Contemplative Photography #1

12 Jul
Contemplative Photography #1

A friend recently introduced me to the idea of “contemplative photography”–using this modern medium to encourage a spiritual discipline of seeking God. You can see the beginning of her journey here:

I have realized that there is something significant about photography in my own life: I become alive, present, adventurous, aware, and engaged in a very unique way when I have a camera in my hand. What otherwise would assuredly be a situation where I am very passive and uninterested becomes a life-giving, interactive experience when I have a digital SLR in my hand. It’s a phenomenon that I want to explore more deeply: what is God highlighting about who I am, and who He is, in this spectacular revelation of character?

There are actually a few books written on the topic of Contemplative Photography; while most of them feature a heavily Zen Buddhist perspective, there are others that are more neutral, or even Christian, in their framing of this pursuit. I’ve begun reading The Little Book of Contemplative Photography, by Howard Zehr.

One early exercise it promotes is to spend 10 minutes looking at an image that you’ve already taken, to really mine the depths of what you’ve captured, to take the time to process it…apart from the photo lab or digital darkroom. There is a framework of three questions to respond to: I see, I feel, I think.

I made my first attempt at this exercise just yesterday, and thought I would share my unedited meditations with you.

Ruins at Gileston Beach

Ruins at Gileston Beach

I see > stair steps, from an unbloomed, scrawny plant up to a mini Christmas tree, the sky also moving from brightest to darker up the steps, with the introduction of some wispy clouds into the clarity, a few crags of shadows, but not many considering the texture of the stone wall, one other little plant on the far left of the frame, begging for attention yet hardly noticeable

I feel > the opportunity to climb, to get a better view and a more verdant life, aspiring to be more than some almost blooms and to get to the place of being completely out of the shadow, there is hope, but it is not a smooth simple path–it will likely be difficult especially for one without proper legs

I think > if I am the unbloomed plant, who is the mini Christmas tree? what is the relatively high wall of shadow sitting immediately in front of me, impeding even the start of my journey? Who else is similarly looking up in aspiration? Can we journey together, or are we in competition? The sky has more texture at the pinnacle of the stairs; what else might I be able to see from there?


I limited myself to 10 minutes of reflection, but perhaps I could’ve gone for more. I invite you to share your own reflections on this image, or others, in the comments below. We are inundated by so many photographs these days, that it does take a significant degree of discipline for us to slow down and sit with a single image for 10 minutes. But doing so allows us to uncover the depth of beauty and the signposts to Truth that may be embedded there.

I hope to post here future weekly reflections in my continuing journey of contemplative photography.



Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Life, Prayer


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3 responses to “Contemplative Photography #1

  1. Rachelle

    July 12, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    This is great. I’ve used reflection on photography as part of Visio Divina and capturing images as part of my thankfulness journal, but I love how this brings together the awareness in capturing images and the contemplative process afterward.

  2. Mark B

    July 15, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Great post! I like the format described here. Thanks for the resource idea. Another book on the topic that is decidedly Christian in its orientation is Eyes of the Heart by Christine Valters Paintner. It’s available on Amazon and elsewhere. May God bless your seeing!

    • A.H.

      July 15, 2013 at 7:07 pm

      “Eyes of the Heart” is already on my shelf, waiting to be explored! Thanks for the encouragement!


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