The Contemplative Work of Shelley Lawrence Kirkwood

A few years ago, we put a pear on the cover of our magazine. The issue was about food, but also more than food. It was about the inheritance of ancient appetites and the grotesquerie of sinking one’s teeth into the flesh of a vulnerable body. We knew we needed some kind of food photography on the cover, but it couldn’t be appetizing; it had to be dignified, something that afforded the food as much texture and depth and embodiment as a portrait.

We’d been in touch with a photographer, Shelley Lawrence Kirkwood, who had shared some unsettling, mysterious shots of things harvested from her garden, twisted around one another and placed against black backgrounds. And when we mentioned this issue to her, her mind went straight to the pear.

There were lots of pears we went through for that cover. Pears of different shapes and sizes, pears in different lights. Sometimes she’d carve things into the skin or take a bite out of one. But it was hard to get away from the feeling of wanting to eat them, which felt necessary.

Then one image came in showing a pear with pockmarks all over it. Shelley had, in a moment of inspiration, taken a toothpick and pricked little holes into the skin. And somehow that changed everything. We weren’t looking at food any longer; we were looking at a body, a strange scarred body. In different lights it looked like a dirt road with tiny footprints all over it. It looked wizened, sacred, and frightening. No one wanted to eat it.

Whatever was responsible for that impulse to pick up the toothpick, we were lucky to bear witness to it.

This summer, we have the great fortune of hosting Shelley at our environmental writers workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. (See details below.)

She writes:

I have always embraced photography as a contemplative practice, a tool to help me more meaningfully observe and explore the peripheries of my waking life. Contemplative, deliberate time spent in nature is central to my art practice. I wander, collect, reassemble, and sometimes embellish my findings. This process offers me a playful means of looking at the landscapes that have shaped my daily life, my memories, and my sense of self . While the projects l have worked on over the years have differed tremendously, they have always been guided by a yearning to explore concepts of home, and how the landscape stands at the foundation of identity. My most recent series are oriented around macro photography, and are linked together by a minimalist formal and conceptual sensibility. In looking closely, I aim to reveal aspects of both the seen and unseen experience of these places, and make note of my place within them.

Join us for Shelley’s Forest Bathing and Creative Photography workshop this June. 

In this course, we will be using the practice of Shrin Yoku (forest bathing) in combination with other mindfulness practices, as a starting point for exploration and observation. The experience of Forest Bathing is predicated upon a series of invitations to explore sensory input in the natural landscape. This restorative practice offers opportunities to cultivate a more purposeful and authentic relationship with the natural world, and to engage more deeply with creative practices of all kinds. Through independent and collaborative mini assignments, students will be supported in following and trusting their creative instincts as they unfold in the moment. We will also take some time to discuss various approaches to formal, conceptual, and environmental issues, and to discuss the work and the experience in constructive group critique.The class is appropriate for photographers working at all levels. Basic proficiency with camera controls and digital printing is required.

Apply today!  

Shelley Lawrence Kirkwood earned her BA with a concentration in photography from Hampshire College and her MFA from the University of Arizona. She earned her RYT 200 from the Tucson Yoga Therapy College, and will be completing her Forest Therapy Guide training through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs in June 2022. She has served in the curatorial departments of the Center for Creative Photography and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Her colorful, large-scale, botanical prints examine the tension between the ephemeral and the eternal as we experience it in the landscape. Kirkwood’s work has appeared in numerous publications, and has been exhibited internationally. She was recently awarded a gold medal, and best-in-show at the Royal Horticultural Society’s portfolio exhibition, which took place at Saatchi Gallery in London. Kirkwood lives and works in Amherst, Mass.  

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