Voxpop #2: “On Spirituality”

Presented by Paul Rowland

19 min readJan 15, 2023

Voxpop are experiments in which abstract photographers of the Hintology community either have their work engaged with specific audiences or come to discuss particular topics related to their practice.

“In various exchanges with photographers and artists on Instagram, I have often touched upon the role of spirituality in abstract photography, and I have long pondered this question myself. During a recent conversation with J. Alan Constant, I realised that I really wanted to hear what other people thought about this subject, so I approached nine abstract photographers and asked them for their thoughts, along with images that exemplify the role of spirituality in their work.” Paul Rowland

Image sample from each artist featured in this article.


[ 1 ] Tim Gentle / @atimosabeart
[ 2 ] Shar Marie / @sharmarie_studios
[ 3 ] Maria Ruggieri / @maria.ruggieri.16
[ 4 ] Sylvia Fournier / @fournier.arte
[ 5 ] Anne McCaughey / @anneemack
[ 6 ] NirvanaSQ / @nirvana_s_q
[ 7 ] Lorne Fromer / @lornefromer_flaneur
[ 8 ] Katja Liedle / @soulimages_fotografie
[ 9 ] Amy / @starflower.intransit

Here are their thoughts on the topic of spirituality in abstract photography. We hope they will provide you with some insight as to what might be going through the minds of the artists of the photography medium as they capture a scene, and that, as their pictures attempt to express, that their words will shed some light on the meaning of transcendence:

[ 1 ] Tim Gentle — @atimosabeart

“Tiles” by Tim Gentle.

As a “found” abstract photographer, basically, it comes down to feeling blessed.

When I stumble across something that really grabs my eye — something that I feel is truly an exceptional piece of fine art just laying around out in plain sight, I feel truly blessed that fate has presented me with this this very special thing — at this exact place, in this exact moment, in this light, and me with the ability and technology to document it — and wooosh I am flooded with an overwhelming sense of awe, good fortune and gratitude. Wow! Eureka! Hallelujah!

There’s a real sense of divinity in the mysterious circumstances in which the subject matter is manifested. Whatever I find and photograph could not have existed in any other place or time. It might not have been there yesterday, and it might be gone tomorrow. The subject of each photo is the sum of a myriad of very specific and unknowable coincidental circumstances — exposure to the elements, intentional and unintentional use and abuse, accidents, entropy and decay and various collaborations by unwitting agents… and who knows what else?

Plus, there’s a selflessness and egolessness about it. I am the finder and documenter of these mysterious subjects, but I am not their creator. Their creation is beyond me, like finding a pretty shell on a beach. The true artist is the world itself, with its infinite, inexplicably intricate confluence of interactions, The Source, The Creator, The Artist simultaneously at its most sublime, and its most mundane.

“Water” by Tim Gentle.

From there, it’s no stretch to include myself and literally everything else as parts and patterns within this living, universe-sized work of art in progress, all put together by awesome forces and circumstances far beyond our comprehension or control. So whether it’s flaking paint, reflections on water, or bird shit, or roadkill… I mean, seriously what are the odds of anything existing in the first place? It’s unfathomable and astronomical! It’s miracles all the way down!

And so, my photographic appreciation of this miraculous beauty nourishes and inspires my personal appreciation of miraculous beauty, and vice versa, and everything becomes an impossibly intricate piece fitting perfectly into an endlessly shifting puzzle that couldn’t exist without the pieces around it, on and on ad infinitum…

[ 2 ] Shar Marie — @sharmarie_studios

“Heart and Soul” by Shar Marie.

Spirituality is a widespread concept with many perspectives. It is a universal human experience — something that connects us all. It is a sense of connection to something bigger than us. I describe my spiritual experience as awareness with a deep understanding of interconnectedness. Through contemplative photography, I touch upon the spiritual realm. Where do I find meaning? How do I feel connected?

“How spiritual you are has nothing to do with what you believe but everything to do with your state of consciousness.”

— Eckhart Tolle.

Eckhart Tolle’s quote sums up how I feel when taking a photograph. My state of consciousness captures the moment’s stillness in a single click. Mindfulness teaches me to be aware of what is happening in the present moment. I am full of curiosity. A place suspended between thoughts.

Photography is a form of creative expression. It is a way to see through another’s eyes. “The meaning of life is to see,” said the seventh-century Chan sage Huineng (惠能). When we pay close attention to anything, it turns something ordinary into extraordinary. An old fragment of tape holding the universe together. A rusty post revealing the intelligence of the cosmos. It is a trigger for deep spiritual practice. Photographs can elicit meditations on the nature of the divine. Some pictures may seem otherworldly or as an expression of the spiritual connection.

“Back to the Future” by Shar Marie.

Through photography, I am a time traveller. I can simultaneously connect to the past, be in the present, and have an awareness of the future. Photography can be a meditative experience of slowing down. Where I see what is in front of me. I focus on the moment. Stop — look at the places, individuals, and things I pass each day. What have I been missing? Why am I photographing this? Do I see things differently? What do I seek? What inspires me? Is this engaging me? Is it fresh?

As I look intensely at the subject, I open up to a deeper universe. More questions arise, becoming a rich meditation for me. Is it a measure of beauty? What is the meaning of this? Even if it’s unappealing to another, I discover a small, beautiful gem in our rushing world — a contemplative vision.

For me, some images transcend space and time. It is where reality is too beautiful and profound for ordinary language. A juncture where everything becomes a photographic prayer or poem.

Photography reminds me that we live in a magnificent world. Sometimes the most insignificant thing can inspire me and become a subject. Surpassing the boundary between otherness and myself. I am interconnected, merging with the moment. In this awareness, photography becomes my conscious or soulful place of Zen.

“Edge of the Universe” by Shar Marie.

I openly embrace the Japanese phrase “shashin wa kokoro no kagamidesu” (写真は心の鏡 です), meaning: “A photograph is a mirror of the heart” — and in the words of Cynthia Overweg: “Seeing and listening with a silent mind transforms us, and it can also transform our world.

“Our spirituality is a oneness and an interconnectedness with all that lives and breathes, even with all that does not live or breathe.”

— Mudrooroo (Colin Thomas Johnson)

All are interconnected.

Contemplative photography honours diversity and unity. We are all separate manifestations of the same elemental energy. Conceptual photography can evoke mystery and provide a memorable and influential window into the spiritual domain. In Deepak Chopra’s words: “When your mind and heart are truly open, abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.” Pause, allow space, see beyond, take a contemplative walk and discover what is calling you.

I leave you with a meditation [based on Psalm 46:10]:

Be still and know I am
Be still and know
Be still

[ 3 ] Maria Ruggieri — @maria.ruggieri.16

“Solar Flares” by Marie Ruggieri.

I have a contemplative personality and have been attracted to nature since I was very young. I’ve always felt that nature held the answers to my questions about the world and myself. Growing up, being in nature has provided a source of spirituality and a means to forget myself.

Photography has in time become a tool to commune with the external world, as well as a means to connect with my deeper feelings. The images I create bring out my deep need to be one with the beauty that surrounds me. So, with the camera in my hands, the self disappears and the only thing that exists is the subject of investigation in front of me.

“Hairy Lake” and “Rock Figure” by Maria Ruggieri.

This act of curiosity demands uncompromised attention that stills me and fills me with a deep sense of peace. Being present in the moment is what creates space for creativity, opening me up to see more fully what is in front of me. It also allows for that reality to reveal itself without interference from my personal preoccupations. When all of this converges, a sense of awe, excitement and fulfillment takes over.

[ 4 ] Sylvia Fournier — @fournier.arte

“Cosmic Seed 3” by Sylvia Fournier.

We are part of Nature, and we inevitably feel a pull towards it — a profound relationship with the environment is embroidered in the human psyche.

Spirituality is a search for our essence, it is the connection between our self and a greater self. I believe that connection can be found in Nature. Within the natural world, we can find wholeness, our own essential nature. The interrelation with Nature is what makes humans whole and allows them to feel the cosmic energies that surrounds us and that we are part of. With my images I try to awaken the senses and take a deeper look into the natural worlds, that is the same as looking into our inner worlds. In my photographs I try to capture instants, the ephemeral, the inherent magic of Nature, and its deeper significance.

“Cosmic Seed 1” and “Cosmic Seed 2” by Sylvia Fournier.

In the natural world everything is connected, and the tiniest things have cosmic energy within. Everything in Nature is filled with vital energy, and our essence is intrinsically connected to each of the parts and to the whole. Seeds, for example, represent the promise of rebirth, they hold the essence of life inside them.

William Blake, in his wonderful poem ‘Auguries of Innocence’, expresses these ideas beautifully:

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour […]”

One cannot help but marvel at the idea that in each of these tiny flying seedlings, there is the potential to create an entire forest and that when we look deep into them, we can feel we are looking at the cosmos.

[ 5 ] Anne McCaughey — @anneemack

“Inuit” by Anne McCaughey.

This is a personal favorite abstract of mine. It’s a “found” image shot initially because I liked the shape and textures in play. During its minimal post-processing, an emotional evocation began. Viewing abstract art is a practice: the first encounter should trigger a tiny shock, a zing of electricity that pricks, makes you blink, and makes you look. The longer I stayed with it, the more I began to see. There were material details and artistic themes. The craquelure in the center, pointillism near the top, and a muted pastel sweeping in the background began to coalesce into pareidolia. As I drew from my own sense of art and life experience, I recognized a static figure, a palette of cold colors, a hint of action in the furthermost.

The second step is opening to the metaphors or meanings within. The loneliness, the stark setting, the harsh edges yet soft color blends led me into a place of snow, of staring off into a blurred landscape, but with tool and purpose in hand. I saw the Inuit. I felt him shivering in his long coat and boot with wind swirling around him. I wondered if this was the beginning of the hunt, or an end of triumph or loss. I grasped this man and his story, and wanted to step into the frame and be in that moment.

I approach spirituality in abstract art photography as a discovered or recognized element, rather than a created or infused quality. Abstract art in particular is a Rorschach inkblot test; it reveals you as you interpret the graphic. Your journey, your thoughts, your past activities project into the image and you recognize something of yourself therein. As a photographer, I’m not drawing from inside and self-expressing with paint, clay or physical media. Rather, I’m working from the outside — finding and lassoing light and shadow in a box and later looking inside to see what I’ve caught.

Each individual human spirit rises to the prompt and urgings of the art or artist, and finds itself. In contemplation of this piece, I renewed my spiritual appreciation of the beauty and pain of individuality, of respect for the forces of the environment, of the mystery and revelation of human experience and other personal touchstones of an examined life.

“Cosmic Tunnel” by Anne McCaughey.

Abstraction can work two ways. One is simple reduction that blurs or removes details and renders a bare-bones essence, which the viewer then interprets in a myriad of ways, possibly a realization of the core sense of the original image, or an appreciation completely unrelated yet aligned with his/her personal sensibilities. The other way is complex expansion, wherein colors, shapes, or patterns are distorted out of proportion, or mixed with several images to create a new beast of imagination. Both methods attempt to transcend context and literal meaning.

Cosmic Tunnel employs this second method both in visual and intellectual functions. This is an interplay of concrete ‘real’ items that synthesizes surrealism; it’s like a crush of puzzle pieces of roughly similar scenes from different boxes, that weren’t cut to fit each other and jam-connect imperfectly. A common symbolism of tunnels is motion, either being carried away or invited into another dimension. A chimerical tunnel without conventional structure portends a discovery voyage outside the normal realm. My notion of spirituality is one of seeking the beyondness, of examining life honestly but entertaining the unknown. Abstraction, thus, is purely spiritual in its otherworldliness. A deep exploration of abstraction can transport one through physical limits and into emotion and psyche, and expand his/her universe and lens of existence.

I think this work speaks to my love of the journey, with or without an expected destination, and reminds me to be willing to go when the occasion arises.

[ 6 ] NirvanaSQ — @nirvana_s_q

“Sight-Kaos-Thought-Kosmos” by NirvanaSQ.

Spirituality has always been a suspicious notion for me because it is so elusive of definition boundaries and so diverse, something that can be said to be there without us being able to point out where. However, for these same reasons, over the time I have lived, it has also become a rather fascinating phenomenon rather than a notion. I am not sure what it refers to exactly, but I do understand that it has to do with the event, process, or phenomenon of being who you are in the reality you perceive, in a full material, conceptual, perceptual, vast, unknown world. Being aware of that while being in your own subjectivity.

Being myself in the world, with the world, through the world…

That is what photography reminds me of with every single click. Why? Because it is a voluntary manipulation of my sight to see the world I inhabit and it manifests as a thing.

“Recursive Objectivity” by NirvanaSQ.

Sight is a very powerful means of perception.

I have always wondered why and how it is that my dreams, for example, are mainly a succession of images and points of view. Another peculiarity is that even though sight is just one of our senses, by using any of our other senses, an image in the mind’s eye can be formed — it can be seen A description or sound you hear can fully evoke an image, and the same happens with our other senses: they often bring an image to mind. I find it harder to go from, say, an image of rough leather to the tactile sensation of touching it. Why do we not say “the mind’s ear” or “the mind’s tongue”?

Because more often than not, our mind creates or recalls images, hence the concept of Imagination.

“The Edges of a Worldview” by NirvanaSQ.

I regard photography as an art that replicates in a box the magic of sight, that which happens between the eye and the mind. However, photography adds to the mix the feature of being able to show fragments of our vision to someone else, it makes the moment of sight into a thing. Photography is inextricably subjective yet it is a something that can be shared to be seen by other eyes and minds, something that can be cropped, manipulated, printed, burned, embroidered, and critiqued.

Photography allows my imagination to have recursive engagement with the world out there, as I perceive it, and also with the world inside me, as only I perceive it, through a machine that replicates the optical workings of my own eye and makes me very conscious of my surroundings. And, by being in this recursive engagement, I am able to find in the world images that arise from my inner imagination, it allows me to show myself my own thoughts through moments of sight or my outer reality. A fantastic connection that can indeed be lived as spiritual. A way of consciously coexisting with reality.

[ 7 ] Lorne Fromer — @lornefromer_flaneur

“Unintentional Drawing #1” by Lorne Fromer.

I shot this image on my iPhone in 2022 on December 22nd, and, seeing its potential, decided to return to the scene of the crime to reshoot it with my Nikon camera. Unfortunately, the wall had been painted over, the railing reinforced. Perhaps the owner thought I was a city inspector. In some ways they would have been right.

Impermanence surrounds us.

Photography is a journey. It has taken me to many locations — but mostly to myself. It is the hook I hang my hat on, the escalator that elevates me and the whale that spits me out. It is what I would say if I had no mouth.

“Background Image” and “Unintentional Drawing #2” by Lorne Fromer.

The request to write about the role that spirituality plays in my photography was so simple, my response so convoluted. Right speech is supposed to be direct and to-the-point. I have taken liberties.

I am a buddhist,
I am an artist,
I am a walnut.

[ 8 ] Katja Liedle — @soulimages_fotografie

Photograph by Katja Liedle.

Photography to me has always been about connections. Viewing the natural world through the lens of my camera allows me to concentrate my visual perception and focus on just the details visible in my camera’s viewfinder. This way, I can connect to the subject of my image in a much more immediate manner, it literally feels as if I’m diving into it. (That would not be possible using the live view monitor, which is the reason I never do that).

This process of connecting usually becomes a meditation on the nature of things. If I’m looking at a rock, I might be thinking of how it came into existence and how it changes (ever so slowly) over time, reflecting on how the elements it is made of originally came from space and since then have been transformed in many different ways. Probably the rock and I have components in common as well (like iron), and it provides nutrients that plants need to grow.

Using photography in this way allows me to feel part of the world wide web of everything, something that is much more difficult for me to do when I’m caught up in everyday activities in the big city where I live.

Indigenous peoples who still live in proximity with nature have a much stronger connection, and that is reflected in the beliefs many of them have — that all beings (including rocks, mountains, rivers, lakes, seas…) on earth are connected and of equal value. Which kind of brings me to the spirituality part…

Photograph by Katja Liedle.

I have been thinking about what the word means to me, because it is often associated with esoteric or religious beliefs. I would say that I am spiritual because I believe that there’s something immaterial that lives within what is visible and immediately tangible but also transcends it, a spirit that connects all beings on this planet. It shows itself in the way the universe is organized: There are so many similarities in the shapes life on earth takes, the way things grow and organize themselves, the way everything is balanced in a web of connections, the constant processes of transformation and reshaping into each other that take place on all levels of life. The air becoming the tree becoming earth becoming a plant again, a rock becoming sand or soil, becoming a rock again, or a plant and so on.

To me it is hard to fully separate matter and spirit in my mind, in the way that in physics it’s not possible to conclusively say if an electron is a particle or a wave. It all depends on your point of view. I think it is quite interesting, that in certain areas of science like physics or theoretical mathematics, the border to the unknowable and the spiritual is often approached. The more we learn the more we realize that we still don’t know a whole lot about the way the universe works. If we look back to the Big Bang, the question where everything is coming from is still unsolved and in getting closer, quite a few physicists start to think that there has to be a spirit behind it all. We try to get closer, but at the heart of everything, there is still a big mystery. Especially given that the process of perception and the workings of our own consciousness are elusive as well…

So maybe that’s where spirit resides: In the unknowable, the in-between, the things that can’t be put into words, that defy rational perception and always seem to remove themselves even if we try to move closer. They draw away from being fully understood, which is the original meaning of the word “abstract”. Which brings me, of course, to abstract art, or more precisely abstract photography.

“Phoenix Rising” by Katja Liedle.

I feel that abstract photography (or of course abstract art in general, and music as well) is an especially good way to approach unsayable things that can be intuitively felt or experienced but not fully understood. Abstraction allows us to let go of all our preformed conceptions and associations to discover new spaces and relationships. There are usually no forms (except maybe geometrical ones) in an abstract image that we immediately recognize and that our brain can put into drawers before we even had time to think about them. Which means there’s a more direct access to the subconscious, to emotions, instincts, intuition and whatever else resides away from the glaring light of the rational, fast-thinking and categorizing mind. So especially in my rock photography, but really in my closeup photography in general, I experience those in-between things and I take a picture at a moment when something resonates in my mind, which to a certain degree is an automatic process.

The resulting images for me oscillate between the concrete and the abstract. It’s still nature (concrete and material), but also a result of perceptive and other inner processes and thereby transformed into something that includes those in-between spaces I mentioned.

I respond to the powerful forces that shape rocks because, within us, there are powerful forces too. Natural processes like decay, growth, transformation, and rhythms like the tides probably speak to me more because they resonate with my inner self.

Looking for new images in the natural world, I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of similarities between modern abstract art and shapes, colours and textures that are found in nature — another reason I believe there is something powerful connecting all of us.

[ 9 ] Amy — @starflower.intransit

Photograph by Amy.

The role of spirituality in my work is mostly an attempt to embrace and explore the unknown by creating a space of awareness. Through this space one can reflect, meditate, contemplate or simply let go and get lost.

Photograph by Amy.

Closing word:

“We hope that you have enjoyed reading these diverse thoughts about the role of spirituality in photography, and that they have inspired you to reflect on your own philosophy. “Spirituality” is a nebulous term that means different things to different people, so the intention of this feature was to bring it into focus. It is fascinating to see how these ideas of spirituality are manifested not only in the images presented here, but also in the approach, interpretation and practice of these photographers.”
Paul Rowland

Thanks again to all the participants:

[ 1 ] Tim Gentle / @atimosabeart
[ 2 ] Shar Marie / @sharmarie_studios
[ 3 ] Maria Ruggieri / @maria.ruggieri.16
[ 4 ] Sylvia Fournier / @fournier.arte
[ 5 ] Anne McCaughey / @anneemack
[ 6 ] NirvanaSQ / @nirvana_s_q
[ 7 ] Lorne Fromer / @lornefromer_flaneur
[ 8 ] Katja Liedle / @soulimages_fotografie
[ 9 ] Amy / @starflower.intransit

Voxpop conducted by Paul Rowland;
Article edited by M. Solav.

View Hintology on Instagram.

…about Hintology

Hintology is an abstract photography magazine project created in August 2020 which strives to create a community where every artists are given a chance to broadcast their voice, the aspiring just as much as the established. We are a small team of volunteers who rely on the passion and contributions of their community to help spread the beauty and diversity of abstract photography. If you share our vision of inclusiveness and inquisitiveness, you can make a difference by tagging your work with #Hintology on Instagram, or by following our page and joining our group on Facebook. If you appreciate our curative work and the interviews we conduct, please do consider donating via this link; all funds will go towards printing the first physical edition of the magazine.

Visit Hintology.org for all the links.

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