Friday 27 April 2018


In photography, mindfulness is like observing something for the first time, even though you may have looked at it a thousand times before. For example, when you’ve been away from home for a long period, and then, upon returning, you suddenly notice things to which you had become so accustomed that your eye failed to even register them any more—the decorations on the walls, the color of the rug, the view out the window. It’s like that moment when you look at a family member or close friend and suddenly realize that you are truly SEEING them, as if for the first time, and not just looking numbly at them, as you usually do. Mindfulness is a deep kind of knowing. - John Suler

In her introduction to Portraits in Life and Death , Susan Sontag observes "Life is a movie; death is a photograph. Photographs turn the present into past, make contingency into destiny. Whatever their degree of “realism,” all photographs embody a “romantic” relation to reality."
She goes on to say "The camera’s uncanny mechanical replication of persons and events performs a kind of magic, both creating and de-creating what is photographed. To take pictures is, simultaneously, to confer value and to render banal." 

"Seen through photographs, people become icons of themselves....Photography also converts the whole world into a cemetery. Photographers, connoisseurs of beauty, are also — wittingly or unwittingly — the recording-angels of death. The photograph-as-photograph shows death. More than that, it shows the sex-appeal of death."
Those words really struck me. I thought about the photos I have of my mother. About how my sister (who is an artist) and I talk about the shape of our Mom's back when she's sleeping. These moments of quiet observation that bring together the memory of our youth and present reminders of our mortality come together more often when we decide to take pictures. What we're really doing is seeking meaning in our everyday lives. 

My sister and I talked over the ethical concerns of photographing loved ones at home. Is this exploitation? Could image-making ever tip into a kind of voyeurism? One of my nieces observed, "If I was sick, I wouldn't want anyone taking my picture!" Obviously, people will have to judge their own art, their own photographs or drawings and their own motivations. They will have to decide who will receive these images with love and openness to a greater understanding of our deepest caring relationships. Maybe some images are not for sharing. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that art can help to heal broken hearts and it can make meaning from lives that seem to have no meaning. Photographs can document activities, too, and pictures can be conversation aids. "Mom, this robin came to our feeder yesterday. You said he looked like a man in uniform!" Sometimes too, images are infused with love and intimacy - they can help us recall why we care every day. 

But should you make art if you think you can't draw? Yes, because it's been proven to reduce the stress hormone cortisol. 
Making meaning of a caring life can be so hard, especially if you are limited to your four walls and if your loved one has lost the capacity to communicate. But looking at your every day surroundings differently can 'convert your loved one to an icon' and the ordinary into the extraordinary. Those are good enough reasons to experiment with art at home.


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