Art & Healing: Photography (5/6)

The next two posts in this series on art and healing are two of the most accessible art media in the modern world. I remember the days when each photograph I took cost money in film, flash bulbs and developing/printing. And talk about delayed gratification! To save money, I used to send off my film by mail to be developed and mailed back to me, so it was weeks before I saw the results of my efforts. Even if you were lucky enough to have a Polaroid instant camera that spit a photo out the front of the camera, you had to wait sometimes 10 minutes for it to develop. And when I look back on the results of all that time, effort and money, I see that it includes the blurry, the too dark or too light, and the devil-red eyes!

Nowadays, we carry around in our pockets cameras far smarter than their comparatively gigantic ancestors. We can take as many shots as we desire, knowing that we will simply delete the ones that don’t turn out. We can review them before we let our subjects break rank, lest anyone’s eyes be closed, and we are virtually never without them, should some sight worth commemorating arise before our eyes. Like dinner. Or the dog sleeping in on his back with legs akimbo. Whatever. We snap and post to document our daily lives, no longer just special occasions.

But photography can be much more than that. It can teach us a new way of seeing. In her book, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, Christine Valters Paintner describes “one of the wonders of photography: to be able to frame a moment in time and, within my gaze and absolute presence in that particular moment, to discover holiness. In that single moment, I am reminded that all moments are holy.”

Paintner prescribes a contemplative walk with your camera as a spiritual practice: “Begin the walk with a brief time to center yourself, and become aware of the sacred presence dwelling within you. Move your awareness to your heart center. Ask for guidance and wisdom to see everyday things with the eyes of the heart. Bring a soft gaze to the world. As you walk, be present to what is calling for your attention. Then go for a walk in your neighborhood, down familiar streets, but walk slowly and see what you notice. Let your camera be a window onto a new way of seeing. Receive the images that come.”

The images that we receive (rather than the pictures we “take”) in this way may not be perfect in the conventional sense, but they will often reveal a deeper kind of loveliness, and we may be captivated by the unique voice of a dry leaf, a broken shell, or a sunset crisscrossed by telephone lines.

When you get home from your contemplative walk, take some time to look through your photos. Is there one that you feel especially drawn to? One that seems to shimmer with, not just beauty, but perhaps with deeper meaning? Do some journaling on this image. As an example, here is what I wrote about this brown leaf:

My muse whispers
— she does not shout —
Look here, look here!
What was that?
Go back and look again
at the blown leaf
on a speckled sidewalk
The slanting sun casting
a black patterned shadow
the intricate shape
the curling crispness
the sharply outlined veins
of its dry circulatory system
It is its own masterpiece in brown
Please pause and commemorate
this moment of wonder

Then I straighten back up and
continue on my way
A neighbor passing by
looks at me curiously
I see her scan the ground
glance around in puzzlement
then back at me

I smile and keep going
I find that muses are
a little hard to explain

by Celeste Boudreaux, December 19, 2019

Next post: Art & Healing: Collage (6/6)

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