Monday, January 30, 2012

Revery of the Unknowable

"Science of nature has one goal:
To find both manyness and whole.
Nothing 'inside' or 'Out There,'
The 'outer' world is all 'In Here.'
This mystery grasp without delay,
This secret always on display.
The true illusion celebrate,
Be joyful in the serious game!
No living thing lives separate:
One and Many are the same."
We can never directly see
what is true, that is, identical with
what is divine: we look at it
only in reflection, in example,
in the symbol, in individual
and related phenomena.
We perceive it as a life
beyond our grasp,
yet we cannot deny
our need to grasp it.
The highest achievement
of the human being
as a thinking being is to
have probed what is
knowable and quietly to
revere what is unknowable."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Discarnate Muses and Artists

"To take photographs. Such was the entry point into photography. Along the creek beds and waterfalls seeing was always possession and camera affirmed ownership. Since then other modes, other doors have superseded, for example, to make photographs. The greed, however, has never really disappeared. Ownership seems to be the force that opens all the other doors. Yet, possession is not all. As I become more in harmony with the world around, through, and in me, the varieties of time weave together. Chronological time, the time my psyche takes, and creative time were once always at odds with each other. Less so now that the manifestations of inner growth are seen to be set in my path as if by an invisible discarnate friend. When I have sensed his presence, the photographs, afterward, seem like footprints... his or mine is the question!" 

"The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page."

"Borges and I"

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Inseparability of Life & Cosmos

"The Western man who claims consciousness of oneness with God or the universe ... clashes with his society's concept of religion. In most Asian cultures, however, such a man will be congratulated as having penetrated the true secret of life. He has arrived, by chance or by some such discipline as Yoga or Zen meditation, at a state of consciousness in which he experiences directly and vividly what our own scientists know to be true in theory. For the ecologist, the biologist, and the physicist know (but seldom feel) that every organism constitutes a single field of behavior, or process, with its environment. There is no way of separating what any given organism is doing from what its environment is doing, for which reason ecologists speak not of organisms in environments but of organism-environments ... The difference between Eastern and Western concepts of man and his universe ... extends beyond strictly religious concepts. The Western scientist may rationally perceive the idea of organism-environment, but he does not ordinarily feel this to be true. By cultural and social conditioning, he has been hypnotized into experiencing himself as an ego- as an isolated center of consciousness and will inside a bag of skin, confronting an external and alien world. We say, "I came into this world." But we did nothing of the kind. We came out of it in just the same way that fruit comes out of trees. Our galaxy, our cosmos, 'peoples' in the same way that an apple tree 'apples.'" 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dreaming with Open Eyes

"From the mast-head the mirage is continually giving us false alarms. Everything wears an aspect of unreality. Icebergs hang upside down in the sky; the land appears as layers of silvery or golden cloud. Cloud-banks look like land, icebergs masquerade as islands or nunataks, and the distant barrier to the south is thrown into view, although it really is outside our range of vision. Worst of all is the deceptive appearance of open water, caused by the refraction of distant water, or by the sun shining at an angle on a field of smooth snow or the face of ice-cliffs below the horizon."
(from Captain's log of "Endurance")

“ go into a state almost like an aware kind of sleep, which means you’re all free, just let it be, let it become, and with tremendous compassion towards everything—maybe human beings, or nature, or objects—you incorporate. It’s almost like a... in Buddhism, you would say incarnation. You become things, you become at atmosphere. And if you become it, which means you incorporate it within you, you can also give it back. You can put this feeling into a picture. A painter can do do it. And a musician can do it, and I think a photographer can do that too. And that I would call the dreaming with open eyes."

Postscript: Kind readers/viewers wishing to learn the "truth" behind the surreal dream-like seascape depicted above, may reveal the unabashed "reality" by clicking here; but be forewarned that doing so will also unavoidably strip away all essential meaning. Perhaps there is an aesthetic / semiotic analog of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle at play here, wherein one cannot simultaneously both "know" (the truth behind) something and "understand" it equally well ;-)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dissolution of Consciousness

"Seeing is perception 
with the original, 
unconditioned eye. 
It is a state of consciousness 
in which separation of 
audience/image dissolves; 
in which a reality beyond words 
and concepts opens up, 
whose "point" or "meaning" is 
the direct experience itself."

"We look at the world and 
see what we have learned to 
believe is there. 
We have been 
conditioned to expect... 
but, as photographers, 
we must learn to relax our beliefs...
if you look very intensely and slowly, 
things will happen that you 
never dreamed of before.” 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mind and Mystery

"The state of mind of the photographer while creating is blank… For those who would equate 'blank' with a kind of emptiness, I must explain that this is a special kind of blank. It is a very active state of mind really, a very receptive state of mind, ready at an instant to grasp an image, yet with no image pre-formed, pattern or preconceived idea of how anything ought to look is essential to this blank condition. Such a state of mind is not unlike a sheet of film itself – seemingly inert, yet so sensitive that a fraction of a second's exposure conceives life in it."

"In my search to find an opposite to reality, I discovered that if reality is the knowable and the potentially knowable, the opposite consists of things that the mind can’t comprehend. Among those things are keys to the existence of everything. The further we delve into what we are and what things are, the more mysterious we and they become."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Eternal Purity

"O King, you say that Atman is infinite. Well, that which is infinite must be unconditioned by time and space. Absence of duality in Atman renders it incapable of being a cause. A cause exists both before and after the effect, as clay does in respect of the jar. But, in Atman there is neither beginning nor end. Besides, a cause must modify or change itself to produce an effect. Atman being all and absolute is free from the possibility of change or modification. Atman is indestructible and immutable. It has never fallen from its nature. As there is no duality in Atman, so it is neither subject nor object. Nor is there any action in it. It is eternally pure like the blue sky or space. O King, and it is your own nature."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Where is the Universe?

"A Buddhist scholar named Nogaguna, who lived about A.D. 200, invented a whole dialectic and founded a school where the "leader" of the students would simply destroy all of their ideas - absolutely abolish their philosophic notions. And they would get the heebie-jeebies and see that the leader did not have the heebie-jeebies, that he seemed perfectly relaxed in having no particular point of view. 'Teacher, how can you stand it? We have to have something to hold on to.' And the teacher's response: 'Who does? Who are you?'

Eventually, of course, they discovered that it is not necessary to hang onto anything, to rely on anything. There is nothing to rely on because you are IT. It is like asking the question 'Where is the universe?'

Where is it in space? Everything in it is falling around everything else, but there is no concrete floor underneath for the thing to crash, because the space goes out and out forever and ever and has no end.

What is it? What else could it be?

Of course, it is you."

(1915 - 1973)

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Wynn Bullock: Color Light Abstractions

"Light to me is perhaps the most profound truth in the universe. My thinking has been deeply affected by the belief everything is some form of radiant energy." - Wynn Bullock (1905 - 1975)

Wynn  Bullock is arguably one of the greatest fine-art photographers to have graced our world with his soulful mind, heart, and eye. He is also one of three photographers (of a bygone generation, relative to mine) that I deeply lament not having had the opportunity to meet and get to know personally (the other two being Ansel Adams and Minor White). Though I was certainly alive when Bullock passed away (and I was already "taking pictures"), I was but a young lad of 15, and had yet to appreciate the Buddhist transience of life and everything precious in it. Plenty of time to "get to know the greats..." (or so I thought)

How would my creative life have been different - what alternative paths would I have taken - had there been a chance to learn - and possibly muse with - such extraordinary artists; whose work I have learned to respect and resonate with on ever deeper levels as I grow into the late summer of my own life? Adams first showed me how nature can be seen as its own transcendent reality. And White how the best photographs are those whose "outer appearance" reflect one's "inner perceptions." But it was Bullock, whose work I came to know and admire deeply a few years after studying Adams and White, who (continues to) pave the way for my own creative journey; one that strives to combine - and transcend - the (nominally pseudo-orthogonal) aesthetic, spiritual, and intellectual dimensions of experience, thought, and reality.

Apart from living in slightly different times (I was born 55 years after Bullock) and different places (he on the west coast, I on the east), and apart from the fact that Bullock's work is well-known to almost all photographers and mine to almost none (outside of family, friends, and an occasional tip-of-the-hat from a kind reader of my blog), our respective histories and creative predilections share a few traits; I therefore feel an especially close affinity towards him. For starters, both of us were married twice, the first time rather unsuccessfully in what was more of a "trial" (in both literal and figurative senses), and not-at-all conducive to producing any kind of art - in Bullock's case, I was saddened to learn that his first wife thought his photography was a waste of time (mine was more understanding); she'd sometimes enter his darkroom to tear up his prints in fits of anger! In both cases, our second marriage found us soul-mates and muses.  Bullock's second marriage led to two girls; mine, to two boys.

The most important traits we share have to do with our photography: (1) we are both opportunistic, taking advantage of family trips and outings more than Ansel-Adams-like dedicated month-long trips away from home (reveling primarily in finding and revealing the transcendent nature of everyday reality), (2) we both incessantly experiment with new modes of visual expression (perpetually seeking that extra "spark" to ignite a new line of aesthetic inquiry), and (3) we both heavily ground our photography in intellectual - sometimes deeply metaphysical - musings (invoking images of time, space, reality, illusion, ...); a fact that should be obvious (on my side, at least) to anyone who has perused just the topics of my blog entries, much less their substance ;-) Bullock's musings may be sampled on his website (lovingly crafted and kept up-to-date by his eldest daughter, Barbara Bullock-Wilson) and in a few of his books that are still available: (1) Wynn Bullock: The Enchanted Landscape, Photographs 1940-1975, (2) Wynn Bullock: Photography a Way of Life, and (3) Wynn Bullock (Aperture Masters of Photography). (Links to other references are provided below).

And so we come to the point of this blog, which is to introduce interested readers to an extraordinary new book of Bullock's color abstracts - Wynn Bullock: Color Light Abstractions - which also serves as a catalog of a traveling exhibition that premiered on May 15, 2010 at the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel,California. I label this book "new" not only because it has only recently been published (in 2010), but because it contains over 50 color light abstractions that have rarely before been seen in public! Though Bullock was primarily a black-and-white photographer (another trait we share), he had experimented heavily, in the late 50s and early 60s, with color. Unsatisfied with the color printing at the time, few outside his family and circle of friends ever saw samples of this work, and even then mostly via slide presentations. Inspired and helped by a close family friend (John Hong Hall, to whom the traveling exhibition is dedicated and whose moving story appears in an afterword to the book), the heirs to (and caretakers of) Bullock's work undertook the prodigious task of organizing, restoring, scanning, and printing 50+ year-old Kodachrome color slides.

I will spare readers a "description" of these images, since whatever pale words I may attach to my "experience" of them will so distort their essence - inevitably altering the meaning the images would convey on their own if viewed by your eyes only - that to do so would be an aesthetic injustice on my part. Suffice to say that this collection of color light abstracts is nothing short of breathtaking! Were one not told of how these surrealistic, other-wordly images came to be (a word or two on that in a second), but was simply presented with the finished portfolio, with only the implicit understanding that the images were obviously produced by a prodigiously gifted photographer, one would be forgiven for believing that it was all "some Photoshop trick," albeit an astoundingly creative - indeed, visionary - one! The fact that these images were produced c.1960 using everyday objects like broken shards of thick colored glass, beads, jewelry, polarizing filters, and both artificial and natural light, makes this already exquisite portfolio all the more remarkable. A short description of his method appears here, and also in a superb 30 min documentary on his life and work, Wynn Bullock: Photographer.

I have written before of heretofore having only three epiphanous reactions to photography monographs, to which I simply went "Wow!" upon seeing, and which fundamentally altered my perceptions of the creative potential of photography as an art form: (1) Bruce Barnbaum's Visual Symphony (in the 1970s), (2) Fay Godwin's Land  (middle 1980s), and (3) John Sexton's Recollections (in 2006). To this short list I must now add a fourth, Wynn Bullock's Color Light Abstractions. This work is, in a word, a masterpiece! 

Additional references: Wynn Bullock's biography appears here, and a sampling of color abstracts that appear in the book appear on this page. A 3-min video may be seen here. A portfolio of some of Bullock's black-and-white images appears in Lenswork Issue #55, available in Adobe pdf). A few books may also be ordered directly from Bullock's website. Other include: Wynn Bullock (Phaidon Press), Wynn Bullock (Scrimshaw Press), Wynn Bullock Photographing the Nude: The Beginnings of a Quest for Meaning, and The Photograph as Symbol. As of this writing, copies of Photography and Philosophy of Wynn Bullock (by Clyde Dilley, published in 1984) are also still available.

Postscript: I stumbled across Bullock's color abstractions somewhat synchronistically (at an age close to Bullock's when he first started experimenting with color), insofar as I have recently also embarked on what has turned out to be a multiyear "color experiment" in (what in my case, I call) "Synesthetic Landscapes" (and that I have discussed before). Though the specifics of our methods differ, like Bullock, I am essentially driven to photograph light itself, not the physical forms that light makes visible or otherwise gives shape and texture to. My "color abstract sources" (thus far, at least) have been impromptu / makeshift "in the field" mini studios consisting of doors or bottles of rum (among many, many other everyday "things"); the best results are eerily reminiscent of the hyperreal dimensions discovered first by Bullock: realms of fluidic time and space, ineffably infused with mysterious luminescent protoforms of life and consciousness ;-)

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Rhythmic Orders

"As sounds in a musical composition can be used not to express physical objects but ideas, emotions, harmonies, rhythmic orders and most any expression of the human mind and spirit, so light can be used visually to express the mind and spirit."

"Theoretical scientists who probe the secrets of the universe and philosophers who seek answers to existence, as well as painters such as Paul Klee who find the thoughts of men of science compatible with art, influence me far more than most photographers."

- Wynn Bullock (1902 - 1975)

Postscript: interested readers are invited to peek "behind the curtain" to see the "reality" behind the synesthetic landscape expressed above. I will soon have much more to say about this image, the (still growing) portfolio of images from which it comes, and how it all fits in - synchronistically - with a wondrous new book of Wynn Bullock's color light abstractions (from the early 1960s).