Sunday, April 25, 2004

Thomas Merton, Geography of Holiness: The Photography of Thomas Merton, (ed. Dema Prasad Patnaik).

Wayne Allen very kindly leant me this collection of Merton's photography.

Merton--whom I'm very fond of--sometimes frustrates me by making me incredibly jealous of him. This book is yet one more example of that. Merton's shots exhibit a clear understanding of lighting: he captures shadows that both obscure and reveal, drawing attention to intriguing negative spaces, while washing important subjects almost out of the picture. Plate 28 [Darjeeling (the Kanchenjunga)], for example, almost makes the mountains that dominate the landscape disappear into the clouds, calling the viewer's attention and focus to the tiny trees that dot the mountain in the middle-ground.

Always the photographs ask you to consider details; the shots draw you in with the sense of line. In plate 29 [Darjeeling (Terraced Plantation)], the winding road contrasts sharply with the ridge-contours of the planting, pulling the eye to the very small cluster of flowers in the foreground.

Plates 59 & 60 (both of the monastery of Christ in the Desert, NM, a place I'd very much like to visit), are of shadows from pegs emerging from an adobe wall: the mottled colours of the wall soften the jutting pegs & sharp, spear-like shadows that that they cast. Both photograps are of an enclosing feature, but both reveal a tremendous lightness and openness that invite reflection.

While some of the photos are of exotic locales, Merton also reveals an eye for the beauty that is around him: chairs on the porch of his hermitage, fields, roots, rocks, a wagon wheel, doors... He frames each shot in such a way as to present life and action in the stillness of the photograph, and his eye for composition makes me jealous indeed.

These are a gorgeous series of photos, and I'm grateful indeed to Wayne for sharing them with me.

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