Photography as a Spiritual Practice

November 3, 2009

Last weekend I was co-leader of a workshop on “Photography as a Spiritual Practice”.  This is how Woolman Hill (a Quaker conference center in South Deerfield, Massachusetts) listed the workshop in their program:

Arthur Fink and Tony Stapleton are both Quaker photographers who carry their photographic work (or play) as a spiritual inquiry or expression.  They invite you to join in this weekend of photographing from within, which will include time for worshiping together, making pictures, sharing our work and process, and just enjoying Woolman Hill.  Our goal is to broaden our vision, open our spiritual awareness, and, in the process, learn how to take more expressive pictures.  This will not be about technical photography instruction, and all photographers are welcome regardless of technical knowledge or experience.

The most important news to report is that we had no trouble finding an energetic  group of participants who agreed with this theme — that photography is part of our spiritual lives.  It’s about discovery and expression, about worship and reverence, about self and other.  Images are metaphors for deeper understanding, even as they are clusters of silver particles or digital pixels that we labor with as we craft our art work.  But these are my words — not theirs.  What I’m reporting is not a manifesto from the group, but my own distillation of what I saw going on.

Sensing that this might workshop might not fill Woolman Hill, the director had scheduled another workshop to share the conference center with us.  We were paired with “The Wisdom to Know The Difference: A Weekend on Discernment”, led by Eileen Flanagan.  I’d strongly recommend her new book, “The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make a Change and When to Let Go” — available at Amazon.com and at other bookstores.  It was wonderful to be constantly reminded that the process of photography is a kind of discernment, as we choose to put our frames around very select portions of the visual world that we experience.

I’m excited about running other similar workshops, as well as more programs on creativity and spirit in general (not tied to a particular artistic discipline, like photography or dance).  I’ve run these in the past, and was always touched by the gifts that each participant shared.

My main message to our  group this weekend — Look and see, before you photograph.  This may sound trivial, or obvious.  It’s not.  The process and technique of photography can easily absorb us, and distract us from sensing where we are, what we feel, and what we have to say and share.

Interested in this dialog?  Please respond here, or contact me.

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