The Artist Within: Focusing Attention

My mother was an artist by profession, proficient in oils, watercolors, pen and ink, pastels, metalwork, sculpture, and flower arrangement. Not excelling in any of these as I grew up, I never considered myself particularly creative.

The summer after I graduated from college, I prepared to travel through Europe with friends: my first trip overseas! While I had enjoyed taking typical Polaroid and Instamatic pictures of friends and events in my teens, I knew this trip would require something better. I would be visiting iconic places I’d studied in history and art classes and I wanted to capture quality images of places I might never get to see again. My father lent me his SLR (single-lens reflex camera) for the summer; on my return, he was pleased enough with my results that he gave me the camera (and bought himself a new one!). That excursion through nine countries in nine weeks had opened my eyes to new worlds in more ways than one.

I learned something important looking through the lens that summer. Unlike many of my friends and colleagues who still refuse to travel with a camera because they insist that it distracts them from paying attention to their surroundings, I discovered that taking photographs enhanced my observation skills! The camera’s ability to help me appreciate the world around me more purposefully has only grown in the decades since.

A career in historic preservation attuned me to the built environment, but as I began to travel more and to develop a creative sensibility with my photographs, natural landscapes and wildlife drew more of my attention. Interesting patterns and striking or unusual juxtapositions catch my eye wherever I find them, whether in nature, structures, or objects. Learning to really look took some practice, but the camera literally aided my efforts to focus: a pun, but true.

Beth Boland’s Photo Gallery (Click arrows or swipe left to see all nine!)

Sometimes capturing a great image requires little more than truly “seeing” what I’m looking at. Sometimes it requires being patient, remaining still, and becoming oblivious to time. Sometimes it requires being alert and “going with the flow.” Always it requires being aware and ‘in the moment,” pausing my mind’s noise and being open to seeing my surroundings in a new way. Looking for patterns, details, surprises, color, beauty, appealing compositions, or transitory narrative moments is part of that intentionality. Playing with perspective, focal length, exposure, composition, color, and other technical choices all contribute to the creative process.

People create art for various reasons. For me, it’s mostly about beauty and forging or enhancing connections with the world around me. There is a place for art that opens our eyes to ugly truths in the world and in ourselves, but that is not my art. Photography links me more deeply to nature and to God-given human achievement and adds to my sense of wonder. I find myself in agreement with a sentiment I’ve heard/read many times from different photographers:  my hope is to make others feel what I felt when I took the photograph, to experience a sense of the reason I was moved to take the picture.

I still love to take photos of new and exciting places. But when the pandemic curtailed travel, I became even more aware of how much beauty and elements of surprise exist all around us, if we choose to see them. Including in what some might consider the most mundane settings. This is one reason I try never to be without a camera, even when I’m just running errands.

— Beth Boland

NOTE: This fall’s Emmanuel Voices blog series, The Artist Within, explores the intersections between creativity & art, and our personal & public lives.

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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