Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Inner Journey

“The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic acting out an inner journey.
 The inner journey is the interpolation of the meanings
 and signs of the outer pilgrimage.
 One can have one without the other.
 It is best to have both.” 
Thomas Merton

Effie Yazzie

I think Thomas Merton had it right and for me, photography has been the passport that drives that journey.  I believe that it's essential to follow your deepest passions and I truly believe there is honor in seeking out your calling and purpose. Speak your dream out loud and live it. Whether it be the people you want in your life or the path you want to travel. Live it shamelessly and truthfully, even in the darkest of times. Don't abandon it. In my own life, I've noticed a synchronicity to it, an obvious algorithm. When I'm on course, it flows.  Always giving, always moving forward, always enlightening. Fueled by gratitude and stalled by ego. 

So often I'm at a loss for words with the places I end up being and people I end up meeting through photography.  I wake up every morning with great anticipation of the next adventure. I received an email from photographer Bruce Roscoe  inviting me to visit the Yazzie family in Monument Valley. Susie Yazzie, the family matriarch passed away earlier this year at the age of 93. Her daughter, Effie, still lives on the family homestead in Monument Valley on private Navajo property only accessible with permission from the family. Bruce Roscoe has been a personal family friend for many years and is an amazing portrait photographer. He took an incredible photo of Suzzie and Effie, a loving portrait of mother and daughter, that I adore. I truly believe it is one of the best images of these women I've ever seen. 

Several photographers, Bruce and myself spent time this weekend miles back into the canyons of Monument Valley in and around the Yazzie hogan.  We played with the their dogs, met grandchildren and watched and photographed Effie herding their sheep and horses. We ate a traditional Navajo lunch inside the hogan around a welcoming wood burning stove on a very cold, windy, stormy weekend. Bruce set up portrait lighting and guided us through the process. 

My favorite time was Effie's story-telling. Effie told the story of her great, great, great-grandmother's capture and kidnapping by the Spaniard's. How at the age of 12-13, the young girl made an escape and her mystical journey home.  Only to be kidnapped again at the age of 18 but again, making her way home.  I put my camera down and just listened. I didn't want to be a photographer at that moment, I just wanted to just be a part of the storytelling process.  I found Effie to be quite delightful and noted that she laughs often. I loved her stories, even if a part of me is saddened a bit by the history. 

 Late in the evening, the hogan is dimly lit by lantern and the wood-buring stove is fragrant and earthy. We are sitting in the hogan eating a traditional dinner of Hominy stew. The Navajo women are singing and telling us the stories behind their songs.  There is this sudden awareness of the time and place and I'm rather moved by it.  Generations have passed and our histories have collided yet now, I'm a guest in their home having dinner in a place so far removed from my own reality.  I couldn't have felt more at home and more at peace or happier any place else. I'll never forget the experience. 

So many lessons to be learned. The path continues. Photographically, I realized I have much work to do. Completely taken out of my comfort zone from the world of static landscapes, I'd become a bit complacent. All of the sudden, the scenery was moving!
Horses running, sheep in need of herding, wind blowing.  I wasn't prepared to operate in full manual mode ( a bit aperture priority dependent) and I was clumsy and not quick on the draw. I really needed to have been much better prepared. So that's next on my agenda for down time.