I cannot depict what I see in my head with any accuracy but I cannot stop trying to find the metaphors. The randomness of existence is the only rule left. And that used to sound demoralizing to me but not anymore because everything I experience seems beyond my capacity. Everything slips through my skin. Nothing is contained. Gravity is the only temporal bond. Movement is existence. Light splatters on wet ground. The ground becomes the light. The light brings the darkness yet darkness is not mere emptiness. Emptiness is not alone. Emptiness has the greatest potential as that from which any patterns emerge. Each image can only be an iteration of something never whole or complete. What is caught or exposed (for lack of a better word) between these iterations is the point of stringing them together. The wall space is the wet plate.
It’s 93 degrees Fahrenheit and climbing. The trail winds around another rock obstructing the view. What looms behind it blots out the trail underfoot. In a dream state, I stumble forward as the heat steals my stamina. But I’m not paying attention to my dehydrating state. I’m lost imagining about what looms around the next turn. A crow glides right over the crest and I see the feathers on its wings twitch in the wind. Only through its eyes do I see the folds of these mountains breaking into the wide desert beyond. I pass by another mound of scat – maybe the third or fourth one – full of juniper berries on the trail and think of what shaded spot the coyote must be panting in right now. Slipping by another rock face, I find a shallow cave with the shade I had yearned for seconds ago. And I sit there to stop the dizziness and sip a ration of water. There is a juniper tree with a burial mound at its feet. These rocks before me speak of Technicolor dreams with danger behind every turn in some old Western movie or the multitude of uses this place had for primitive fantasies and alien planets on film and through this sense of simulation I wonder how this place will seep into my dreams when I pass by the final obstruction of the day and fall to sleep like the crow cradled in the arms of its juniper tree or the coyote curled up in its stone womb.
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.