Wednesday, September 6, 2023

September 6--Seeing vs. Looking

Most important and most vulnerable of human emotions: Love.  --Paulo Coelho

    I would also offer "most complicated." 
    I enjoy photography. I've become more interested in it since I've been writing this blog so that I can have a visual to include with each post. I have no desire to be a professional photographer or create "great art" with it. I found in Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation of September 2 this description of how Thomas Merton practiced photography as described by author Esther de Waal:  

Thomas Merton was of course a writer and a teacher, and a poet, but he was also a photographer, and it is from his photographs that we learn much about how he saw the world, and how he prayed—and the two are of course intimately connected…. He handled a camera as an artist would, and used it as an instrument of delight and perception. It was in the later 1950s that the journalist John Howard Griffin [1920–1980] visited Merton in his hermitage. He had his camera with him and … let [Merton] keep it on extended loan. At first when Merton sent him the negatives, John Howard Griffin was puzzled, for [Merton’s] view was so different from that of most people. Merton photographed whatever crossed his path—a battered fence, a rundown wooden shack, weeds growing between cracks, working gloves thrown down on a stool, a dead root, a broken stone wall. He approached each thing with attention, he never imposed, he allowed each thing to communicate itself to him in its own terms, and he gave it its own voice.

Later on when he was out in the woods with a young friend, Ron Seitz, both with their cameras, Merton reprimanded him severely for the speed with which he approached things. He told him to stop looking and to begin seeing:

Because looking means that you already have something in mind for your eye to find; you’ve set out in search of your desired object and have closed off everything else presenting itself along the way. But seeing is being open and receptive to what comes to the eye…. [1]

He used his camera primarily as a contemplative instrument. He captured the play of light and dark, the ambience, the inner life. But above all he struggled towards an expression of silence through the visual image, so that his photographs show us that ultimately his concern was to communicate the essence of silence.

[1] Ron Seitz, Song for Nobody: A Memory Vision of Thomas Merton (Liguori, MO: Triumph Books, 1995), 133. 

Esther de Waal, Lost in Wonder: Rediscovering the Spiritual Art of Attentiveness (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), 63–64, 65. 

    This is what I aspire to with my picture-taking. Something strikes my interest, an ordinary thing, but I SEE it, rather than just looking at it. It is a gloriously silent process. 

Another beautiful Kansas sunrise

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