and with Kim's wisdom and guidance, we all were able to fall into our own rhythm of being in this unique landscape. Thank you for your kind comments and may you continue to receive the gift of wonderment wherever your journey takes you now. "There is only one journey. Going inside yourself." - Rainer Maria Rilke

heyjudephotography said...

What a fabulous post Carol. Like some others have mentioned, I can feel a little of what you experienced in your words. It sounds like a unique and moving experience, and I'm glad you were able to take away so much from it.

Dotti said...

I'm running to catch up to you all today after a whirlwind weekend trip to PA. Carol, these are all so lovely and the thought of slowing down, contemplating, letting the vision come to me is enthralling. I hope to be able to do some of this on my upcoming Canada/New England trip. My mind and heart need it and you and your friends from Star Island have inspired me. Kim's slideshow was fabulous!

Deanna said...

This is so lovely, Carol. I can certainly tell by your words and your images that you spent a wonderful, spiritual, contemplative weekend at Star Island. What a breathtaking experience, thank you so much for sharing with us. We can only imagine!!

Cathy said...

I really needed this today in so many ways. Beautiful, xooxox

Roxi Hardegree said...

I absolutely love that last image. Contemplation is elusive to me most of the time. That is my fault of course.

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