Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart
Contemplative Photography, part four
After some time away, we return today to the insights of Christine Valters Paintner, author of Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, as she helps us learn how photography can become a contemplative practice, helping us “see” in different ways.
Chapter 3, “The Dance of Light and Shadow,” reminds us of the most basic element of photography — light and its interplay with shadows and darkness. “In photography,” she writes, “both light and shadow are required to make an image, and so the medium invites us to consider ways to integrate both of these gifts in our own lives and contemplations.”
And so Paintner is inviting in this chapter to consider the light that God has given us — the gifts, strengths, insights, and blessings that brighten our lives — as well as the “shadow side” that each of us has, which is often hidden from our awareness and difficult for us to acknowledge and appreciate.
Contemplating your shadow is a tender process. It has remained hidden to us for a reason, perhaps someone shamed us as a child for being too loud or someone judged us for being too expressive. Through the creative process we begin to invite back in all the rejected parts of ourselves. Rather than rejecting darkness as somehow evil, the shadow invites us to integrate it to come to a place of greater wholeness. We would do well to remember again how essential shadow is to the art of photography, in making a meaningful image, rather than one that is washed out by too much light.
In this regard, Paintner references the Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi. One article describes the concept like this:
Emerging in the 15th century as a reaction to the prevailing aesthetic of lavishness, ornamentation, and rich materials, wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all…
Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.
Today’s picture, though not technically an exploration of light and shadow, does deal with “both the glory and melancholy found in these marks of passing time.” On the first day of spring, one looks forward to a season of renewed warmth and fecundity. Yet spring constantly frustrates us with its inconstancy. The chill and blowing snow seem to mock us.
However, this is the “thisness” of life. Warmth and chill. Shadow and brightness. The seasonal cycles. The unexpected turn. The peace and restlessness in my heart — at the same time.
See it all. See it as it is. Capture it. Live into it.