Thomas Merton


How do you see the world! A perennial question, one that seems very immediate in an Oxford summer when the streets are thronged with tourists and sightseers endlessly taking photos on their Cell phones / iPhones

In this exhibition which runs from — to September 15 th we have the chance to see the work of an American Trappist monk who handled a camera as an instrument of contemplation.

Born in 1915 in the south of France Thomas Merton had artistic parents - an American mother who was an interior decorator and a New Zealand father who was a very fine watercolourist. Educated in France and in England (a disastrous year at Cambridge) he found himself in New York leading a highly unsatisfactory life. But then he made his way to the Trappist ( Cistercian) abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Here he found a community of brothers, he taught the novices, he was encouraged to write. Yet increasingly he longed for more solitude and silence. His wish was granted when the abbot allowed him to go off and live in a hermitage on the edge of the property. And here by chance a visiting journalist lent him a camera.

Thomas Merton called his photography his “serious work”. He saw it as a meditation.He wanted what he photographed to be viewed without haste or pressure, giving it time for its essence to reveal itself. He never tried to alter or arrange. He did not seek to capture or to possess what he saw. Here only the immediate environs of the hermitage were available to him. Yet the familiar opened up under his gaze. He was captivated by the inner life of things. He was fascinated by the play of light. Above all he struggled to express silence.

“Enjoy it. Drink it all in. It is in all this that you will find your answers. Here is where everything connects,”

“Talking is not the principal thing. Here you do not feel that much needs to be said. We already know a great deal about it. Now we need to grasp it.”

by Esther de Waal