Note: In recent years, I have given careful thought to the role spirituality has had on my photography. Some people may find this sort of reflection objectionable or too personal, but I maintain that creativity must grow from within -- that we must continue to seek what is true to how we see with our hearts.
Light of Heart
There are moments when circumstance and experience conspire to shape our conscience in unexpected ways. Thomas Merton called the conscience the “face of the soul.” After more than three decades of hiding behind a camera – I have sometimes felt invisible and at other times invincible. The camera became a shield to protect me from my emotions. I have witnessed humanity at its best and its worst. Through the lens, I have descended into the darkness of deprivation and war, as well as learned to find beauty in the quiet moments. The camera, for me, created a separateness from reality.
In the mirror of my soul, my conscience, I peer out into the world with bewildered eyes. The conscience, Merton continued, “… is the light by which we interpret the will of God in our lives.” Sometimes I have made pictures without a clear conscience. As a news photographer, I’ve learned to skim the surface of reality, to not let myself feel too much about the suffering and pain I’ve witness. I’ve learned to protect myself from the “will of God” who, in the end, demands more than just looking at something – capturing it as a moment – and moving on.
When I first read the prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict I was struck by the clarity of his advice for humanity, “Listen carefully…. with the ear of your heart.” Listen, but also see with the eye of your heart. Here’s the message -- if you engage in recording the human condition conscientiously, with creativity and authenticity, be prepared to have your world rocked. Exposing your soul to the anguish, and joy, of others can come at a price. Each time I witnessed death -- a child, drunk driver, and combatant -- a “human being,” I feel as though I had given up a piece of myself. The camera only justifies witnessing tragedy only so much until conscience calls.
I’ve always looked at photography as a spiritual exercise. While the actual act of making pictures seems relatively simple, automatic, and normal, there’s much more beneath the surface. Photography as a spiritual experience begins with recognizing that a picture of someone is not the whole person in the same way as a map is not the road. When we live for making the picture – capturing “reality” and not living in moment or sensing God’s light in all things, then the practice often seems soulless. Perhaps this is an indictment of today’s visual culture – one in which a torrent of visual messages conspires to remove us from the real -- away of being touched by the light of the spirit within.
We are all touched by the same light, the same God.
As I get older, I understand now how important it has become to let the light become us – to capture moments of conscience with the eye of the heart.