Lots of time to read
“Lots of time to read” is a series I started in 2017 documenting monasteries around the world for a fellowship. I was drawn to the idea of solitude, and I was captivated by the differences between monks in different cultures. I thought of these photographs as a kind of pilgrimage, but also as a way to escape from the restlessness of increasingly instantaneous expectations. To date I have visited over twenty different monasteries on three different continents, but I’m not sure I’ve gotten any closer to “finishing” this project.
Living in solitude seemed like a niche thing to study; it was something which could be pondered from a distance through these photographs. I recall writing that I found the process of creating these photographs to be immensely healing, but I struggled to talk about why I felt these photographs might be relevant to the anxieties I felt towards normal, daily life in an increasingly digital world. Then the COVID-19 pandemic started, and the topic of solitude was brought to the forefront of many people’s minds. My photographs took on additional complications: I saw my life isolated in an apartment contrasted against a life of voluntary solitude chosen by many of the subjects in my photos. What did this conscious separation have to teach those of us who were living in isolation for the first time, if anything?
I think my photographs showcase the struggle to find peace in isolation and meaning in solitude, but I don’t think they contain many clear-cut answers to the questions raised by stay-at-home orders and social distancing. I intend to keep making these photographs when given the opportunity to travel again, and perhaps over time I will better understand the lessons I might learn from them.
In a conversation I had with the Abbot of a small monastic community in Alaska, the Abbot shared that he thought summer was his favorite season: the weather was much nicer, the monastery could house visitors, and salmon were plentiful. Naturally, I asked what winter months at the monastery were like. He gave a slight smile and said, “in the winter we have lots of time to read.”