Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Mystical Way of Photography

I have just about finished preparing a set of powerpoint slides for a presentation I was invited to give early next year by the Silver Spring Camera Club (in Maryland). My "guest appearance" is scheduled for 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm on January 7, 2010 (a thursday) at the Marvin Memorial United Methodist Church (33 University Boulevard E., Silver Spring; corner of University and Colesville Rd.).

My talk consists of a brief bio (of myself as a "work in progress" photographer), a summary of my artistic journey thus far, a few "lessons" I've learned, a sampling of old and new portfolios, and ideas on how Eastern philosophy can help aspiring artists nurture their creativity. It is in regard to this last set of musings that I'd like to devote this blog entry to.

One of my all-time favorite quotes appears in the Ching-te Ch'uan Teng lu ("Transmission of the Lamp," assembled by Tao-Yuan of the line Fa-Yen Wen (885-958):

“Before I had studied Zen for thirty years,I saw mountains as mountains,
and waters as waters…

When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge,
I came to the point where I saw

that mountains are not mountains,
and waters are not waters.

But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest.
For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains,
and waters once again as waters.”

This sage insight describes not only life but - recursively, self-referentially - every aspect of the creative field that defines and nourishes it, including, of course, art and photography.

Now, anchored by the Buddhist quote above, consider the corresponding stages of growth of a photographer:

Stage 1: At first, the photographer sees mountains as mountains and waters as waters...

...the photographer searches for the picture. The slide shows an image I took last year when my wife and I visited Santorini, Greece. Why did I take this particular shot? What creative energies and motivations, internal and external, compelled me to point my camera in this direction at this time to record this emphemeral reality? Perhaps, being a physicist, I was drawn by the geometry, or entropic decay of the door? (In truth, the more meaningful question to ask is: "Why has the universe evolved in such a way as to have this image materialize at a certain point in time and space?", but please read on...) Of course, different photographers have different backgrounds, are motivated by different needs, and have different aesthetic temperaments and creative urges. One photographer might be attracted to light and geometry; another to history and culture; still another to textures and contrasts. But in all cases, the aspiring artist is in search of some "thing," and happy when she stumbles upon an object of interest.

While the resulting pictures are undeniably products of individual needs and aspirations, and thus necessarily reflect some part of the photographer responsible for creating them, they stand alone - at least at this early juncture (in the photographer's evolution as an artist) - as objects essentially of their own creation. They are what they are: a landscape, a portrait, a family picture, ... Some are better than others, but each is also more likely than not "yet another instance" of a picture that has been taken by countless other more or less talented photographers (though - importantly - for very different "reasons"). Trees are trees, portraits are portraits, and few, if any, of the images - as individual images - reveal much about the photographer that created them. The connection between creative energy and created "object" is not yet visible, and exists only in latent form.

Stage 2: Later, the photographer no longer sees mountains as mountains and waters as waters...

...instead, the photographer begins losing herself in her pictures, thus freeing the pictures to discover their - and her - path. (Instances of a given) tree grow into trees, of different kinds, in different light, at different times - of year and of the photographer's own inner state. The growing set of images evolves to encompass other, related aspects, of the shifting reality the photographer - partly consciously and partly unconsciously -immerses herself in. Perhaps rocks appear, perhaps water, then fog, then leaves, and - later - by an emergence of entirely new "nonphysical" categories - like abstraction, or tao; perhaps the photographer finds herself experimenting with color, or doing away with categories altogether.

Aesthetic meaning transitions from individual pictures to collections of interrelated imagery, which itself evolves - sometimes backtracking, sometimes taking lateral, seemingly "stagnant" unproductive steps - weaves in and out of itself, but also inexorably, inevitably, forges a unique path. One that is unmistakably and uniquely of the artist. Others that are allowed (even a partial) glimpse of the growing work - of the waypoints along the living path - can see past the "individual images" (that "anyone" with a requisite amount of talent and experience could also have created, but - again - for vastly different reasons) to see the first hints of a unique creative field at work. Paradoxically, the best artists are almost always the last to "see" these faint stirrings of new levels in their own work, even as they keep reaching upward. No path is the same as any other, and the path that emerges for a given artist is as much a product of the artist as it is of itself. The perceived duality between creative field and created form is much the same as all dualities; which is to say it is illusory. But the artist is not yet at the stage to see past illusion. Indeed, the artist uses the duality between self and world - exploits it! - to forge a path that others in the world see as uniquely hers.

Stage 3: Eventually (if the artist has journeyed on a sincere - and sincerely discovered - path), she once again sees mountains as mountains and waters as waters...

...and, in the end, finally discovers herself. The (unending) path defines the photographer! Not as a passive collage of "photographs taken," but as an active embodiment of the artist's spirit. The creative field awakens to a new reality in which all divisions between self, path, and creation have no meaning, save for the unending process and timeless yearning to create. There is only the creative field, journeying into the infinite depths of its own self.

The photographer finds a picture, that discovers a path, that defines the artist, that is the photographer, that finds a picture....

Now look deeper still, beyond even this "last" step; beyond the "Ouroborian" synthesis of self and process (which is an important portal to the ultimate ground of all being, but not an end...), a place where words - and even pictures - begin to fail....now, what do you see?

Note: Interested readers can download the full set of powerpoint slides of my upcoming talk (in Adobe pdf format): low-res version (4 MB), high-res version (16 MB).

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Blurred Distinctions

A set of Nambe-like metallic salt and pepper shakers (featuring shiny reflecting metallic surfaces), assorted pots and pans and formal serving trays, and the backdrop and decor of my in-laws' dining room (in Coral Gables, Florida), all mysteriously conspired - during the Thanksgiving break - to teach me a lesson on the art of making blurred distinctions. I mean this both literally - as in exploring (what for me) is an unusual range of bokeh-inducing f-stops (f~2.8; compared to the range I "normally" work in: f11 ~ f16) - and metaphorically - as in the lesson the "abstract experiments" I will describe below has taught me about the blurry distinction between "photography" and (more traditional forms of) "art."

“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.” - GAUTAMA SIDDHARTA (563-483 B.C.)

The context, and lucky trigger, for my lesson, was my (day-job-related) physical and mental exhaustion that I've accrued over the days and weeks before the Thanksgiving break - which effectively barred me from going outdoors with my camera, as I normally do when on vacation. I was simply too tired to go on any of my usual photo-safaris. But not too tired to pick up a camera, of course ;-) I took the normal mix of family photos, and photos of my in-laws' garden plants and flowers.

And then we had Thanksgiving dinner! The silverware was out, the serving trays were on display, and those precious Nambe-like salt and pepper shakers were teasing me with their compositional possibilities!

I spent the next few days playing with the macro lens I brought with me, Canon's 100/f2.8. This is the same lens I'd used previously for both my "Micro Worlds" and "Whorls" portfolios, and remains one of my favorite lenses to turn to when my muse keeps me indoors. I trained my lens on the reflections of objects in the dining room that appeared on the salt and pepper shakers as I moved them around perched atop one of my mother-in-law's metal serving trays.

What I found was both a revelation and a source of illumination on the nature of photography and art (with a smattering of insight into the nature of life itself).

"Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally." - DAVID BOHM

First, the revelatory part... since, at f~2.8, the macro lens renders everything with an extremely narrow depth of field, the "distinction" between otherwise separate objects is either difficult to discern or is effectively invisible. Indeed, different "things" are mostly blurred into fuzzy indistinct clumps of overlapping shapes and color. And, speaking of color... precisely because of the paucity of recognizable "things" - that normally provide the backdrop of "compositional primitives" with which a photograph is aesthetically organized - color becomes as integral a component of a composition as shape and tone (this, coming from a black and white photographer - hence a revelation!).

The resulting images of reflected objects are (almost absurdly) minimalist abstractions of fuzzy fields of overlapping colors. My usual argument for preferring not to use color is that my "eye" tends to focus on shape, tone, and texture alone. Color (at least in the context of this particular aesthetic approach) is thus unnecessarily intrusive, distracting, and - often - overbearing. In my post-Thanksgiving experiments, however, with texture virtually gone, and shapes and tones reduced to their bare essentials, color reasserts itself as an important aesthetic tool. In side-by-side comparisons between the color and black & white versions (not shown here), I strongly favor the color versions.

As for the illumination part...it is often argued that the fundamental difference between traditional art (such as watercolor) and fine-art photography is that where photographers must search for (and find visual approximations of) what they wish to print as a "photograph" (and thereby use to communicate some "idea" or "feeling" as photographer-artists), traditional artists create what they see in their mind's eye (or inspired by what they see). The artist intentionally adds things in his "mind's eye" to an initially blank canvas; the photographer intentionally wanders around the world looking for something "out there" to add to an initially data-lacking CMOS sensor (or undeveloped film) that the lens can record an image on. One adds information from within; the other adds information from without.

But is that really the case? My post-Thanksgiving macro experiments reminded me that - on the deepest level - there is little if any meaningful distinction between what artists of any kind do. All artists create; that is what they do, and that is what describes how they behave. But it is the process that defines them; not the tools they use, not the methods they employ to create their finished artwork, not even the conventional "categories" that others use to label what kind of artists the world perceives them to be.

"What is needed is ... to give up altogether the notion that the world is constituted of basic objects or building blocks. Rather one has to view the world in terms of universal flux of events and processes." - DAVID BOHM

The usual art / photography distinction is blurred by what I found myself doing with my camera to "create" my images (a few of which appear in this blog). Rather than simply moving my camera left, right, up, and down on my tripod "looking for pleasing compositions" - as I normally do when doing macro photography (and which, in particular, I employed for both the "Micro Worlds" and "Whorls" portfolios), I found myself also intentionally repositioning the metal tray on which the salt and pepper shakers were standing, intentionally moving various colored objects on the table that were reflected in the shakers and tray, intentionally moving objects on the adjacent walls, and intentionally changing the room lighting.

On the one hand, none of this is out of the ordinary, and - to a degree - is something that I, and all photographers regularly do. On the other hand, there is a crucial difference: in this case, I was making all of these changes not just so that I could find a pleasing composition (that would, as if by magic, appear before me); but because I deliberately wanted to create just the right combination of objects and light for a particular composition of color, shape, and tone - that I had previsualized in my mind's eye - to appear in my viewfinder! In short, I was using a camera, but I was creating the image as though I was a traditional artist!

To be sure, I had no brushes and was not using paint; but the effect - and, more importantly, the intent - was exactly the same. To make the distinction - or lack of one - even more self-evident, consider a simple thought experiment. Suppose I create an image, such as this one...

...in the way as I've described above: I use my macro lens set to f2.8, and deliberately and willfully create a local "environment" (consisting of a particular configuration of things, light, and color) previsualizing the image that forms in my viewfinder to look as it appears in the image above. I press the shutter, and process the file as I normally do (except skip the step of converting to black and white). Call the resulting image, image-A. Now suppose that I instead start with a paint program - say ArtRage (which, BTW, is a magnificent little program that does much of what more sophisticated and expensive programs do for a fraction of the cost: check it out!) - and paint the same image. I then grab my camera, take a shot, and again process as I normally do, winding up with image-B.

Here's the obvious question: are these images different in any meaningful way? And, if not, then why? Assuming I've acquired a modicum of painting skill before opening the paint program, let's for sake of argument accept that I've managed to create a passable doppelganger for Image-A. We can safely assume that - apart from some minor cosmetic differences - Image-A is essentially equivalent to Image-B; i.e., the two images are effectively the "same." But we must ask, why are they the same? Clearly, the processes that led to the two images are very different. In one case, an image has been photographed; in the other, it was created directly in a paint program. The constant in both cases, of course, is the artist, and the previsualized image the artist had "within" before initiating the creative process that leads to the physical creation of either of the two images.

Is the "artist" a photographer or is the artist a traditional artist? And does the distinction really matter in this case? On can also argue that the deliberate "repositioning of objects" to yield specific color-forms in the camera's viewfinder is merely a "complicated label" that designates a different kind of "brush" used to apply a different kind of "paint" to a different kind of "canvas" (albeit a more involved and complex one). Whichever way one argues, though, in the end, I'm left with the conviction that - at least in this case (of post-Thanksgiving macro experimentation) - I'm both photographer and artist, and I'm neither a "photographer" nor am am I an "artist."

So what am I, really? Ahh, we've now truly come back to basics. What else, but the blurred distinctions between the sounds of one hand clapping!

"Whether you are going or staying or sitting or lying down,
the whole world is your own self.

You must find out

whether the mountains, rivers, grass, and forests

exist in your own mind or exist outside it.

Analyze the ten thousand things,

dissect them minutely,

and when you take this to the limit

you will come to the limitless,

when you search into it you come to the end of search,

where thinking goes no further and distinctions vanish.

When you smash the citadel of doubt,

then the Buddha is simply yourself."

- DAIKAKU (Zen teacher)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Video-clip from my Photo Exhibit at the American Center for Physics

The opening reception of the Worlds Within Worlds exhibit (held at the American Center for Physics, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD, 20740, on Monday, November 16, 2009) was - by all accounts - a resounding success. This is due, in no small measure, to the curator Sarah Tanguy, who not only assembled an extraordinary physics-inspired collection of art, but quite an impressive spread of delicious gourmet-quality food and drink. Thanks Sarah! I was also impressed by how many people showed up. I honestly did not know what to expect coming in, but had assumed that since the exhibit is being held inside a physics building - let's be honest, not exactly the Guggenheim ;-) - attendance would either be light or nonexistent. "Perhaps a few stray physicists who have momentarily lost their way to the library?" I predicted to my wife (being myself a physicist I can truthfully assert that "absentmindedness" is almost always a genetic trait;-) Much to my surprise (though not my wife's, who is infinitely more optimistic about such things, and is - lesson here? - almost always right!) there were between 70 and 80 people at the opening, almost all of whom - as far as I could tell - appeared to have had actually planned on being there. Indeed, many wore fancy black ties and suits, so I felt a bit of place, decked out as I was in my day-job "standard" dark slacks and sweater. After schmoozing with attendees for about an hour or so (and nibbling on samosas, some fine cuts of tenderloin, and other assorted hors d'oeuvres), Cynthia Padgett - the only other artist of the three-artist exhibit present at the reception (Julian Voss-Andreae was unfortunately unable to attend) - and I were asked to say a few words in the main reception/banquet hall. Cynthia opted for a quick Q&A session with Sarah, which worked out well, as the audience - and I - learned something about her creative process. When my turn came, I pursed my lips, cleared my throat, performed a quick mental Ralph-Kramden-like hammana-hammana-hammana stammer, walked up to the lectern...and proceeded to kick off my talk with a reference to Poincare sections and multidimensional aesthetic landscapes (true... and likely the first and last time such topics will be mentioned during a talk on photography!). My wife was kind enough to videotape the entire proceedings, including my talk. I've included a ~7 min clip - that you can see by clicking on the image at the top of this blog entry - that discusses the origins of my "Micro Worlds" portfolio (three images of which are included in the Worlds Within Worlds exhibit" - however, in interests of preserving my readers' sanity, I've left out the part on Poincare sections and multidimensional aesthetic landscapes;-). At best, the clip shows that photographers can, if pressed, actually say something half-way intelligible about their photography; at worst, it demonstrates that they should stick to photography ;-) I'll let you, kind readers - and, if you are inclined to click on the link to the video - kind viewers, judge for yourself. The exhibit runs through April 10, 2010.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Photographer's Self-Organized Patterns and Categories

In a certain Chinese encyclopedia called the Heavenly Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge - perhaps imagined, perhaps real - Jorge Luis Borges writes that "...animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the emperor; (b) embalmed ones; (c) those that are trained; (d) suckling pigs; (e) mermaids; (f) fabulous ones; (g) stray dogs; (h) those that are included in this classification; (i) those that tremble as if they were mad; (j) innumerable ones; (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's-hair brush; (l) etcetera; (m) those that have just broken the flower vase; (n) those that at a distance resemble flies."

The list is both absurd and profound. It is absurd - or so we think at first glance - because it excludes so many "categories" we (the readers) likely take for granted. Where are the "things that are shaped like spheres or boxes"? Where are the "things that are red"? Where are the things that "make us smile"? (Of course, perhaps these "obvious" categories, and others like them, might also strike you - kind reader - as being equally inept at containing reality).

The list is also profound (though we may come to appreciate it as being so only upon careful reflection) because it reminds us that all categories, however a priori "obvious" and intuitive - are arbitrary, except for the meaning they possess to us as individual observers (and even then, only in the brief instant during which our minds muse on the transient patterns percolating in what the world presents to our senses).

“The division of the perceived universe into parts and wholes is convenient and may be necessary, but no necessity determines how it shall be done.” — Gregory Bateson (1904 - 1980)

The subject of categories, partitions, and patterns has recently come up as I look forward to the opening reception of a three-artist exhibit entitled Worlds Within Worlds at the American Center for Physics (One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD, 20740). The reception will be held monday, November 16, 2009, between 5:30 - 7:30, with a gallery talk and short presentations scheduled for 6:00pm.

"The painting rises from the brushstrokes as a poem rises from the words. The meaning comes later." - Joan Miro (1893 - 1983)

As I wrote in an earlier blog entry, this exhibit consists of hand-picked works by all three artists (a sculptor, a traditional artist, and yours truly - ostensibly a "photographer") that are all someway related to science; physics in particular. All three artists were selected (by curator Sarah Tanguy) with an eye toward either the artist or his/her work having some connection to physics. In the case of Julian Voss-Andreae, who is both a physicist and artist/sculptor by training, both his background and art are obviously appropriate for the exhibit. He is not only a card-carrying physicist (having earned a Masters degree at the University of Edinburgh), but creates works that are directly inspired by the principles and laws of physics. The artist Cynthia Padgett, while not a scientist by training, has works on display that are also inspired by science; in her case via the exposure she has to astronomy and astronomic images through her son's study of physics.

But what of my own oeuvre, both the small cross-section on display at this exhibit, and my still growing body of work as a photographer? Yes, I too am a card-carrying physicst (having earned my Ph.D. at the University of Stony Brook, NY in 1988). But, unlike Julian Voss-Andreae, my work rarely has any direct connection to physics. To be sure, many - perhaps all (?) - of my works on display may be interpreted in the context of my being a physicist: my "Entropic Melody" series, for example, is clearly labeled by a term - "entropy" - used by physicists to denote disorder; similarly, the title of my "Whirls, Whorls, and Tendrils" series is an homage to terms often used in the study of nonlinear dynamical systems to describe certain self-organized patterns. Being a physicist, I cannot help but "see the world as a physicist"; though I honestly do not know what that means other than "seeing the world as a physicist." And my pictures are the best - and only - evidence of what "seeing the world as a physicist" really means.

What of the works themselves (sans titles)? They are, after all, simply pictures of things: windows, rocks, water, flame, ice, etc. Consider a single image (not a part of the exhibit, but a part of "Entropic Melodies"):
Objectively speaking, this "abstract" is nothing but a shot of a window (you can see the latch at bottom center), where a small pane of glass remains in the lower left corner, a torn piece of fabric adorns the upper right, and the "foreground" is really the corrugated sheet-metal pattern of a building about 30 feet away from where I am standing inside an old barn. What does this have to do with physics? Nothing, and everything (though one would be hard-pressed to explain why either response is appropriate without knowing a bit more about who I am, as a human being, and my body of work, both as a photographer and as a physicist.) I took this picture for a reason, but one which I can neither articulate to others (any better than simply showing them the picture), nor fully understand myself (on a conscious level). It is as though the picture is but one "word" of an unknown language, expressed in some foggy half-formed grammar (parts of which may be of my own choosing and/or creation, and parts of which are wholly alien to me). Paraphrasing an old cliche, it is as though the act of capturing an image pushes me one step closer to understanding why I bother capturing images at all. And how this process unfolds, from picture to picture, is as much a function of "who I am as an artist" as it is of the "parts of the world" I decide to focus my - and my camera's - attention on.

"Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world." - Albert Einstein

Of course, anyone could have taken this picture, were they standing on this spot, and if they had a more or less similar set of aesthetic predilections to mine (independent of how those predilections may have come to be: physicists may be drawn, as I, to the entropic "feel" of the window; artists to the simplicity of the uncluttered composition; and farmers to an unconventional view of a place they spend much of their time immersed in an otherwise very conventional way. The same is true, I would argue, of any other single image. Anyone can, and has, taken more or less the same picture of a tree, or a leaf, or a waterfall, or a dog, ...

But where things start getting interesting is when we focus our attention on a larger body of work, beyond just a few images of this and that. To be sure, individual images in any larger body of work will always still be just that, individual images (the tree, the leaf, the waterfall, and so on). But a body of work tells a deeper, richer story; indeed it tells multiple, and multiply interwoven, stories. A body of work simultaneously serves as diary (of places, events, and aesthetic predilections, among other things), as narrative (explaining how one set of "places, events,..." evolves into others), and - most importantly - as an evolving database of categories that provide an amorphous glimpse of a photographer's self-organized patterns of selection.

"A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face." - Jorge Luis Borges, Afterword to El hacedor, 1960

The more extensive the body of work, the deeper an artist immerses herself into the theme (or themes) that define it, and the more "sincere" (i.e., ego-less) the attention the artist gives to its creation, the more indistinguishable the artist's soul becomes from her work; and more meaningful become the aesthetic patterns and categories that otherwise, more typically, lie dormant, in latent form, waiting to be discovered by some discerning eye (not, necessarily, that of the artist!). In the purest sense - as Borges reminds us in one of my all-time favorite quotes from him above - we are what we devote our attention and lives to. For an artist, this can only be described - at least, by someone other than the artist herself (whose only way of "understanding herself" must come from doing and not reflecting on what she has done) - by the body of life's work produced by the artist. Every photographer, from Fox Talbot to an as-yet unknown "latter-day Ansel Adams" (that may born sometime, somewhere, tomorrow) has taken a picture of a "tree." But the pictures of trees that belong to Fox Talbot's body of work as a photographer are, and cannot be anything other than, uniquely his; as are the trees captured by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Galen Rowell, or scores of other famous and "unknown" photographers. We all weave an invisible, fantastically complicated trail of images in a vast multidimensional aesthetic landscape. While short trails can be expected to overlap with many other trails, both long and short, and are unable to define a unique presence - the longer the trail (i.e., the richer the body of work), and, more importantly, the more sincere the effort of the artist as she forges it - the less important becomes the distinction between the artist and the patterns and aesthetic categories of the body of work the artist has produced. In the end, they are one and the same.

"To create one's own world in any of the arts takes courage." - Georgia O'keefe

So, what patterns and categories of my work, as a physicist / photographer, are on display at the "World Within Worlds" exhibit at the American Center for Physics in College Park, MD? What qualities are inherent in these images that reflect my training as a physicist? What "excursions" do they represent on the trail I'm still in the process of forging in some multidimensional aesthetic space? All I can say for sure, is the images displayed at this exhibit represent what one particular physicist - who happens to also be a photographer - has focused his eye/I on during a short, two-year thick "slice" of time in his life; a very small slice indeed! There are 18 pictures in all, 3 each in 6 "arbitrary" categories. Hardly a sampling that qualifies as even the tiniest of tiny points in my "aesthetic landscape." Could others have created the same set of images? Other photographers, not trained in physics? To an extent, of course, though all would also probably be "different" in ways both meaningful and not. Truthfully, it is as much of a mystery to me what any of these images say or do not say about "how I understand the world" and/or "how I understand myself" as it must surely be to those viewing my work for the first time. But somewhere, embedded within the microscopic strands of an invisible aesthetic fabric, are clues to the self-organized patterns and categories that will, in time, inevitably define the soul that is still weaving them together.

"I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail leaving its trail of the human presence... as a snail leaves its slime." - Francis Bacon (1909 - 1992)

Postscript #1: There is an interesting new book called Photography in 100 Words. It is a sampling of 50 photographers' works, along with a short four word summary of their "style." The author carefully selects four words that - in his opinion - best describe a given artist's oeuvre, viewed as a gestalt. The words are selected from a "master list" of 100 words (that are provided at the end of the book). The book may therefore be viewed as a zeroth-order approximation (as physicists like to say;-) of self-organized meta-patterns in a multidimensional aesthetic space. It would be an interesting thought-experiment to apply this "four word" distillation to one's own body of work; and compare it to how others perceive what we've created. (I did a similar thing in one of my self-published books - Sudden Stillness - using 10 words, out of a total of 100, to describe each of the images in the book.)
Postscript #2: The "information field" at the top of this blog - where keywords provide links to associated blog entries, and the size of the font of a given keyword denotes the number of entries that are associated with it - is also a crude form of visualizing the emerging aesthetic space.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

"Where Are You Going?"

Zen teachers train their young pupils to express themselves. Two Zen temples each had a child protégé. One child, going to obtain vegetables each morning, would meet the other on the way.

"Where are you going?" asked the one.

"I am going wherever my feet go," the other responded.

This reply puzzled the first child who went to his teacher for help. "Tomorrow morning," the teacher told him, "when you meet that little fellow, ask him the same question. He will give you the same answer, and then you ask him: 'Suppose you have no feet, then where are you going?' That will fix him."

The children met again the following morning.

"Where are you going?" asked the first child.

"I am going wherever the wind blows," answered the other.

This again nonplussed the youngster, who took his defeat to the teacher.

"Ask him where he is going if there is no wind," suggested the teacher.

The next day the children met a third time.

"Where are you going?" asked the first child.

"I am going to the market to buy vegetables," the other replied.

(Zen Dialog, excerpted from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Wonder of Wandering Monks and the Lessons They Teach Aspiring Photographers

The recent passing of Zen master / photographer John D. Loori has, predictably, put me into a melancholy, contemplative state-of-mind. It also rekindled a life-long fascination with Zen Koans (go here for another list and accompanying mp3 files) that Loori so effectively used in his teachings on art and creativity. Apart from Loori's own books on Koans (see Sitting with Koans, Riding the Ox Home, and Two Arrows Meeting in Mid-Air), a favorite of mine is the classic Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps.

And one of my favorite stories from Reps' book is called Trading Dialog for Lodging (found on pages 46-47 of the book I've linked to above). Now, not being a Zen master myself, I humbly offer an "interpretation" of this little gem and remind the kind reader that it is just that, no more, no less; namely Andy Ilachinski's interpretation of a story found in a book of Zen and pre-Zen writings by an author named Paul reps, as revealed to Andy's consciousness on a beautiful autumn Sunday morning in October 2009. But therein lies both the rub and the truth; or, more precisely, the lesson. For "truth" is - at best - just a fleeting ephemeral approximation of ... ?

The story begins by reminding the reader of a Buddhist tradition in which a traveling monk can remain in a Zen temple provided he makes and wins an argument about Buddhism with anyone who lives there. We are then told of a temple in the northern part of Japan were there are two brother monks: one, the elder; the other, stupid and possessing but one eye. A traveling monk finds his way to this temple and - rightfully - challenges the monks to a debate. The elder brother, too tired from a long day of studying to engage in the challenge, asks his younger brother to "go and request the dialogue in silence" in his stead. The young one-eyed monk and the wandering stranger go to the shrine and sit down.

A short time later, the traveling monk goes to the elder brother to inform him that his brother has defeated him. Before leaving, the elder asks the monk to relate what had happened. The monk recounts the challenge: "At first, I held up one finger, denoting Buddha, the enlightened one. So your brother held up two fingers, signifying Buddha and his teachings. I held up three fingers, representing Buddha, his teachings, and his followers, living a harmonious life. Your brother then shook a clenched fist at me, showing me that all three come from the same - single - realization. To this insight I had no answer. I thus lost the challenge."

As the traveling monk made his way back down the road away from the temple, the elder monk's brother appeared, breathless, before his brother. "Where is that monk?" he started, "I'm going to beat him up!" Asked to explain his anger, the younger brother recounts what happened: "Why, the minute he saw me he insulted me by holding up one finger to laugh at my one eye. Since he was a stranger, and in need of a place to stay, I decided to be kind and held up two fingers, congratulating him on having two eyes. Infuriatingly, he then held up three fingers, stubbornly reminding me that - between the two of us - we still had only three eyes. I couldn't contain my anger any longer, and showed him my fist!"

One reality, or two? Or three? Or an uncountable number of "potential" realities, and interpretations? What I love about this simple story is how artfully it blends meaning, distortion, subjectivity, context, tradition, interpretation, and - with a subtle nod to an "unspoken" arbiter / truth-seer (not the elder brother, but an implied "outside observer" who is reflecting upon even the reader's interpretation of this story) - the recursive, self-referential nature of "true" objectivity; and, ultimately, the nature of "reality" itself. As space-time (so far as we know) is finite yet unbounded, so - too - this story suggests, reality is finite but unlimited in its interpretations.

This story also suggests that, despite there obviously being a reality - there are two monks engaged in a Buddhist challenge! - no one in the story experiences it fully. Certainly not the two monks, with their dramatically different recollections of what happened; and not even the elder brother, who ostensibly hears "both sides" of the "reality," but is not himself present when the "reality" occurs, and who does not reveal any of his own predilections and subjective interpretations of what he hears from two different people (one of whom is very close to him, the other a complete stranger); just what does he make of these two stories? And what does the elder believe really happened? We might, just as well, wonder about a "more complete" reality, that encompasses not just the two arguing monks but the two monks + elder. What is to be made of the single "interpretation" we have of this system (which is not, I remind you, that of the elder - who merely listens in the story - but the interpretation of the whole story that you, kind reader, have yourself to offer!)? The telescoping levels are, of course, endless and whose "end" remains perpetually out of reach; the next one starts at "two monks + elder + Andy's interpretation of the story". What of my role in this, as I've recounted a story favorite of mine from memory; and did so fairly and honestly, but certainly not verbatim, word-by-word. What intentional and/or unintentional subjectivities did I introduce into the story that altered its "true" meaning? And so it goes.

What does all of this have to do with photography (you may be forgiven for wondering)? Everything (or nothing, depending on what "part" of the story one is paying attention to;-) The experience of the wandering monk reminds us that just as all of us ("privileged observers") sit at the center of a unique - and therefore uniquely limited - reality, the "true nature" of reality remains hidden, unknown in whole, and eludes even the mindful gaze of the wisest of wise "outside observers" (for, in truth ;-), there is no such being). Our understanding of reality is fluid, imprecise, and - forever - incomplete; and owes more - much, much more - to subjective context-dependent interpretation than most of us (particularly us physicists!) feel comfortable in accepting. A "photograph" may reveal two monks arguing, and show that one monk holds up one finger or two at the other, and/or that one monk is clenching a fist. But that is all a photograph can ever show. And, once it is created - and the "reality" to which it points has ceased to be - the "truth" of a photograph is forever limited to a sort of vestigial (and ever-changing) collective memory of possible interpretations that live on in the minds of those who "look at the photograph" and the photographer who "experienced" it while it was being taken.

And the lesson for the photographer? It is simply this: forget about trying to capture "truth" with your camera. Focus instead on communicating to the rest of the world what you experienced ruthas truth (while immersed in the "reality" your camera recorded but an infinitesimally small slice of).
"When the photograph is a mirror of the man, and the man is a mirror of the world, then Spirit might take over." - Minor White

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Another "Light of an Enlightened Eye" Extinguished :-(

Although I have never met Loori, a few years ago I stumbled across an extraordinary book of his called The Zen of Creativity, and have been admiring - and following - his work ever since. This book (which I've had to purchase a second copy of because my first copy is riddled with creased page corners bookmarking its veritable storehouse of distilled wisdom) turned out to be but one of many, many spiritually rich books he has authored - on Zen, photography, and the creative life in general - and illustrated with his own deeply soulful images. It should come as no surprise that Loori's spiritual / photographic journey started sometime in the early 70s when he attended a workshop conducted by Minor White, who was himself - arguably - the finest "spiritual leader" of photography of his era. Loori not only continued on with his own masterful photography, but eventually became one of the West's leading Zen masters. He was also the founder and spiritual leader of the Mountains and Rivers Order and abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in New York's Catskill mountains.

Another book of Loori's that I own and treasure, and which perfectly illustrates his basic philosophy of nonseperability between art and spiritual practice, is Hearing with the Eye. This book - ostensibly a collection of images that Loori captured around Point Lobos, California (fused with a quiet but illuminating prose) - is a gentle, graceful meditation on the illusory boundaries between inner and outer realities. Much the same, and more, can be found in another, and even more recent, of Loori's books, called Making Love with Light.

A detailed account of his life and philosophy (including links to YouTube videos and a portfolio of his photography) can be found on the Mountains and Rivers Order site by following this link.

There are a total 24 books in all listed on Amazon's Loori page. The aspiring Zen student wondering about what creativity has to say about life, and/or the aspiring (or seasoned) photographer wondering about what Zen practice has to say about taking pictures - and even the stray physicist or two who may secretly wonder about whether there is more to the universe than what equations alone reveal - can have no better companion to start exploring these "wonderings" with than Loori, via his writings and photographs.

Though I may never have been graced by Loori's physical presence as a "teacher," I - and therefore my own work and vision - have nonetheless been deeply touched by the lessons and wisdom of this graceful soul. And, although there obviously remain plenty of souls left on this planet who can communicate to the rest of us beautiful and delicate eternal truths with their cameras (and "gifted seers" are - luckily for the world - born every day), this one preternaturally enlightened "eye" is - mournfully - no more (but only so far as corporeal existence goes).
"To know objects only through dissecting and cataloguing them is to miss their full reality. It is to fall asleep amidst the mystery and to become numb to the wonder of this great Earth." - John Daido Loori

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Upcoming "Worlds Within Worlds" Exhibit

I am delighted to announce that I will be part of a three-artist exhibit entitled "Worlds Within Worlds," to be held Oct 21, 2009 - April 16, 2010 at the American Center for Physics (One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD, 20740). The reception for the exhibit - curated by Sarah Tanguy - will be held November 16, 2009 (which falls on a Monday) between 5:30 - 7:30, with a gallery talk and presentation scheduled for 6:00pm.

If any interested readers of this blog are in the northern-DC/Maryland area around that time, and would like to see works by a wonderful sculptor (Julian Voss-Andreae), a gifted traditional artist (Cynthia Padgett), and a physicist/photographer (yours truly... I'll have 18 of my images on display, grouped into 6 categories; see below), please swing by! I plan on being at the reception on Nov 16.

A two-page fold-out brochure for the event can be downloaded here (in Adobe pdf format). It contains one of my favorite quotes by Einstein:

"Where the world ceases to be the stage for personal hopes and desires, where we, as free beings, behold it in wonder, to question and to contemplate, there we enter the realm of art and science. If we trace out what we behold and experience through the language of logic, we are doing science; if we show it in forms whose interrelationships are not accessible to our conscious thought but are intuitively recognized as meaningful, we are doing art. Common to both is the devotion to something beyond the personal, removed from the arbitrary." — Albert Einstein
As the venue is clearly related to science - physics in particular - it should come as no surprise that all three artists were selected with an eye toward either the artist or his/her work having some connection to physics.

Julian Voss-Andreae, for example, is both a physicist and artist/sculptor by training. His magnificent geometric sculptures are best described as physically manifest visual forms of quantum realities. Starting from original designs of mathematical surfaces (or dynamic processes) on a computer, Julian uses his art to guide and shape these forms into a finished sculpture. Sometimes a work is created by using a particular physics-inspired process; sometimes it is created to reflect a specific physics-related property or principle. But however he creates his individual works, they are all undeniably mesmerizing and leave the viewer with a deeper appreciation of the connection between science and art. Julian's website includes a link to an informative ~8 minute YouTube video that describes his creative process (first shown on Oregon Public Broadcasting TV in December 2008).

Cynthia Padgett, while not a scientist by training, will be displaying works inspired by the exposure she has to astronomy and astronomic images through her son's study of physics. Working with a variety of media (oil, pastel, charcoal, etc), and using real astronomical photographs as conceptual spring-boards, Cynthia magically transforms empty canvases into cosmic breeding grounds for stars, entire galaxies, and the infinite mysteries of time and space. She will also be exhibiting works from her floral series, whose more "earth-centered" origin belies the drama of their own abstract cosmic rhythms.

As for me, though the subject of my photography is not confined to "metaphors of physics" (or some such thing) and actually spans quite a wide spectrum of ostensibly non-physics subject matter (from landscapes, to still lifes, to abstracts, to macros, ...), I cannot escape the fact that since I am a physicist by training - and still use my physics to solve problems in my "day job" (here is a link to one of my technical books) - I cannot help but see the world as a physicist (whatever that means;-). And that is, I suppose, the main reason I have been included in the show with these two accomplished artists. (Sarah Tanguy, the curator of the show, "confessed" that the way she found my work was by going to the Washington Project for the Arts site, of which I am a member/artist, and conducting a search for "photographer AND physicist"... hey, sometimes it pays to self-advertise!)

A while ago I posted a blog entry that was derived, in part, from a lecture I gave at the Smithsonian about complexity and photography. I crafted some of the images I used during the presentation (and reproduced in this blog entry) with a deliberate eye towards illustrating how one's inner world (one's feelings, thoughts, predispositions, academic training, worldview, ...) guides and shapes what one's I/eye/camera eventually reveals to the external world. As the "Worlds Within Worlds" exhibit opens, I'm making a mental note to myself to expand a bit on these ideas in future blog entries. The fundamental question being: "To what extent does the aesthetic dimension of my photography (what I choose to photograph, what my eye sees, what I work to reveal in a print, ...) owe itself - and in what way - to the fact that I am trained as a theoretical physicist?" How is what I do, as a photographer, different from what other photographers, not trained in physics, do? If there is a difference, is there an objective way of assessing what that difference is?

As for the "Worlds Within Worlds" exhibit...I will have a total of 18 images exhibited, grouped into six categories: (1) micro worlds, (2) mystic flames, (3) abstract triptychs, (4) entropic melodies, (5) rhythmic patterns, and (6) ripples & ice.

Having looked at - and marveled - at Julian's and Cynthia's works on-line (I do not know, and have not yet met either of these two gifted artists; though I am very much looking forward to meeting them at the opening in November), I am truly honored to be asked to display my humble works alongside theirs.

And I hope to see some of the readers of my blog at the reception!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Homage to Friedrich

As I've alluded to several times over my last few posts (since returning from a trip to Scotland my wife and I took in August), Scotland is a place that inspires meditation; of both outer and inner realities. Particularly if one is traveling, as we did, to Orkney and Skye - where it is not unusual to spend a few hours driving from vista to vista with hardly another car passing, and only the grazing sheep and cows for roadside companions - one has a chance to reflect on this magnificent land of light, wind, and magic, and one's own ephemeral existence in the universe that surrounds it, in an immersively hypnotic silence. (I've posted a gallery of shots from Scotland here.)

In-between shots, or while adjusting my tripod, or searching my camera bag for a filter, I periodically found my wife gazing out toward the infinite horizon, motionless, lost in a figurative and literal sea of tranquility, her soul communing with place and timelessness; offering herself, as it were, to eternity, or just being. On occasion, when not transfixed myself by what caused my wife's reverie, I managed to train my lens in her direction. I call the series of shots that resulted, a few of which are displayed here, my "Homage to Friedrich" (after Caspar David Friedrich, the 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter known, among other things, for silhouetting contemplative dark figures against mysterious landscapes).

The image at the top of this blog entry was taken near Teangue, Skye, on the next to last day of our stay in Scotland (before we headed off to Edinburgh to catch our flight back to the states). The sun was setting, but we had a bit of time for some last minute exploration. I was busy taking close-up shots of rocks and water, with my back toward the water where my wife was standing (in my crouched position, glaring starry-eyed at the compositional marvels on the exposed beach, I was - ironically - "oblivious" to what I was really searching for ;-) I finally stood up to give my knees a rest, and while stretching my back swung around to look for my wife. What I saw I was magic and thus not something that can easily be translated either into words or images, but I did manage to catch a fleeting glimpse of the ineffable with my camera. What it recorded is reproduced in the photograph above, and is among my top three favorite images from our entire trip.

Four other shots from the "Homage to Friedrich" series: (1) Gazing westward from atop a walking path near South Duntulm, Skye:

(2) Looking northward from a beach near Nairn:

(3) Looking west from Castle Stuart in Scotland's Highlands:

(4) Contemplating Orkney's mysteries towards the west from a mound directly adjacent to the Ring o'Brodgar:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Ring o' Brodgar, Stenness

The Ring o' Brodgar is one of the four Neolithic monuments that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney (a name adopted by UNESCO when it declared these sites as a World Heritage Site in 1999). The other three sites of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney are (1) Maeshowe (a chambered cairn, whose central chamber is aligned so that it is precisely illuminated during the winter solstice; it also contains one of the most extensive collections of Viking runic inscriptions in the world); (2) Skara Brae (a Neolithic settlement dating back to about 3100-2500 BC, and located on the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of Orkney, Scotland); and (3) Standing Stones of Stenness (which are four megaliths not too far from the Ring o'Brodgar, the largest of which is about 19 ft tall).

The Ring o'Brodgar is 340 ft in diameter, and originally contained 60 stones, of which 27 still stand today. The stones - which range in height from about 7 feet to a maximum of a little over 15ft - are set within a circular ditch up to 10 deep, 30 ft wide and 1,200 ft in circumference that was carved out of the solid sandstone bedrock.

It is unknown when the site was built, by whom, or for what purpose (though there are many speculations of course: see, for example, this book by Christopher Knight and Alan Butler, that connects sidereal days, pendulums, the "Minoan foot" - an ancient unit of measure used for the construction of palaces in Crete c.2000 BC - and the planet Venus). Current best estimates place its origin at between 2500 BC and 2000 BC.

More details about the Ring o'Brodgar, and the other monuments making up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, can be found in this report, published by Historic Scotland.

Personal Note. My wife and I visited the Ring o'Brodgar several times during our stay in Orkney. We were both drawn to its mystery, and enchanted by its timeless aura. As I wandered around with my camera, looking for angles and compositions, dodging the inevitable tourists (such as ourselves) to get clear shots of the stones alone, I felt myself drift in and out of the time of the "here and now" into a more ancient, and ineffable, time; a time that lurks somewhere in the shadows, and is a part of the very fabric of the megaliths themselves.

Mindful observers are seduced with glimpses of a parallel world that coexists with ours, but whose essence transcends the "normal" dimensions perceivable via our physical senses alone.

The Ring o'Brodgar is - for me - a physical symbol of timelessness and transcendence. It is a place for serious contemplation and meditation. A boundary between all that has been forgotten and the just as mysterious unknown future history that is yet to be written.

Through it all - immersed in time (and succumbing to time's inexorable gift of entropy), yet strangely unaffected by it (since its secrets are too old for even time to recall their true origins) - the Ring o'Brodgar's eerie silence beckons with its magical siren call.

I've posted a gallery of shots from our Scotland trip here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Full Preview of "Elements of Order" Book

About two years ago, in Dec 2007, I was privileged to have a solo exhibit of 24 of my photos at a book store/gallery in Coral Gables, Fl (you can look up a blog entry I wrote up about it at the time here). Not too long afterwards, I self-published a book woven around the theme of the exhibit - "Natural Order" vs. "Human Generated Order" - called Elements of Order. The book includes all the photos that were exhibited, along with about twice as many additional images that fit into the same theme.

While the book itself is not new (indeed, I've published about a dozen since; they are all listed on one of the sidebars on my blog), Blurb has just introduced a new policy whereby authors now have the option of allowing previews of the entire contents of their books.

So, as an experiment, I have made the entire contents of my Elements of Order book fully accessible on-line. When you go to the link provided, just click anywhere on the image of the book's cover that appears in the top left of the page (where it says "preview book") and you will be allowed to "read" the book at leisure on your screen.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Chiocchetti's and Palumbo's Gift of the Soul to Orkney

Orkney (Scotland) and war, of one kind or another, have a long intertwined history. Scapa flow, for example, which is the name of the sea that surrounds the Orkney Islands, is one of the great natural anchorages of the world, serving as a harbor for Viking ships more than 1000 years ago. More recently, it was the site of the United Kingdom's chief naval base during both WWI and WWII (the base closed in 1956).

It was in WWII, in early 1942, that over 500 Italian prisoners of war (captured in North Africa), were brought over to Orkney to help construct the Churchill Barriers (a fortication ordered built by Churchill, following a German U-boat sinking of the HMS Royal Oak in 1939, an attack that took the lives of 833 members of the Royal Oak's crew). However, since a treaty prevented prisoners of war from working on military-related projects, the Churchill Barriers became roads linking the southern islands of Orkney together (a function they still serve today). But the barriers were not the only project these Italian prisoners of war had worked on.

A small hillside on the north side of the island of Lamb Holm overlooks the most northerly of the Churchill Barriers. On it is a small and (from the outside) modest appearing chapel that is now know as the Italian Chapel. A glimpse of the soulful beauty of the chapel's inside is given by the image at the top of this blog entry (the other "side" of the chapel, the part that visitors walk through as they enter, is simply an austere vestibule; if anything, its simple unadorned appearance intensifies the grand vision that immediately grabs hold of all visitors' attention).

During the years 1942-1945, the hill was where the Italian prisoners of war lived (at Camp 60). By all accounts, however, Camp 60 was infused with an unexpected aesthetic. The prisoners built footpaths (using concrete that was readily available for the barriers), gardens, and vegetable plots. They also set to work on a place of worship, culminating - under the leadership of prisoners Chiocchetti and Palumbo (who designed the wrought iron rood screen) - in the Italian chapel. The chapel is a mini artistic-masterpiece, and stands as a living testament to the indomitable will of the human heart and soul.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Skies of Skye and Orkney

As difficult a task as it is to point to a single distinguishing feature of Scotland that stands out in my photographic eye - for so much of Scotland simply transcends an aesthetic breakdown of any kind; Scotland's beauty must be experienced and cannot be verbalized (nor, perhaps, even be photographed in a way that captures its deepest secrets) - I will start my musings on the recent trip my wife and I took to Scotland by recalling the magnificent skies of Skye and Orkney.

"The great plain of Caithness opens before our eyes. This is the northland, the land of exquisite light. Lochs and earth and sea pass away to a remote horizon where a suave line of pastel foothills cannot be anything but cloud. Here the actual picture is like a picture in a supernatural mind and comes upon the human eye with the surprise that delights and transcends memory. Gradually the stillness of the far prospect grows unearthly. Light is silence. And nothing listens where all is of eternity." - Neil Gunn, Highland River (1937)

My previous benchmark for varied dramatic skies was Hawaii, where the weather changes on a dime and the interested observer / photographer can find dozens of different "skies" in any given hour on any part of the islands. But Scotland's skies leave their Hawaiian cousins far in their wake. I have never before seen such dynamic, textured, layered, epic-scale Wagnerian colossī as the "seas of clouds" on Skye and Orkney.

The drama was often so great, and the magic light so fast moving and changing, that all I could do to keep up was to simply click away, mechanically, unable to take in all of the spectacle unfolding before me, behind me, all around me. Once, on our first day on Orkey, even before we arrived at our hotel in Kirkwell after arriving by ferry at Stromness, a spectacular sunset begged us to pull over to the side of the road, and as I was setting up my tripod to catch a sunset, a fantastic - phantasmagorical! - rainbow appeared to the east; as my attention was diverted, my wife screamed that another rainbow was forming to the south! There we both stood, slack-jawed, swaying gently in the Orkney wind, in awe of nature's beauty at its finest. I had even momentarily "forgotten" to do anything with my camera; as my conscious and unconscious minds fused into one and my attention was focused solely on the experience. Such deep ego-disappearing total immersion in the moment, as we soon learned, is the norm for being in Scotland. (It is thus easy to understand the origin of some folk tales, such as the one about Herla - the "wise King of the Britons in ancient times" - who once visited an underworld realm, where he was lavishly entertained with song and dance. But upon returning to his own world, King Herla discovered that centuries had passed!)

"From the high summit watch the dawn come up behind the Orkneys, see the mountain ranges of Sutherland the grey planetary light that reveals the earth as a ball turning slowly in the immense chasm of space, turn again to the plain of Caithness that land of exquisite light and be held by myriad lochs and dubh lochs glimmering blood red." - Neil Gunn, Highland River (1937)

As dramatic as the skies of Orkey are, Skye brings an added dimension (or two or three) to the landscape, literally. For as relatively flat as Orkey is (though it has its fair share of rolling hills and cliffs!) and is devoid of vegetation, the many rolling mountains and jagged peaks of Skye make it a veritable mini-Himalaya, along with its enormous array of beautiful lowland flowers.

I soon noticed a distinct change in my compositions. Where, in Orkney, my eye tended to mostly ignore foreground detail (for, in truth, there was little to be had except an occasional but uninteresting rock or twig) and focus on clouds and sky with a bit of a horizon, in Skye, my camera was taking in the full view from my feet to as far away as my lens could take me! Moreover, because of the lovely colors, I also found myself - very uncharacteristically - thinking and previsualizing in color! I thought back to last year's trip to Santorini, Greece, where I had a related (but very different) experience with "color versus B&W" visualization. In Santorini's case, however, my thoughts on the matter crystalized after I had returned home and was viewing my images in Lightroom. This time, in Skye, the utterly un-ignorable effervescent colors compelled me to adapt my photography from B&W to color on the spot! While this may not sound like a "big deal" to most readers, I can assure you that for one, such as myself, who is almost exclusively a B&W photographer and therefore tends strongly to view the world in B&W, the shift was very dramatic (and, in hindsight, very enjoyable). Perhaps I can use this experience as a stepping stone / learning experience to widen my photographic horizons a bit.

"My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go."
- Robert Burns, My Heart's in the Highlands