Professor Howard Zehr is known widely for his extensive work on Restorative Justice, and is the author of a number of books one of which, 'The Little Book of Contemplative Photography, Seeing with wonder, respect and humility' is the subject of this review. I have been increasingly drawn to this approach to photography (the subject of future posts), and Zehr's book has heightened that interest still further. His own reason for writing the book reflects my own interest in pursuing the goal of Contemplative Photography:
I have written this book in part to encourage myself to slow down, to heighten my imagination, to renew myself while I gain a new view of the creation and the creator.
It is both startling and gratfiying how much Prof. Zehr puts into such a small book (the paperback book I own is only 82 pages long), but somehow, considering the title, it seems fitting.
Purpose, problems and activities
The book adopts an effective approach of ending each chapter with an exercise which is broken down into a Purpose, Problem and Activity. For example, in the chapter on 'An Attitude of Wonder', the problem posed is the very real one of our tendency to take the world around us for granted, and the purpose is to help us to understand the role of abstraction in mystery and ambiguity. The activity (photographing the subject in such a way that the image becomes unrecognizable) is well considered, and followed up with ideas for reflection and discussion, often with 'Quotes for reflection' (a lovely way to use the focussed wisdom of others) the sources of which are always to be found in the End Notes (something that creates in essence a well chosen reading list. One of the quotes suggested in the above chapter is from Ralph Gibson (taken from 'Master Photographers' by Pat Booth):
I am not interested in making abstract photographs, but I am interested in photographing the abstract in nature.
I love quotes, particulary those which make you pause to consider, and this book has some very well selected ones throughout, quite apart from the those mentoned in the exercises. Chapter one starts with a cracker,
Photography is not what's important. It's seeing. The camera, film, even pictures are not important.
but my favourite is that taken from Steven J. Meyers book 'On Seeing Nature'
Seeing begins with respect ... it is clear that no one can truly see something he has not respected.
Seeing nature is a process, partly, of replacing our arrogance with humility. When we respect the reality which fills the abyss of our ignorance, we begin to see.
Seeing begins with respect, but wonder is the fuel that sustains vision.
The practice of mindfulness can often be dismissed as something fashionably 'new age', but in fact the reality could not be more different, mindfulness being an ancient practice that has been spoken of for thousands of years. Prof. Zehr provides a useful overview in his chapter 'Practicing Mindfulness', and rightly brings it into the sphere of photography (where it is as much at home as in any of the other arts). Essentially mindfulness is concerned with being fully present in the moment and, to me at least, is one of the key elements to be found in great photographs.
I bought the book myself and would certainly recommend it to others. It's both very good and very affordable.
Although there are not a lot of photographs in the book, they are well chosen. To see more of Prof. Zehr's work I would recommend visiting his website.
As mentioned, I intend to return to the subject of Contemplative Photography again in this blog, I would however recommend visiting Kim Manley Ort's website, as well as George DeWolfe's which contains some exquisite photography. Readers may also be interested in Andy Karr and Michael Wood's book 'The Practice of Contemplative Photography'.
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