Can photography be a form of prayer? Howard Zehr, author of The Little Book of Contemplative Photography, thinks so.
Photography can serve as a medium for reflection and meditation, and encourages mindfulness, he says. “By slowing down to reflect and meditate, by heightening our visual awareness and our imaginations, by cultivating receptivity and a more holistic way of knowing, we can renew ourselves while gaining new insights into ourselves, the creation, and the Creator.”
Some photographic subjects present themselves in an obvious way. An amazing sunrise practically screams, “Quick! Grab your camera.”
As do the brilliant fall colors in this park scene.
However, mindfulness is also about “being aware of and appreciating the ordinary, of being open to beauty and insights in the commonplace,” Zehr says.
For example, who knew that chives going to seed could be so pretty?
“We often overlook things that we experience as ordinary or everyday,” Zehr says. “We tend to make preconceived judgments about what is worth looking at or photographing, valuing the ‘picturesque’ or ‘spectacular’ and failing to recognize many of the visual possibilities around us.”
How about a coneflower blossom?
Throughout his little book, Zehr gives us exercises designed to increase our awareness of the visual richness of ordinary objects and scenes. One exercise: Set out to photograph without a specific subject in mind, remaining open to whatever seems to present itself.
Like a leaf that has floated to the ground.
A pair of acorns.
Or a single perfect rose.
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place,” Zehr says. “I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
Like bright red berries against a deep blue sky.
Or a starkly bare tree with a cloudy sky shortly before sunset serving as a backdrop.
“Ordinary things, when really seen, make extraordinary photos,” Zehr says. “Such photos seem to make themselves. They seem like presents that were given.”
I snapped this photo of icicles dripping from a twig on a bush next to my porch.
These fall leaves still flashed their brilliant colors as they peeked out from under a very early snowfall.
“One must always take photographs with the greatest respect for the subject and for oneself,” Zehr says.
Of course, one can’t help but respect this goose walking straight toward me in the park, who just begged to be noticed … and photographed.
“A contemplative approach to photography is an expression of wonder grounded in respect and humility,” he says. “As such, it calls us to live in right relationship with our Creator, the creation, and our fellow human beings.”
An attitude of wonder “requires that we look anew at the familiar, that we stop taking the world around us for granted,” he adds. “An attitude of wonder is essential if we are truly to experience the creation and the Creator.”