Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Order and Chaos

"Einstein's space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh's sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist's discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrandt nude differs from a nude by Manet."

Arthur Koestler (1905 - 1983)

"Although I am even now still a layman in the area of mathematics, and although I lack theoretical knowledge, the mathematicians, and in particular the crystallographers, have had considerable influence on my work of the last twenty years. The laws of the phenomena around us order, regularity, cyclical repetition, and renewals have assumed greater and greater importance for me. The awareness of their presence gives me peace and provides me with support. I try in my prints to testify that we live in a beautiful and orderly world, and not in a formless chaos, as it sometimes seems."

M. C. Escher (1898 - 1972)

"Cosmos is a Greek word for the order of the universe. It is, in a way, the opposite of Chaos. It implies the deep interconnectedness of all things. It conveys awe for the intricate and subtle way in which the universe is put together."

Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996) 

Monday, August 29, 2022

Known and the Unknown

"Reality for me is the known, it is of sense-brain-mind. Existence is the unknown, for no one has created any existence. I experience reality. I believe in existence. Its signals of light and sound as well as all its other signals assail my senses. I don’t know what light or any of the other signals are except that they are manifestations of existence. If I photograph in such a way that I meaningfully evoke a sense of the known and the unknown, I feel I have succeeded."

Wynn Bullock (1902 - 1975)

Postscript. This diptych contains far too many "meanings" and associations than I can possibly make explicit using mere words. And yet, apart from images and words (as accompanied by omnipresent sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings & intuitions), what is our "world" if not an ever-churning ineffable broth of shared-but-solitary experiences that we wish to communicate some vestiges of to others? This past week, my wife and I had the honor and privilege of settling our youngest child (Josh) into college. It was simultaneously a most joyous and beguilingly melancholy affair, as all parents with college-age offspring know all-too-well. The images in the diptych above were taken a day after we waved to Josh one last time during our "settling-him-in visit" as he headed off to his dorm, at a beach not too far from his college. I was drawn to the fleeting patterns of sand and weeds as they self-organized by the gentle lapping of the waves, only to disassemble and re-organize into myriad other related shapes and geometries as each new wave rolled in. What are we if not conscious bits of "sand and weeds" trying to retain (and understand?) our own transient patterns in the vast - and vastly unknown - phantasmagoric "reality" we call life? What future manifestations of the "pattern" we now call "Josh" will the "waves" of life sculpt in future times? And so, here are some loose associations that this diptych will for me henceforth always be accompanied by whenever my eyes gaze upon it: rhythms (of waves, of winds, and life's energies); ephemerality; yin/yang; known & unknown; memories, longing, and anticipations; the simultaneity of past, present, and future; and - simply and irreducibly - a bird leaves its nest as Josh goes away to college.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Universe as Self-Excited Circuit

“Through our eyes,
the universe is perceiving itself.
Through our ears, the universe
is listening to its harmonies.
We are the witnesses through
which the universe becomes
conscious of its glory,
of its magnificence.”

Alan Watts (1915 - 1973)

"Each query of equipment plus reply of chance inescapably do build a new bit of what we call “reality”. Then for the building of all of law, “reality” and substance… what choice do we have but to say that in some way, yet to be discovered, they all must be built upon the statistics of billions upon billions of such acts of observer-participancy."

"Beginning with the big bang, the universe expands and cools. After eons of dynamic development it gives rise to observership. Acts of observer-participancy... in turn give tangible 'reality' to the universe not only now but back to the beginning. To speak of the universe as a self-excited circuit is to imply... a participatory universe."

John Archibald Wheeler (1911 - 2008)

“You are not a drop in the ocean.
You are the entire ocean in a drop."

Rumi (1207 - 1273) 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Different Perspectives

"Question: You mean it's a matter of different perspectives?
Each person has a different reason for being here;
if a person looked at it from the outside, he'd see
us all sitting here and maybe wouldn't know why.
And then...?

Trungpa Rinpoche: I mean we are trying to unify ourselves through confusion.

Question: The more confusion, the more unity?

Trungpa Rinpoche: That’s what tantric people say.

Question: You mean the more confusion there is,
the more difficult it is to stamp a system on reality?

Trungpa Rinpoche: You see, chaos has an order by virtue
of which it isn’t really chaos. But when there’s no chaos,
no confusion, there is luxury, comfort.
Comfort and luxury lead you more into
samsara, creating more luxurious situations
adds further to your collection of chaos.
All these luxurious conclusions come back on
you and you begin to question them,
which leads you to the further understanding
that, after all, this discomfort has order in it."

- The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, Volume 4

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Light Prancing

"The artist’s world is limitless.
It can be found anywhere far from
where he lives or a few feet away.
It is always on his doorstep."

- Paul Strand (1890 - 1976)

Postscript. These images were all captured within minutes of each other in a garage near a local farmer's market this past weekend, as I was waiting for my wife to gather our grocery bags to go shopping. I have written before about how mesmerizing the "abstract cacophony" of shimmering reflections off car's hoods and hubcaps are to a photographer's eye 😊 What is hard to express in words (though I'm obviously trying, obliquely), is how joyful these few minutes' worth of prancing back and forth in-between park cars inevitably are to my soul (I look forward to my "light prancing" almost as much as the delicious recipes my wife cooks up with what we gather at the market!) My only regret (as usual) is that all I had with me was an iPhone.

"Light makes photography.
Embrace light.
Admire it.
Love it.
But above all, know light.
Know it for all you are worth,
and you will know
the key to photography."

George Eastman (1854 - 1932)

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Communicating the Joys of Doing Photography - Part 2

“Nothing is ever the same twice because
everything is always gone forever,
and yet each moment has
infinite photographic possibilities.”
Michael Kenna (1954 - )

A few months ago, I wrote about five of my favorite "Youtuber" photographers whose channels I go back to again and again, and whose notifications of a new video always put a smile on my face as they pop up on my iPhone: Henry TurnerThomas HeatonNigel DansonSimon Booth, and Gary Gough. In that earlier post, I alluded to other photographers that have caught my eye - and who certainly deserve equal attention - but about whom I had not yet (at the time) written because I had only just recently "discovered" their channels and was still in the process of learning more about them, their styles, approaches, and photography portfolios. Well, having now done precisely that, I unveil an additional trio of preternaturally talented "photography storytellers" (as I referred to those in part 1): Simon Baxter, Adam Gibbs, and Steve O'nions.

All three share the same exemplary core characteristics I ascribed to the photographers highlighted in part 1: (1) they are all magnificent photographers, in the purest sense of the word; i.e., if they did nothing but stare into a camera each week and pull up whatever new images they produced since their last video, their video posts would still be a privilege to view; (2) although their channels are mostly landscape oriented, their artistic sensibilities and repertoires run considerably deeper; and (3) they all have a gift for story telling and for expressing their obvious love of being out in nature and capturing its beauty. Apart from these similarities, of course, each of them also offers a unique - and uniquely insightful - perspective on doing photography:

Simon Baxter lives and works as a professional photographer in North Yorkshire in England, is the winner of the Light on the Land category in Outdoor Photographer of the Year, and was a featured photographer On Landscape Magazine. His particular specialty is woodland photography - indeed, he is arguably the first "woodland photographer" on YouTube! - but to call Simon's gift a "specialty" hardly does justice to the extraordinary art Simon's eye and soul create. I challenge you to look at Simon's portfolio without: (1) having your proverbial jaw drop at some of the finest woodland photographs you'll ever see (yes, they are that good!); and (2) having your proverbial jaw drop a second time after you realize that Simon's images have literally changed how you will now look at "trees" - and at nature, in general, with your camera  - ever again (yes, his images are that good!). Beyond - or better, behind - Simon's superlative photography is his gentle manner and presence, the quiet but articulate cadence of his speech, and the soulful timeless wisdom that he imparts to lucky viewers of his channel. Simon is of a rare breed of photographer who is equally adept at transforming the "ordinary" into something transcendently magical with his eye/camera, as he is at helping aspiring and seasoned photographers alike forge their own path towards "seeing" and "expressing" their own vision.

“To me, photography is an art of observation.
It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…
I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see
and everything to do with the way you see them.”
Elliott Erwitt (1928 - ) 

Adam Gibbs, a landscape photographer I "discovered" after seeing him featured on one of Simon Baxter's videos, lives and devotes many - though by no means all - of his videos to photo safaris on Vancouver Island, Canada; his YouTube channel contains playlists that include Antarctica, the Canadian Rockies, China, and Scotland (among many other places). Apart from this geographic versatility, what sets Adam apart is his ability to draw the viewer into his "aesthetic thought space." While other photographer/Youtubers have a gift for narrative (starting with any of the other artists on my two "best of" lists), and are able to bring the viewer along on an adventure using both words and images, Adam also unassumingly - and oh, so gracefully - injects the viewer into his inner machinations, sharing his thought processes on how he "sees" a place, how he makes his compositional choices, and/or what post-processing tools he uses (or intends to use) to bring out the full aesthetic potential of a given scene. He is never rushed and is ever-so-deliberate - Zen-like, one might say - in his pacing and approach to setting up a shot. I also much appreciate the "before and after" fashion in which he unveils his images: the viewer is first shown what the unprocessed raw file looks like after the image is captured, followed with a reveal of the cropped-and-edited final image. This simple narrative schema lays bare (but makes no less mysterious) the artistic transmogrification of initial impressions and intent into a completed image. Gibbs is a master craftsman/artist teacher.

“In large measure, becoming an artist
consists of learning to accept yourself,
which makes your work personal,
and in following your own voice,
which makes your work distinctive.”
David Bayles (1952 - ) and Ted Orland (1941 - )
Art & Fear

Steve O'nions is an amateur (mostly, film) photographer who lives in Wales, where by using the term "amateur" I wish only to convey that Steve does not make his living from photography (though, given the growing number of subscribers to his channel, that may soon change!), and not that his skill set is any less than expected of a "professional" of the highest level; indeed, if judged on his skill set alone, Steve is in a class by himself. I have been voraciously soaking up his YouTube posts ever since I stumbled upon one of his earliest videos about - what else (for photographers)? - Waiting for the Light during an autumn photo safari back in 2016. I was immediately struck (right from the start) by two patterns that have held true for the 50 or so videos that I've enjoyed since: (1) Steve's sparse, knowledgeable, to-the-point narratives and, on occasion, pedagogic demonstrations of technique, are simply a delight to experience (though, like all great masters, he makes things seem easy; to get to Steve's level one needs patience, practice, and a lot of time!), and (2) where most fine-art photographers profess a disdain for focusing on gear rather than the art the gear is designed to help create, Steve takes it to the next level: the gear is both most and least relevant to the contextualized vision he brings to a given shoot. Steve uses (and is equally adept at using) myriad kinds of cameras that range from old 35mm film cameras, to 4-by-5 and 8-by-10 large format, to micro-four-thirds digital cameras (among many others). But he doesn't stop there: is it black and white film or is it color, and what kind of film is it? Is it Hasselblad or Bronica? Yet, throughout all of his saunter-adventures and camera and film comparisons, Steve's focus is always on the image. Other photographers talk about how one must never lose sight of the forest for the trees (literally and figuratively); Steve shows you how this is done. In the best possible sense, Steve is a wonderful throw-back to artists of yesteryear. Give him a camera and some film - just about any camera and any film - and Steve will show you what fine-art photography is all about. (And all this is without even mentioning his unparalleled compositional skills and his wonderfully dry sense of sardonic, often self-deprecating, humor!)

As I said in my closing paragraph the first time around, you do not have to take my word that these three "photographer storytellers" are among the very best at communicating the joys of photography on their YouTube channels; just follow the links and enjoy the journey! The only down-side of watching so many videos of these accomplished photographer/story-tellers/teachers is that it leaves even less time to go out and do photography 😊

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Poetic Truth

"To get from the tangible to the intangible (which mature artists in any medium claim as part of their task) a paradox of some kind has frequently been helpful. For the photographer to free himself of the tyranny of the visual facts upon which he is utterly dependent, a paradox is the only possible tool. And the talisman paradox for unique photography is to work "the mirror with a memory" as if it were a mirage, and the camera is a metamorphosing machine, and the photograph as if it were a metaphor…. Once freed of the tyranny of surfaces and textures, substance and form [the photographer] can use the same to pursue poetic truth."

Minor White (1908 - 1976)

Postscript. In full disclosure, and unlike the "fabricated" (and eventually retracted Tweet by) physicist Étienne Klein - who playfully claimed that a photograph he took of a slice of chorizo taken against a black background was that of Proxima Centauri, about 4.2 light years away, as captured by the James Webb Space Telescope - the image above is emphatically not a photograph of some spectacular celestial object! It is, in fact, just a Minor-White-like "poetic truth" rendering of ice-on-asphalt, bathed-in-red-light, as "seen" at some point a few months ago during a winter walk during sunset 😊

Friday, August 12, 2022

Structure of Life

"The soul hungers for expression and ceaselessly strives for an understanding of all that comprises the cosmos. The more of beauty in the mind, the more of peace in the spirit. Time is a definite and moving quantity – conserve it! The structure of life we build for ourselves determines the color of our soul. Think more of yourself, realize your duty to yourself, and your duty to those who shall come after you, who shall shape their lives on your influence. Develop the sense of inner beauty and majesty of Nature."

- Ansel Adams (1902 - 1984)
Letters & Images

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Graceful Curves

"The study of the pictures of the old masters will show how much they thought of the linear composition, and I hope by some examples of modern photography to show that the value has been appreciated by the producer of them. For the benefit of the tyro I will quote some authorities which go back several centuries. To quote from Hogarth: 'Curved lines are the most beautiful. Nature displays herself in curves; even the straight pine trunk only acts as a foil to the graceful curves of the branches. Therefore, curves should predominate in a picture and where a straight line is introduced it should only be used as a foil to accent the beauty of the curve.'"

- G. Hanmer Croughton (1843 - 1920)
Abel's Photographic Weekly, Volume 20

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Another World

"We tend to think of landscapes as affecting us most strongly when we are in them or on them, when they offer us the primary sensations of touch and sight. But there are also the landscapes we bear with us in absentia, those places that live on in memory long after they have withdrawn in actuality, and such places -- retreated to most often when we are most remote from them -- are among the most important landscapes we possess.
We lack - we need - a term for those places where one experiences a 'transition' from a known landscape... into 'another world': somewhere we feel and think significantly differently. They exist even in familiar landscapes: there when you cross a certain watershed, recline or snowline, or enter rain, storm or mist. Such moments are rites of passage that reconfigure local geographics, leaving known places outlandish or quickened, revealing continents within counties.
Landscape... can 'enlarge the imagined range for self to move in."

Robert Macfarlane (1976 - )
The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Things Are What They Are

"Please remember: things are not what they seem."

- Haruki Murakami (1949 - )

"Things are not as they seem.
They are what they are."

- Terry Pratchett (1948 - 2015) 

"But one needs to bear in mind
that things are not always what they seem and,
contrary to the dead stillness of a photograph,
reality is in a state of perpetual flux."

- Audur Ava Olafsdottir (1958 - )  

Monday, August 08, 2022

Atoms with Consciousness

"I stand at the seashore, alone, and start to think.
There are the rushing waves…
mountains of molecules, each stupidly
minding its own business… trillions apart…
yet forming white surf in unison.

Ages on ages…
before any eyes could see…
year after year…
thunderously pounding the shore as now.
For whom, for what?…
on a dead planet,
with no life to entertain.

Never at rest…
tortured by energy…
wasted prodigiously by the sun…
poured into space.
A mite makes the sea roar.

Deep in the sea, all molecules
 repeat the patterns of one another
 till complex new ones are formed.
They make others like themselves…
and a new dance starts.

Growing in size and complexity… living things,
masses of atoms, DNA, protein… dancing
a pattern ever more intricate.

Out of the cradle onto the dry land…
here it is standing…
atoms with consciousness…
matter with curiosity.
Stands at the sea…
wonders at wondering…
a universe of atoms…
an atom in the universe."

- Richard Feynman (1918 - 1988)
Untitled Ode to the Wonder of Life,
Quoted by Maria Popova (1984 - ), The Marginalian

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Vedantic Complementarity

"The very nature of the quantum theory ... forces us to regard the space-time coordination and the claim of causality, the union of which characterizes the classical theories, as complementary but exclusive features of the description, symbolizing the idealization of observation and description, respectively."

- Niels Bohr (1885 - 1962)

"The general opinion in theoretical physics had accepted the idea that the principle of continuity ("natura non facit saltus"), prevailing in the microscopic world, is merely simulated by an averaging process in a world which in truth is discontinuous by its very nature. This simulation is such that a man generally perceives the sum of many billions of elementary processes simultaneously, so that the leveling law of large numbers completely obscures the real nature of the individual processes."

- John von Neumann (1903 - 1957)
Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics

"The plurality that we perceive is only an appearance; it is not real. Vedantic philosophy... has sought to clarify it by a number of analogies, one of the most attractive being the many-faceted crystal which, while showing hundreds of little pictures of what is in reality a single existent object, does not really multiply that object."

- Erwin Schrödinger (1887 - 1961)

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Mysterious Animal

"In sixteenth-century South America, the name [Carbuncle, from the Latin carbunculus , ‘a little coal’] was given by the Spanish conquistadors to a mysterious animal - mysterious because nobody ever saw it well enough to know whether it was a bird or a mammal, whether it had feathers or fur. The poet-priest MartĂ­n del Barco Centenera, who claims to have seen it in Paraguay, describes it in his Argentina (1602) only as ‘a smallish animal, with a shining mirror on its head, like a glowing coal . . .’ 

Another conquistador, Gonzalo FernĂĄndez del Oviedo, associates this mirror or light shining out of the darkness - two of which he glimpsed in the Strait of Magellan - with the precious stone that dragons were thought to have hidden in their brain. He took his knowledge from Isidore of Seville, who wrote in his Etymologies: 'It is taken from the dragon’s brain but does not harden into a gem unless the head is cut from the living beast; wizards, for this reason, cut the heads from sleeping dragons. Men bold enough to venture into dragon lairs scatter grain that has been doctored to make these beasts drowsy, and when they have fallen asleep their heads are struck off and the gems plucked out.'

Here we are reminded of Shakespeare’s toad (As You Like It, II, i), which, though ‘ugly and venomous, Wears yet a precious jewel in his head . . .’  Possession of the Carbuncle’s jewel offered fortune and luck. Barco Centenera underwent many hardships hunting the reaches of Paraguayan rivers and jungles for the elusive creature; he never found it. Down to this day we know nothing more about the beast and its secret head stone."

Jorge Luis Borges (1899 - 1986)
The Book of Imaginary Beings

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Act of Perception

"Although our modern way of thinking has, of course, changed a great deal relative to the ancient one, the two have had one key feature in common: i.e. they are both generally ‘blinkered’ by the notion that theories give true knowledge about ‘reality as it is’. Thus, both are led to confuse the forms and shapes induced in our perceptions by theoretical insight with a reality independent of our thought and our way of looking.
The illusion that the self and the world are broken into fragments originates in the kind of thought that goes beyond its proper measure and confuses its own product with the same independent reality. To end this illusion requires insight, not only into the world as a whole, but also into how the instrument of thought is working. Such insight implies an original and creative act of perception into all aspects of life, mental and physical, both through the senses and through the mind, and this is perhaps the true meaning of meditation.
Intelligence and material process have thus a single origin, which is ultimately the unknown totality of universal flux. In a certain sense, this implies that what have been commonly called mind and matter are abstractions from the universal flux, and that both are to be regarded as different and relatively autonomous orders within the one whole movement...It is thought responding to intelligent perception which is capable of bringing about an overall harmony of fitting between mind and matter."

 - David Bohm (1917 - 1992)
Wholeness and the Implicate Order

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Light and Dark

"There's beauty in every tree and every bush.
Just take the time to look at'em.
Put light against light -
you have nothing.
Put dark against dark -
you have nothing.
 It's the contrast of light and dark
that each gives the other one meaning.
We have no limits to our world.
We're only limited by our imagination.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

New Eyes

"A pair of wings, a different respiratory system, which enabled us to travel through space, would in no way help us, for if we visited Mars or Venus while keeping the same senses, they would clothe everything we could see in the same aspect as the things of the Earth. The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is; and this we do, with great artists; with artists like these we do really fly from star to star.
The real voyage of discovery
consists not in seeing new sights,
but in looking with new eyes

- Marcel Proust (1871 - 1922)
Remembrance of Things Past

Monday, August 01, 2022

Simple Secret

"And now here is my secret,
a very simple secret:
it is only with the heart that
one can see rightly,
what is essential is
invisible to the eye."

Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900 - 1944)