Kimberly Poppe was born in the United States but has lived in Europe for the last 15 years. A long-term student of Tibetan Buddhism and a meditation teacher as well as a photographer, her work has been greatly influenced and inspired by The Practice of Contemplative Photography by Andy Karr and Michael Wood. Kimberly’s photographs can be found in private collections around the world.
Read on to discover how Kimberly unearths the extraordinary in a world filled with ordinary.
Fill me in. What is contemplative photography?
Contemplative photography is a way of approaching photography that focuses on getting into touch with our natural ability to see. As the great photographer Saul Leiter wonderfully said, “Seeing is a neglected enterprise.”
Through contemplative photography, you can come to discover and appreciate the beauty in your everyday life, the extraordinariness in ordinariness. It is also a wonderful way to refresh your photography if you feel it has become a bit stale. On a deeper level, it can help you come into touch with yourself more and become more free in your photography and maybe even in your life.
What inspired you initially to engage in contemplative photography?
One particularly green day in early summer, I just started playing around with the camera on my phone taking pictures of how the light danced on and through different shaped leaves in my garden. I have always enjoyed photography, especially since I took my grandfather’s old 35mm camera with me on my first trip around Europe.
I became fascinated with color and started to notice color more and more wherever I went. I made different series of photos with just one main color that dominated each image—blue, red, yellow, green, orange or purple. A friend who had noticed my photos was reading The Practice of Contemplative Photography at the time and thought it would resonate with me, which it did. So, I ordered it straight away and started practicing.
What do you find most challenging when doing contemplative photography?
Letting go of expectations—to just go out without any expectation of wanting to “get” a “good” picture, but to just be open to what emerges. I think this is one of the most challenging things about life in general, not to have expectation or hope about getting something that you do want and not to have fear about getting something that you don’t want. Even a small moment of being free of these hopes and fears can be incredibly liberating. I have found that practicing contemplative photography makes me more aware of these tendencies of “wanting” and “not wanting” in my mind, which then makes it easier to notice these habits when they come up in other aspects of my life. Being aware then gives you a choice of whether you want to continue to follow a particular train of thought or not.
You are a meditation teacher as well as a photographer. How does your meditation practice influence your photography?
There is such freedom in not having to think about everything you see, to not have to have an opinion or a stance about everything you see, but to just enjoy simply seeing it.
In this way, photography is part of my spiritual practice, not spiritual in a special way, but in a very ordinary way, just simply being with whatever is. My teacher speaks about meditation not as meditating on something but being with. I find this to be an incredibly helpful instruction. When I go out to photograph, I try to just be open to seeing, to being with whatever I see, and I try to let go of my ideas of what I think will happen or should happen, my hopes of getting a good shot, my fears of getting a bad shot, or of just wanting to see something different than what I actually am.
What is your favorite thing to photograph and why?
Whatever I see! Meaning, whatever it is that reveals itself in any given moment, no matter how seemingly ordinary or mundane—how the light strikes the kitchen cupboard or reflections on a wet parking lot—those moments of seeing a different aspect of reality, beyond the veil that usually permeates our lives. The extraordinariness in ordinariness.