My first residential photography retreat of 2019 was led within the beautiful settings of the Manresa Jesuit Centre of Spirituality, Dublin. The director, Piaras, kindly met me at Dublin airport and arriving at the retreat centre, I was warmly greeted by the rest of the community. The rooms are very comfortable with great facilities (and coffee!), excellent meals and friendly staff. The whole place had a feel I can only describe as a warm embrace – this is a holy place to be and it’s a privilege to be leading a retreat here.
I’d allowed a day to explore the surroundings before the retreatants arrived and was amazed at the variety of environments all within a short walk of the retreat house. The house itself has a beautiful chapel, amazing prayer room, library and meeting rooms.
A short walk from the gates takes you to St Anne’s Park which has woods to explore, rose gardens, markets and water features. On the edge of the park is an old tree which had died has been carved into a beautiful sculpture called the Peace Tree.
I spent at least 30 minutes gazing at it and photographing some of its intricate details. The artist claims to have carved all the local animals along its trunk and I suspect every time you look at it you will see something new.
Across the road is a nature reserve called Bull Island and home to a wide variety of birds and a family of seals. There is a golden beach running along the length of the island looking across the Irish sea and miles of sand dunes to lose yourself in.
Twenty retreatants arrived on Friday evening and our first session looked at the gift of photography, learning to see each image not as a trophy to be prized but a gift received and the interconnectedness of image and creator. We then spent time listening to an image, allowing an image to choose us then gazing at it, observing the actions, positions, colours and lines we saw and noticing our emotions and feelings. One retreatant later commented, “For the past 12 months or so, I found that I had no desire to take out my camera. However your first reflection and the switch in emphasis from taking to receiving an image seems to have removed that blockage and, in some way, freed me from a burden when it comes to photography.”
The following morning we reflected on seeing light and telling a story through image. We then spent the afternoon with our cameras in the local park putting into practice the previous sessions thoughts helping us use our cameras as a window for contemplation and prayer. Each retreatant shared an image for our evening session which the rest of the group reflected on. This can be powerful as we see images from both our own perspective and the perspective of others which opens new possibilities, perhaps finding God in unexpected places.
Our final morning, we reflected on the nature of beauty and how it is to be found everywhere. Society has a tendency to define beauty as something unachievable, but when we open our minds to the nature of beauty, we discover it is never very far from us. A photo walk took us along the edge of Bull Island before returning to reflect on a printed image. These images were then available for the retreatant who had created it to take home, a gift from the weekend in which we learned to use our cameras in contemplation and prayer.
The gallery below has a selection of the images created by retreatants during the weekend. Please stop and pause on these images and enjoy looking at them.
There is also a gallery of images created by Steve: Steve’s images.