You may think that the statement “Don’t take another photo” is a rather radical one for someone who is as keen a photographer as I am. And it is. But I don’t mean quite what you think I mean by this statement. In his book The Little Book of Contemplative Photography Howard Zehr talks about how aggressive, predatory, acquisitive and imperialistic our language and actions associated with photography are. We take photos, we aim our camera, and we shoot a picture then we claim it as our own. Yet none of us own a beautiful sunset, a butterfly basking on a leaf or a bird hovering in the sky. Nor do we own the images of faces snapped in the midst of a war scene or captured from a crowd.
When we do photography, we receive an image that is reflected from the subject. Instead of photography as taking, the, we can envision it as receiving. Instead of a trophy that is hunted, an image is a gift. (The Little Book of Contemplative Photography Howard Zehr p16)
Christine Valters Paintner in Eyes of the Heart, another book on contemplative photography that has inspired me, expresses this same understanding. She suggests we see photography as an act of reverence that allows us to enter more deeply into a knowledge of ourselves, of others, of God, and of God’s creation. When we photograph with this attitude it can become an act of revelation, a process of discovery, out of which we are able to offer others a vision of graced ordinary moments.
Over the years I have combined my favourite photographs with prayers and made them into prayer cards that I know many of you have appreciated. I also have several printed on canvas boards that I rotate on my desk as an ongoing focus of delight and reverence.
It was my Facebook live session with June Friesen a couple of weeks ago in which we talked about the delight of reflecting on our photos that encouraged me to take a more serious look at how I treat my photos. June shared about how she was drawn into a meditative form of writing and spiritual reflections in conjunction with her photos. Like Christine Valters Paintner, it was the practice of Visio Divina that started her on the way and it made me realize how essential this type of practice is for all of us who like photography. Visio Divina means sacred seeing and is essentially the process of applying Lectio Divina to an image.
Visio Divina invites us to see at a more contemplative pace. It invites us to see all there is to see, exploring the entirety of the image. It invites us to see deeply, beyond first and second impressions, below initial ideas, judgments, or understandings. It invites us to be seen, addressed, surprised, and transformed by God who is never limited or tied to any image, but speaks through them.(Praying With Art – Visio Divina)
So I thought I would share a shortened version of this practice here.
Look through your photos and choose one that stands out for you, tugging at your heart-strings with a pull of delight or even of sorrow. It is best if you can sit with your image in your hand but if not, use your computer or phone screen.
Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths in and out, centering yourself on the presence of God. Alternatively you might like to use the prayer above to focus yourself.
Open your eyes and allow your eyes to wander over the entire image. Take some more deep breaths as you notice the shapes, colours, details and symbols. Dwell on the people, the birds and other creatures. Immerse yourself in the details of the image.
What place in the image invites you to rest and savor its details? Allow it to unfold in your imagination. Are there memories or emotions that it stirs? Are there actions or responses it invites you to? Do you think it made you view the image differently?
Write a reflection about the responses your image has stirred.
End with a prayer to God for the revelation you have received.
As a further suggestion, every time you photograph in the next week, try to visualize yourself receiving the image rather than taking it. See it as a gift and offer a prayer to God. What difference does this make to your art of photography?
You might also like to think about the photos you see in the news, especially those of war zones and environmental disaster. I wonder if the way we flick through these each day is another form of unhealthy consumption that we need to reevaluate.
And last but not least, if you have time watch this video of the Facebook live session June and I did. What other thoughts or ideas does it stir?
Prayer cards are available in the shop for many occasions and seasons–from everyday pauses and Lenten ruminations to breath meditations and Advent reflections, enjoy guided prayers and beautiful illustrations designed to delight and draw close. Many are available in single sets, sets of three, and to download–even bundled with other resources!