Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Breathtaking Cinematography of Louie Schwartzberg

"Throughout my life, nature has always been my greatest mentor." 
-Louie Schwartzberg

We are in the midst of another gray slump. This time it's rain. Finally, winter is melting so spring can push through. I actually have dug through the snow on more than one occasion to try to find evidence of that, beyond the daffodil shoots that have been visible in a sheltered, snow-free area outside my classroom for nearly a month. I want to see purple crocuses pushing through the snow! My mom told me she has been checking her garden every day (since hearing about my classroom daffodils) for signs of her flowers coming up.

Not yet. But soon.
It has been a very long winter. In my third attempt to capture an image every day for an entire year, I've photographed sunrises and sunsets, frost, mist rising from the river and hovering like a magic carpet, back yard birds, shadows, and food. (Food photography tends to be the answer when I'm in a pinch. And I realize what a blessing it is to have food on the table.) When I'm outdoors steeped in wonder and awe, I don't feel the cold. But I am ready to move on. Done with winter.

During this gray and muddy time of year, my spirit has been nourished by the magnificent films of Louie Schwartzberg, my favorite cinematographer. Every film Louie offers the world - whether free online (see my list of links, below), on Netflix, or available for purchase through his website -  is absolutely amazing. The way he (first notices and then) slows down or speeds up what happens in nature reveals a rhythm and dance that we couldn't perceive otherwise. His images are love letters that open windows to profound perspectives of the world around us.

Louie has been filming time-lapse flowers 24/7 for more than 30 years - the only cinematographer to do so - and this was my introduction to his work. Viewing his macro imagery of the graceful dance of flowers opening, closing, and repeating these movements awakened something in me. It might even have awakened my passion for photography a few years ago. His skill goes far beyond composition and technical mastery to capture the spirit of his subjects - the energy and connectedness of all life. 

Cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg (photo provided)

I watch Louie's films to awaken wonder, and also to relax and recharge. His films truly are visual meditations, and when I watch them, I notice my breathing becoming slower and deeper and my heart rate slowing. I even have measured how my blood pressure changes when I view his moving images. (The systolic number has been known to drop more than 20 points!) When I feel stressed and want to relax, his films are good medicine. And when my outlook mirrors the grayness of my surroudings, his films reawaken wonder and gratitude for all the hidden treasures in the world. I am immensely grateful to him for these gifts. In a recent Facebook post, he wrote:
"Take a good look around.
No matter what you're looking at, it's only a fraction of what's actually around us."

And how true is that? There is so much more than we perceive in the course of our everyday lives. Louie's lenses focus on images that are too tiny, too slow, too fast, or too high to perceive normally. His images invite the viewer to enter a whole new world. He speeds up the rhythmic dance of the flowers and the motion of clouds or stars moving across the sky, slows down the flights of hummingbirds and the crashing of ocean waves, rises into the air to take viewers on journeys over extraordinary locations, and zooms in to reveal a whole world of virtually invisible wonders right at our fingertips - all via vibrant, breathtaking images steeped in wonder, gratitude, and awe.

As a teacher, I also appreciate the value that Louie's films offer my classroom. When my kindergartners have high energy that needs to be brought down a few notches, or when I am feeling overwhelmed (and realize that if I'm feeling that way, they must be, too), showing one of Louie's films on our SMART Board works like a charm. The children are enchanted by the images and inevitably want to respond to them and discuss their own experiences in nature - which makes my heart happy because I believe the heart of all learning is a reverence for life itself and strive to connect my students with the natural world. My students have been stuck indoors for recess almost all winter long because it has been too cold to go outdoors, and our jam-packed Common Core curriculum leaves us with less time during the school day to explore outdoors. I appreciate how Louie's films continue to connect my students with the natural world even when we cannot experience it for ourselves, up close and personal. And I imagine my students won't look at hummingbirds, bees, flowers, butterflies, etc. quite the same when they do notice them in their environment. Louie's films facilitate awareness and connection. They also give my students a much needed "brain break" during our busy, academically-oriented days.

Speaking of academics, Louie's films enhance our science content greatly. For instance, I intend to use his DisneyNature film, Wings of Life, to teach my students about the pollinators. I also intend to weave together science and character education by using some of Louie's insights about bees as examples of cooperation and community, and the forest as a model of diversity. This more holistic approach encourages children to recognize aspects of their own selves reflected in nature, which I believe fosters connection.

Louie Schwartzberg is an award-winning artist with a mission to share the wonders of nature and help heal our planet through a shift in consciousness. Through his art and insights, he is also a teacher of gratitude and mindfulness. The child of holocaust survivors, he was taught to appreciate life's small blessings, and gratitude is an indelible aspect of his artistic vision. On April 6th, he will be featured on Oprah's "Super Soul Sunday" series discussing "how focusing on nature's beauty can help us experience a deeper spiritual connection to the world around us."

Every day, I take a moment to give thanks for all the beauty in this world, whether I experience it directly or through the generosity of others, such as Louie, who feel called to share the imagery they have captured. Shared images remind me that, although my environment might be predominantly gray-scale at this time of year, so much goodness exists in the world nonetheless. Sometimes this reminder is the greatest gift you can give someone! 

The first thing I did to kick off the weekend yesterday afternoon was to watch Louie's film, Chasing the Light: A Filmmaker's Journey to Extraordinary Places, which I ordered via his website. The film was mesmerizing and inspiring, just as I'd expected. It lifted my spirits on an overcast, foggy evening and moved me to take my camera out for a ride along the river (thinking that very act could serve as the definition of "optimism"). Here is an image I captured in what I am tempted to call my "Embrace the Suck" series:

Obviously there are good reasons why Louie Schwartzberg doesn't live in the Northeast. But you've got to find beauty where you are, and his images inspire me to keep looking because there's always more to see if you look carefully enough!

To experience Louie's films for yourself or to become part of his online community, check out these resources:

In addition, a number of Louie's films are available for streaming on Netflix, including: DisneyNature: Wings of Life; Moving Art: FlowersMoving Art: Oceans, Moving Art: Deserts, and Moving Art: Forests. All are extraordinary.

The photographs in this blog (with the exception of the photo of Louie Schwartzberg, which is not my image) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a "custom print" in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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