The Joyous Photograph

(Above: the first of four simple photographic techniques for making local walks very special…)

From a photographic perspective, we live in a wonderful age. Even the most humble of today’s mobile phones boasts a decent camera. Used within their limitations, we can achieve an amazing record of our days – even locally to our homes – with the use of a few simple techniques.

My wife and I, plus our cat and dog, are lucky to live in the countryside, just south of Kendal, in Cumbria. Like everyone else we are ‘locked down’ except for buying food and exercising our Collie dog. The emergence of the spring has been a welcome respite, and has enabled a wider choice of photographic opportunities.

In my experience, taking photographs is a deeply therapeutic activity. It gets you out of the house, and makes you focus on something very positive. For the shots I’ve used in this blog my criteria were:

1. To walk only a short distance from home. A typical morning dog walk takes us about two hours and sees us less than two miles away, as we meander and the collie gets lots of ball-chucking.

2. To photograph only objects that are commonplace. The essence of this kind of challenge is to find something special in the ordinary.

3. To use only my mobile phone to take the shots, leaving cameras with more sophisticated lenses at home. Generally this means that the emphasis will be on the close-up shot, but, as we shall see, there can be exceptions.

The opening shot, above, is at the farthest point of our walk. The path along the old canal bank takes a sharp left and dives down into a field with sheep. This removes the middle ground and opens up the perspective available. A few seconds spent exploring the composition through the viewfinder can reveal a pleasing mix of foreground and distant background – in this case, a faded view of the Lakeland hills to the north-west, contrasting with the old limestone and aged wood of the fence.

(Above: Sedgwick House – once a gunpowder mangate’s mansion)

The second image, above, is of Sedgwick House, in the middle of the village. Once the palatial home of a local gunpowder magnate, the gothic-style mansion has seen many roles; including army base and children’s home. Following a recent building conversion, Sedgwick House is now divided into luxury apartments.

I’ve photographed it many times, but today was the first time I’ve seen the light so perfectly balanced between the dappled area beneath the trees and the brighter approach to the building. The two tall trees should have interfered with the shot but, due to their helping frame the light effects, they have actually enhanced it.

(Above: the ‘skewed bridge’ in the centre of the village – this once carried the full weight of the canal across the main road)

The third shot is of the ‘skewed’ aquaduct in the centre of Sedgwick. What is now known as the ‘Lancaster’ canal once ran all the way into Kendal. The canal-carrying bridge was built using advanced stonemason techniques that allowed the shape to be bent. This avoided having to reshape the road into a ‘z’ bend. The photo deliberately emphasises the skewed right arm of the structure, thereby demonstrating its length. The tiny view into the continuing main street is a visual surprise in something so massive and dense.

(Above: the final shot – nature bursts out in the very special hue of spring green)

The final photo is simply a tree bursting with the unique green hue of the spring. It’s impossible not to feel joy in its presence – especially after such a long and muddy winter. Always look for the dappled light at the base of the tree – it’s a joyous as the green on a lovely day like this.

Four simple techniques and sample shots. Anyone can take such photos, and come back home feeling something deliberate and mindful was achieved in the daily exercise walk. In addition, the air is clear and beautiful, given that there is so little traffic on the roads. Get your camera out and take advantage while it lasts… It will give you a record to discuss with your grandchildren, if nothing else!

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Uncertainty and renewal

It is spring. The sun is shining. Everywhere there are flowers, trees are heavy with apple and cherry blossom, hedgerows are white with a bridal veil of blackthorn and alive with small birds. It is as if the earth herself is reminding us that this is a time of hope and renewal.

And yet, we are living a through a time of deep and anxious uncertainty. Families and friends who would normally be gathering to celebrate this weekend, whether for religious or social reasons, are now kept firmly apart. Police patrol the streets, the media disseminates fear and, in spite of the known health benefits of fresh air and exercise, and the detrimental effects of loneliness and social isolation, we are all locked away in our homes.

It seems hard to believe and even harder to accept that this is happening. Many of us feel helpless, afraid for our countries, for our loved ones and for the future.

We are not helpless. We can each take responsibility for our own actions and make the most of each day. We can use the time to take stock of how we live and realise what we truly value. We can look at the changes that have been imposed and ask ourselves if any of them might be worth pursuing. We can keep an eye on elderly or vulnerable neighbours… something that was once a part of every community, but which has been largely lost in the hustle and bustle of modern life. And, if we are at home with family and loved ones, we can take the time to be with them in ways our normal busy lives seldom allow.

While our bodies may be restricted by the rules of the ‘lockdown’, our minds and imaginations are free to roam. Our minds are our own and can only be locked down if we let them… we can do with them as we choose. Whether we choose to read, learn, do something creative, virtually visit new places, daydream or make plans, our minds are our own and we do not have to let them succumb to the atmosphere of fear and anxiety that seems all too ready to descend upon us. Both laughter and fear are contagious… and we can spread either.

We can use imagination as a means of finding calm in the swirling sea of emotions too. Meditation benefits health by reducing feelings of anxiety, depression and anger as well as lowering the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. There are many types of meditation… one of the easiest is simply to build a scene in imagination, whether it is an image of a real place or not, and imagine yourself within it… rather like daydreaming. You can take as long as you wish… or just a couple of minutes. There is no time in the realm of imagination.

Sit comfortably, relax, breathe deeply but easily, close your eyes, and build the scene, little by little, until it is as real as you can make it without forcing. You can take a place from memory, from a photograph… or just imagine your ideal haven.

When you have the scene fixed in your mind, try to imagine the sounds and smells, the feel of what is beneath your feet. Then sit with the image for a while in peace.

When you are ready, feel the energy and renewal of spring rising up through your body and draw down the light from the sky… bring them together in your heart. Feel their presence. Let it fill you like an empty vessel. Then, send it out into the world again… as love, or healing, joy or peace… whatever seems right to you. Just offer it back and let it work.

Try it and see how it feels. Or perhaps you might prefer to create your own along similar lines. It is one small way to hold hope, peace and renewal and the calm that you feel will touch others too.