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Sept. 19, 2020

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Authors update, enlarge book that explores link between photography, spirituality

By , Columbian News Assistant
Published:

If the eyes are the window to the soul, then the camera lens might be the open front door.

Looking at beautiful images may seem like a simple way to awaken a sense of awe or gratitude, but what about the act, and the art, of capturing beautiful images? This is exactly what Rev. David Tinney and Rev. Dr. Denise McGuiness aim to explore in the recently released second edition of “Available Light: Awakening Spirituality Through Photography.”

The first edition, published in 2018, featured photographs by Tinney and McGuiness, who served together at First United Methodist Church in Vancouver. Tinney was the senior pastor and McGuiness, who has since moved to Wenatchee, was a deacon and spiritual director with a 37-year career as a clinical psychologist. She found a kindred artistic spirit in Tinney, who’d spent two decades as a photojournalist and served as The Columbian’s photo editor from 1983 to 1992 before being ordained in 1996.

Members of the congregation had seen some of their jaw-dropping landscape photographs and striking images of wildlife and other natural subjects, and were eager to see more. They asked Tinney and McGuiness to compile their most inspirational images in a book. The reverends responded by self-publishing a 35-page volume.

“It was really well-received,” Tinney said. “We got it out for the Christmas season, to see if people would buy it, and actually we sold quite a number of them.”

10 Photos
"Lessons from Mom," a photo of a female grizzly bear and her cub, appears in the book "Available Light: Awakening Spirituality Through Photography." (David Tinney)
“Available Light: Awakening Spirituality Through Photography” Photo Gallery

The following spring, Tinney wondered whether spiritual disciplines might be taught through photographic disciplines. A pastor at All Saints Episcopal Church liked the idea and asked Tinney about using the book as a curriculum for small groups.

“There’s this thing in spiritual growth called lectio divina, to take a passage of scripture and read it and read it until something pops out at you,” Tinney said. “We decided we would do something called visio divina, looking at pictures and seeing where you could find God.”

It quickly became evident that photographs — both looking at them and getting behind the lens — opened the door to more meaningful conversations about spirituality.

“I asked them, ‘Why did you take this picture? What did you see in this picture?'” Tinney said. “When I asked, ‘Where did you see God in this picture?,’ people really started to share.”

After such success using the book as a teaching tool, Tinney and McGuiness assembled a focus group to see if it could be improved. They sought feedback and made modifications, more than doubling the page count and breaking the book into more defined, accessible chapters.

“We wanted to make sure that as many people as possible could use this book and find themselves somewhere in their spiritual journey,” Tinney said.

Each chapter elaborates on a particular principle, such as “Mindfulness,” “Slowing Down,” “Befriending the Shadow” and “Appreciating Light,” with helpful photography tips, suggested exercises and questions for spiritual reflection. The book is also full of personal stories from Tinney and McGuiness, describing the circumstances in which each photograph was taken, or the way that the image had deepened their relationship with God.

“Intimacy” is one of Tinney’s favorites, he said. He defined this as “sitting gently with a subject,” a skill that he relies upon in his current job as a hospital chaplain at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center.

“I do a lot of wildlife photography,” he said, “so how do you sit long enough with an eagle or a heron so you see how it moves? What does that mean in our relationship with others, and what does that mean in our relationship with God?”

“Thin Places” explores the idea that there are moments of intense beauty, when the human realm brushes up against the divine. Tinney hopes that readers of this book will be inspired to search for those moments, whether it’s a stunning beach sunset, or a flower blooming in their own back yards.

Tinney deliberately looks for beauty in humble or broken things, he said. He calls this practice “redemptive photography,” one of the book’s final chapters.

Redemption is more than a feel-good platitude for Tinney, who suffered severe injuries in 2002 when a teenager leaned out of a car and pushed him off his bike as he was riding by. His recovery took years and he still endures many lingering effects, but he finds profound solace in photography because it changes how he sees the world and enlarges his experience of God.

“All the things around us are in some way broken or wounded or discarded, and we put them away and we just classify them as junk,” Tinney said. “With your camera, you change what was rejected or discarded or broken and you turn it into something beautiful by placing a frame around it.”

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