Contemplative Photography

What is contemplation?  Typing the word contemplation here eases my muscles a bit and slows my breathing.  Being still has a profound positive effect on our human biology and being still with a focus on a specific word or object slows our breathing, relaxes our muscles, and our flows our blood more easily through the body.

What is contemplation?

  • The act or state of contemplating.
  • Thoughtful observation or study.
  • Meditation on spiritual matters, especially as a form of devotion.

(From The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.)

Contemplation and solitude as a practice or method can be taught.  The aim of this practice is to surrender to unknowing, to rise above and simply notice the senses, and to observe the thoughts of the intellect.  We train ourselves to pay attention to what is appearing this moment.

Contemplation also means to “mark out a space for observation.” Solitude is the home of the contemplative mind.  During solitude the mind’s constant chatter can be observed.  Observing the mind in action we learn to discern the raw or virginal seeing of what is appearing as life before the mind begins to label what is being seen or observed.

Contemplation is also about holding attention or noticing each thought bubble, perhaps to let it organically unfold in new and unexpected ways, places, and times without the mind immediately deciding what is appearing. Of course, some of us are wired to enjoy contemplation and others initially find solitude unbearable.  Go slowly, practice being alone, especially early in the morning, at or before sunrise, and you will come to relish your quiet alone time. Early morning sunlight is good for your brain and your body and helps you sleep better at night.

Emerald Isle, NC  2009  (c) Anita White Avent

Using photography as a tool for contemplation, I’ve practiced creating a quiet and sacred space of simply observing, quieting and stilling the body.  This softens me into yielding to nature, allowing, and surrendering the urge to name and label what is simply an appearance.

In this present moment, I merge with the camera, the lens, as the watcher, observer, lens, and camera as one fluid movement of this holy instant. There is no separation between me and the camera, just pure seeing without a seer. Seeing subject and object and lens as a unified and edgeless holy now.

As a spiritual practice, photography can cultivate a sustained mystical awareness of the union between the human eye and the camera lens.  It is no surprise many photographers are naturally introverted and curious, often seeking a deeper, contemplative orientation to daily life.  I’ve practiced Contemplative Photography since 2001.

Anita White Avent


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