Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Be Our Guest - Kim Manley Ort

It is my pleasure to introduce our guest today, Kim Manley Ort, who explores contemplative living through photography. She facilitates online and in-person workshops.  While contemplation is at the core of her photography, her teaching mission is to help people see new perspectives and possibilities, and to encourage them to trust their own unique way of seeing. A new workshop – Keeping It Simple – begins May 19th. {I’m already signed up. Why not join me? - D}

Please connect with her at any of the following places: website, Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook Page – Adventures in Seeing.

                                                                                                                                             ~ Dotti

 Living a Contemplative Life through Photography

In an apartment in Italy, I awoke one morning to the sun streaming through the bottom of the heavy curtains. I paused to take in the moment and saw the curved shape created by the light. My photograph etches that moment in my memory.

The tagline on my website is “Exploring contemplative living through photography,” and I think this fits very well with this site, “Focusing on life.”

Contemplation means to “consider with attention.”

My first teacher in the contemplative life was the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, who was also a photographer. Merton calls contemplation taking a “long, loving look at the real.”

Contemplative photography is not something I practice only at certain times. Whether I have a camera with me or not, I practice awareness of the subtle world around me all the time – noticing light and lines, shapes and colours.

There are three habits of contemplative photographers that I'd like to explore – opening and pausing, focusing our attention, and making the connection.

Open and Pause

The first habit is to open ourselves to receiving images by becoming aware of our perceptions.

Perceptions are not thoughts; they are pre-thought and often felt. Something grabs our attention and brings us into the moment. For example, in the image below I was stopped by the colour (red) and the curves.

We have these types of perceptions all the time, but are often unaware of them, ignore them or jump to creating a story about them. Our conceptual (thinking) mind kicks in to name, label, interpret. In this case, my conceptual mind would say “pretty red car,” and I'd pull back and photograph the red car, rather than the initial perception.

As contemplative photographers it's important to pause and identify the initial perception. It's not up to us to judge it as interesting or beautiful or to improve on it. The Miksang approach to contemplative photography is exemplary for teaching how to be more aware of perceptions.

Focus Attention

The second habit of contemplative photography is to explore new perspectives and possibilities by focusing our attention – taking that long, loving look.

This form of attention trains us to see with the heart, taking note of all of the qualities that are present. This is how we get to the essence or soul of what is there. Ordinary subjects become quite extraordinary when we do this.

To see with the heart is to see without judgment. We see what's there and refuse to label it as pretty or ugly, good or bad, interesting or boring. With this approach, everything and everyone has value and deserves recognition.

I feel myself drawn to subjects normally considered ordinary, boring or even ugly – like rusty guardrails, graffiti walls, or rain on my deck.

Last summer, I explored different perspective and qualities of a clump of grasses near my home. I saw the variations of green, the soft curves of the individual fronds, and the way they swayed in the wind.

I photographed these grasses all summer in many wild and wonderful ways.

Making the Connection

Once we've received the image, identified our perception, and explored perspectives, it's time to make the connection (click the shutter).  

I believe that contemplative photography is also about relationship and that what we are drawn to can reveal things about ourselves.

Ansel Adams said, “You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

Some would argue that the photographer has no place within the photograph. My experience tells me something different. I believe that our unique perceptions reflect something deep inside of us.

Clicking the shutter is a way of acknowledging that resonance. It's a visual form of namaste - “the essence in me recognizes the essence in you.”

Over the past winter, I visited a local greenhouse a couple of times to get a dose of colour from the flowers. While I did photograph the flowers, I found myself drawn to the glass walls of the greenhouse and the filmy layer that obscured and distorted the scene outside.

This is where trusting your instincts comes into play. Instead of telling myself that no one else would find these images interesting, I went where my heart was taking me. Several of these images are my favourites from this winter.

To me, they reflect my own desire to make a connection, to reach out, and to reveal more about myself. Yet, there is still a thin film blocking the way. This is my own interpretation.

Take a look at recent images of yours and see what they tell you about yourself.

To summarize, contemplative photography is about opening to receive images, focusing our attention with love, and then making the connection (clicking the shutter).

Thank you, Dotti, for inviting me to contribute to the community here at Focusing on Life. 

Other contemplative photography sources – Miksang, Christine Valters Paintner (Eyes of the Heart), Patricia Turner (A Photographic Sage)


Dotti said...

Welcome, Kim, to FOL! What a treat this is ... It's so exciting to think how contemplative photography might improve not only our photography but our lives as well. The photos are beautiful and give the viewer something to contemplate so it seems that this practice of contemplative photography creates a dynamic circle. Thank you for all the 'food for thought' you've given us this morning ... and I hope you'll grace our pages again.

kelly said...

what beautiful post kim! i love how you've broken down this concept and i can totally see how shooting with these things in mind can bring more joy to, not only my photography, but to my life in general. thank you for sharing this new way seeing.

CarolHart said...

Lovely post Kim! So good to see you here. Your thoughtful post has given me much to think about today.

Cathy H. said...

Kim, wonderful post and images! Your images, your classes, and your blog have helped me look at the world and my photography in a different way. I have learned to slow down and really look before I snap the shutter! Dotti, I'm already signed up for Kim's class...I'll see you there!

terriporter said...

First of all, thank you so much for being our guest today! I know in this day and age of digital photography, it is so tempting to just shoot away with little thought for what we are actually capturing. I love the idea of "contemplation" and slowing down to really see what is in our viewfinder. Your photos are perfect examples of that. I'm also signed up for your Keeping it Simple class and am really looking forward to it!

Kim Stevens said...

Kim, it's so great to have you here! I'm currently reading Christine's book and enjoying it. I've also really enjoyed reading about Chuang-tzu and sagehood principles as related to photography, constricted and unconstricted awareness, little and great understanding, and the art of mindfulness. I need to check out "A Photographic Sage." Very much looking forward to class next week!!

Kim Stevens said...

Oh, and I also forgot to add that I love your images!!

gina said...

What a beautiful post, Kim! Thank you for this excellent summary of Contemplative Photography. I love the idea of connection and relationship via our cameras. I've enjoyed your classes in the past, and look forward to Keeping It Simple.

Cathy said...

It is so wonderful to have you here. You spoke right to my heart. It is so easy to get caught up in taking photos with no connection, especially in today's world. We click away and wonder later what we were after. Slowing down and really seeing is so important. And your images are so good. Thank you so much for this beautiful post.

AFishGirl said...

Ahhhhh. Dotti, I'll be joining you. Just signed up. Thank you for this post, Kim.

kimmanleyort said...

Thanks everyone (and especially Dotti), for the warm welcome. It was good to clarify my own thoughts on contemplative photography since I draw from many sources. I'm excited that many of you will be joining me next week for Keeping It Simple.

heyjudephotography said...

I love the way you broke contemplative photography into sections. I see that there really are steps to each photograph - to each capture. I feel as if I really slow down and take it all in when I'm shooting, but I'm going to really focus on that next time to be sure I do. And how great to carry that over into our every day life! Thank you Kim for being with us here today. What a treat! I'm looking forward to taking a class from you sometime soon.

leigh said...

What a wonderful post Kim! This is so inspiring to me and I can't wait to check out your classes. Thank you so much for joining us today!

Anonymous said...

What a joy to see you here today Kim! I always find so much of value in your posts and your classes and I know others will too. I confess I don't always take a contemplative approach to photography even though that is what I strive for -- sometimes I get carried away and get snap happy-- but when I do slow down and become more mindful, my images are always stronger, more authentic and have more longevity. That last image of yours really speaks to me...wonderful post!

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