A few years back I had the privilege of inviting the late Andrew Norton to speak to my Theology and Media class on photography and spirituality. Andrew graciously obliged and brought in a number of canvases with prints on them as well as a selection of digital photos for us to view and engage with. He talked about the ongoing process of learning to photograph scenes – particularly landscapes and birds, the art of composition, and how photography served as a medium for exploring his life and faith. A number of things have continued with me from the hour or so that he spent with the class – the violence of the language we use to describe photography and of returning to the same place to take photographs over time.
Andrew’s photography, writing and other resources can be found at the web link below. It is well worth visiting for a look.https://andrewnorton.co.nz/
With respect to the language of violence, Andrew spoke of how it say uncomfortably with him of “taking” pictures, of “framing” places, “capturing” events, and “processing” images as if these places and events could be constrained and held disconnected and disempowered by the act of photography. Being aware of this allowed him to change his perspective on the act of photography, seeking to maintain the mana or dignity of what was being photographed and to engage in photography as a worshipful activity.
Andrew also spoke of returning to the same place to take photographs – at different times of day or across months of years – where the location was a constant but the light and climate varied and the land changed over time. One place he mentioned as special was a beach (Whangara in Tair?whiti, if I remember correctly), and he talked us through photos taken from the same spot over years, exploring the light, the people of that place, and geography. As I listened it reminded me of this short video documentary in the series commissioned by Te Papa exploring the land and its shaping of people in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Recently, over the past few years I’ve started taking more photographs. Partly because of the availability of decent cameras on my smart phones as well as using a couple of good smaller cameras suitable for street photography, but also because I have found it particularly helpful to explore my own world, life, and to reflect on that both emotionally and spiritually. The brief time Andrew spoke to the class (and the other times I heard about and saw his photography) have shaped that – even just thinking about how it might create different ways of looking at things. Over the new few (irregular) posts I’ll explore that some more.