Deeper attention

Deeper attention

Photography as a meditation.

Digital Photograph, iPhone, titled "Under the Bridge"

Under the Bridge. © 2017 Anitra Lavanhar. Digital photography, iPhone.

© Anitra Lavanhar


Moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma, from the Boston area in 2000 was a tough transition. My husband, the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, was called to be the senior minister at All Souls Unitarian Church, and I was pregnant with our first son. Lots of life, cultural, and geographical changes at once! All Souls and the wonderful congregation were key to my survival. They also helped me launch some of my own projects: the All Souls Acoustic Coffeehouse (bringing some of the New England folk music to Tulsa) and later becoming a founding board member of the Tulsa Children’s Museum.

Two years ago, to help mark my fiftieth birthday, I decided to hike part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain with a good friend. I was at a crossroads in my life, having just finished my career with the Children’s Museum and wondering what I was going to do. With the usual “to-do list” gone and the time to reflect while walking for two weeks, I found an answer: to pursue my lifelong love of photography. In the past I had always talked myself out of my dream; there was always going to be someone with better, more expensive, and fancier gear, and more experience, so why bother?

It was fairly easy to take a beautiful photo while traveling through the picturesque towns in the north of Spain.

Back in Tulsa, however, I ended up focusing my lens on the urban and industrial landscape. I’ve always loved being in old places and imagining the history that took place there. I love the way time affects objects, the smoothness of old stairs and cobblestones, the patinas of rust and peeling paint. The Japanese have a term, wabi-sabi, to describe the beauty and richness that is inherent in old, imperfect things.

Purple Rust. Digital photography, iPhone.

Purple Rust. © 2017 Anitra Lavanhar. Digital photography, iPhone.

© 2017 Anitra Lavanhar

As I began focusing my lens on these subjects I not only started seeing more and more of them, but I began feeling like I was on an exotic trip just while walking around downtown Tulsa with my camera. I would experience the same excitement I did when discovering a new country while walking through an alleyway in Tulsa and finding another unique angle or a close up of a rusty bullet hole.

As Brene Brown puts it: “I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness—it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”

My photography has forced me to pay deeper attention and at the same time has increased my gratitude for my current homeland. For me, photography has become a meditation of sorts. When I get behind the lens I get into the “zone.” I couldn’t be happier to be on this journey of photography and to be continuing to grow and develop in this field that has helped me see the beauty that exists all around me, no matter where I am.