Photography: A Gate to Deeper, More Intimately Contemplative, and
More Precise Appreciation of Reality
We observe three levels of appreciation:
The Simplest Level
Photographs serve as a means for the production of memoirs, and souvenirs, and to report facts or details of interest to intimates, associates, or to the general public. Even this simplest level generates such an experience of preciousness to the majority of modern people that the dearness of photography as an Art can not be denied. How many times have we seen refugees of sudden floods, forest fires, tornadoes, and the like, report to the news cameras how relieved they were because “at least we got the family photo albums out before it hit…” or conversely “it took everything, but we are alive. The house is just stuff – and we can rebuild and buy more stuff – except we wish we had our photographs. Those are irreplaceable.” Photos are appreciated as preserving insights into the preciousness of loved ones, family gatherings, important moments in people’s lives, like graduations, marriages, and the like; for showcasing experience of the awesome beauty of nature, travels to new and exciting places, and so on. And of course, in the larger social sphere, photos serve as evocative communications giving us a graphic sense of the news from places near and far, or as educational illustrations for concepts or commentary that would otherwise have been far duller and uninspiring, or even unimaginable without the photographs.
The Intermediate Level
Photographs serve as a vehicle for the development of perceptual ability and refinement of sensory and intellectual processes. Photography relieves stress. It centers the mind and inspires the senses. It is a discipline requiring attentive concentration that produces tangible results that may potentially garner joyful appreciation from neighbors and family, and possibly even commendations, prizes, and monetary rewards. Many modern people have found it to be a satisfying hobby, and many more are beginning to discover it thanks to the new digital photo technologies that provide, with simplicity, the hands-on productivity and the precision of the traditional darkroom. But today’s digital cameras and affordable photo printers are without the messy, expensive and dangerous chemicals involved in the processing of images for the old “film-type” cameras. Unlike the stereotypical unproductive leisure time activities, photography engages the mind and the senses in ways that stimulate the creativity, attentiveness, and appreciativeness of the whole person, and manifests results that may have long term value for the being, and perhaps even for the greater levels of the human culture. A person may enhance the meaningfulness of their contact with acquaintances, or with objects of study, be they flowers, or antiques, or minerals,or whatever, through the thoughtful addition of the dimension of photography to the person’s interaction with the given area. This enhancement is nowhere as emphatically in evidence as in the appreciation of the all-embracing object of study, Nature. Whether strolling in rapturous awe beneath cascades thundering from the sculpted crags of Yosemite, or reveling in the unimaginably rich and colorful profusion of a pristine tropical coral reef, the added dimension of the photographic witness to our awe, (or simply our fascination), enhances notably the experience of tangible value derived from the experience. It is perhaps uniquely within the total immersion experiences, (where the splendour really is more than words can say), that the hobby of photography begins to have a significance going beyond the realm of the merely useful skill to the threshold of the spiritual vehicle. Such is an activity that can transport us into communion with the universal dimensions of Life…and consideration upon these dimensions brings us to category three photography.
The Transcendent Level
The ancients have referred to contemplation as the highest achievement of the meditative discipline, where the self and the perfect object of our inspired fixation are melded into the seamless continuum of pure awareness. Such it is, when the camera serves as a humble technological key to realms of rarified perception where the enraptured attention may step over the boundary into truly mystical states of intimacy with the focus of our attention. Few people have the time or the self-discipline to engage purely and fixedly long enough to achieve the necessary levels of absorption, but for those who apply themselves with sufficient devotion, photography becomes a vessel to both personal and super-personal levels of fulfillment.
For these devoted practitioners, the camera is an extension of one’s own senses, and the photographic subject is approached with the reverence the mature soul experiences when approaching a sacred Temple, or with the ardour which the devoted partner experiences when approaching their lover. These are legitimate experiences in the context of the Science of the Soul, because they reflect the respected relation between Minds, each a spark of the Eternal Mind, and Life, each part of It belonging to the Body of the Universal Ma. Hence, the most intensely attentive will gain access to the experience of the Infinite, the Soul Essence of Reality, and experience precious fulfillment, with the camera as witness. And the resultant images have served as vessels of the precious Essence of Reality, which transport the interested and the curious, as celebrants of the Photographic Art, into deeper intimacy with their own experience of Life. At the highest level of appreciation photography continues to serve as a vessel for the experience of the Infinite at both ends of the continuum of the photographic process: The soulful photographer frequently has had life-shaping or revelatory experiences in the act of obtaining the images, and appreciative viewers at the other end of the continuum produce endless reports of inspiration, even spiritual transport or transformation as the result of contemplating the most powerful images. There can be no real doubt in the legitimacy of classifying the Art of Photography as belonging to the Eternal Hierarchy of the civilized Arts within Modern Culture. Photography must therefore be accounted an integral part of the Cultural Process, and its significance ought to be enjoyed and studied as a uniquely creative crystallization at the interface of human technology and Life Itself. Because of the validity of the previous statement, we have observed that photography has played an inestimably valuable role in the re-awakening of the general populace to the irreplaceable preciousness of the Natural Environment, in the USA and throughout the world. Thanks in no small measure to the persuasiveness of photography, many modern humans have been awakened and inspired as to the importance of protecting Nature, not only for our physical security and health, but also for our inner dignity and enlightenment. We expect that the power of photographs to describe, inspire, and enlighten will continue well beyond the present politically polarized phases, far into Humanity’s more stable and intelligent Future.