Receptivity and the Whisper

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.

Listening to What the Earth Says

I have been exploring a bit about different approaches to taking photographs.

Sometimes this kind of learning and exploring makes me feel wide eyed and excited, but sometimes it leaves me tied up in knots and feeling more confused than when I started. Having got into one such tangle by the end of the week, I decided just to go for a walk, down to the lagoons as I had but an hour or two before the light went, and to try holding two different questions in my mind:

  • What is it that the earth is wanting to show you?
  • If you listen, what might it be trying to say?

Photography like this is easy, it’s more like a conversation than anything, just watching and noticing and responding with a nod of the head and a smile and a thank you.

spring equinox, lagoons

Later that evening I was looking into the work of a poet, William Stafford – I’d seen his name in two side by side posts in my feedreader and it seemed like too much of a coincidence.

The first poem I found was called ‘In Response to a Question: What Does the Earth Say?’

The last verse goes like this:

“The earth says where you live wear the kind
of color that your life is (gray shirt for me)
and by listening with the same bowed head that sings
draw all things into one song, join
the sparrow on the lawn, and row that easy
way, the rage without met by the wings
within that guide you anywhere the wind blows.

Listening, I think that’s what the earth says.”

And I think really if I aspire to anything in my photography, or writing, or indeed my life it is that, listening with the same bowed head that sings.

bulrush reflections