Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sight and Insight...

"The further we delve into what we are and
what things are, the more mysterious we 
and they become."
Wynn Bullock

     As a contemplative photographer I must feel comfortable with the knowledge that my reflections will lead to many more questions than to answers.  Those great "Ah ha!" moments are few and far between. For me, the contemplative practice is more like a wandering journey with no specific destination in mind, just the joy in the traveling.  Each photograph, or photographic series, grows inexplicably out of the one that came before and although I may make a conscious decision to photograph in this or that location, I know that experiencing those places will somehow lead me to the next. It is often not until long after the trip that the meaning of the work becomes known.

Church with Barbed Wire-Santa Fe, NM
     The photograph on the right is a good example of  this "hindsight". (I love the phrase: "Life can only be lived forward but can only be understood backwards." I think photography is like that as well.)  It was taken in Santa Fe, New Mexico back in 2007 and shows the back wall of a church surrounded by a high stockade fence edged in barbed wire. I remember thinking, as I made the photograph, how oddly discomforting it was.

    It was my first trip to Santa Fe and I was, of course, impressed with the rich culture of the city.  I was also amazed at the art market there...second only to New York City!  But there was another feeling I got from my trip to New Mexico, a realization of  the two worlds that exist side by side...the upscale and the down trodden...the art market and the drug market...the sacred and the profane. I saw it everywhere.  This photograph summed it up for me in one image.    From then on, I looked for these kinds of juxtapositions wherever I travel.  One experience alter my work.

     I have come to realize that my year is roughly divided into two parts...the active, gathering part (usually in late Spring - early Autumn) and the quiet, ruminating part (late Autumn to early Spring).  They are my times of "Sight and Insight".  As a contemplative photographer, image making serves another purpose, as a stimulus for reflection. This takes time. I allow myself the gift of taking time to reflect on the images I make often over several weeks or even months.

     Before I fully committed myself to the contemplative dimension of photography, the quest for the "perfect" image (whatever THAT meant) was compelling.  It could over-whelm you if you let it.  Now that I have found a method of working that suits me, this compulsion has faded. Sometimes I even go to a location and make no photographs at all!  I might just journal and sketch.  It seems now that I am content with less and less "out put" and more and more "in put".   A solitary image can satisfy me.

     I suppose, it all comes down to why you make photographs in the first place.  What purpose do they serve in your life.  The range of possibilities is endless of course...and all are valid. There is also the question of what to do with the finish work but that element of the process I prefer to leave up to the fates.  For me, it is the making that propels me on.  Now, I define the "perfect" image as the one that touches my soul most profoundly ...one that enlightens me with an intrinsic truth.  Someone once said that if you want to know what is important to you, imagine what you would like to hold in your hands as you die...what is the last thing you want to see. I think mine will be a photograph...I just don't know which one yet!

"Light to me is the most profound truth in this universe. 
My thinking has been deeply affected by the belief that
everything is some form of radiant energy."
Wynn Bullock

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