Sunday, December 26, 2010

Smallness, Vastness, and the Mystical State

"We pass into mystical states
from out of ordinary consciousness
as from a less into a more,
as from a smallness into a vastness,
and at the same time
as from an unrest to a rest.
We feel them as reconciling,
unifying states."
- William James
Variety of Religious Experience

"When we are touched by
mystic grace and allow ourselves
to enter its field without fear,
we see that we are all parts of a whole,
elements of an universal harmony,
unique, essential and sacred notes
in a divine music that everyone
and everything is playing together
with us in God and for God."
- Andrew Harvey
The Essential Mystics

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"Seeing the Invisible" B&W Portfolio Available

Matter, Science, and Spirit

“Everyone who is seriously involved in
the pursuit of science becomes
convinced that a spirit is manifest
in the laws of the Universe —
a spirit vastly superior to that of man,
and one in the face of which we,
with our modest powers,
must feel humble."

- Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)
(from Max Jammer's Einstein and Religion,
Princeton University Press, 1999)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Parts, Matter, and Networks

“The farther and more deeply
we penetrate into matter,
by means of increasingly
powerful methods,
the more we are confounded by
the interdependence of its parts...
It is impossible to cut into the network,
to isolate a portion without it becoming
frayed and unravelled at all its edges.”

Pierre Teihard de Chardin
Philosopher (1881-1955)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Beauty, Mystery, and Truth

"Now I was suddenly made aware of another world of beauty and mystery such as I had never imagined to exist, except in poetry. It was as though I had begun to see and smell and hear for the first time... I experienced an overwhelming emotion in the presence of nature, especially at evening. It began to wear a kind of sacramental character for me... I felt again the presence of an unfathomable mystery. The song of the birds, the shapes of the trees, the colours of the sunset, were so many signs of this presence, which seemed to be drawing me to itself."
- Bede Griffiths
Benedictine Monk
(1906 - 1993)

"Mystery is truth's dancing partner."
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(1749 - 1832)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hidden Meanings

"Everything we see
hides another thing,
we always want to see
what is hidden by what we see."
Rene Magritte
(1898 - 1967 )

"Everything in the world has
a hidden meaning. . . .
Men, animals, trees, stars,
they are all hieroglyphics.
When you see them you
do not understand them.
You think they are really men,
animals, trees, stars.
It is only years later
that you understand."
- Nikos Kazantzakis
(1883 - 1957)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

If the Doors of Perception..."

Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo.
But I can only show you the door.
You're the one that has to walk through it.
- Matrix (1999)

"If the doors of perception
were cleansed every thing
would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up,
till he sees all things thru'
narrow chinks of his cavern."
- William Blake (1757 - 1827)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Great New Book on "Great Images"

About 35 years ago, the late great curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in NY, John Szarkowski, published a landmark book called Looking at Photographs. Intended as "... a picture book, and its ...purpose provide the material for simple delectation" (according to Szarkowski, from his own introduction to that book), it was, and is, considerably more, giving life to Szarkowski's always thoughtful ruminations about 100 pictures from MOMA's collection and food-for-thought for all aspiring photographers. Also around the same time (in 1983, shortly before his death), Ansel Adams published his Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, in which the master provides narratives about 40 of his favorite photographs, engaging readers in the technical and aesthetic dimensions of photography. These two books are almost always found (typically, and notably, in excruciating dog-eared form!) on the bookshelves of virtually every photographer who has bought at least two books on photography!

And now - a mere 30 or so years later - comes another destined-to-be classic in the same mold, George Barr's Why Photographs Work: 52 Great Images Who Made Them, What Makes Them Special and Why.

This is not to say that there have not been similar "picture books" published in the intervening years. In truth, one could argue that there are too many, as the quality seldom approaches Szarkowski's and Adams' volumes. Certainly, very few books in this genre approach the simple, understated elegance of Barr's new book; fewer still share the same attention to detail. And seldom have I seen such a magically diverse and exquisite collection of photographs that just sing.

In what must have been a logistical nightmare of solicitation and coordination (done entirely by email), George has assembled a veritable What's What of great images (52 of them, and taken by a veritable Who's Who of today's photographers, though not all assembled here are well known; though they all will be now that the book is out!)

The idea behind the book is not to discuss "selected images" (as representative "snapshots" used to illustrate a discourse on some photographer's life's oeuvre); rather the single focus is on simply presenting - in Szarkowski's "picture book" book fashion - great images and musings about what makes them so great. And they all are! (great, that is; Kudos to George for his selective eye).

The book contains exactly one image each by 52 photographers; some famous, some becoming so, some obscure (but clearly on the rise, given the artistry of images). As George states a number of times (and makes an eloquent case for), there is something about great images that is immediately clear, without further exposition. Why this is so, a question that is often asked by those deeply interested interested in photography but who have not yet spent half-a-lifetime looking at and creating images, is where this book shines, first with George Barr's inspired commentary, followed by the photographer's own story about how his or her selected image came to be, what their creative approach consisted of, what technical and/or aesthetic difficulties they had to overcome, and so on. A brief bio of each photographer is also provided, along with email addresses and website links for interested readers to continue exploring.

The most important part of the book, apart from the commentary - namely its images - are all nicely presented on the left hand page as you open to a given photographer's "section" and are reproduced in as large a size as the book size permits (maximum of about 9 inches longest side), with about an inch margin along the sides. Indeed, with the typical ~30% Amazon discount over the official list price, it is tempting to purchase two copies, so that the images from one can be taken out and framed to hang on the wall!

Some of the photographers are familiar to me, either because I've seen their work in magazines and journals, or - in some cases - I already own a book or two of their photographs; though, in some cases, I had not seen the particular images displayed in the book. Other photographers I am less familiar with or have not heard of at all; though, in all such cases, and as a testament to George's aesthetic tastes (in selecting images for his book) and skills as a photography critic-commentator, I now intend to look up more of their works! All types of images appear: landscapes, portraits, abstracts, formally arranged, manipulations. Most are in color, but there is a generous sampling of exquisite black and white images as well.

So, are there one or two "universal" truths that emerge after reading this wonderful book? Having read the book twice, and perused it a few more, flipping back and forth, and rereading various sections, two things stand out (though perhaps somewhat implicitly; the gestalt having been assembled by me rather than as an explicit "lessons learned" that appears in the book...if I have one minor complaint, it is that I would have liked to read George's take on the "whole" in a concluding chapter; but his introduction serves the essential purpose): (1) image simplicity (one or at most a few "main" elements and/or colors) coupled with a mastery of the complex technical skills necessary for proper presentation (the camera, lens, darkroom, Photoshop, printer, etc all become "automatic" extensions of the mind/soul of photographer), and (2) mystery (the best images tend to be the ones we want to return to again and again, and those that we feel that way about tend to be the ones for which the most open - and interesting - questions remain lingering in our mind long after we last saw the image). Certainly the book itself qualifies on both counts (albeit on a slightly "meta" level); I know I will return to it again and again, sure to be rewarded with fresh insights, new stepping-stones for my own aesthetic journeys and the simple pleasure of viewing some exquisite photographs.

I can see a series of "Why great photographs work" books appearing in the coming years, as new images - and new talents - emerge. We can only hope that the publishers, should they decide to launch such a series (I would encourage them to do so), would see fit to have none other than George Barr behind the helm. George is uniquely gifted both as a practicing photographer (with over 35 years experience) and as a teacher/author. There are as many great photographers (who have a hard time explaining how to set a proper f-stop to a novice) as there are great authors (who are hard-pressed to capture even a "not so great" photo), but very, very few who are truly great at both. George, with countless images and portfolios published, and now with three expository books behind him, is in a rarefied class indeed!

I believe that George's new book - Why Photographs Work: 52 Great Images Who Made Them, What Makes Them Special and Why - will become a "classic" (along the lines of Szarkowski's and Adams' earlier collections. Anyone interested in why photographs work - and what they can do to improve their own "eye" and completed images - should have a copy (or two!) on their shelf! Nicely done George!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Art, World, Transcendence

“In kindergarten we drew three daffodils that
had just been picked out of the yard;
and while I was drawing,
my sharpened yellow pencil and the
cup of the yellow daffodils
gave off whiffs just alike.
That the pencil doing the
drawing should give off the
same smell as the flower it
drew seemed part of the art lesson.
Children, like animals, use all their
senses to discover the world.
Then artists come along and
discover it the same way, all over again.”
Eudora Welty
Author / Photographer

“In one way or another,
the Cosmos we inhabit -
human body, house, territory,
world - communicates from
above with another
level which is transcendent.”
Mircea Eliade

Monday, December 13, 2010

Incomplete, Random, and Infinite

"Nothing in Nature is random. ...
A thing appears random
only through the incompleteness
of our knowledge."
-Benedict Spinoza

"Our minds are finite,
and yet even in these
circumstances of finitude
we are surrounded by possibilities
that are infinite,
and the purpose of human life
is to grasp as much as we can
out of the infinitude.''
- Alfred North Whitehead

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Patterns, Meanings, and Reality

"We live in our
description of reality."
Gregory Bateson
Anthropologist / Systems Theorist (1904 - 1980)

"If you cling to appearances while searching for meaning,
you won't find a thing."
Budhidharma (440 - 533)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Organization, Probability, and Entropy

“As entropy increases, the universe,
and all closed systems in the universe,
tend naturally to deteriorate and
lose their distinctiveness,
to move from the least to
the most probable state,
from a state of organization and
differentiation in which distinctions
and forms exist, to a state of
chaos and sameness.”

Norbert Weiner
Mathematician (1894-1964)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Possibility, Creation, and Infinity

“The actual infinite arises in three contexts: first when it is realized in the most complete form, in a fully independent otherworldly being, in Deo, where I call it the Absolute Infinite or simply Absolute; second when it occurs in the contingent, created world; third when the mind grasps it in abstracto as a mathematical magnitude, number or order type...”

“...The fear of infinity is a form of myopia that destroys the possibility of seeing the actual infinite, even though it in its highest form has created and sustains us, and in its secondary transfinite forms occurs all around us and even inhabits our minds.”

- Georg Cantor (1845 - 1918), Mathematician

“If a thing loves, it is infinite.”
- William Blake (1757 - 1827), Poet / Mystic

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Answer to Life, the Universe, ...

"On the day of the Great On-Turning two soberly dressed programmers with briefcases arrived. Their names were Lunkwill and Fook. For a few moments they sat in respectful silence, then, after exchanging a quiet glance with Fook, Lunkwill leaned forward and touched a small black panel. The subtlest of hums indicated that the massive computer was now in total active mode. After a pause it spoke to them in a voice rich, resonant and deep. It said: 'What is this great task for which I, Deep Thought, ... have been called into existence? ...'O Deep Thought computer,' Fook said, 'the task we have designed you to perform is this. We want you to tell us ...' he paused, 'the Answer!' 'The Answer?' said Deep Thought. 'The Answer to what?' 'Life!' urged Fook. 'The Universe!' said Lunkwill. 'Everything!' they said in chorus. Deep Thought paused for a moment's reflection. 'Tricky,' he said finally...

"...'And you're ready to give it to us?' urged Loonquawl. 'I am.' 'Now?' 'Now,' said Deep Thought. ... 'Tell us!' 'All right,' said Deep Thought. 'The Answer to the Great Question ...' 'Yes ... !' 'Of Life, the Universe and Everything ...' said Deep Thought. 'Yes ... !' 'Is ... ' said Deep Thought, and paused. 'Yes ... !' 'Is ... ' 'Yes ... !!! ... ?' 'Forty-two,' said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm. ... 'Forty-two!' yelled Loonquawl.

'Is that all you've got to show for seven and a half million years' work?' 'I checked it very thoroughly,' said the computer, 'and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is.'" -Douglas Adams (1952 - 2001), Hitchiker's Guide to The Galaxy

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Objects, Information, and Transformation

“We hypostatize information into objects.
Rearrangement of objects is change in
the content of the information;
the message has changed.

This is the language which we
have lost the ability to read.

We ourselves are a part of this language;
changes in us are changes in the
content of the information.

We ourselves are information rich;
information enters us,
is processed and is then
projected outward once more,
now in an altered form.

We are not aware that
we are doing this,
that in fact this is
all we are doing.”

Philip K. Dick
Novelist /Philosopher/Mystic (1928-1982)

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

As Above, So Below

"True, without falsehood, certain and most true, that which is above is the same as that which is below, and that which is below is the same as that which is above, for the performance of miracles of the One Thing. And as all things are from the One, by the meditation of One, so all things have their birth from this One Thing by adaptation. The Sun is its Father, the Moon its Mother, the Wind carries it in its belly, its nurse is the Earth. This is the Father of all perfection, or consummation of the whole world. Its power is integrating, if it be turned into earth."