Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Interview with Christine Valters Paintner, author of "Eyes of the Heart"

I discovered Christine's website, Abbey of the Arts - Transformative Living through Contemplative and Expressive Arts, some years ago.  I loved the ideas Christine offered, and have in my library four of her books, in addition to Eyes of the Heart:

I refer to them often, and am nourished by Christine's words and practices which connect creativity with a deeper spirituality.

So, I was really excited to hear that Christine was publishing a book on using photography as a contemplative practice (and even more excited when I received the book and found that she had recommended my book The Creative Photographer in the resource section!)  There are a wealth of meaningful practices in the book which will deepen your photography practice.  To get a sense of the richness offered by Christine's book, Eyes of the Heart,  click on the "Look inside" tab on the amazon page to the book.

Even more exciting was the opportunity to ask Christine a couple of questions about her book to share on my blog.  Hope you enjoy our discussion!

Catherine:   Christine, I love your idea of seeing with the "eyes of the heart" and the heart being the source of true vision.   In the fast-paced world we live in, it can sometimes be hard to slow down long enough to see fully in this way.  What have you found helps you slow down so that you open to seeing the world through the "eyes of the heart", both when you have a camera in your hand and when you are out in the world?

Christine:  The most important tool I have to slow myself down is my breath.  Breathing slowly and deeply changes my body, so that everything relaxes.  Breath for me, is the anchor of awareness in my contemplative prayer, calling me back to this moment again and again.  I find myself often out in the world returning to my breath as a way of steadying myself and my attention right here and now.

Catherine:   Attention to breath, yes, thank you.  That is something we can all do, we just have to remember.  I also love that the Latin word "spirare" from which our words "inspire" and "inspiration" originate means "to breathe"!  There is a connection between our breath and allowing the world around us to speak to us more deeply.

What is your favorite exercise in the book?  Is there a particular photography practice you engage in when you need a way to see clearly again, perhaps after a period of intense work, or after a painful or difficult experience?

Christine:  My favorite is probably the invitation to take fifty images of one thing (p. 24) as a means of exploring a subject deeply.  I love allowing the camera lens to be an invitation back into intimacy with the world.  After working intensely or experiencing something challenging, that is often the issue for me – feeling at a distance from everything.  Intimacy invites me to remember the sacred presence pulsing through all things, people, and places.

Catherine:  I agree that is a very powerful exercise.  I also love that the camera allows us to remember special places and times.  We can remember the green of summer in the darkness of winter.  It is a way that we can stay connected to something meaningful.  I so enjoyed your chapter on the symbolic significance of color and in particular, your discussion of Hildegard of Bingen's use of the color green to represent life force. In your recent moves from the USA to Vienna and now to Ireland, have you noticed that different colors are dominant in different countries?  What is your favorite color and what is the symbolic significance of this color for you?

Christine:  That is a beautiful way to put it Catherine.  There is a sense of re-membering or making whole again in our memories, bring something present. I love your question.  In Vienna, the color that often called to me most strongly was white.  I am entranced by the hundreds of marble statues scattered throughout the city.  I have often imagined one day telling the story of them – angels and mythical creatures, men and women, all carved out of white stone.  They reveal a freshness of vision to me, even as I view them again and again.

In Ireland, green is definitely the dominant color.  It rains pretty heavily on the west coast where I live, which leaves a wondrous verdancy in its wake and always brings me back to Hildegard’s vision.  But another color I am discovering is the golden hue of light, when the sun emerges after a heavy rain.  It seems to illuminate everything – dancing off the river and bay beyond, shimmering across wet sidewalks.  It speaks to my heart of those ancient monks who created illuminated manuscripts with gold leaf applied as a way of representing this divine light in the world.

Catherine:  I've never thought about illuminated letters in this way - that they were a way to represent divine light.  Thank you for this insight!  

How did you first discover photography as a path of contemplation?  Do you always use photography in this way?

Christine:  I have engaged in photography since I was a child, as my grandparents owned a chain of photographic supply stores across the Northeast United States and so I always had a camera in hand.  However, it wasn’t until my own contemplative life deepened in my twenties, when I discovered the Benedictine tradition, that I began to discover photography as a means to slow down and see more deeply.

Catherine:  What other creative ways of being in the world do you enjoy?  If you had to choose to express yourself in words or images, which medium would you choose, and why?

Christine:  I do consider myself, first and foremost, a writer.  It is the very first medium I can remember falling in love with, and I have always felt called to express myself in words.  I discover new things through writing.  However, one of the great joys of starting a blog several years ago, was discovering how photography helped to illuminate my words in different ways than written language alone.  I remembered those ancient monks again, illuminating their sacred texts with images, because they knew that images and words together could be more powerful than just words alone.  So I love the dance my writing and photography do together, each supporting the other in expression.

Catherine:  I love the idea of words and images "illuminating" each other!  Christine, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us.  I know Eyes of the Heart is a book I will return to again and again for inspiration.


Bill Graham said...

I am deeply involved in contemplative photography in Nature. I would LOVE to own a copy of her book. But, alas I want a copy in the Kindle format. Any chances that this will happen?

Abbey of the Arts said...

Hi Bill, thanks so much for your interest in Eyes of the Heart. It will be out in Kindle format soon. I have an email into my publisher to find out when it can be expected.

Joanne Huffman said...

A very interesting conversation with lots to think about.