Photography, India, and Buddhist Studies

So the other day I was in Boston, and went to see my old teacher, friend, and mentor, the photographer Laura McPhee.

I hadn’t seen here in several years, but we got together to look and some photographs and talk about our aspirations and work in Asia (India for her, Indonesia for me).

I showed her some of my photographs, the most recent pictures made during winter nights in Ithaca.

She had some great insights, nice to hear too because her read was so quick.

She talked about simply being present as the real subject of my work, and a presence born from patience and a direct interaction with the world.  She felt a Buddhist philosophy was clear in the pictures, or at least some feeling or notion akin.

I’ve always liked this idea, photography about being in the world, about direct experience, and as a mark of presence.

It was the Hindu/Buddhist traditions that first took me to Indonesia, and I know in a way these elements/philosophies lie at the heart of my work (and have something to do with my desire to return to Java).

There is a wonderful line in the Wallace Steven’s poem “The Latest Freedman” I think of from time to time (I often read this poem with my beginning photography students):

To be without a description of to be.

It was good to see Laura again.


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