Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Characteristics of a Photographic Sage - part V: "A Harmony of Opposites"...

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
Tao te Ching - 2

   In Taoism, Nature is seen as a delicate balance of both masculine and feminine principles.  Nothing exists without its compliment and the experience of opposites is a basic rhythm of life.  Most people are familiar with the Yin/Yang symbol.  It is an elegantly simply graphic representation of this essential component of Taoist philosophy.  I would recommend that the reader  look at some of the excellent sites dedicated to this idea...there are many. I've posted a link to just one.  The Harmony of Opposites  is also a useful concept for the Contemplative Photographer.

   I printed out a large Yin/Yang symbol in the center of a piece of paper. On the left side, I wrote all the characteristics of photographs I like...ones that I thought made a "beautiful" image.  On the right side I wrote the opposite...what I thought was "ugly" in photographs I had seen.  Then I tried to reconcile both sides. I asked myself, "Why do I define "beauty" and "ugliness" in this way?  Does it relate to the photographers I have always admired or is there something deeper at work here?  What am I missing? As you see in the Yin/Yang symbol, there is a small dot of the opposite contained in each. It is an important thing to remember the next time you find yourself rejecting a subject as unimportant or contains the seed of its opposite, you must look deeply to find it.

   I think this is important for all photographers to do from time to time. Not only for reflecting on the personal style of their work but for subject matter as well.  Beauty can be found in the most mundane of locations.Sometimes it is no further away than your own backyard.

   The photograph above was one of the very first images I made back in 2005.  I had just purchased my new digital camera and I couldn't wait to photograph...something...anything! Maine was buried after a February snowstorm and at first I thought I'd have to wait until the roads cleared and I could get to a "desirable" location.  I then remembered the old saying, "Bloom where you're planted" so I pulled on my boots and trudged out into the snow covered garden behind the house . After 7 years, it is still one of my favorite images.

   It has many of the characteristics that I've always admired in Chinese ink brush paintings...simplicity, delicate line, an  asymmetrical balance, and open space for the eye to rest. It also possesses a subtle harmony of opposites. The solid wire lines of the old fence and its shadow equivalent etched on the snow.

  A Little Practice for the Week:

   The photograph on the right is from my "First Person Rural" book and I think it is a good example at how paying attention to the "opposites" helps increase the depth and intricacy of an image.

   I photographed this lovely child against the rough wall of rusted chains in her great-grandfathers old barn. I loved the juxtaposition of her soft cheek and the rust.  It also speaks to the idea of tradition and honoring the past which is a strong part of the Maine character.

   Spend some time this week looking for opposites and interesting juxtapositions.  Find them naturally occurring in nature or around your house or create your own.

   A Photographic Sage uses subtle and complimentary contrasts to enrich their work and create a "harmony of opposites".

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