When I began seriously exploring the world with a camera my, subjects were that of the Ozark landscape, its people, architecture, music, and rustic ways of life. Gas was about 30 cents a gallon and the Ozarks were full of back roads, twisty rivers, and sunsets smiling down on miles of forested hills. I was shooting Pan Atomic X, rolling my own, learning to tweak developers and burning prints late into the night seeking and reeking just the right blend of magic, art and science in the hopes of having one of those “ah-ha” moments the likes of Weston, White, Stiglitz, and Steichen sometimes spoke of.
I was also in school, ostensibly learning a profession – counseling. I enjoyed working with kids and old people. People my own age were much more problematical. Mostly though I was in school to buy time and collude with my parents that I was actually learning something that might eventually lead to something they approved up. Photography was a little better than being a drummer in a rock n roll band, the latter being how I had spent my “formative years.” The combination of school and photography gave me just what I needed: Courage, confidence, faith, a camera and a sense of destiny as my companions.
It was alchemy and it transformed me as all good alchemy does.
Around this time I had a sense that as long as I stayed in the familiar misery yet relative ease and economic safety of my home-town and family I would never live my own life. I packed up the car and headed west. I had thousands of miles to soak up the realization that I had a life and that I would have to discover my own way forwards. With Master’s degree and camera I headed out to find myself.
I happened to notice myself in Ruidoso, NM, staring at a b&w image of a chipped stone eagle, in a photography store and I knew without a doubt I had photographed that exact same bird in that exact same way and I was fascinated by the coincidence. Next thing I knew I woke up in Alamogordo, NM and the world was different. My life changed totally.
Moving to Albuquerque not knowing a single soul was my second great leap of faith. The first was accepting that I had to go. Facing the fact that I didn’t know one soul in Albuquerque might have been a lot scarier had it not also been for the fact that no one knew me, or my family. I was 900 miles away from help and I was in heaven.
I went with my curiosity and followed the intuitions of the heart and slowly found those I was meant to. Folk very different in outlook, and perspective than the people I’d known before. Seems we just showed up at the right time and were right for each other. These were beings for whom exploring the creative and the spiritual, the archetypal and the energetic dimensions of life, were more important than making a buck. Their minds open, their imaginations so bright, their hearts full, and their faith so deep, it blew me away. Somehow they always had what they needed, somehow the universe always provided just what was needed. Clearly, I needed them and in retrospect, clearly too, the universe has given what I have needed too.
Along came the day I woke up and realized I’d found my life partner and thought maybe I’d found my calling and we packed up and moved to Colorado on faith and the naive belief that we had a clue what we were doing. We enrolled in grad school and I put the camera in the closet for a spell. As the years unfolded, I was involved in various life supportive activities and my interest in photography ebbed and flowed. We lived in Denver and getting up in high country for wild flowers was do able but a pain. Denver, however, in the 80’s had public gardens and I quickly found I loved spending time in those gardens, sitting or kneeling on soft earth and just being there. Looking serious of course but in truth I was just playing and the camera was a toy. Albiet a very powerful one.
Photographing in a public garden armed with a formidable looking tripod, camera, lens, gear and flanked by rows of flowers, is a very interesting experience. Usually, only the very brave dare to approach. Dogs, children and bees mostly with the occasional photo hound. With such interesting companions, and with an open mind and some imagination, the possibilities of experience and creativity become unlimited. To do this however, its most important that we have some means of slowing our selves down. Slowing down the mind, and paying attention to our senses other than our eyes. Paying attention to the sounds, to the smells exuding from the earth, from the exhaust of the city. Stopping our internal stories so that one is free of self- judgement or expectation-of-self and can choose instead to become absorbed into the moment. This is when I think photography moves into contemplation and becomes a sacred art. This is the stage for me when sometimes, by grace, accident, or faith the curtain tears and the ilusion of separation between subject and object, between “red iris” and “rob bridges” drops away.
That’s when the art happens! When the mysterious breaks through the cracks. When one has those “ah ha” moments and becomes filled with joy, gratitude, and spaciousness. This quote from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche pretty much says it all in “the garden of gentle serenity may you be bombarded with coconut shells of wakefulness.”
So, one day while sitting in a garden a coconut shell of wakefulness dropped on my head and I remembered my self. I also remembered Minor White only now, his words more than his images resonated and in retro-spection its clear I’d been guided by the same psycho/spiritual influences he was. Nothing is permanent. My life partner often reminds me and sooner or later I had to graduate and get a job and some sort of stability. A career? Once more back to the closet went the camera. But not for long. Working in the mental health fields I started to realize I needed something wholesome and sane to do to keep my own mental health, such as it was throughout most of mid-life years. Photography once more was the answer.
I started narrowing down my life interests until aside from work time and family time all other time was spent getting dirty. I got better at photography and it started to become more of a pull and a force of its own in my life. A calling that I could believe in more so say than my forary into becoming an MLM giant. Throughout which my partner has always supported encouraged and believed in me and in my practice of photography, and before I knew it I was an “up n comer” in the editorial, garden, floral, stock image world. I started teaching photography at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, joined ASMP and hung up a shingle. I loved teaching the most.
We taught in the old school style pre digital, b&w, develop and print your own and now and then there was enrollment enough for a color class or an elective like the history of photography but the subject matter never mattered as much as opening the students to new ways of seeing and of relating, and it was about relating to the students, connecting with them, and encouraging them to learn to see with new eyes. Which meant from a practical standpoint, giving them permission to play.
You have play to be creative just like you have to become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven or that space Loori points to in which “the mind is silenced and the work is allowed to express itself.” (J.D. Loori, pg 3, 2005). Along this way of the flower I continue to learn that when I allow myself to be most playful, mindful and open, that I have a blast photographing regardless of what images come to me. Just often enough I am given an image or two or have an experience or two of sublime beauty glowing back at me from the camera, or latter, from the computer. Often my experience is that there are times both while shooting and then again when I am processing the images that I will recall the joy and the love experienced and gratitude arises in the act and in the art of contemplating life as it unfolds before me in the form of a flower.