Hill of Prayer & The Zen of Creating

Hill of Prayer, Felicity, California by Johnny Kerr

Hill of Prayer © 2014 Johnny Kerr 

Made with: 5D Mk III with 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens. ISO 100, f/9, 1/400 sec.

I’ve been living in a constant tension lately that I can only describe as creative congestion. I often hear about artists struggling with creative frustration—a sort of dry spell akin to writers block—and I’ve indeed suffered through my share of this in the past. But lately I don’t lack creativity and inspiration. I’m bursting with it. And I feel trapped in my daily routine of work and home with no outlet (is there such thing as a creativity laxative? Ha!).

It has been so miserably hot in Arizona for the last four months that I’ve been mostly confined indoors, much like an East coast resident in the winter. Cabin fever sets in. That, combined with my meager teacher salary which inhibits my ability to travel, has left me feeling like someone who is all dressed up with nowhere to go. So, despite the fact that we couldn’t really afford it, my family and I decided to just go.

Last week was our Fall break. Schools in my district were closed for one week and I knew that I had to make my time off count. I had to create something and I had to get out of my routine and see something besides Arizona for a few days to breathe some much-needed life into my routine existence. We decided on San Diego since it is family-friendly and within a reasonable driving distance. We were also excited for our two-year-old daughter to see the ocean for the first time.

The image above, while not made at our intended destination, is probably my favorite image from the trip. I made this image in a little town called Felicity just inside the California border off of I-8. Felicity is a quirky little roadside attraction that features, in addition to this church on the “Hill of Prayer,” a section from the original Eiffel Tower staircase, the Museum of History Etched in Granite, and the “official” Center of the World.

If I could describe my developing style as a photographer, I would say I’m very inclined towards minimalism and the abstract. This image is a good representation of how I “see” things as a photographer. When I saw this church I immediately had a strong vision for how I wanted to shoot it. It needed a lot of negative space (the sky) to create a sense of vast openness and calm (and to satiate my minimalist tendencies). I enjoy simple, clean design. I like having a single focal point for the viewer to connect with, free of clutter and confusion, so I didn’t include very much of the surrounding context other than the hill itself and the path leading to the church. In this case I knew the image had to be symmetrical to further emphasize the sense of rest and peace that is also created by the use of negative space, the strong horizontal lines of the fence and horizon, and the general theme of spirituality and prayer suggested by the subject matter. Taking away the color seemed a natural choice for me as I wanted the church to be the focal point. Since the church is white (lacking color) I didn’t want the presence of color in other parts of the scene distracting from it, particularly the intensely-saturated mid-day blue sky. With color removed the white is now the most intense part of the scene and it contrasts well with the hill and surrounding sky to act as a magnet for the viewer’s eye. So that’s my take on the Hill of Prayer. I’m not the first person to photograph this roadside attraction but hopefully I’ve done so in a way that expresses my (unique) vision as an artist. I’m satisfied with my creation.

I came back home to Arizona much more relaxed having spent three wonderful, slow days together with my family in much nicer weather than we currently have at home. I also came back feeling more whole, focused and satisfied after creating a few new images. For me, creating new art is just as fulfilling and relaxing as sitting on a beach feeling the soft, misty breeze, smelling the life of the ocean, hearing the sound of lapping waves on the shore and paying no attention to the passing time.

I leave you with some of my iPhone snapshots from our Trip:

The Official Center of the World in Felicity, CA

Inside of this pyramid in Felicity, CA is the “Official Center of the World” (according to Felicity town Law).


Jessi and Zoe at La Jolla Cove

Zoe’s very first time at the beach! Standing excitedly next to Mommy.


Zoe And I At La Jolla Cove

…and another first-time beach pose with Daddy.


Sandy Feet at La Jolla Cove

Our sandy feet as we said goodbye to the beach… until the following day.


Zoe in the Grass

Zoe stretching out in the grass after a very happy first beach experience.


Photo Oct 06, 2 57 44 PM

La Jolla Cove from the parking lot.