Connecting with the Essence
If we are to create images that are windows to our soul,
from time to time, we need to remember to lay
the camera aside and invest in “soul time”.
Soul time can open pathways that enhance our sensory
and interpretive skills in unique, visual ways. – Steve Parish
How do you connect with the essence of something inanimate, like a landscape? Is a passion for photographing landscapes enough? In short, no. Passion for performing an activity does not necessarily mean you have expressed your inner feelings in a meaningful way. However, there are some ingredients that, when applied, can fast-track the process and bring surprise and joy to the outcome.
INTERPRETING: Knowing and Understanding
Researching a locality and then interpreting newfound knowledge is always a good starting point. For example, the creek bed above is at Simpsons Gap, a gorge in the West MacDonnell Ranges. A minimal online search reveals that this place is spiritually significant to the Arrernte people. Several Indigenous Dreaming trails and stories interconnect at this site, which is known culturally as Rungutjirpa. As we research, we subconsciously gather words with special meanings like spirit, dreaming, and trails. At the same time, we learn which animals – such as the perentie monitor, wedge-tailed eagle and wallaby – and which plants, like the river red gum, are associated with the Dreaming of this place we plan to visit. Taking this knowledge with us into the field enhances our seeing and feeling, focuses our mind’s eye, and enriches our quest to explore the essence of a place. If you’re anything like me, you will spend the night before your journey in restless anticipation.
SENSING: Seeing, Hearing, Touching, Smelling & Tasting
Having checked sunrise times, you plan to arrive early, giving you time to consider a viewpoint and calm your state of mind. Choosing to compose from ground level, you bed down in the soft, cool sand and soon begin to see, feel, smell, and touch this special place. Zebra finches chatter in a nearby bush, and a magpie-lark’s frenetic call echoes from the waterhole ahead in the gap. It’s now a matter of minutes before the sun begins to paint the cliffs a vivid orange.
FEELING: Expressing with Emotions and Feelings
As you begin to make your images – horizontal, vertical, maybe a change from a fisheye to a narrower focal perspective – you find yourself engaging in what I call “self-talk”. You have left the past behind and have no consideration of the future, and tomorrow is simply out of mind. You are rooted in this present moment, lying in the cool sand. In this instance, you are connecting with your sense of the essence as you see and feel it. In that moment – the now – nothing else matters.
Later, each time you look at your pictures, you will be transported back in time. You will hear the magpie-lark and the zebra finches, and you will feel the cold sand and see the ancient cliffs slowly being painted with an orange glow. Through inner reflection, you will consider those generations who once occupied Rungutjirpa. If you feel you need more, and even further reward is that they can appreciate your unique connections when you share your stories with others.
And so, as you travel across Australia, carry this process of photographic interpretation with you, experiencing each encounter in your distinct way. I guarantee you that this approach will turn your trip into a life-changing experience.
The words and images in this blog are an extract from PHOTOGRAPHING AUSTRALIA: The Ultimate Travel Guide. The 9 volume series is based on the nature connection principles expressed in this post. Click below for more information on the series.