Photographer celebrates listening with heart and lens

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 13, 2011

Jack Blair connects with visual moments the way he strives to connect with people, by listening to them. Titled “Road to Future,” this image of a dirt track moving toward the unknown spoke to him about how lonely the future can seem, with its mysterious, yet-unrevealed potential.
Photo by Jack Blair

David Irvine’s 10 conditions for interpersonal connections to thrive, the topic of last week’s column, sure drew a lot of positive responses.

This week I’d like to focus on one response, in particular, that connects the relational to the visual.

Jack Blair is a retired management consultant moving with his wife, Leslie, from Calgary to Cochrane later this month. (He really likes Cochrane’s coffee shops, he says.)

He’s also an outstanding photographic artist whose current exhibit, “Going Somewhere,” is hanging at the Art Gallery of Regina till Sept. 30. This is a collection of 11 scenes, each leading to a “somewhere” on the prairies or in the foothills woodlands.

A year ago, I wrote about Jack’s encounter as a young man with the late Stoney Nakoda Chief Walking Buffalo and his wisdom about listening to the Still Small Voice inside us. (See my column of Aug. 25, 2010.)

Again about the importance of listening, Jack referred in last week’s note to the wisdom of another First Nations elder, Clarence Wolf Leg, of the Siksika Nation east of Calgary:

“When someone talks,” Wolf Leg had said, “listen to them; they are sharing their life.”

It’s this matter of listening that especially caught Jack’s attention in David Irvine’s 10 conditions for successful connection.

“Listen carefully as you feel with people,” David said about the practice of presence. “What are their dreams? What matters to them?”

Jack shared how he’d come to realize, now that he was retired, how so much of his working years were spent in superficial, technical conversations. “There was no depth to the relationships,” he said.

Now he desired something different: relationships built on heartfelt listening and acceptance.

“One of my own checks on how well connection is going with new and old friends alike,” Jack said, “comes down to one simple thing: How many questions about me am I being asked and how many such questions am I asking? Without asking questions that probe what is inside, the conversations will continue to skim the surface of value. These surface discussions are usually monologues and could be actually spoken by anyone.

“True friendships give permission to probe within and not just talk without. Discussions with true friends are a continuous banter of question, discussion, test for understanding, test for feeling, and listen, listen, listen.

“The reward is a trust and emotional connection that can be life-saving when we face the crises in our lives that we all meet at one time or another.”

As an artist, Jack carries this practice of listening forward into his photography.

Take one of the images he’s exhibiting in Regina, for example. It portrays a dirt trail receding across a field into the distance and disappearing at rail road tracks that separate the known from the unknown. Although he embraced this memorable moment while driving down a road near Eastend, Sask., however, the question of “Where?” isn’t nearly as important as “Why?”

“The dirt track road caused me to think about how lonely the future can seem from time to time in our lives,” he explained. “For some the loneliness remains, while for others, arriving on the other side of the hill puts them into a whole new world of friends.”

Well, Jack, in just two more weeks you and Leslie will be journeying west across Big Hill to settle into our foothills community. I trust that you will find here that “whole new world of friends” your hearts long for.

Welcome to Cochrane! Happy Connecting . . . and Happy Listening!

© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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