Photography and Trust at Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto

We constantly need new insights, visions. We don’t exist in any solid form. There is no
permanent truth you can corner in a poem that will satisfy you forever. Don’t identify
too strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those back-and-white words. They are
not you. They were a great moment going through you. A moment you were awake
enough to write down and capture.

Natalie Goldberg


woman touching guanyin, kiyomizu temple, kyoto

Put into words a great moment that flowed through your writing or art. Share a snippet of that work and what inspired you.


In Kyoto at the Kiyomizu temple the late afternoon light was soft and tinted a bronze
statue of the bodhisattva Kwannon with golden highlights. I was focused on finding the
right angle and background to capture its quintessential essence in a photo before the sun
receded behind the mountaintops.

A group of Japanese women gathered at the site and I waited patiently as they took
pictures of each other near the statue. Gazing out over the city I enjoyed the brief respite
yet wondered if I’d lose the light before they continued their tour of the magnificent
grounds of Kiyomizu.

An informal line formed and soon the women were taking turns touching the statue as I
continued to watch. I enjoyed their laughter and a feeling that mixed joy and reverence
in their gathering. Each woman had come to seek the blessings of Kwannon, in one of
her roles as guardian of women and children.

All of the sudden I woke from my hazy reverie. This was the photographic moment!
The statue was lovely yet these few minutes brought it to life. I had almost missed it.
An older woman gently caressed the statue’s hands formed in the gesture of gassho, a
mudra of prayer and appreciation. A pregnant woman touched Kwannon and looked
back beamingly at her friends.

I guessed this group of women was comprised of friends and family and the outing was
intentional. The serendipity was mine. Raising my camera to request permission to
take photos, I received head nods and smiles that it was OK. As I began to shoot I was
forever thankful when they went back to ignoring my presence. This was another clue
one of their primary intents was to seek blessings for the yet-to-be-born child.

Typically in Japan when I raised my camera with an imploring question on my face,
small groups of family or friends would line up for a photo shoot. Then one of the
parties would gesture for a shot of all of us and numerous cameras would emerge until
everyone had a photo of their own. I was traveling alone and always appreciated the
friendly contact. At the same time disappointment would arise as I regretted another lost
opportunity for a spontaneous shot.

I was lucky that day. Everything about those few moments were magic. My camera was
pre-dialed to the right light setting, quickly framing their images seemed natural and I
was fortunate to briefly share in a ritual both universal and heartfelt.

Do I compare these instances to ones where I’m dragging my body from place to place
looking for a shot in the impossible, glaring sun? Of course. Writing about the process
reminds me to cherish yet not cling to those special moments.

The lesson is trust. Trust these encounters arise when I least expect them. After the
exhilaration of capturing a great shot I tend to imagine it will never happen again. It’s the
kind of hazy, habitual thinking that almost got in my way. Perhaps that day Kwannon
was looking out for the free spirited child in me too.


More inspirational words and photos at


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