The delicate visual gift called the horizon is an illusion of perspective that appeals to the edge detection of our eyesight. In the early morning, the desert and its mountains form these color fields out of which blue lines seem to exist. These lines are not meant for me to catch them with anything but my eyesight. They are like ideas better to contemplate than pursue. Like imaginary directions to a place of hope. Or it’s a quiet message telling us how to feel the distances in which we exist.
These heavy cathedrals of stone fall before me whenever I come to witness the blues melt into the golden shores and the ink spill across the molten sea. This hungry mouth tilts to swallow its treasure whole. I hear the random slap of waves below and watch these muscular cliffs tug and yank at this opulent rug. I stand where the scene slips away and know that all I could ever do was get close to what is far beyond me.
Let’s wander away to the Big Rock Candy Mountain!
One evening as the sun went down And the jungle fire was burning, Down the track came a hobo hiking, And he said, "Boys, I'm not turning I'm headed for a land that's far away Besides the crystal fountains So come with me, we'll go and see The Big Rock Candy Mountains -Harry McClintock, Big Rock Candy Mountain
Before digital photography, photographers were used to working with negatives in order to produce the desired print from the exposure. In digital photography, there is the label of a digital negative but that refers just to a type of file called RAW which is about retaining as much information as possible. Digital photographers might use the negative or inverse in some part of their process but it really has disappeared from the collective consciousness since we’ve lost most of our one hour photo shops (or home dark rooms as I grew up with). I’m not a luddite so any sentimentality I have for the old ways is quickly dashed by the fact that film was far more expensive and time consuming. It’s funny to see people now shooting on film as if it has magical properties. Surely, if we handed a digital camera from today to someone back in the 70’s, it would be seen as magic. In addition to the pleasure of looking at the world in any way our naked eyes cannot (which is the main purpose of photography in my opinion), I like the ironic feeling of making a negative as the final result from a digital file.
Here’s a small diversion from Blue Monday. Yesterday, I snapped shots of the clouds passing over my backyard.
Which one of these is not upside down?
The only one not flipped upside down is number seven. Thanks for playing!
There is a poem by Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass that has resonated for me ever since I read it as a teenager. It’s about the struggle of existence with the transitory nature we have found ourselves in. The turbulent foam we move in. Perhaps even the quantum foam of spacetime itself as John Wheeler hypothesized.
This poem shows the empathy we have for others struggling as Whitman had for this swimmer. I knew such a courageous swimmer of life who died in a tragic accident roughly a year ago. He too was in his middle age. Never did I think when I read this decades ago that it would eventually embody a dear friend I thought would outlive me.
I see a beautiful gigantic swimmer swimming naked through the eddies of the sea, His brown hair lies close and even to his head....he strikes out with courageous arms...he urges himself with his legs. I see his white body....I see his undaunted eyes; I hate the swift-running eddies that would dash him headforemost on the rocks, What are you doing you ruffianly red-trickled waves? Will you kill the courageous giant? Will you kill him in the prime of his middle age? Steady and long he struggles; He is baffled and banged and bruised....he holds out while his strength holds out, The slapping eddies are spotted with his blood....they bear him away....they roll him and swing him and turn him; His beautiful body is borne in this circling eddies....it is continually bruised on rocks, Swiftly and out of sight is borne the brave corpse.
And through his empathy, Whitman sees himself as the swimmer and through poetry becomes the swimmer as much as the witness. All of us in the foam. All of us swimming through randomness. Bound by our common struggle. Illuminated by our undaunted courage. Holding out against forces beyond our control.
The morning light yawns across the desert.
In the dark sea of the desert, there was an island. As we sailed by in our car, I snapped this shot. The sight matched an image inscribed in me decades ago when I saw Arnold Böcklin’s painting Die Toteninsel in Berlin.
How strange to be driving in the Southwest decades later and suddenly think of someone else’s dream. And to feel the tone of that dream image materialized to such a scale that it stretched entirely around our car. For a brief absurd moment, it felt as if I were suspended in that dream visiting a cemetery of shadows from the window of our moving coffin.
While on a photographic quest for an amazing epic scene, the small moment in the tiniest corner of the woods can speak as loudly, if one knows how to listen beyond one’s intent.
On the way to a waterfall, a stream whispers under a tree. Fallen leaves quietly look for a place to release their tannins. Moss gently lingers across the heavy wet bark.
This soft entropic scene slowly drifts me along its slide back into material. And the scene whispers to me that death is an illusion, or an imaginary ego point in a process that is concerned with the larger return of existence.
I release any bitterness about being a part of what this scene whispers into my ear. The inevitable has softly spoken in this small round corner of the woods and I gently accept it.
We see miniature trees everyday off in the distance. Such a common site gets easily dismissed. But a photograph can cross back over that threshold and aside from any tilt-shifting emphasize this feeling of the miniature.
I think this taps into feelings I have for what is smaller than me. And the tendency to see small things as cute. Protective feelings arise over these baby trees. It’s the deep satisfaction that can come from caring for an aquarium or crafting a train diorama.
Whenever we peer into a microcosm, the observations run simultaneously with the realization that we just might be in a microcosm to a perspective beyond our awareness. Perhaps this is at the base of the religious belief in a higher power. I often wonder about beliefs as side effects or reactions to such phenomenological occurrences as an optical effect.
Would we take better care of things if we saw them as miniature? Maybe it’s time to walk around looking backwards through binoculars at things that are difficult to have compassion for, in order to help out.
Next time a conflict arises, should I just miniaturize the source and care for it instead of miniaturizing myself into an unnecessary struggle? Just like a Buddhist monk might miniaturize desire itself in order to miniaturize suffering?
Or maybe in the future, AI will read our emotional responses and adjust them to a calmer state for better decision-making by employing this feeling of the miniature, while controlling our evaluations so that the decisions made are best for its purposes. The same kind of therapeutic brainwashing seen in cults only turned into an algorithm, for our own benefit of course.
The camera compresses the world into a frame. The transitory becomes fixed in an illusion. Smoke trapped underwater. Cloud textures trapped in rocks. The horizon is a stroke of ink, or a line of difference, drawn by the camera’s position.
As my consciousness defines what I see, have I not become the calm of a still lake for a passing moment? And what is calm but the sustain of some already faded state? An identity already loosened up and breaking down into something else, as I hold on to the fixed reflection of what it briefly was to me.