Statement for The Poetry of Being

I began this work at the onset of the Covid pandemic while caring for my mother, who had heart failure and vascular dementia.  To stay grounded and keep going, I photographed daily on my mountain ridge and in nearby areas.  When I witnessed aspects of nature that hung on through illness and physical harm, it made me believe that I could endure being a caregiver during such challenging times.  Another family member developed long Covid although no one knew what it was at the time. I could only communicate in one sentence texts, because of his brain fog. That motivated me to write haikus, to get at the essence of things and perhaps connect with whatever mysterious life-force keeps, plants, creatures and humans living.  I signed up for a workshop with Natalie Goldberg and Eddie Solway that focused on haikus and photographs and I began to write some three lined poems to accompany my work. The photography group I’m in with Jane Fulton Alt encouraged me to make a book, so I signed up for Elizabeth Avedon’s book-making workshop through NORDphotography. I was going to self-publish it, but then Michael Itkoff saw my work at Photolucida and asked me if I wanted Daylight Books to publish it.

The book is dedicated to my mother, since she was a huge inspiration for my photography.  Nature became a lifeline for her as her mind deteriorated and I took her for walks every day.  She could still appreciate the flowers, trees, and creatures she saw in a direct way that bypassed language, the part of her brain that had been severely impacted by an earlier stroke, and often pointed to what called to her.  She taught me to slow down and look closely and to be grateful for things I might otherwise have overlooked. Though she and I were mostly in search of flowers, I took her mindset of awe with me when I went on walkabouts by myself.

I was also inspired by Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time, which I studied with my father in College.  Heidegger believed we understand ourselves only through being in the world, and that ultimately we seek to understand Being itself, not just our knowledge and experience of it.  Nan Shepherd’s seminal book Living Mountain impacted me deeply, since she strove to go into nature without expectations so she could perceive and express how she sensed nature viewed itself.  Alain Briot, an early mentor, told me that if we go into nature expecting to make a certain image, we will miss what is actually there.  Since I began my creative pursuits, I have been influenced by the 12th Century German mystic Hildegard von Bingen, who wrote about the interconnected web of life and the power of greening.  She stressed that the earth sustains us physically and spiritually and that it must not be destroyed.

For me, photography has always been a spiritual practice and I consider myself to be a co-creator with spirit, Mother Nature, a higher power, or my higher Self.  I don’t really care to define what it is, as that would be reductive.  When I go in nature and respond to what I’m perceiving, I feel I am channeling something beyond the limitations of my own psyche and the work takes on a life of its own.  As Rick Rubin wrote so beautifully in The Creative Act: A Way of Being, “Demanding to control a work of art would be just as foolish as demanding that an oak tree grow according to your will.”

While I was making these images, I was also reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants.  Her concept of reciprocity and her view that the entire earth and everything it supports is animate really touched me, as I believe that we have been given a great gift in being allowed to inhabit this planet and in return we must express our thanks by taking the best care we can of Mother Earth. The indigenous seventh generation philosophy is always at the forefront of my mind, and I am not sure why it isn’t more widely adopted by non-indigenous people.  When making decisions that will impact the environment, people are cautioned to think about how that will affect generations down the line and other living beings.  As we all coexist together and what we do affects the future, it seems wise to take this time to contemplate what might happen.

I called the book The Poetry of Being, because the images I made are lyrical and bypass my analytical mind and connect with my experience of the numinous.  I also appreciate how poets are more concerned with connecting with the essence of something and how that interaction reflects and illuminates their feelings about being alive, instead of just classifying things so they can be pigeon-holed away. Life is not just a bucket list.  I was grateful that James Lenfestey contributed two poems to set the stage for my photographs and haikus that follow.  His poem “Zen Forest” reminds us to be still and question who we are and what we coexist with. “The White Pine’s Answer” is a beautiful sensory and metaphorical tribute to the earth, the cycle of life, and our embedded-ness.  These poems express to me how being in the moment is more than enough, it’s everything.  When we experience life on a more primordial and immediate way, we are connected and supported and can perhaps even die at peace.

My previous work was more environmental and documentary and focused on pollution and climate change, the beautiful areas that remain to be preserved and those that we are destroying.  While working on Florida’s Changing Waters Work: A Beautiful World in Peril, I developed s severe case of eco-anxiety.  After I completed that project, olor images no longer seemed to express my emotional response to what was happening, so I began working in black and white and signed up for a workshop on the Emotional Landscape with Doug Beasely in 2019, the year before I started the book. That changed the direction of my art entirely.  That year I also enrolled in an 8-week course with Jill Enfield at Penland on alternative process photography.  I fell in love with the platinum-palladium process and Jill later introduced me to Pradip Malde, who developed the Malde-Ware method of platinum-palladium printing with chemist Mike Ware.

Platinum-palladium is the perfect medium to express the preciousness of life.  The richness of this process imbues darkness with its own beauty and the use of noble metals both preserves transitory states and underscores how valuable all of existence is despite, or perhaps because of, its impermanence.  I’m deeply indebted to Pradip for teaching me this process and for mentoring me.  Not only is he an incredibly gifted artist, he is deeply philosophical in a truly authentic way.  I’m beyond grateful to him for writing such a beautiful introduction to my book.  He understood what I was doing perhaps even more than I did and recognized that my images were a call to  pay attention to “silence, solitude, mortality, and chaos, all of which would otherwise leave us feeling fragile, vulnerable, and hopeless.” The reason I photograph is to keep hope alive in myself during these turbulent times, so I don’t fall into apathy.  It is a practice of gratitude that enables me to truly experience gratitude, not because I’m told to but because when we see in deep time there is so much to truly appreciate as well as fear.  Consciousness is a gift and a curse, depending on where we focus our attention. Through the creative act and connecting with the natural order, we can move towards acceptance of what is happening to the planet and our human fate.  This can be a path to at least partial freedom and acceptance of our mortality.  Though there is still much to be disturbed about, as W. S. Merwin observed in his powerful poem Thanks, there is much to be grateful for even in dark times.  This is why we opened the book with the image, “The Only Choice is to Follow the Light,”

Angel Oak Tree Canopy ©Lynne Buchanan

Lynne Buchanan earned a B.A. in art history from New College in Sarasota, and an M.A. in creative writing from the University of South Florida in Tampa and an M.A. in art history/museum studies from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  She is the author and photographer of Florida’s Changing Waters: A Beautiful World in Peril, which was published by George F. Thompson Publishing, L.L.C. in 2019.  Lynne presented and gave talks about the book at the Miami Book Fair, as well as at the North American Nature Photography Association and the Society for Environmental Journalism.  Her latest book, The Poetry of Being, was published by Daylight Books and has just been released. Her award-winning photographs have been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Florida and across the country, as well as in Athens, Greece, including the Griffin Museum in Winchester, the South Florida Museum (renamed The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature) in Bradenton, the Soho Photo Gallery in New York City, The Photographer’s Eye: A Creative Collective in Escondido, Slow Exposures in Zebulon, South x Southeast Photo Gallery in Molena, the FokiaNou Art Space in Athens, 516 Arts in Albuquerque, CENTER in Santa Fe, The Center for Fine Art Photography in Colorado Springs, Photo Place in Vermont, and the A Smith Gallery in Johnson City, among others. She was recognized as one of Photolucida’s Top 200 finalists in 2016.  In 2023, Lynne received honorable mention for her platinum-palladium series The Poetry of Being, as well as honorable mentions for three single wildlife images and one in the cellphone category in the 19th Julia Margaret Cameron Awards.  She also received honorable mention for her Wanderings in Wild Places platinum palladium series in the 19th Pollux Awards.  Her work was included in the Julia Margaret Cameron Gala Exhibition at Fotonostrum in Barcelona in April 2023, and it will be included in the the Pollux Awards exhibition at Fotonostrum in December 2023.