north light

Year: 2013 (page 1 of 4)

To Soften the Gaze

I’m not really sure where this phrase came to me from: ‘the compassionate gaze‘, but it’s been playing around in my head / heart for a little while now.

(If any of you know its origin, please do let me know!)

And although I’m not really into resolutions for the New Year, or all the brouhaha that now surrounds the choice of one glittering word for the year, this phrase, and what it conjures up for me, is something that I do want to carry with me into 2014.

I’ll try and explain what it means for me.

The compassionate gaze is something I’ve learned from taking photographs.

It works like this, simply:

If you soften your gaze, your photographs will change.

Perhaps this is because (in ways we can’t rationalise) something of your feeling – appreciation, affection, respect, love – is translated in the image.

I have often felt though that there is something else going on, that (in ways I definitely can’t rationalise!) the subject of your photograph somehow responds to your noticing, to your attention, to your gaze.


It’s one of the reasons that the experience of photography is, for me, more about connection than ‘taking’, about that sense of rapport you can get by paying loving attention with the lens.

I’m sure this kind of looking with kindness can be applied in other ways.

I think we can probably learn to try and look at people like this.

It’s a bit like smiling at a stranger as you walk down the street, and noticing the ripple of energy that can follow their noticing.

Sometimes smiling is beyond us but perhaps even with the most difficult people you can learn to soften the way you look to get beyond the surface, beyond the labels, beyond the normal way of seeing to the point of connection that lies somewhere… beyond.


The more I think about it, the more I can see ways I would like to practice this way of looking.

Perhaps the most critical scrutiny is that which we apply to our selves: our stories, our work, our creative expression, our decisions, our sense of what things all add up to.

If you put any of that under a magnifying glass, or the harshness of a bright neon light, it can look less than pretty.

But perhaps we would see something else: softer, more textured, richer, more clearly part of the stuff of the whole, if we stepped back and softened our gaze.

Perhaps you could.

Perhaps I could.

I think this might be a way of looking that takes a lifetime to achieve.

But perhaps the new year is a good a place as any to begin.

Patterns of Darkness and Light

We’re almost at the winter solstice.


With a lot of blustery, mild, cloudy and rainy weather recently the short days have seemed pretty dark.

Although I’m glad for practical, driving, and getting to work reasons that we’re not enjoying classical (stereotypical) Christmas card weather, it does mean you’re more aware of the dark.

And, when you get a chink of it – more aware of the light.

Which is, of course, the beauty and the conundrum of the solstice 😉

It’s a day, a turning point, a festival for some, that can carry lots of different meaning.

(If you dig and delve on the web you’ll find lots of different ways of marking it and talking about it, some wilder than others.)

I remembered when I was walking earlier that the day had once been a turning point for me.

Ten years ago on the evening of the solstice, I started to journal.

I titled the journal, without really knowing why, a journal of darkness and light.

I started it with a commitment to writing it all, to noticing it all, to being willing to journal the darkness as well as the light.

It seems a little strange looking back on that commitment now, where it came from, and all the places it took me.

But I think I’ve stayed true to that commitment, even if the journal now comes out as a blog 😉

Since then I’ve started taking photographs too, day after day after day, and one of the greatest gifts this practice has given me is learning to notice the light.

At this time of year the sun has dipped behind the hill behind my house.

I need to walk along the road to see it, and even then only for a brief few hours during the day. Watching out for these brief moments of light, you start to notice where the sun falls and rises, inch by inch along the horizon.

Telling the time by watching the landscape, just as those who went before us did.

Watching the darkness, and the light.

sun dipping behind the hill

Simple Lines of Gratitude

I wanted to write something beautiful about being thankful.

I wanted to share it today.

I had loved the fullness of the words I’d found last year, and shared for the US Thanksgiving holiday.

The lines had tumbled through my head as I’d stood at the kitchen window on holiday in Ireland, watching the light on the softness of the hill.

I wanted to write something similar this year: soft, grateful, tumbling, full.

Of course, the words wouldn’t come.

I think I had forgotten to remember that the form of the expression doesn’t matter.

It’s the thankfulness that matters.

It might come out in poetry.

It might come out in prose.

It might come out in a photograph.

lines of morning

It might come out in the sting of tears, noticing the moon above the scratch of trees against the palest bluest sky.

It might come out as you shut your tear-stung eyes, and whisper:

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Five Minute Photography

I have been practicing five minute photography.

The days are short now with it getting dark at half past four already, and you have to grab your chances when you can.

November is doing its usual dance between hopeless gloom and impossibly glorious light, and on those light days, when I’m office working, I run out at lunchtime and practice five minute photography.

Mellow trees

The principles are simple.

Just: go outside. Continue reading

ash tree sings
the call to prayer

A Glimpse of the Web

It’s easy to get lost in one way of looking at things.

It’s easy to get caught up in one version of ‘reality’: work, money, bills.

It’s easy to get lost in the snowstorm of things-to-be-done that swirls, endlessly, in the material world.

Luckily, there are things that lurk quietly to remind us.

A fragment of a song, the lines of a poem, a stranger’s sudden smile. Continue reading

The Dissolution of Light

Driving to work, I feel the firmness of the wheel beneath my fingers. My foot keeps a steady pressure on the gas. I’m driving along narrow country lanes, quiet with occasional, sudden hazards of animals and tractors and oil tankers filling the road. You can’t afford to go too fast. You can’t afford not to pay attention.

The morning is tempting me otherwise. The morning is all pastel streaks, the cloud shifting and moving, throwing mauves, gold, purples across the Galloway sky. The sky is filling me. I feel the sky. Continue reading

swallows’ silence the autumn moon

Irresistible Sweep of Colour

I love the start of autumn.

I love the way we get swept along by colour, stunned and surprised, as if seeing it for the first time.

I love the way the turning of the colours holds time: not just the knowledge of the winter ahead but the promise first of days remembered, kicking leaves, watching the mist rise from a forest floor, hunting for conkers, taking photograph after photograph of the colour of the trees.

We look at the colour. We see time. Continue reading

Choosing Your Point of View

I was running just a teeny bit late the other morning.

‘What were you doing?’, he asked.

‘Taking photographs’, I said, and he smiled.

The natural follow up question ‘of what?’ he knows me better than to ask, but it played around in my mind none the less.

What was I taking a photograph, after all? Continue reading


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