Wednesday, December 06, 2023

It’s a Visual World

Leonora Carrington (asked if there had been other artists in the family): My mother used to paint biscuit tins for jumble sales. That’s the only art that went on in my household.

Interviewer: I wonder where it came from?

Leonora Carrington: I have no idea.

Interviewer: No other artists in our family? None at all?

Leonora Carrington: Why are you fixed on the idea of heredity? It’s not hereditary … comes from somewhere else, not from genes. You’re trying to intellectualize something desperately, and you’re wasting your time. That’s not a way of understanding, to make a kind of intellectual mini-logic. You never understand by that road.

Interviewer: What do you think you do understand by then?

Leonora Carrington: By your own feelings about things …if you see a painting that you like… canvas is an empty space.

Interviewer: If I got one of your pictures down from upstairs and said to you what were you thinking when you painted this…?

Leonora Carrington: No. It’s a visual world, you want to turn things into a kind of intellectual game, it’s not… the visual world, it’s totally different. Remember what I’ve just said now, don’t try and turn it into a …kind of intellectual game. It’s not… It’s a visual world, which is different. The visual world is to do with what we see as space, which changes all the time. How do I know to walk –that’s one concept– to this bed and around it without running into it. I’m moving in space. Or I can have a concept of it and then I can see it as an object in space…”

 - Leonora Carrington (1917 - 2011)
Don't try to intellectualize art

Note. The text above is transcribed by Hugh Blackmer, whose blog is a "must visit" for anyone even remotely interested in photography, art, philosophy, whimsical musings on life and reality, and other thoughts on subjects that language alone is inadequate to describe (Hugh covers a lot of creative ground 😊. The post from which I pilfered Hugh's interview fragment contains links to far more material on Leonora Carrington than just this one interview. Thank you, Hugh! 

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Fungal States of Minds

"Fungal organisms can perceive the outer world in a way similar to what animals sense. Does that mean that they have full awareness of their environment and themselves? Is a fungus a conscious entity? In laboratory experiments we found that fungi produce patterns of electrical activity, similar to neurons. The new field of fungal consciousness is opening in front of us. Let us discuss directions of future studies. Do fungi have holistic states of mind? Do they combine/modify such states? How many fungal states of mind could be described? Do fungi create specific relational contexts? Or are they, on the contrary, not capable of having holistic states of mind, and are just following completely prefixed patterns? At which extent can we include fungi affects into such cognitive processing? Fungal chemotaxis could be part of such proto-emotional states. A deeper consciousness state allows us to understand and accept sacrificing our 'self' for higher purposes (martyrs, heroes).
Given the peculiarity of fungi morphology and degree of connection, we may imagine how radically different computational schemes are embedded into a fungal consciousness. For example, rather than 3-dimensional visual perception, holographic perception might be possible, considering the quasi-flat distribution of mycelia and its mechanoceptive reconstruction of moving objects (animals) at the upper boundary layer. Non-causal consciousness might arise from this specific perception framework, eventually hindering the time perception. All of these remain open questions for further investigations."

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Morning Fog

"Space and silence are two
aspects of the same thing.
The same no-thing. They
are externalization of inner
space and inner silence,
which is stillness: the
the infinitely creative womb
 of all existence.

Eckhart Tolle (1948 - )

Yesterday was one of those special mornings that makes photography ... heck, life! 😊 ... so wondrously special.  Anticipating a long weekend "work" day (a long technical paper I need to start writing but that I've been putting off for days), I had wanted to get a bit of extra sleep before I got started. My wife, who is well attuned to my photographer's soul - and predilections - all-too-well, woke me up early saying, "Hon, there is "heavy fog" outside, maybe you'd...?" .... I was out the door before she finished her sentence. I was so entranced by what I found at the nearby lake I raced to - a dense fog that was gently caressing the water and surrounding woods, a preternatural stillness in the air, and not another person in sight - that, initially at least, all I could do was just stand by the lakeshore, not doing - or thinking about - anything, cradling my camera with a smile on my face, soaking in the precious Zen moment. The photographs I captured in the hour or so that followed (some are shown here) are perhaps nothing special. But, "My, Oh My!" what perfect Alfred-Stieglitzian "equivalents" they all are of what I felt during my early morning sojourn around the lake that morning!

Friday, November 17, 2023

Movement of Colors

"Light in Nature creates the movement of colors."

- Robert Delaunay (1885 - 1941)

"In nature, light creates the color.
In the picture, color creates the light."

Hans Hofmann (1880 - 1966)

Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Color Nearest the Light

"[Yellow] is the color nearest the light. It appears on the slightest mitigation of light, whether by semi-transparent mediums or faint reflection from white surfaces. In prismatic experiments it extends itself alone and widely in the light space, and while the two poles remain separated from each other, before it mixes with blue to produce green it is to be seen in its utmost purity and beauty.
As no color can be considered as stationary, so we can very easily augment yellow into reddish by condensing or darkening it. The color increases in energy, and appears in red-yellow more powerful and splendid. All that we have said of yellow is applicable here, in a higher degree. The red-yellow gives an impression of warmth and gladness, since it represents the hue of the intenser glow of fire.
As pure yellow passes very easily to red-yellow, so the deepening of this last to yellow-red is not to be arrested. The agreeable, cheerful sensation which red-yellow excites increases to an intolerably powerful impression in bright yellow-red. In looking steadfastly at a perfectly yellow-red surface, the color seems actually to penetrate the organ. It produces an extreme excitement, and still acts thus when somewhat darkened."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832)
Theory of Colours

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Leaves, Color, Wholeness

"When we understand what order is,  I believe we shall better understand what matter is and then what the universe itself is ... Learning to see … wholeness … not muddled or contaminated by words and concepts, is extremely difficult, but it is possible to learn …When we see wholeness as it is, we recognize that [its] seeming parts … are merely arbitrary fragments which our minds have been directed to, because we happen to have words for them. If we open our eyes wide, and look at the scene without cognitive prejudice, we see something quite different ... geometric wholeness is not merely beautiful in itself as an accompaniment to the beautiful color. It is essential, necessary, for the release of light. Color, far from being an incidental attribute of things, is fundamental to the living structure of wholeness. Inner light is not merely a phenomenon, but the character of wholeness when it ‘melts.’"

Christopher Alexander (1936 - 2022)

Friday, November 10, 2023

Manifest Form

"The harmony of the world is
made manifest in Form and Number,
and the heart and soul and all the
poetry of Natural Philosophy are embodied
in the concept of mathematical beauty.
Cell and tissue, shell and bone, leaf and flower, are so many portions of matter, and it is in obedience to the laws of physics that their particles have been moved, moulded and confirmed... Their problems of form are in the first instance mathematical problems, their problems of growth are essentially physical problems, and the morphologist is, ipso facto, a student of physical science."

D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860 - 1948)
On Growth and Form

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Observer-Centric Virtualities

"Your Universe is in consciousness. And it’s a teleological process of unfolding patterns...The totality of your digital reality is what your conscious mind implicitly or explicitly chooses to experience out of the infinite.
Self-causation of reality becomes apparent when a phenomenal mind, which is a web of patterns, conceives a novel pattern and perceives it. All mass-energy, space-time itself emerge from consciousness. Those are epiphenomena of consciousness.
Mind instantiates oneself into matter. In a mathematical sense, matter is an “in-formed” pattern of mind. Time is emergent, and so is space. If space-time is emergent, so is mass-energy. All interactions in our physical world is computed by the larger consciousness system. In short, mind is more fundamental than matter. All realities are observer-centric virtualities."

- Alex M. VikoulovTheology of Digital Physics

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

The Total Perspective Vortex

"The Total Perspective Vortex derives its picture of the whole Universe on the principle of extrapolated matter analyses. To explain - since every piece of matter in the Universe is in some way affected by every other piece of matter in the Universe, it is in theory possible to extrapolate the whole of creation - every sun, every planet, their orbits, their composition and their economic and social history from, say, one small piece of fairy cake.
There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable."

Douglas Adams (1952 - 2001)

The Direction of Time

"There is no logical necessity for the existence of a unique direction of total time; whether there is only one time direction, or whether time directions alternate, depends on the shape of the entropy curve plotted by the universe."

- Hans Reichenbach (1891 - 1953)
The Direction of Time

Monday, November 06, 2023

Visual Echoes

"The goal of life is to
make your heartbeat match
the beat of the universe, to
match your nature with Nature."

Joseph Campbell (1904 - 1987)

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Mysterious and Unexplorable

"Every blade in the field -
Every leaf in the forest -
lays down its life in its season
as beautifully as it was taken up.
Every part of nature teaches that the passing away of one life is the making room for another. The oak dies down to the ground, leaving within its rind a rich virgin mould, which will impart a vigorous life to an infant forest. The pine leaves a sandy and sterile soil, the harder woods a strong and fruitful mould. So this constant abrasion and decay makes the soil of my future growth. As I live now so shall I reap. If I grow pines and birches, my virgin mould will not sustain the oak; but pines and birches, or, perchance, weeds and brambles, will constitute my second growth.
We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature."

Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)

Friday, November 03, 2023

Photographing Reality

"The line between the reality
that is photographed because it
seems beautiful to us and the reality
that seems beautiful because it
has been photographed is very narrow.
You only have to start saying of something 'Ah, how beautiful! We must photograph it!' and you are already close to the view of the person who thinks that everything that is not photographed is lost, as if it had never existed, and that therefore in order really to live you must photograph as much as you can, and to photograph as much as you can you must either live in the most photographable way possible, or else consider photographable every moment of your life. The first course leads to stupidity; the second, to madness."
Italo Calvino (1923 - 1985)

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Flying Leaves of Autumn

"Autumn leaves don't fall, they fly.
They take their time and wander
on this their only chance to soar."

- Delia Owens (1949 - )
Where the Crawdads Sing

Monday, October 30, 2023

Perception of Autumn Color

"Every perception of color is an illusion,
we do not see colors as they really are.
In our perception they alter one another. "

Joseph Albers (1888 - 1976)

Among the countless "rules" (or, more precisely, "rules of thumb") of photography, there are these three gems: (1) just because some "thing" or "place" is beautiful does not mean that it can be captured in a photograph; (2) how "good" a photograph is (whether judged by the photographer or viewer) has little or no correlation with how "hard" it was to get it; and - my personal favorite (and main focus of this short blog post; although all three apply) - (3) capturing "autumn colors" is among the hardest "simplest" things to do as a photographer. 

I admit that #3 may not be at the top of most photographer's list of "rules to learn to forget" - I mean, how hard can it be to take a picture of fall colors?!? Point and shoot, right? - but it is near the top of mine! Indeed, combining #3 with #1, I have always simultaneously both looked forward to and dreaded the "peak color" weeks of autumn. I, like most everyone else, find autumn colors (particularly those in my northern Virginia neighborhood) stunningly beautiful. Yet, I have also always found it particularly difficult to capture the beauty of fall colors with my camera. Taking it "all in" with a panorama certainly makes a colorful photo, but is hardly a step beyond the "cliche" shot. On the other hand, while artfully focusing in on a colorful tree or leaf might result in a credible "fine art" print, this is also just as likely to fall far short of expressing the "Wow!" one feels while entranced by the preternatural sun strewn colors of autumn. In my 50+ years of doing photography, I have yet to take a single image that comes close to capturing what I feel when I am surrounded by autumn colors at their best.

And so, we come to aphorism #2, and use it to contextualize the image that appears at the top of this post. This photograph was taken during a hike my wife and I took last weekend at a local park. The small but beautiful - and easily accessibleScott Runs waterfall appears at the end of the first leg of the trail, and is visible to your left just as you turn toward the Potomac river. Indeed, most pictures of the waterfall are of this "head on" view of the falls from a vantage point near where the trail runs into the river. While I have an obligatory image captured from this position ...

... it is the image shown at the top of this post that I prefer. Why? Not because it is the better of the two (truth be told, I think this one is the superior photograph!); but simply because it required great effort on my part - with considerable help by my wife (without whom I literally could not have captured this image). To get this shot, I needed to first walk "around" a rock/sand embankment (and away from the falls), climb over some steep rocks, wade in slightly-above-knee water, climb back onto the steep rocks (while reaching over them to grab my camera and tripod that my wife was diligently holding for me), and find a position that approximated my "visualized" vantage point. In my mind, at least, and solely because of first-hand experience with the effort that was involved, I imbue the resulting image (the one that appears at the top of this page) with something "special"; for me, it is a "better image" because of what I needed to do beyond "just turning a corner and pressing the shutter." In truth? It's a toss up; whichever of the two images is "best" is - and ought to be - entirely up to the viewer. Sadly, of course, and as always, neither image captures the awe I felt as I was bedazzled by Virginia's autumn colors!

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Geometry of Color

"Can't we imagine certain people having a different geometry of color than we do? That, of course, means: Can't we imagine people having color concepts other than ours? And that in turn means: Can't we imagine people who do not have our color concepts but who have concepts which are related to ours in such a way that we would also call them 'color concepts'? For here (when I consider Colors for example) there is merely an inability to bring concepts into some kind of order. We stand there like the ox in front of the newly painted stall door."

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 - 1951)
Remarks on Color

Friday, October 27, 2023

"Song for Autumn"

"Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now
how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees, especially those with
mossy hollows, are beginning to look for
the birds that will come—six, a dozen—to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
stiffens and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its long blue shadows. The wind wags
its many tails. And in the evening
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way."

Mary Oliver (1935 - 2019)
"Song for Autumn"

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Capturing Surrealities - #2

"Far away there in the sunshine
are my highest aspirations.
I may not reach them, 
but I can 
look up and see their beauty,
believe in them, and try
to follow where they lead."

Louisa May Alcott (1832 - 1888 )

This is a second batch of "surrealities," captured using my iPhone during a recent trip to Niagara, CA. Each is an example of the myriad photographic possibilities that almost always present themselves merely by looking up (or down) 😊... The "truth" revealed: the left and right images are lights on the ceiling of two restaurants we ate at, while the center image is the ceiling just outside the second floor entrance to the Table Rock Market, which overlooks the Canadian side of the falls.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Capturing Surrealities - #1

"Unlike other media, a photograph is always based on a real, material origin. Rather than looking at this as a disadvantage, we should understand that this same fact makes photography the ultimate surreal medium – simply because photography, although based on reality, is very far from the truth."

While still on the subject of my wife's and my recent weekend trip to Niagara, CA (see posts 1, 2, and 3) - I am working on a few more images I will be sharing in the coming days - the triptych contains three "less than obvious" (surreal?) views of our trip as captured by my iPhone. The "truth" revealed, left to right: a plasma cylinder used to lure visitors into the House of Frankenstein ... a time exposure of a dynamic art display inside a wonderful Indian restaurant called The Dhaba On The Falls (I was given permission to take a shot while we waited for our food to arrive 😊... and an upside down view of some lights hanging on a wall by the luggage conveyor belt at the Buffalo the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. While these humble images may be a far cry from, say, epic Icelandic landscapes - and are probably not to everyone's tastes - I confess that these little surrealities provide me me no end of pleasure when I "discover" them in the wild. It is also worth remembering (by all photographers, from beginner to seasoned pro) that there are always compositional opportunities waiting to be seen and captured.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Expanding Our Vision

"Science seeks to understand complex processes by reducing them to their essential actions and studying the interplay of those actions; and this reductionist approach extends to art as well. Indeed, my focus on one school of art, consisting of only three major representatives [Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele], is an example of this. Some people are concerned that a reductionist analysis will diminish our fascination with art, that it will trivialize art and deprive it of its special force, thereby reducing the beholder's share to an ordinary brain function. I argue to the contrary, that be encouraging a focus on one mental process at a time, reductionism can expand our vision and give us new insights into the nature and creation of art. These new insights will enable us to perceive unexpected aspects of art that derive from the relationships between the biological and psychological phenomena."

- Eric Kandel (1929 - )
The Age of Insight

Sunday, October 22, 2023

The Clearest Way Into the Universe

"And into the forest I go,
to lose my mind and find my soul.
Most people are on the world, not
in it — have no conscious sympathy
or relationship to anything about
them — undiffused, separate, and
rigidly alone like marbles of
polished stone, touching but separate.
The clearest way into the Universe
is through a forest wilderness."

John Muir (1838 - 1914)

The image above was captured - or, more precisely (following on the heels of Kim Grant's superlative video meditation on the follies of doing photography while stressed; Kim is one of my favorite YouTube photographers: list here), was creatively seen while I was in a quiet state of mind - along a trail at the Niagara Glen Nature Centre I've been posting about recently. As Kim's beautifully eloquent vlog post says so much better than I am able to by using only lifeless words and a lonely image, it is only when we allow ourselves to slooooow down while doing photography, and let go of our everyday pressures and stressors (as I had the privilege of doing for a few happy hours last weekend while on a trip with my wife), that we can take those first steps beyond just "capturing" images to seeing them. Indeed, it is in those brief precious moments when we somehow manage to quiet the "chatter in our heads" (as Alan Watts liked to describe the constant internal noise we all live with as conscious beings), that the illusory boundary between "self" and "world" dissipates to reveal nature's bountiful creative possibilities. Thank you, Kim, for a wonderfully poignant reminder of the need to clear our minds and become one with nature and our surroundings, if only for a few moments 😊

Friday, October 20, 2023

Impressions of Niagara Falls

"Dream delivers us to dream,
and there is no end to illusion.
Life is like a train of moods
like a string of beads, and, as
we pass through them, they prove 
to be many-colored lenses which
paint the world their own hue..."

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)

I mentioned in my last post that my wife and I took a short trip to Niagara Falls, Canada last weekend. I also mentioned that I was a bit underwhelmed by the falls themselves; as a photographer "seeing" the falls for the first time (the "tourist" in me was enthralled, and my iPhone has about a half dozen snaps to prove it). Rather than taking photographs of the "falls as they appear in their full splendor," I instead took a series of more intimate "impressions" of the falls. 

Apart from their sheer size - the height varies between 70 and 100 ft, the Canadian portion is close to 2,600 ft wide, while the U.S. side is a bit over 1,000 ft) - Niagara falls are cacophonous and effervescent; indeed, they are best described as thunderously loud living liquid chaos! While the images that accompany this post may fall (small pun intended) far short of conveying just how thunderously loud and chaotic the falls are, they do provide a sense of what the falls offer photographers apart from their (otherwise grand) splendor. 

Thursday, October 19, 2023

The Justification of Taking Pictures of "Rocks and Leaves"...

"The mystique of rock climbing is climbing; you get to the top of a rock glad it’s over but really wish it would go on forever. The justification of climbing is climbing, like the justification of poetry is writing; you don’t conquer anything except things in yourself…. The act of writing justifies poetry. Climbing is the same: recognizing that you are a flow. The purpose of the flow is to keep on flowing, not looking for a peak or utopia but staying in the flow. It is not a moving up but a continuous flowing; you move up to keep the flow going. There is no possible reason for climbing except the climbing itself; it is a self-communication."

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1934 - 2021)
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

From Iceland to Niagara Falls, Canada. While I still have an immense backlog of raw files from our recent Iceland trip (which I will post as soon as I find time to process them), I also have a few images I would like to share from a short trip my wife and I took to Niagara Falls, Canada this past weekend. The first set is the "quint-tych" you see above, which contains a modest sampling of the many rocks and boulders strewn along the trails at the Niagara Glen Nature Centre (about 10 min away from the center of town). For obvious reasons, this is a popular park for local bouldering enthusiasts. I enjoyed nearly 8 hours of restful hiking and composing with my travel camera (spread over two days: the first day with my wife, and the second day by myself while my wife was busy at a symposium). While I was a bit underwhelmed by the falls themselves (speaking purely as a photographer, not a tourist - I plan on posting an "impressionistic" image or two in the coming days), I was mesmerized by the rich store of "rocks and  leaves" compositional possibilities offered by the nearby nature center; to be sure, there was also plenty of "water" at the center, since the trails weave in and out of splendid views of the Niagara river (I will be posting a few of these as well in coming days). Following Mihaly's sage wisdom, my justification of taking pictures of "rocks and  leaves" (when, by all rights, I should have been back in our hotel room working on a technical paper that is soon due) is ... taking pictures of "rocks and  leaves"! 😊

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Eternal Energy of the Universe

"A living body is not a fixed thing but a flowing event, like a flame or a whirlpool: the shape alone is stable, for the substance is a stream of energy going in at one end and out at the other. We are particularly and temporarily identifiable wiggles in a stream that enters us in the form of light, heat, air, water, milk, bread, fruit, beer, beef Stroganoff, caviar, and pate de foie gras. It goes out as gas and excrement - and also as semen, babies, talk, politics, commerce, war, poetry, and music. And philosophy.
Zen is really extraordinarily simple as long as one doesn't try to be cute about it or beat around the bush! Zen is simply the sensation and the clear understanding ... that there is behind the multiplicity of events and creatures in this universe simply one energy -- and it appears as you, and everything is it. The practice of Zen is to understand that one energy so as to 'feel it in your bones.'
Basically, there is simply nothing to worry about,
because you yourself are the eternal energy of the universe."

Alan Watts (1915 - 1973)

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

We Are Stories

"We are stories, contained within
the twenty complicated centimeters
behind our eyes, lines drawn by traces
left by the (re)mingling together of
things in the world, and oriented
toward predicting events in the future,
toward the direction of increasing entropy,
in a rather particular corner of this
immense, chaotic universe."

Carlo Rovelli (1956 - )
The Order of Time

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Thoughtful Reflection

"A sense of place is a conviction
in the individual’s choice to live there.
That is what gives the whole dignify and purpose."

- Halldor Laxness (1902 - 1998)

"Place is security,
space is freedom.
In a sense, every human construction,
whether mental or material, is a
component in a landscape of fear
because it exists in constant chaos.
Thus children's fairy tales as well
as adult's legends, cosmological myths,
and indeed philosophical systems
are shelters built by the mind in which
human beings can rest, at least temporarily, from
the siege of inchoate experience and of doubt.
It is by thoughtful reflection that the
elusive moments of the past draw
draw near to us in present reality and
gain a measure of permanence."

- Yi-Fu Tuan (1930 - 2022)

Sunday, October 01, 2023

A Shadow to Another Light

 "Beauty is not in the face;
beauty is a light in the heart.
True light is that which
radiates from within a man.
It reveals the secrets of the soul
to the soul and lets it rejoice in life,
singing in the name of the Spirit.
And when the shadow
fades and is no more,
the light that lingers becomes
a shadow to another light."

Kahlil Gibran (1883 - 1931) 

This shot was taken somewhere along the southern shore of the Snaefellsnes peninsula after only our first full day in Iceland. The scene magically - and quickly - unfolded as we were driving along Route 54. One moment, our car was surrounded by a drab, grey landscape too dark to make one want to even look; the next - and only for a brief instant - the heavens opened up to bathe the landscape with effulgent light! There was just enough time to park the car (although highway pull-over spots are regrettably few and far-between in Iceland - my single complaint about what is otherwise a photographer's true heaven - there was one that fortuitously appeared just as the light broke through the clouds), ask my wife to hand me my camera, and take a quick hand-held shot while still sitting behind the wheel with a running engine. In the time I took to reach for my tripod to head out for a "proper" composition, the light had vanished and the landscape reverted to its prior drab, grey landscape too dark to make one want to even look.

Apart from the majestic landscapes, moody seascapes, waterfalls, glaciers, lagoons, .... the list goes on and on ... perhaps Iceland's greatest gift to insatiably hungry photographers' eyes is the omnipresent drama and spectacle of its glorious light and shadow. Literally anywhere you choose to stand for more than a few brief moments (it does not matter where or even for what reason!) is certain to be the center of a veritable storehouse of every-shifting ethereal luminescent patterns of both radiance and mystery. While our planet is inarguably home to a number of places in which it is nearly impossible not to take a beautiful picture - my wife and I have visited our fair share (e.g., Hawaii, Santorini, and the Isle of Skye) - I have heretofore rarely experienced quite so many "places" ubiquitously scattered around a single country!

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Silver Water Plummets

"Our land of lakes forever fair below blue mountain summits,
of swans, of salmon leaping where the silver water plummets,
of glaciers swelling broad and bare above earth’s fiery sinews—
the Lord pour out his largess there as long as earth continues!"

Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807 - 1845)

A kind note about the waterfall I featured in my last post (from a photography friend, Paul Cotter, whose exquisite portfolio and blog should be on the short list of anyone reading this - check out my links page to see what I think of Paul's work!), enticed me to ponder how differently I view my own images, depending on whether they were "easy" or "hard" to get — sometimes very hard, as when I tried capturing a view of the Selvallafoss waterfall. While it is easily accessible from a parking lot on the northern part of route 56 (on the eastern/inland part of Iceland's Snaefellsnes peninsula), I suspect that many tourists just take a quick look around (the parking area provides a gorgeous view of the volcanic lake, Selvallavatn), and get right back into their cars, oblivious to the beautiful falls that are hidden from view. 

I found it "difficult" to get this particular shot not because I needed to do any strenuous hiking (while there is a short walk involved along a mud-strewn and partly inclined path, the falls are almost within a stone's throw from the parking lot), but because my son (Josh, the next generation photographer/artist in our family) and I struggled with the ambient elements: (1) bitingly hard pelting rain, and - as if that wasn't enough - (2) unrelenting fierce mini-hurricane-strength "sentient" wind (that mysteriously swirled around us, seemingly without direction, trying to find a way to keep us an unbalanced as possible). In short, this was a beastly hard shot to get! - certainly by comparison to the image in my last post.

So, what does this have to do with the kind note from Paul Cotter? My kneejerk reaction was, "Many thanks, but now I'm embarrassed!" - where my "embarrassment comes not from being unable to take a compliment, but from the fact that I know that the earlier photograph was ridiculously easy to get: park car, walk 1000 feet to a bridge overlooking falls, set up tripod with a wide angle lens, screw on a 3-stop neutral density filter, and click. That's it! How can I possibly take any real credit (or be "rewarded" with a compliment) beyond simply asserting, "Well, I was there, saw an incredible scene in front of me, and went click"?

Objectively, I know (or ought to know) that "how good an image is" - regardless of what measure of "goodness" one uses - is not correlated with, or defined by, how hard (the photographer remembers) it was to capture. One can just as easily stumble across a timelessly "good" image as work furiously for days, even weeks, to capture a meh-level photograph. Yet, instinctively, my knee-jerk reaction is still always the same; I feel "embarrassed" when complimented on (what I know was) an easy-to-get image 😳 ... which the image above was assuredly not!

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

River and Time

"Time flows like a river,
halting for no one.
There’s nothing in this world
that can outlast time itself.
Time's arrow is the loss
of fidelity in compression.
A sketch, not a photograph.
A memory is a re-creation,
precious because it is both
more and less than the original.
Every night, when you stand
outside and gaze upon the stars,
you are bathing in time as well as light.
Time devours all."

- Ken Liu (1976 - )

This is a view of Iceland's Bruarfoss Waterfall, located just off Route 37, about 90 miles east of Reykjavík. In the unlikely event that you do not know what is waiting for you as you take the short walk that leads to this waterfall from the parking lot, you are in for a wonderful surprise; it was an amazing experience to find yourself looking at this magnificent display of raw power and beauty as my family and I rounded one last turn on our foot path.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Twigs and Rocks

"Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all - young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self. Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks at the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth. But one creature said at last, 'I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.' The other creatures laughed and said, 'Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you shall die quicker than boredom!' But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks. Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more. And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, 'See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!' And the one carried in the current said, 'I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.' But they cried the more, 'Saviour!' all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a Saviour."

Monday, September 25, 2023

Icelandic Geometry

"To say that space is just physical
or geometrical is the same thing
as saying that the human being simple.
And both statements are false.
The imaginary is not formed in
opposition to the real, it is
not opposed to common sense,
it is not situated on another plane,
it is situated simultaneously on
all the planes of the real.

The real is always in movement,
it is always changing, always
becoming different-from itself.

Man is separated from the great
whole only because he consists of the
same substance as the whole,
which guarantees the union, a
substance which is doubtless more
substantial for being more rare."

- Gaston Bachelard (1884 - 1962)

Sunday, September 24, 2023

"Murky Water, Dusty Mirror"

"Murky water is turbid;
let it settle and it clears.
A dusty mirror is dim;
clean it and it is bright.

What I realize as I observe this is
the Tao of clarifying the mind
and perceiving its essence.

The reason why people’s minds are not clear and their natures are not stable is that they are full of craving and emotion. Add to this eons of mental habit, acquired influences deluding the mind, their outgrowths clogging up the opening of awareness – this is like water being murky, like a mirror being dusty. The original true mind and true essence are totally lost. The feelings and senses are unruly, subject to all kinds of influences, taking in all sorts of things, defiling the mind.

If one can suddenly realize this and change directions, wash away pollution and contamination, gradually remove a lifetime of biased mental habits, wandering thoughts and perverse actions, increasing in strength with persistence, refining away the dross until there is nothing more to be refined away, when the slag is gone the gold is pure. The original mind and fundamental essence will spontaneously appear in full, the light of wisdom will suddenly arise, and one will clearly see the universe as though it were in the palm of the hand, with no obstruction.

This is like murky water returning
to clarity when settled,
like a dusty mirror being restored
to brightness when polished.
That which is fundamental is as ever:
without any lack."

- Liu Yiming (1734–1821)
Awakening to the Tao
(also available on the Internet Archive)

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Infinite Storm of Beauty

"One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of Nature — inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last.
...when we contemplate the
whole globe as one great dewdrop,
striped and dotted with continents and islands,
flying through space with other stars
all singing and shining together as one,
the whole universe appears as
an infinite storm of beauty."

John Muir (1838 - 1914)
Nature Writings

Friday, September 22, 2023

A Moment

"'Is this a moment?'
He asks in a very loud voice.
'No, not anymore.'
And this one? Not anymore either.
All you have is the moment to come.
The present is already past.'"

- Clarice Lispector (1920 - 1977)

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Tip of an Iceberg

"Everything - a bird, a tree, even a simple stone, and certainly a human being - is ultimately unknowable. This is because it has unfathomable depth. All we can perceive, experience, think about, is the surface layer of reality, less than the tip of an iceberg. Underneath the surface appearance, everything is not only connected with everything else, but also with the Source of all life out of which it came. Even a stone, and more easily a flower or a bird, could show you the way back to God, to the Source, to yourself."

Eckhart Tolle (1948 - )

Monday, September 18, 2023

A Dizzying Trance Sublime and Strange

"The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
Now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom—
Now lending splendour, where from secret springs
The source of human thought its tribute brings
Of waters,—with a sound but half its own,
Such as a feeble brook will oft assume
In the wild woods, among the mountains lone,
Where waterfalls around it leap for ever,
Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river
Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.
Thou art pervaded with that ceaseless motion
Thou art the path of that unresting sound—
Dizzy Ravine! And when I gaze on thee
I seem as in a trance sublime and strange
To muse on my own separate fantast,
My own, my human mind, which passively
Now renders and receives fast influencings,
Holding an unremitting interchange
With the clear universe of things around;"

- Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 - 1822)
Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni

The word "dizzy," when used as a verb, means "to make giddy"; and giddy, in turn, is "an adjective that describes a feeling of dizziness or lightheadedness. It can also refer to a feeling of excitement or euphoria that causes a person to feel unsteady or unstable. Giddy can be used to describe physical sensations, emotional states, or even situations that are overwhelming or disorienting [ref]." It is with these nuanced interpretations that the words "dizzy" and "giddy" often popped into my mind during our trip to Iceland, which is filled with dizzying landscapes that evoke giddy awe. As some of my earlier images from our recent trip have already hinted, Iceland is replete with dissonant scales of time and space. Distant mountains are just as likely to appear as illusory nearby foothills, as nearby crags are to easily fool you into believing they are remotely distant. (Neither of which may even be true, as Borges might have once said in some other world.) Iceland's landscapes tend to induce trance-like states of "giddy anxiety" - unabashed awe, really - unless, and until, visitors somehow find a way to calibrate Iceland's a priori incommensurate scales of time and distance. 

The image above conveys a bit of this mysterious tension. Look at the picture but first use a finger to block out the small cluster of white buildings in the lower right. The remaining part of the image appears to be a "landscape" like any other, with a trace of a distant (but otherwise “normal”) mountain range. Now, remove your finger and let your eyes absorb the complete scene. Assuming your reaction is in any way like mine, you will experience a sense of "dizzying vertigo" as your brain's visual cortex tries desperately to make sense of the dissonant scales of size and distance; and leaves you grappling with the absurdity of the mountains having instantly grown tenfold in height! I lost count of the number of times I felt this way looking at Iceland's landscapes through my camera's viewfinder.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Mereological Investigations

"Whole and part—
partly concrete parts and
partly abstract parts—are
at the bottom of everything.
They are most fundamental
in our conceptual system.
Whole and unity; thing or entity or being. Every whole is a unity and every unity that is divisible is a whole. For example, the primitive concepts, the monads, the empty set, and the unit sets are unities but not wholes. Every unity is something and not nothing. Any unity is a thing or an entity or a being. Objects and concepts are unities and beings.
In materialism all elements behave the same. It is mysterious to think of them as spread out and automatically united. For something to be a whole, it has to have an additional object, say, a soul or a mind. “Matter” refers to one way of perceiving things, and elementary particles are a lower form of mind. Mind is separate from matter."

Kurt Godel (1906 - 1978)

Expanding a bit on my past blog post (in which I describe the "Fox-like Hedgehogian" style of photography I tend to engage in - mostly unconsciously - whenever I am on "vacation," consider the image at the top of this post. This is a rare (possibly unique?) instance in which I lead into my commentary by sharing a completely unprocessed image; save that for my opening it up in Photoshop using Photoshop's default raw filter conversion settings. I do this not because I think this image merits a moment of attention - indeed, I should immediately emphasize that IMHO it does not (i.e., I am responsible for capturing this landscape, but do not think this is a good picture) - but because I wish to use it to illustrate one of the points I was struggling to make clear in my previous post.

The short version of my last entry is simply this: that when I am "on vacation" - typically, but not always, somewhere I have never been before - my photography inevitably steps through three partly overlapping stages: stage-1, the "spray paint" stage, denotes a short time during which I engage in the vain hope of capturing majestic "Wagnerian" landscapes in the vain hope of "showing it all"; stage-2 consists of my "slowing down" and engaging the landscape on its own terms (whether it is vast and majestic, or more intimate); and (my much preferred) stage-3, that appears only after I remember to view landscapes not as "objects" to be captured, but as ambient experiential backdrops to my own state-of-mind (wherein the compositions I make are less about conveying aesthetic impressions of specific things captured in a given place and time, and more about revealing aspects of how I experienced specific things in given places and times while I was taking pictures of them).

And so, in this context, consider the "raw" image that appears at the top of this blog post. Since it was taken within a few hours of gathering our luggage at Iceland's Keflavík airport and heading out on our first day of exploring the country, it is not surprising (at least to me) that its quality falls decidedly into the "stage 1" category. Why is this image not very good? The most egregious reason (among many others), is that it is unclear what the photographer (namely, me) wants the viewer to look at (or experience)! The mountains? Perhaps, but they are obscured in shadow and require an effort to see beyond the bright foreground and large cloud; the clouds? Maybe, but they only partly cover half of the sky, and the main "point of interest" (cloud-wise) is a dominant blob that draws in too much of the viewer's' attention; or is the viewer meant to look at the waterfall quietly nestled within a beautifully lit foreground? If so, the lighting hardly does justice to the waterfall, which seems as almost a hopeless afterthought buried in deep shadow. 

My point is not to self flagellate (though constructive self-criticism is something I always engage in; just not quite so openly as I'm doing now 😊; but rather to illustrate how I sometimes use otherwise forgettable "stage 1" images such as this to help steer/reorient my aesthetics and (better prepare for) future compositions. While "stage 2" photographs do not - cannot - appear until I've thoroughly gotten my "capture the majestic Wagnerian landscape" instincts out of the way, "stage 1" images also invariably contain vestiges (unconscious reminders?) of what my "eye" was really looking at, even as it was distracted by the "big-picture." I'd like to think that - had I had more time (or, more precisely, had I gotten over my "Wagnerian" instincts before I encountered the landscape in the "raw" image above), that I would have "seen" and composed these more intimate ("Stage 2") photographs from the spot I was standing:

Alas, my "eye" saw these (embedded, latent, additional?) compositional possibilities only after returning home from our vacation; and the post-processed crops you see here hardly do justice to how I ought to have captured them. I did the best I could, and leveraged the relatively high resolution that my Nikon z7 provides. But my heart and muse both know that what essentially amounts to no more than a bit of "melancholy play" with Photoshop may also have produced significantly more meaningful "stage 2" or "stage 3" images had I been in a more receptive "state of mind," and been patient enough to wait for the right light. The one small bit of solace I have is that while my "eye" was unabashedly and myopically focused on capturing a "Wagnerian landscape," it was my "I" that pointed to what "eye" saw; why else was I even looking?