Monday 9 May 2016

Being at one with the photo…

A confession: most of my photographs are taken without much thought or analysis. I see an engaging image in the corner of my eye and respond immediately. Out comes the camera and the clicking begins. It all happens very quickly.

Case in point: the photograph above. I took it at the 2015 Remembrance Day Ceremony at the Belleville cenotaph. I was standing off at the side of the crowd scanning faces. Suddenly, these two men appeared. The beards, the berets, the shades. I snapped immediately without thinking, not knowing if I'd captured anything interesting. A moment later, the image was gone. It was only when I downloaded the photos at home an hour later that I saw the power of their faces - and the power of their unspoken stories. And then I saw the other faces - the rapt attention of the woman at the left; the squinting man with the brush cut in the centre; the woman in red with her intent gaze on the right; and the focus of the partially hidden woman on the far right. Six stories in one shot. And all of of them captured in a nanosecond.

I love this shot, although - quite frankly - it makes me feel a little creepy, as if I had invaded the privacy of these people. Most of my photography to date has been of trains and puppies and flowers and stuff - not people. But photographing people is a topic for a future blog, so today I'll return to the topic of photographic spontaneity.

And this is where the concept of contemplative photography has entered my awareness. Case in point: the above photograph taken last November in Kitchener. While Bill explored fabrics, I walked around a Kitchener neighbourhood that reminded me of Rosedale - old-money mansions with leaded windows, slate roofs, meticulous gardens, and the discreet whiff of 'staff'. One house, however - a large, 1950s one-storey outlier - took my attention. Everything was quietly grey - the brick, the roof, the cars, the garage doors. The one flash of colour was the remaining leaves of a Japanese maple. The contrast of the delicately fluttering red leaves against the grey garage door was breathtaking. I was mesmerized, summonsed to stillness. I simply stared. It was only after several moments of observation that I brought out my camera and captured the image above. I didn't realize it, but it was my first experience with contemplative photography.

In future postings, I will be exploring contemplative photography more fully. In the meantime, here's a highly recommended book: The Practice of Contemplative Photography/Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes, by Andy Karr and Michael Wood (Shambhala Publications, 2011).

Until next time,


  1. I am thrilled that you have begun this blog, Larry. With words and images, you illuminate the profound in the ordinary and the grace in the serendipitous.

    1. Thanks, Jean. Nice to have you and my friend Lindi being such appreciative, insightful readers.

  2. Lovely post Larry. I appreciate reading more of the journey from spontaneity to contemplative in your photography. I also feel reluctant to photograph people. Perhaps the first peoples' fears about having their spirits stolen by cameras had deep wisdom.

    1. Thank you, my friend. I agree with you about the wisdom of first nations' traditions. In that light, I feel uncomfortable with the metaphor - reality? - of 'capturing' an image. I use the term, but always with a small hesitation.