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Thread: Thomas Merton's Contemplative Photography: There you have it(what do you have?)

  1. #11

    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    San Joaquin Valley, California

    Re: Thomas Merton's Contemplative Photography: There you have it(what do you have?)

    Quote Originally Posted by RJ- View Post
    I'm afraid I'm of no help in clarifying Merton's intentions for you or rendering any sense to the exhibit of images which I can only dream of seeing. Perhaps all I can do, is offer up my own reading of Merton, who influenced me since I was 18.

    I was flying on a plane to Hong Kong, reading his Asian Journal where he declared fragmentarily, that the world we see is illusion. Nothing new there: after all, isn't this precept between the crude materialists and those who follow the Platonic tradition of perfect form, as ancient as man's writing on the wall of the cave?

    Yet his view was different - subtle and different. Merton argues for a syncretist' position between his own faith and that of the zen (meditative) stance towards the phenomenal world. His visual contemplation of Mount Kanchenjunga sees him reason that the best photography, is mindfully aware of illusion and does not seek to deny this illusion of the phenomenal world, but to engage in it. This is his 'bridge' between phenomenon and noumenon (in western thought terminology), or his working of his mind within the vow of silence within his Trappist Order, to negotiate knowing what's behind the phenomenal world. He did not seek to go 'behind' the illusion, nor to 'get around it' by form versus content formalist arguments. He sought to negotiate between an increasing self-awareness of his 'thought' as contemplation (meditating on a subject) and photography as 'action'.

    On a superficial level, this Trappist view, strips away the bling of the then contemporary photography of Merton's era towards a minimal representation of the essential subject, eschewing reductionism which is nowadays, all too common in thought and imaging. Secondly, Merton's first efforts on his writings on "Integrity", dismantles the oddly outdated conception which sees "momento mori", as valorisation of the dead and the decaying. The Trappist Order, to which Merton belongs, is of the French originating Cistercian Order. In its vow of silence, he finds contemplative prayer; contemplative action and action through photography - a congealing of thought and principle into his life: that 'bridge' to cross the divide of Cartesian dualism. He borrowed a Canon FX SLR; or it was loaned to him: whatever the modern mind "supposes" about living poverty, fails to understand the absence of contradiction here, for "blessed in the poor in spirit", is a beatitude which the Trappists seek to follow - completely nonsensical to the scepticism of the limited mind of the modern secular world.

    In a way, none of this is valid in defending Merton's view of contemplative photography: his ideas of contemplation are indeed lost to most of us, not all of us - who can understand Cartier Bresson's borrowing of the religious concept of the "the decisive moment" from his spiritual tutors. Merton was not a trained photographer: he was working towards finding something existential - for himself. The challenge of his contemplative photography - is relational: how will I find a way to relate 'everyday things in plain sight ... a watering can ...chairs...trees' - if I take these for granted as existing-in-themselves but not for me?

    Kind regards,

    Well taken, RJ.
    The poverty I mentioned was more in tune with Franciscan spirituality than Trappist.
    My bad!
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.
    I'm not OCD. I'm CDO which is alphabetically correct.

  2. #12
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    South Dakota

    Re: Thomas Merton's Contemplative Photography: There you have it(what do you have?)

    Quote Originally Posted by View Post
    I am not aware of Bizet's photography.

    He was mostly known for writing music, of course, but apparently he did enjoy some photography. Especially taking on-stage photos of his own operas! You can see him on the following link. Right at the beginning, at 00:00 you can see him with a folding Brownie camera at the extreme left of the screen. He appears again at 3:34 to take a flash (flash powder!) shot of the matadors. All in all, Bizet was a very talented guy, I think. As mentioned before, "Carmen" was poorly received at first, but with time it has come into its own.

    Kent in SD
    In contento ed allegria
    Notte ed di vogliam passar!

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