Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Appearances


"The rules of the universe that we think
we know are buried deep
in our processes of perception.
It is as if the stuff of which
we are made were totally transparent
and therefore imperceptible and
as if the only appearances of which
we can be aware are cracks and planes
of fracture in that transparent matrix.
Dreams and percepts and stories
are perhaps cracks and irregularities
in the uniform and timeless matrix.
Was this what Plotinus meant
by an 'invisible and unchanging
beauty which pervades all things'?"

- Gregory Bateson (1904 - 1980)

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Namelessness


"There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious unity and integrity is wisdom, the mother of us all, "natura naturans." There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fountain of action and joy. It rises up in wordless gentleness, and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being."

- Thomas Merton (1915 - 1968)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Impermanence


"I don’t know why we long so for permanence, why the fleeting nature of things so disturbs. With futility, we cling to the old wallet long after it has fallen apart. We visit and revisit the old neighborhood where we grew up, searching for the remembered grove of trees and the little fence. We clutch our old photographs. In our churches and synagogues and mosques, we pray to the everlasting and eternal. Yet, in every nook and cranny, nature screams at the top of her lungs that nothing lasts, that it is all passing away. All that we see around us, including our own bodies, is shifting and evaporating and one day will be gone. Where are the one billion people who lived and breathed in the year 1800, only two short centuries ago?"

- Alan Lightman (1948 - )

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Extraordinary Ordinary


"Quit trying to find beautiful objects to photograph.
Find the ordinary objects so you can
transform them by photographing them."

- Morley Baer (1916 - 1995)

Postscript. When I do photography (that is, when I am lucky enough to have some time to squeeze photography in between my day-job responsibilities), I am decked out with the usual "photographer's paraphernalia" (i.e., camera + vertical grip, tripod, an assortment of lenses, filters, ...). For subject matter, almost without exception, I find myself either perusing landscapes in a local park (that I know the trails of about as well as I know the layout of my home), or exploring color light abstractions in a make-shift studio I've built in my basement. The exceptions are when traveling with my family (when I do essentially the same thing anyway - photographically speaking - but just don't know the trails as well:), and when not in possession of my "real" camera or the bag-full-of-paraphernalia that accompanies it. 

While all photographers strive to transform the "ordinary into the extraordinary" (ala Morley Baer's admonition, and in deference to Minor White's dictum to take pictures of "what else" a thing is), it is often the case that just recognizing that something is sufficiently "ordinary" to warrant training one's camera on is itself hard enough, let alone the task of transforming that "ordinary thing" into something "else." A (far from original) trick I use is to force myself into a more receptive frame-of-mind by deliberately not having my camera at the ready. When the (clich├ęd) "best camera is the one you're carrying" is not my usual "go to" camera of choice, my mind's eye is free to discover (perhaps otherwise invisible?) patterns, realities, and the myriad extraordinary ordinary things we spend our lives immersed in.

And so, the "rest of the story" behind the images you see assembled in the 3-by-3 polyptych shown above, is that these are some recent examples of the magical "extraordinary ordinary" reality that my iPhone - not my Nikon D810 - consistently and generously reveals to me. The more banal descriptions of what these images are really images of, are, in no particular order: staircases in the building I work in 5 days a week, lights at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (in Washington, DC), the ceiling at a Department for Motor Vehicles service center, light fixtures at a local Mall and restaurant, and a skylight at a supermarket. The extraordinary ordinary indeed.