I’ve been reading William Stafford recently.

It started when I stumbled across this poem a while back, and then I started reading more – some of his poems, one of his books on writing, the biography by his son. I’m just at the start of all of them but I get such a good feeling when I read his words – like something settling, quietly, inside of you.

I feel he has a lot to teach me, about writing, about poetry, about the way to live your life.

Although he’s often writing about the process of writing, since that was his core, daily, practice, I often get the sense that his reflections might be about photography too – perhaps about any kind of regular, sustained, practice, with all its ups and downs, and commitment to returning.

Perhaps there is something about that regular, sustained commitment to practice that helps to keep us tuned in and receptive, open to what might be possible, open to what might be there.

This is the first section of a poem of his at the start of a chapter called “Writing: The Discovery of Daily Experience” – you’ll see what I mean:

It is a whisper. You turn somewhere,
hall, street, some great event: the stars
or the lights hold; your next step waits you
and the firm world waits – but
there is a whisper. You always live so,
a being that receives, or partly receives, or
fails to receive each moment’s touch.

Sometimes people talk about ‘receiving’ photographs rather than ‘taking’ them and though the language can feel a little forced, I know what is that they mean, that ‘taking’ implies a grasp that doesn’t reflect the essence of what happens – or what happens when it really ‘clicks’ – since that involves a lot more intuition, a lot more luck, a lot more letting go, a lot more kind of – bending into the scene, or the moment, being open to it.

Working with film is increasing my sense of this aspect of receiving. This is partly the enforced non-attachment to the outcome that’s part of the process – from opening the back to see if you’ve wound the film back correctly (I’m still (re)learning!) to waiting to receive a processed film and see what might be there (some duds, some gems) – but also the heavy click of the shutter as you click to release, and your awareness of the literal, chemical reaction going on inside between film and light.

Anyway, these are some of the things I’ve been thinking about, and here some gentle photographs, taken, or maybe received, with the Holga, one afternoon on Blaeberry Hill.

The Stafford books I’ve been reading are:

Writing the Australian Crawl – William Stafford (one of his books on writing)


Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford – Kim Stafford (his son)

The Holga is a type of toy or lofi camera.

2 Replies to “Receptivity and the Whisper

  1. Love the softness of these images.
    I agree that to talk about ‘receiving’ a photo rather than ‘taking’ it sounds awkward and a bit forced, but in essence that’s what’s happening with the camera – the sensor or film is receiving the light. But this is more about the human operator, and for me it feels like a process of interacting – not taking, not passively receiving, but engaging in a dialect with the subject. Together – hopefully! – we can make something noteworthy or beautiful, just as you have done here.

    • I like that framing into engagement Gilly – not least as that does seem to capture what happens, sometimes in the one moment of ‘taking’, but also over a longer period of time, that strong sense of being more deeply engaged with the world. Which is, for me, photography’s greatest gift.

      PS I’m glad you liked the holgas!

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