Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

Photography as a Contemplative Practice

Workshop Number: 
Peter West Nutting
Who may register?: 
Adults Only (high school with permission)
Experiential Activities: 
only full time attenders (participants should attend all week)

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 and being present, grow your Quaker faith, and connect you more closely with yourself, your environment, and your community.

Workshop Description

"One sees clearly only with the heart."  (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) "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)  "How you see is what you see. And to see rightly is to be able to be fully present – without fear, without bias, and without judgment." (Richard Rohr)  "If your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light." (Matthew 6:22) "Despite ourselves, we are drawn out by the beauty in own own backyard." (ˆPema Chödron)

This workshop is intended for both beginning and experienced photographers. Participants will need a digital camera (or smart phone or tablet), a working knowledge of their camera, and access to a computer with basic photo editing capabilities (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:

  1. seeing our everyday surroundings with increased awareness,
  2. developing fresh perceptions of color, line, pattern, and texture,
  3. working creatively with light and shadow,
  4. discovering simplicity of form and space in our immediate environment, and
  5. learning the art of visual discernment.

We will also discuss what is contemplation and how digital photography relates to our Quaker values. Each day will begin with worship (20 minutes; worship based on silent/centering prayer) and grounding in poetry (20 minutes), followed by a brief illustrated lecture on the principles of contemplative photography and basic photographic composition (20 minutes).  Participants will then be given specific photographic assignments to complete on campus (60 minutes). Finally, we will share our experiences and our images with each other and provide positive feedback (20 minutes worship-sharing; 25 minutes small group or one-on-one discussion). Participants may edit their photographs either during or outside of the scheduled workshop time and will be encouraged to use evenings and early mornings to take additional photographs and to reflect further on their experience of seeing. We will display our favorite images electronically online where they might be viewed by those both at the Gathering and afterwards. Participants should be in good physical condition in order to carry out the assignments, which will require a fair amount of walking, though a golf cart may be made available for those needing assistance. I recommend reading at least one of the following books before arriving at the Gathering: "The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes," by Andy Karr and Michael Wood (Shambhala Publications, 2011), "Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice," by Christine Valters Painter (Sorin Books, 2013), and "Effortless Beauty: Photography as an Expression of Eye, Mind and Heart," by Julie DuBose (Miksang Publications, 2013). I also highly recommend these two books on silent prayer: "Finding Your Hidden Treasure: The Way of Silent Prayer," by Benignus O'Rourke, and "Presence and Process," by Daniel P. Coleman (the first is more readable and written by an Augustinian friar, the second more scholarly and written by a progressive Christian Quaker).

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,  2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 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.  I led a one-day version of my workshop at Framingham (MA) Friends Meeting in October 2013 and a weekend workshop on the same theme in April 2015 at Woolman Hill Conference Center in Deerfield, MA.  A sampling of my photographs may be viewed on my website: