There Are No Words

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This post is in response to a comment by my friend, Max Reif, on a profile photo uploaded to Facebook, to be used in response to the massacre in Paris, this past week.

4Paris profile

Sometimes it can be difficult to know if putting oneself out there is just a run-of-the-mill stretch, or a courageous, transformative breakthrough. I still don’t know, really, which this is (if it’s anything more than a selfie).

The context includes:

With the ease of adopting a temporary Facebook profile image in response to the fresh massacre in Paris, I felt I wanted to do something. But what sort of thing?

I have been serving as a “Prayer Chaplain” at Unity Church of the Triangle, in Raleigh, for 2+ years. Consistent with my PChap training, when asked to pray with someone, the next step, after centering/grounding myself, is to “Lovingly Listen”, before moving into any sort of active praying. What I find compelling about the whole process is what is oddly called “holding space” for whoever has asked for prayer, rather than to pray for any certain outcome. In other words, Surrender.

Another part of that process, for me, is that whatever emerges that can be called “prayer” comes from connecting with each other and with whatever divinity really is… not from one interceding for the other. Again, Surrender is required.

In making a fresh, expressive image to put Facebook’s flag overlay onto, I wanted to express simple basic compassion, especially in that first 24 hours. This is the image that came out of my brief attempts to feel into myself for compassion. I envy, and feel blessed by, those to whom compassion wells up immediately; that has not always been my experience. I did have to work at it, a bit. 

The fear I felt was about not winding up being pretentious or self-important in the process, and also about fear of judgment.

Like the Cat Stevens song lyric, There are no words, I can use
Because the meaning still leaves for you to choose
And I couldn’t stand to let them be abused…

…you see my face
But it’s in my heart that’s where it’s taking place
And I couldn’t stand to let it go to waste ”

from Foreigner Suite (oddly enough!)

Again, surrender.. to what was intended from a clean impulse. Once choosing to do something I could be true to, I could no longer afford to worry about critique.

For this purpose, it seemed most effective in that small format (and least self-centered) to make the image more a physically vulnerable gesture.

My purpose, here in this post, is to say something about “what is the kindest, most healing way to respond to the pain of another?” It’s a question that most of us, I judge, face with experience and connection.

This is the unflagged version:

mourning with


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Wayne Upchurch

For years, as a “professional ogler” (a newspaper staff photographer), I simultaneously explored photography as craft/process/medium in its own right. The photojournalism work –credentials and mindset– got me into (and out of) places I would certainly never have had access to on my own. I was also practicing the discipline of getting a picture where there didn’t appear to be one and getting it Finished in a timely manner, to professional standards. I also learned to create imminently readable images despite poor reproduction in a small size. Though it took me several years to get this, the value of making photos that illustrated something already laid out in the story was suddenly Not Enough, and I began to make assignment pictures that added dimensions not already in the writing, or better Yet, raised questions so that the reader would go to the story for more answers. Having gained more than dreamt of, when starting out, I left to pursue my own personal photography, mounting exhibits along the way. I also worked with commercial photographer friends doing studio product photography, and making headshots for actors. Later, I also helmed a Public Radio “spacemusic” program, and acted in a Wilmington, NC drama company. I put the cameras away for a few years, to finish shedding the habit of self-limiting my identity as just “Photographer”, and can now pursue personal pleasure and expression through the freedom that digital imaging offers. Sharing photos on Flickr and participating locally in meetups and outings has renewed a passion for making new images and for sharing the process with others. For some time, I’ve found myself writing detailed comments on other people’s photos, as well as thoughts and pet ideas about photography, in general.

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