Open Mic Friday! featuring Kim Manley Ort

Happy Friday, dear friends, and welcome to the Open Mic! Today I’m delighted to introduce you to Kim Manley Ort, a photographer and blogger. She’ll tell you more about her contemplative photography practice.


What Is Contemplative Photography?
Text and images by Kim Manley Ort.

Contemplation is a long, loving look at the real.” ~ Thomas Merton

Fern Dance

Fern Dance

I’ve always loved to photograph, to capture a moment, the beauty I see everywhere.

But it was the life and photography of Ansel Adams that inspired me to take my first photography class. Adams took a long, loving look at the wilderness areas of the western United States and decided they needed protection. It was partly his photographs that helped create some of our national parks.

Through workshops with Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant in New Brunswick, Canada, I learned about visual design, and how to see beyond the labels we put on things. It is this form of seeing that I want to express in my photography. And, I have since learned that there is a name for this type of photography – contemplative.

Tie-dyed clothing


I have long been an admirer of the monk, Thomas Merton, who wrote about the contemplative tradition. Contemplation, which is how I approach photography, is a form of meditation. It is about being totally present and seeing what is really there, without judgment, without applying meaning.

In the book, The Practice of Contemplative Photography, the authors, Andy Karr and Michael Wood, write that it is about aligning eye, mind, and heart. You learn to see the world with fresh eyes. Through contemplative photography, the photographer is able to express the essence of its subject, with no conceptual interpretation.

Much of photography is conceptual. The photographer “looks” for a particular subject
in order to express his or her interpretation; often something considered beautiful or
something that will evoke awe. There is nothing wrong with this; it is just a different type of photography. It’s what most of us do.

Eye of the Sunflower

Eye of the Sunflower

Looking and seeing both begin with sense perception,
but there the similarity ends.
When I ‘look’ at the world and label its phenomena,
I make immediate choices, instant appraisals.
I like or I dislike. I accept or I reject….
The purpose of looking is to survive, to cope, to manipulate,
to discern what enhances or diminishes the ‘me’.
When I see, I am suddenly all eyes.
I forget the ME, and am liberated from it
and dive into the reality of what confronts me….
It is in order to see, … more deeply that I draw….
I have learned that what I have not drawn
I have never really seen….
I discover that among the ten thousand things
there is no ordinary thing.”
~ Frederick Franck, The Zen of Seeing

Contemplative photography is about being surprised; noticing what is right in front of you and seeing it in new ways, and then photographing what you see. It can be very effective, and at the same time, can teach us how to be in the moment and to pay closer attention to our surroundings.

Concepts, perceptions, and interpretations are, by their very nature, limiting. The world is constantly changing, offering unlimited perceptions and potential for creativity.

How can you see something differently today?



Kim Manley Ort

Kim Manley Ort

Kim Manley Ort is a photographer and writer who is inspired daily. Please join the conversation on her blog, Be Inspired, on Facebook, Adventures in Seeing, or on Twitter @kimmanleyort.

Her first online workshop, Photo by Design, will run for six weeks beginning September 30th. It is for anyone who loves to photograph and would like to better express what he or she sees.

Thank you, Kim! The comments stay open all weekend. See you there!