Ever since photographic images have “learned” to move, humans have seemed more enamored with the magic of moving pictures than with still photography. And yet it is possible that still photography is the most pervasive and influential medium of all.
Think about it. Facebook, Instagram, our walls and wallets are filled with photos. Films themselves are just collections of thousands of still photos and the world is obsessed with images of family, friends, and selfies. Innumerable iconic photos such as monks burning themselves and children being bombed with napalm in Vietnam have had sufficient impact to alter U.S. foreign policy. We remind ourselves constantly that an image is worth a thousand words—possibly far more in some cases.
As a student and a professor, I’ve had the good fortune to work or teach with many fine photographers over the years—Barbara Norfleet (Cohn), Lauren Shaw, Dick Rogers, Robert Fulton, Bob Gardner, Camilo Ramirez, David Akiba—and many others. I’ve also been particularly fond of friends who specialize in what might be called spiritual or uplifting photography such as Lawrence Mendes, Dennis Brown and John Flood.
What if images could be shown to carry the power of healing? A long-time celebrated photographer, Emmy Award winning TV Director and author David Smith (see Television that Matters), has elected to sell and lease his soothing and beautiful photographs to hospitals and other centers of healing with that specific intention. Why not inspect and feel David’s work if you wish to experience this work and sense what kind of impact each image has on you?
It is amazing that healing has become primarily a medical science and pharmaceutical goldmine in many countries. So many non-medical practices and approaches can contribute to health and it is life itself which is bringing the healing about. We hear about laughter as medicine, aromatherapy, alternative healing practices, and so much more.
There is a famous passage in the Bible about (the future) King David playing his harp for King Saul when Saul was troubled. Then, in the story, whether literally true or symbolic, it states that “the evil spirit left him,” as if to say that David’s soothing music provided mental healing for Saul.
No doubt we have all experienced versions of this form of music therapy when some of our favorite recordings were played and “cast out” the stress and problems of the day. Indeed, there is an increasingly sizable literature about what kinds of music to play in hospitals and nursing homes. Scientists such as Hans Jenny and Peter Guy Manners have made the case that the vibrational wave length carried by particular notes and tones tune the cells of the entire body, not just the mind and heart.
What about healing images? Perhaps you’ve caught yourself thinking that color, or a particular pattern, such as a seascape, has a healing impact upon your psyche. In that regard, would it not make sense, as David Smith is doing, to think deeply and compassionately about what types of photo images and paintings would have the greatest positive impact upon those in hospice care, nursing homes, hospitals, and other health centers?
If we interpret healing in a much larger, non-medical way, there is a sense that we all need to let our hearts and minds heal every day. Coming back into attunement with life, and letting the thorns of our daily or weekly experience be removed from our heart, requires an eternal healing of the soul which is constantly available to those who let go and welcome inner peace.
In this light, another website which David Smith has created is called Contemplative Photography. Adding spiritual text to photos, David provides an oasis where heart and mind may come to rest and reconnect with the eternal. Here is how Smith describes it: Each week I post a single image along with contemplation text. That is, I reflect on the image as it evokes symbols, ideas, perspectives or reflections intended as a model to show how creatively produced photographs—those made by the readers themselves—can be catalysts in the process of personal growth and spiritual enrichment.
David notes that an image can take us into a place of reflection—and attunement. The deeper truth is that when we engage an image this way it becomes a mirror that reflects our world/Self/God-view. Contemplation, as opposed to meditation, focuses the mind on a subject or theme long enough that it takes us to deeper awareness of Self and appreciation of All That Is—As It Is.
Whether you choose to use one of David Smith’s websites or the other, or both, as a source of spiritual nourishment, it becomes obvious that there is far more here than meets the eye. The outer view leads to an inner view that can be a catalyst toward personal peace and transformation.
Of course, as with all media that matter, the true spirit is in the eye—and heart—of the beholder, not in the image. No photograph can enliven a corpse and all photographs were seen and created by angels in human packages. So, as beautiful as many photographs can be, they are all just an “outering” or uttering of the great “Heartist” or Creator—the black and white or colored flowering of the Creator’s agents on earth.
I give thanks to all the great photographers who have allowed us to see with new eyes. In this case, special thanks to David Smith for two profound conduits by which to sense afresh our primal spirituality.
DR. TOM COOPER is currently guest scholar at the East-West Center, University of Hawaii, Stanford and Berkeley and professor at Emerson College (Boston). Musician, black belt, and playwright, he has written eight books and two hundred published articles, been advisor to the Elders Project (with Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter and others), co-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and is co-publisher of MEDIA ETHICS magazine.