Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

Photography as a Contemplative Practice

Workshop Number: 
Peter West Nutting
Who may register?: 
Adult Only (high school with permission)
Experiential Activities: 
full-time attenders only

Discover how digital photography can help you see the world around you more clearly and experience it more deeply. Explore a variety of practices that will open new ways of seeing, grow your Quaker faith, and connect you more closely with yourself, your environment, and your community.

Workshop Description

"The hardest thing about photography is learning to see." (Galen Rowell) "The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." (Dorothea Lange) "One sees clearly only with the heart."  (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
This workshop is intended for both beginning and experienced photographers. Participants will need a digital camera (or smart phone), a working knowledge of their camera, and access to a computer with basic photo editing capabilities (e.g., iPhoto; a laptop is desirable but not essential). Participants will be invited to share in a conversation about their own ways of seeing and about how photography helps them experience the world more deeply and more clearly. Specific topics will include: a) seeing our everyday surroundings with greater awareness, b) developing fresh perceptions of color and texture, c) working creatively with light and shadow, d) discovering simplicity of form and space in our immediate environment, and e) learning the art of visual discernment. There will be a brief introduction to composition and how to use light and shadow effectively. We will also discuss how digital photography relates to our Quaker values. We will begin each day with worship and grounding ourselves in poetry (45 minutes), followed by a brief illusrated lecture (15 minutes). Then participants will be given specific photographic assignments to complete on campus or at local places of photographic interest (60 minutes). Finally, we will share our experiences and our images and provide positive feedback to each other (45 minutes). Participants may edit their photographs either during or outside of the scheduled workshop time. They will also be encouraged to use evenings and early mornings to take additional photographs and to reflect further on their experience of seeing. If possible, we will display our favorite images electronically where they might be viewed by those both at the Gathering and beyond it. Participants should be in good physical condition in order to carry out the assignments. I recommend reading before the Gathering "The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes," by Andy Karr and Michael Wood (Shambhala Publications, 2011), and " Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice," by Christine Valters Painter (Sorin Books, 2013).

Leader Experience

I am a life-long Quaker and photographer, as well as a freelance translator (German to English) and retired foreign language teacher (German and French).  My workshops at the 2012 and 2013 Gatherings provided extraordinary opportunities to connect with the wider community of Friends and to share ideas about how to see the world around us with greater clarity and meaning. My Friends Journal article, "Listening with the Eyes," in the September 2013 issue, together with the photographs by the participants (more photos are available online at, provides an overview of what to expect in my workshop.  A sampling of my photographs may be viewed on my website: