I’ve never been a consistent journal writer; I probably have 15 barely started journals at my home, which I usually end up filling with notes or quotes from books I’m reading. The truth is, writing is often a struggle for me, even though I write a blog post every week and a newsletter every other week.

Hence – visual journaling as a practice.

I firmly believe that what we are drawn to in photography reflects our inner world. So, if we spend some time contemplating our favourite photos (ours or others), they will reveal something about us.

Last spring, as I explored my new hometown I found myself drawn to vines on walls and blossoms at my feet. Both had meaning for me, as I was returning to the area of my birth (my mother’s maiden name was Vine), making new connections, and re-visiting old ones. I felt very lucky to be in this beautiful place.

Last week, I was talking about contemplative photography with a group of women who were new to the idea.

After getting into an open and present state of mind, we went out for a contemplative photo walk. The purpose was to notice what we were drawn to and photograph that – not to worry about what would make a “good” picture.

I found myself very clearly drawn to “ties that bind.”
 
Ties
Ties2
Ties3
 
All of these images were taken within a half hour time frame. Very rarely does a specific theme appear so clearly, so I definitely paid attention to it. In reflecting on the common theme of “ties that bind” I came up with the following:

* The strong ties/connections (friendships and family) that I have that are very important to me and are being redefined.
* Sometimes I feel tied down due to lack of transportation and dog responsibilities.
* Strength is found at the connection points.
* Ties provide some protection from external forces.

I took one of the images, printed it out, and wrote out my thoughts on what it said to me.
 
VisualJournal

Visual journalling can be a powerful tool for self-discovery.

 
Images for Visual Journalling

* Yours or someone else’s
* Favourites over the course of a period of time
* A theme or pattern that’s been emerging in your photography, i.e. subject, topic, colour, perspective, genre

Print out an image or group of images on plain paper (with room to write on).

Questions to Ask

* What words come to mind as you look at the image(s)?
* Name the qualities that are present in the image(s), i.e. softness, dramatic contrast, simplicity, monochromatic, etc.
* Do the images tell a story? Does the story reflect something going on in your own life?
* Is there a message for you in the images(s)?

Here’s a one page pdf to download with questions for visual journaling.


 

And, if you’re interested in learning more about visual journaling, please go to this page to learn about a visual journaling workshop offered by me and Sally Gentle DrewOnce Upon a Time: Photographs have Stories to Tell.

Other Resources

 
Patricia Turner’s wonderful “Field Guide for the Contemplative Photographer” is available as a free download from my site. In it, she quotes John O’Donohue as saying, “The outer landscape becomes a metaphor for the unknown inner landscape.” Turner offers practices in the field for visual listening, sketching, and journalling. Download it here.

Eyes of the Heart:  Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice by Christine Valters Paintner. This is a wonderful book, particularly if you come from a Christian perspective (although valuable even if you’re not). It speaks of photography as an encounter with sacred presence and offers a reflective practice called “visio divina” or sacred seeing with the heart. Christine sees art as “a process of healing and transformation.”

Susannah Conway offers online courses on Journalling and Photography as Meditation (enrolling now). I’ve taken both and highly recommend them.
 

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