Foundational stories now: Photography

At this summer’s annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), held at Scattergood School and Farm, we were challenged to examine our foundational stories. How they began, how they evolved, and what they are now. I was led to accept that challenge, especially because I had been sensing spiritual leadings that suggested I might change not the stories themselves, but a change in focus.

My foundational stories are related to the intersections between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. My faith led me to try to share my spiritual experiences and show my love for the beauty of Mother Earth through photography.

I described the beginnings of my foundational stories in the first blog post in the series, Our Foundational Stories: Beginning.

The path of my foundational stories was not a straight line. Which is the reason for the many stories I wrote about the path of my stories. My grandmother, Lorene Standing, told me the will of God is often revealed in a series of steps. That has been the case for me.

Many things I’ve read and my own experiences have shown me that stories are perhaps the most effective way to engage in discussions, especially when there are disagreements. And stories, of the past and present, are going to be important as we all try to find our way through the coming challenges.

If we are to find a new kind of good life amid the catastrophes these myths have spawned, then we need to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves. We need to dig deep into old stories and reveal their wisdom, as well as lovingly nurture the emergence of new stories into being.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium, June 18, 2019

My foundational stories now


We’re all aware of the revolution of digital photography. Besides being glad I no longer have to use a darkroom, digital photography has made me a much better photographer. Having the freedom to capture many images, not limited to 12 or 36 exposures, and such control with digital editing, I learn so much.

In the past I used photography in a lot of justice types of activities, but that has changed recently. I no longer take many photos at demonstrations and rallies because law enforcement uses such photos posted online to identify people to arrest.

There are demonstrations where there is no concern about the police. My new friends since I’ve moved back to Iowa have found out about my love of photography and I’m glad to be invited to take photos for them.

I still carry my camera everywhere. Now that I’m retired, I have a new daily routine. First thing in the morning I spend about two hours writing, while my mind is still “fresh”. Then I walk about three miles with my camera. For the exercise of my body and photographic eye. For some reason I usually end up with about seventy photos each day. Some days I have to force myself to stop.

After lunch I look forward to spending about two hours editing the photos I took that day. I really enjoy that. So all this fills about six hours a day.

One of the reasons I was led to accept the challenge of reflecting on my foundational stories was because I had noticed some changes. It is difficult to know, even with statistics provided, how many people read my blog posts. Or look at my photos.

The numbers aren’t important, other than making me wonder how I can most effectively tell my stories. Whether I should do more work related to writing, or photography. Facebook especially makes it possible to get an idea of how many people look at photos. And makes it easy for people to comment on them.

I’m comfortable with the current mix of this.

But there is something sad about one aspect of this. I love the photographs of Ansel Adams and others from his day that helped people appreciate nature and sometimes affected government policies. I just learned he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980.

I had hoped in some small way the photos I was sharing would make people pay attention to the beauty all around us and sensitize them to advocate for protection of Mother Earth.

It makes me sad to think the photographs we’ve taken over the past several decades might be what people in the (near) future look at to see the beauty that once was and is no more. That is one reason I take so many photos today.

I’ve been so blessed to have made a number of Indigenous friends since returning to Iowa in 2017. One of the things I’ve learned from them is to recognize the spirit in all things, human and non-human. This has changed the relationship between myself and what I am photographing.

I post photos daily on Facebook.

(Barry) Lopez could not have known the effect he was having on one impressionable member of the audience. Yet I believe he established a connection with me that evening—a thin strand in the elaborate web that is community—by describing a path that was utterly new to me, and by suggesting that, as others had walked that path, it was safe for me to do so as well. This all happened in the space of a few seconds, as he mulled over the central question plaguing the men and women at the conference, namely: How could we convince lawmakers to pass laws to protect wilderness? Lopez argued that wilderness activists will never achieve the success they seek until they can go before a panel of legislators and testify that a certain river or butterfly or mountain or tree must be saved, not because of its economic importance, not because it has recreational or historical or scientific value, but because it is so beautiful.

His words struck a chord in me. I left the room a changed person, one who suddenly knew exactly what he wanted to do and how to do it. I had known that love is a powerful weapon, but until that moment I had not understood how to use it. What I learned on that long-ago evening, and what I have counted on ever since, is that to save a wilderness, or to be a writer or a cab driver or a homemaker—to live one’s life—one must reach deep into one’s heart and find what is there, then speak it plainly and without shame.

Reid, Robert Leonard. Because It Is So Beautiful: Unraveling the Mystique of the American West . Counterpoint. Kindle Edition.

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