My Journey to Photography as Prayer
Rona Talcott is a photojournalist whose assignments to corporations, magazines and institutions, have taken her all over the world. She has photographed people in every conceivable lifestyle and profession, political and business leaders, celebrities, scientists, factory workers, famous athletes, American presidents; people at the best and the most painful moments of their lives: prima ballerinas bowing to thundering applause, drug addicted prostitutes struggling to be reunited with their children. Her work is driven by a lifelong fascination with the way people reveal themselves, and what our cameras can capture when we are allowed to connect deeply in sometimes breathtakingly short encounters and find our way into another’s heart.
I guess I would have to say I always wanted a relationship with that superpower in the sky everyone calls God. As a small child, I longed for a giant all loving lap to crawl onto. In my dark room, when my brother and sister had fallen asleep, I got down on my knees and pressed my hands together to pray like the little girl in the Norman Rockwell painting on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. I listened for a voice to answer, at the least, a feeling that some all-knowing presence was there. Nothing. If there was a God, he just didn’t hear me. I went to Sunday School, services with my family, church with my friends. I read along with the congregants, even memorized the prayers.
I appreciated, and still do, the liturgy, the chanting, the exquisite music, the sense of community, of shared intension, the staggeringly beautiful ceremonies and traditions, not just of my own religion, but of every denomination I have joined in prayer. But as I read along with my fellow seekers, it has always been clear to me that I wasn’t speaking, at least not in the way I needed to, to God. On assignments, as well as during my own travels, I visited the most sacred religious sites in the world: hundreds, perhaps thousands of houses of prayer in major cities and tiny villages where people come together to worship. I have met with, interviewed, and photographed priests, rabbis, ministers, shamans, nuns, and monks of countless denominations. I attended ceremonies, services, masses.
I have studied and listened. I have trekked to temples and monasteries in the most remote villages of Asia, participated in starlit ceremony with Mayan shamans deep in the jungle, joined in meditation, prayer, even dance. I have come with my heart wide open to chapels, ancient stupas, giant cathedrals, the exquisite music booming up to majestic flying buttresses and vaulted ceilings. I’ve sat quietly in humble country churches and chapels, all the time, searching, my own heart and mind. But no matter how many rooms I sat in with people gathered together to talk to God, no matter how much philosophy I read, no matter how beautiful the ceremony, the language, the music, when I talk to God in words someone else has written, it just doesn’t work for me.
But when I take a picture, I don’t mean snapshots, or smile for the cameras. I mean when I am looking at someone or something beautiful that draws me in, whether it is something in nature, a love or joy filled moment between people, even one of profound sadness. If it is something for whatever reason I don’t want to forget, my soul is involved in the process and the deepest part of me is trying to speak. I don’t even have to take a good picture. I just need to try. It’s my soul speaking.