“The land is always there…it is you who has to return”
― Munia Khan
Black and White Friday returns with this first Friday in January. Several years ago, following a challenging time in my life, the theme of my first open studio was Return to Light. So I thought with this first post of the New Year as the Northern Hemisphere returns to longer, warmer, light-filled days, it only fitting to choose Return as the theme.
The image is a disintegrating leaf returning to the earth, its shadow and the traveling light and shadow of a Venetian blind cast on a wall in my studio. The theme of returning is a powerful one in our psyche and in contemplative and artistic practice. We return to sleep and we return to wakefulness in one of our daily rhythms. We wander away from ourselves, and the meditation cushion and our breath bring us back. We restore our creativity through avenues like drawing, painting, camera, dance, and song; returning our artistic soul into the light of the visible, however long it stays. With dance, the form arises and dissolves like a sand mandala. Whatever the avenue, its permanence is not the most important thing. It is our expression.
I derive inspiration, insights, answers to problems, and sheer pleasure through many mediums, but I always return to the camera and the immediacy of the moment. My daily return to the meditation cushion and yoga are the foundation of these expressions, creating a rich synergy of their own rhythms of departing and returning.
In addition to our personal mediums, we may be called to return to certain themes. I often cycle through themes of “reclamation,” “black and white,” “pathways” and others. Because they have been a part of my psyche and practice for so long, they return like old friends for a visit. Similarly, one can return to familiar locations, such as the beach, mountains or a busy cosmopolitan city to feed the creative spark. However our creativity manifests we are called, like the prodigal son, to return to the light that feeds us.
What ways have you found the theme of Return playing out in your life? I’d like to hear from you.
Kathryn Van Aernum is a photographer, mixed-media artist and helps people reclaim their creative soul. To find out more about coaching, visit her other location on the web: kathrynvanaernum.com
This detached cicada wing was hiding in the grass in my backyard. The sun caught one of the dew drops that it was trapping on its underside, glinting and capturing my gaze. My head turned and i crouched down involuntarily to see it more closely. It’s one of those moments when grace parts the curtain of thought and you are just present, responding. A gift. The wing’s fragile presence slicing though habitual preoccupation catapulting me into the realm of beholding. Once there i wonder why I ever leave.
What brings you to a state of beholding and wonder?
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we outgrow the lives that we’ve been living and how life supports us in that. That support can often look like everything you value falling apart. Because it looks like falling apart instead of falling together, we tend to freak out instead of cooperating. Even knowing this is what is happening, I can be very uncooperative in this process. It’s like our lives swell past the banks we’ve erected and all we can perceive is the shrinking shore, rather than the growing, flowing river of our life.
I don’t think I was aware of this notion consciously when I took this picture, but in looking at it now, I think that’s exactly what I was photographing. The overflowing river is beautiful. That same beauty is trying to manifest in and through us. It also is instructional to notice that there ain’t no way to stop those swollen banks. Better to get a raft and enjoy the ride.
There are times when you just get lucky with a photo, as I did with this one. However, what I mean by luck is not that it was just waiting for me to take. The gentleman that is in the right side of the frame is strolling with another man who is out of the frame along the Jardin des Tuileries. They are deep in discussion. I watched them progress from the left side of the frame along the trees and then cross and turn. As they crossed, the dog had a different idea. She/he decided to sit in the middle as if to say, “Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” That’s when I raised my camera. The luck part is that a breeze tossed the ears as if the wind machine had just turned on, the capture of the lift of the owner’s footstep revealing his contemplative movement. And oh yeah, the Louvre is in the background.
This photograph and others from my stroll in Paris will be on display tonight at the State Street Art Crawl. I’ll be at It’s the Little Things, right next to Frame of Mind. 5-8pm. Please stroll over and stop in.
I was in my beloved Key West last week and on the first day I was there it was uncharacteristically stormy and overcast. I always cherished these days when I lived there, because they were so infrequent. Just like any rainy day they give one permission to be less active, maybe take a nap. Unless, in my case, you are on vacation and know that if you don’t get out and photograph it, the scene will not be there tomorrow.
The rain had stopped and I grabbed my camera and went down to the beach. I was staying at the Casa Marina, a lovely resort right on the water at the courtesy of my cousin, Elizabeth Bartz. As I looked west, this sliver of light was peeking through as the storm clouds were beginning to disperse.
I’ve chosen to represent it in black and white, because for me it conveys the drama of the moment. It also touches on my personal sense of emerging from my own storm clouds of 2016, a year challenging to many at the personality level.
No matter how thick the clouds seem to be, the truth is the light is shining brightly on the other side.
For the second year I was asked to be a judge for a middle school and high school art competition for The Atlantic Institute, which is an institution dedicated to interfaith and cultural harmony. This years theme was compassion in action. So this morning I had the daunting task and also humble honor to judge their art submissions.
It was very difficult to judge because the quality and creativity was really high. But what struck me most were their artist statements. How they see the world, and what they want the world to be was so touching. The sentence that jumped out at me was from a middle school child who said that he/she wanted us adults to see that we are all equal. “We kids know this, you adults teach us to see differences.” Out of the mouths of babes. I had to breathe that in.
So for the new year I intend to honor their hopes, vision, truth and compassion. My prayer is to be an adult that doesn’t teach differences.
This was taken in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Reims, France in 2013.
What strikes me beyond the light of the candles are the gothic arches that beckon our gaze heavenward. When you really look at them, these places are mostly empty space. They emphasize the smallness of men and women compared to the vastness of the universe. This space allows for a sacred experience that cannot come with crowding or noise.
I think that is what seems so unfortunate to me about our modern interpretation of the season of light. We have crowded it with so much noise, activity and obligation that the simple joy of light and space and silence is lost to many. I’m not exempt from being taken up in this activity. But I am aware and grateful that when a greater attention is given to just being simple, sanity and joy return.
Joseph Campbell states, “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.” To me that is the meaning of Christmas. To let it be a time that returns me to true spacious self. To me it is sacred space.
It’s been quite a challenge getting this blog out on a regular basis with my current work schedule – but I had to post today because it is the 4th anniversary of the beginning of my Black and White Friday posts – begun as a pun on Black Friday.
In the late summer I was fortunate to study at Penland for a week and as is easy for me to do, I got lost on the way returning home. Well, I actually got lost looking for Spruce Pine – a little town I wanted to visit before I started home. I am not a human GPS as some are, and it is a good bet that I will always turn left, when I should turn right. But this aligns with my natural tendency to always want to take the scenic route, so it bothers others far more than it bothers me. As good fortune would have it, it brought me to this image (which I certainly felt was Divine order when I saw it). I was thrilled to stumble upon the marriage of two of my favorite subjects: Coke imagery in obscure/humorous settings, and nature reclaiming the man-made world. I typically like to present my Coke finds in color, but this setting seemed to beg for Black and White.
There was no hint at what this building was when it was operational, except with the presence of the vending machine it was surely a business of some type. The branding and style of the machine points to mid-1980’s. So it has taken roughly 30-years for this building to fall into the state in seen this picture. That seems really fast to me. It looks like part of it may have been knocked down at one point, but I’m not sure. What do you think?
If you know of any good coke imagery or scenes where nature is reclaiming for herself that you think I might like to photograph, drop me a line.
On my recent trip to Akron to visit my Aunt and Uncle and Ohio cousins, my kindred spirit Nicolette graciously took me around town on a photo safari. We got to the Goodyear blimp hanger just as a Midwest summer thunderstorm was traveling across the vista. This was a brave moment for me because I’m afraid to be out in lightening, but the moment won out over my fear. It was also a chance operation because I had to hold the camera above my head to clear the barbed wire fence. In photography, as in life, you have to override the voice inside your head that tells you why you can’t do something you want to do. I often have to override it when it tells me not to lug my camera (or the monopod) on the plane. Just who is it in my head offering this sage “advice?”
What amuses me about the actual photo is how blimp-like the cloud looks. What amazes me is the shaft of rain in the distance and how the cloud tapers down to this one point. What I am glad about is that it was only a thundercloud and not a funnel cloud as I began to wonder as it morphed across the sky.
Many are wishing for autumn’s return and it’s cooler temps, including me. But with it, the drama of the afternoon skies will dry up and fade away just as this cloud did after it dispersed its cargo.
There are two major influences that inform my photography. The obvious one is I shoot a lot of pictures and I have since I was about 19 years old. The second, is a consistent daily mindfulness practice that I’ve had for nearly 25 years. I cannot conceive of my life without it. I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people in the world to see magic in the mundane, the opulent in the ordinary. The muse and the spaciousness of stillness will both show up if you do. Both practices have helped me keep the sense of wonder of a 10 year old. I never, ever think I’ve seen a cicada wing before when I see one again, (or a cicada for that matter). Each time it is new. I try to do that with my friends too, although it is harder. Have you ever tried to see a familiar friend as if you didn’t know them?
I remember when my mother, who would often feel a sense of discontentment with her life because she couldn’t possess the material things she wanted, was succumbing to the effects of Alzheimer’s. When she would wash her hands, her face would light up and she would say, “Feels nice.” It was a teachable moment. She also developed the capacity to comment on meals that displeased her, “Tastes like S#@t.” I was glad she was freed from the concept of not being outspoken. I haven’t mastered that one yet. As her memory faded, her ability to be directly experiencing the present moment was taking over. It is also an influence on my work that I’m realizing only as I am writing this. I feel my mom around these days. Maybe it’s because my birthday is approaching. Or, maybe I’m expanding my capacity to sense what is present that we are not aware of. I don’t really know.
In regard to today’s Black and White Friday image, I was rolling out my garbage to the curb and this little gift was in my driveway. What struck me was this delicate, bedazzled wing, was a product of the intense thunderstorms that have been passing through Columbia the last few nights. This too, is a teachable moment.