Photography by Reg Good

Canadian photographer Freeman Patterson, speaking about the nature of photography, says that the camera is pointed toward the photographer actually. The photographer is the meaning of the image for the perspective of the lens and the camera position, the edge of the frame, and the moment the shutter is pressed are all the choices of the photographer and those choices are what the viewer sees looking at an image. Life experience,  inner dreams and longings,  study and effort,  mood and state of mind are all part of the choices made for the moment the shutter goes click.

I was fortunate Freeman Patterson was my first teacher. I had been given my grandfather’s automatic Agfa camera. I loaded slide film and one early morning on my way to university walking through a ravine, I snapped some pictures, bits of nature that had caught my attention. Out of that roll of film I got 4 pictures, 4 images that seemed to me so beautiful. Those four hooked me on photography. I was able to follow through on that experience  because in the school library I found Freeman Patterson’s book, The Joy of Photography. His approach to photography inspired me, made sense to me, to my view of life, to my values. The library also had the full series of 14 books of the Life Library of Photography series published by Time/Life. Those books gave me the technical and artistic skill and insight to learn the craft.

Many years later, in an exchange of letters, Freeman also gave me the words that crystalized my life learning. We both had gone to theological school and what I guess I picked up in his first book is we shared a way of seeing, though not one you would say is religious. He wrote in one of his letters to me words that are a marker to my personal life journey.  “You are living ‘in God,’ "he wrote. "It cannot be otherwise. Endeavour to relax into this reality, into being part of all that is, and into the incredible mystery that accompanies it. You are the person for whom you have always been waiting.”

When Freeman Patterson was attending Union Theological Seminary in New York, he took a city-sponsored night course in photography. That teacher sparked his embrace of photography. Freeman put this new interest into his dissertation and continued in a remarkable career as a photographer and a teacher, influencing the lives of hundreds of photographers as he had done with me.

In my case, I finished theological school with ordination in the Anglican church, really the only world I knew as third generation clergy. After three years in parish work, I began a 3-year study leave that became ten years. I began with a year of study in Israel and then graduate work in pastoral counselling psychology. However, over the first semester of study, my focus took a radical turn shifting from a question of how to help from inside the counselling chamber to ask how ritual can meet human need and how liturgy can be a way for healing. That changed the course of my life, though not known to me at the time.

The exploration continued then, more experientially and less academically, in part as I’d run out of money and in part the exploration was experimental in scope. Through producing my own radio show for CIUT FM on the varieties of religious expression and later freelance documentary work for CBC, along with readings in the Avant Gard theatre, 1898 to the 70s, and through many serendipitous turnings, I eventually found the direction for my work in the south of France with Enrique Pardo and his Pantheatre.

Returning from 6 months in Europe, excited by the possibilities of this new basis for my exploration, I soon realized the church authorities had little interest in nor did they understand my ideas. And after ten years on this path, I was worn out from living in an unheated rooming house, sleeping 4 hours a night, and earning minimum wage to support myself. I had been paying my own way since age 14 working long hours while going to school. I had spent my whole life in poverty. I needed to settle down.

Again, by chance [this journey was many serendipitous moments moving me forward, the work of a companion muse I am convinced] I began teaching in the college system, mostly at Humber College in the English department. It was hard and precarious contract work for 24 years. I applied what I had learned from my sojourn as to how to teach, how to enrich the classroom, along the way informed and inspired by the approach of holistic learning. I learned too from my thousands of wonderful students. I don’t feel that I worked a day those 24 years. Every day I taught, I looked forward to walking into the classroom, to being present with my students. Every semester the students and I went on a journey together and found out by the end something more of ourselves.

What has this to do with photography? Freeman said the camera is pointed at the photographer. Can I know more about myself in the taking of pictures? I don’t know. My orientation is to theatre. Photography is an anomaly to me. But it’s been there in my darkest moments. Unlike anything else, it has always been pure pleasure. It’s just something I could do. I see in two dimensions. I can stand at the entrance to a room or in the middle of a woods and know exactly where to go to get the photo I need. And taking the picture, making it my own, gives me incredible joy.

Over the course of my life, the original query starting my journey transposed itself from the subject of making the transcendent present, as in liturgy calling on the transcendent to be among us. That exploration slowly over time turned inside out from making the transcendent present to making the present transcendent. To make the present transcendent is to see the sacred in ordinary things, find a soul that is in all things, a web of life, soul in the rocks, and the water and the clouds and the trees, soul we share with the natural world; it's where we find our soul, sages write. It is to find soul in the turn of the head, a laugh, a pensive look, the look of the eye, movement of the body, for in the simple human gesture is nothing less than the expression of the fullness of our humanity. As with the natural world, the sages teach, by seeing this way, we come to see the soul in each other. So there’s the photography for me, finding my soul in a moment, the click of a shutter, that speaks to me, and perhaps to you.

Literary critic John Banville says the work of art is not to hold forth with great pronouncements or try to make people better. The work of art is, briefly, for but an instant, to awaken one to the possibility of life. So I strive for my photography.

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