Very often landscape photography feels like a chase; trying to read the signals of weather, light and landscape to put yourself in the right place and time to see something remarkable. Guessing, hoping, searching, trying, often failing.
But it’s not always like that. Sometimes photography happens much more gently. Like sleep, it comes when you aren’t trying. The ifs and maybes of what could happen disappear, and you find yourself lost in the clarity of what is in front of you here and now. In this state I find that photography becomes a pathway to a kind of deep nature-based meditation.
There’s a small loch near Aviemore where I often go. It’s a wonderful little place to exercise the dog, or to enjoy a swim and a stroll. It also happens to be one of the most fascinatingly beautiful places I know of, but its beauty is subtle. You have to look long to really see it in the gentle whisper of air on silver water; the flicker of birch sprays; the twist of gnarled roots.
Day by day I make my visits there, treading the same route, noticing the small changes of season, taking stock of how I feel in myself. I see that the buds on the birch twigs are a little more swollen, the water a little higher than it was. My body feels a kind of calmness in the easy pace of my stroll. Without hurry or purpose my legs swing no faster than the sensation of breath.
I find myself pulled into the visual experience of the place. It reaches out to me with a little flash of light here, a shadow there. The clarity of water is compelling; the sight of rocks on the bottom of the loch, and of sunbeams dancing in clear depths. A silver streak of water between the shadows of trees; a grey stone in clear water; knuckling roots and lichen covered bark. These are the things that draw me. They call to be photographed, and while they may not have spectacle and drama, they have a power of calm.
Meditation is a strange thing. I have never succeeded at meditating when I tried to do so, or in any setting except when I was among nature. But there is no other word that seems to fit the experience that I am attempting to describe. But it is deeply ineffable. A sense of being right here, right now, and having no thoughts at all about other times and places. No past, no future. Only the rock, tree or water that is in front of me. Simply being, watching, seeing.