Much has been said in recent months on how difficult lockdowns and safe havens have limited photographers. Depending on your comfort level with masks and being around people a choice is made as to whether one will venture forth into the outdoors or stay put. Each choice is valid and completely personal but what if your choice is not what you really want to do? That is where a photographer may feel limited. The walls of the home that once offered you comfort take on the feeling of confinement and restriction.
I have dealt with limitations, especially physical ones, for several years now. So the current situation of being housebound seems like nothing new to me. But a webinar that I recently attended did point out to me that oftentimes, and especially in the Poconos, photography tends to be associated with the outdoors and lessons or talks are geared to that viewpoint. Two amazing photographers were sharing their thoughts on “Contemplative Photography” which basically is a way to see photographs that are presenting themselves to you rather than looking for a shot you’ve predetermined in your mind that you must take. It involves practices such as being aware of your surroundings, being in the moment and clearing away distractions, thinking abstractly, (i. e. using a soft focus instead of razor sharp accuracy), telling a story and not having an expectation of what you are going to take that day. The examples they shared all emphasized one of these aspects and they were amazing but they were captured at places I may never get to- sand dunes in a desert, reflections in a river in a canyon, Autumn leaves on top of a mountain, and a beach in Hawaii.
It would be easy to write off their knowledge and expertise by thinking, “Well, that was for outdoor photography so it doesn’t apply to me”, but that is not the way I think. Instead I started to review in my mind pictures I’d captured around my house with those very principles in action. True, it is much harder to clear out the list of “things I should and need to do” in the very environment they should and must be done in but it is possible! It is harder to be “in the moment” when you’ve been in that same spot hundreds of times over the previous day, month or year. It is a challenge to think about your home in the abstract or see a story in your furniture, cupboards, or dresser drawers. But they are there! It is easy to have a list of pictures you expect to capture in a foreign country or an iconic location such as Niagara Falls, but almost the reverse takes place in our house. We are so used to thinking of our kitchen as mundane, our bookshelf as uninteresting and the laundry basket as boring. But that is because we are LOOKING at them and not really SEEING them. The contemplative practice that involves our decision to clear away distractions in our mind and to be in the moment of the place where we stand is just as important in the living room as it is on a path in the woods.
My favorite place to start my day is in my living room. Light spills into it from several directions; from above through the windows at the top of my cathedral ceiling, from behind through two small windows that flank the fireplace, and from the side through the picture window on the front of my house. Light and shadow shift as the minutes go by with something new to see reflected on the walls in a very short span of time. One morning I assigned myself the task of capturing a new “circle” shot for my on-line photo club. Knowing that it would be easy to repeat something I’d photographed before, I decided to close my eyes for 2 minutes before I took the shot. I took a few deep breaths and pushed aside the list of things I needed to accomplish that day, including the photography assignment! There is always a point when I do this that I feel “settled” and a sense of calm takes hold of my soul. It’s then when I know it’s time to open my eyes. I’m ready to “see” the shot rather than look for it. As I opened my eyes my gaze was directed toward a chest of drawers my father refinished years ago. But not the dresser as a whole, just a portion of it where the knobs and inlay were balanced in harmony and forming a pattern of circles and lines. I saw the picture and took it.
Marcel Proust said, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking landscapes, but in having new eyes.” There are just as many photographs to discover in your home as there are outside. The question is, “Will your eyes SEE them?”
Ann H. LeFevre
July 18, 2020
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