Archive for September, 2010


days
opening/closing
flowers

Jane Reichhold

Haiku has always fascinated me as a poetic form.  Such few words, such strong images.  I write poetry, including haiku; I journal, write short stories; write for newspapers and magazines. I teach writing at university level – and yet the ability to create such clarity in two or three lines eludes me.

Is my vision not clear enough? Have I crowded my ideas with too many threads, too much that I want to say?  The words bubble and fall from my pen, leaping out of my mind onto the paper, but without the simplicity and strength that I aim for.

This seems to me to be an echo of my life.  I seek simplicity, peace and serenity. And yet I bounce from one event or group of people to another.  Finding time for meditation or solitude is hard.  My days are filled with people and ‘happenings’ – meetings, competitions, lunches, classes, friends.  I want not to lose any of these – but to stretch time so that I have more space. My days open and close so quickly.  I am afraid without more space and more time, I will look back on my life and see how quickly it also opened and closed.

If my life closes without me being able to clarify and express my vision, is it wasted?  What is the achievement I can look back on?  Family?  True – beautiful daughters living full and interesting lives – but that is their achievement.  Policies written and implemented?  These change with the changes in government.

Then comes a more interesting question.  Do I have to matter?  Do I have to leave behind a legacy?  Is it enough to have just lived a full and interesting life?  My ego says – yes, your vision is important, your voice is important.  My logic (is that my dark side??) says – no, you are one of billions, no more or less.  Your vision is one of billions, your voice is one of billions.  Why do you expect or want to have more voice or more vision expressed than others?


The flower above is wilting. Its brief life is crumpling.  The bud below it opens, showing glory for one or two days before it too disappears into nothing – into my rubbish bin.  These lovely flowers have had a small impact on my life.  I enjoyed their beauty today.  tomorrow unless I look at this image again, they will be completely forgotten. Why should I ask for more?


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Framing

“The greatest danger, that of losing one’s own self, may pass off quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, that of an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc., is sure to be noticed.”

Soren Kierkegaard

As a photographer I am conscious of framing.  I look for natural frames, for delineations, for that ‘golden mean’ and I think about how things will be framed on my computer or on a wall.  These frames are used to define and separate.  I use them to make clear my vision for a particular image – this is not that, it does not merge into the other, it is separate and therefore clear. It has boundaries and clarity.

As people, how do we frame ourselves? Do we create clear frames around ourselves and our vision?

My weakness is not establishing these ‘frames’ to delineate me.  As a partner it is too easy for me to submerge myself within the ‘other’.  I call it ‘making the relationship work’, but in reality it is a loss of self, a denial of my value within the partnership.  As a mother, my body  became not my own, but an incubator for the life of another, then after birth, a source of nourishment dedicated physically to another.  At work, I worked within a system that required times and plans and set communication processes; later I became a repository for others weaknesses and fears, helping them clarify their lives.

These all demands I accepted, believing that this was my role in life, my work.  In that process I began to lose the framing that made me ‘me’ and not the other.

As children we are taught to put ourselves last, to care for others, to be considerate and thoughtful.  We are taught to fit in, to conform, not to stand out for fear of ridicule.  Rarely do our parents teach us to put our own needs first, our own self ahead of others – it would be rude and selfish.  So how and when do we start to learn about creating boundaries for ourselves?

For me, this is the most difficult lesson to learn.  I can frame and re-frame things to create difference and separation for others and in my images.  But making myself clear and distinct, my vision clearly expressed… these are the hard parts.

I need to find the parts of me that are me, and separate them from ‘other’.  ‘Other’ is not just people, but expectations, societal obligations and norms.  Some of these are so deeply ingrained that I am not sure if they are ‘me’ or ‘other’.  Separating these parts is a process of analysis, of examining each belief, thought and action to see where, why, how I decide to do or not do, be or not be.

The cost of not doing this sad, and sometimes, destructive work is the loss of me, the loss of self.  I would be just an anonymous undifferentiated  cell, not respected, not valued, merely useful.  Is this enough?

No, I will keep working, keeping framing.


Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.  Not all things are blest, but the seeds of all things are blest. The blessing is in the seed.
Muriel Rukeyser

I love beginnings. The potential in them is wonderful.  Moving to a new country, city, job… all things have the potential to be wonderful. The beginning of a new relationship is the most exciting time.  Even moving apartments has the potential to re-organise and change things.  Every morning brings a new beginning and chances for me to make something wonderful happen.

The seeds in this capsicum will probably not have a chance to germinate, as they will be tossed into my rubbish bin, and eventually become landfill under mounds of plastic, oil, metal etc.  Their potential is most likely lost.

So often we don’t see the potential in situations.  We see problems, or mistakes.  In photography we see harsh light or rainy days; we see such common vistas, familiar streets we feel there is no interest or potential in them. There are so many situations where we dismiss the potentials, toss them away like so much rubbish.

We frequently do this with ourselves and people we see on a daily basis.  Looking deep into ourselves becomes frightening, so we may stop this journey of exploration.  The lost potential for growth and development, for the seeds of change to grow….

As an ESL teacher, I am frustrated by those teachers who do not see the potential in their students because of the lack of fluent English.  Not having the language to express ideas does not mean stupidity.

When I see amazing light or images begging to be recorded and I don’t yet have the techniques, I become frustrated.  But I know the potential is there – one day!

Methodology

At the centre of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.

Lao Tzu

I have been playing with my macro lens lately.  The more I use this lens the more I love the images that finally appear on my computer screen.  This one is of the cut stem of a capsicum. Such an ordinary vegetable, but when we look closely at the intricacies of its construction and see the beauty of its colour and design, then we can appreciate the complexity that surrounds us. Sadly we seldom look so closely at the ordinary things around us, and so we miss all of this beauty and design.

I am on holidays for a few days and enjoying myself reading and playing with my images.  One of the books I am reading is “Creative Composition” by Harold Davis. This books has some inspirational images and useful advice on composition.  In one section, he speaks about using a Zen perspective as a way of seeing the world.  The images illustrating that section were beautiful, and I wondered if perhaps this would be useful to adopt to improve my images.

Then I began to wonder – do I need a specific perspective to focus my images or my thoughts?  I already have an understanding of miksang and wabi-sabi which seem aligned to the way I view the world and my photography.  Do I need a more structured way of looking at the world?  If so, is this THE one?

The more I considered it, the more I felt that it would be easy to be a follower of a ‘method’, be it spiritual, philosophical or intellectual.  Methods give us structure and rules and analytical tools; design ideas and processes – all good things if I want to improve my images.  However, the more I thought about being a ‘follower’, the less happy I became with the idea.  I have escaped structures and constraints in other areas of my life, why, in this creative area would I now voluntarily adopt any one method?

My vision comes from my experiences, my readings, my writings, understanding about the world around me.  Looking at the intricacy of a simple stem shows me how much complexity there is in the world.  With that level of complexity, I felt I needed to have no limits on the ways in which I view the world or express my vision.

Yes, that means I will chase off down this path, be side-tracked into that perspective and drift seemingly aimlessly. With every new book I read or experience I have I will incorporate something of that into myself and into my work.   But without this openness to information, experience and understanding, then I will limit my experiences and understanding.  If I channel all my new ideas and experiences through the filter of Zen or formalism ,or deconstructionism or….  Will I lose some of the richness that the idea or experience gives me?

If I stay open, willing to be diverted into many paths, willing to explore and  enjoy the complexity of life, then my knowledge of myself grows. I will have the answers at the centre of my being.

Regaining peace

Peace can be reached through meditation on the knowledge which dreams give. Peace can also be reached through concentration upon that which is dearest to the heart.  Patanjali.

Today I felt frazzled, I could only focus my thoughts on how much I had to do in the next week or so, and I had no ability to be really present.  I hate feeling like this. It annoys me and frustrates me.  It is wasted time.  I wanted my peace of mind back, and I wanted it NOW! But the more peace of mind is desired, the less it comes – the focus remains on the lack of peace.  I wanted to be able to write, to think clearly, be thoughtful and to be creative… but it wasn’t about to happen with me sitting there fussing over it.

I needed to do something to break the frustration so that I could change my state  of mind.  Are states of mind changeable? Yes – they are totally within our own power to manage.  If I choose to be happy and at peace, then that is what will happen.  If I choose to be angry and frustrated with the world, then merely by concentrating on the things that annoy me, I can make myself more and more angry.  The more I concentrate on the bad, the worse the world becomes.  The more I concentrate on the good, the more of it I find.

So today, to break this cycle within my head I used the bouquets of flowers given to me as gifts to try to see into the heart of life, to find the beauty and peace within nature.  I took my macro lens, my gorilla pod and started taking close-up images of the flowers.  The concentration on them, the focus on placement to see what lies beneath the obvious beauty of a flower took my mind into calm and peace.  I needed absolute stillness to create sharp images, I needed a steadiness of hand to focus accurately.

Looking carefully into the heart of a flower took away my breath with its intricacy. I found the striking likeness to the human heart in the stigma of an oriental lily, the softness of aging skin in the petals of a gladioli and the almost maternal  protection provided to buds by leaves and sepals. When I uploaded the images, I was happy.  The flowers lit up my monitor and showed me an inner world.

My love of photography, my desire to see the connections between all living things and the innate beauty calmed me, gave my mind the peace and serenity I craved. Now I could do the things I needed to do.

Knowing that I have the power to change my mind state also means knowing that if I do not use this power, I am choosing to be angry, frustrated, hurt, annoyed, hurtful, nasty – and whatever other emotions float around.  This means that I cannot blame my emotions or my bad moods on others.  I have to take responsibility for them – and for the actions and words I use when I choose to remain in that state.  This is not a happy thought.  It is so much better to be able to blame others;  ‘she made me so angry’,  ‘he pushed my buttons’.  Our dark side wishes to be absolved of this responsibility.  It is not me but the other who made me.

Religions use this process as well.  “The devil made me do it’ “God can stop me from doing this again’.  This externalisation of responsibility is one of the bete noirs of our individual development and of our society’s development as a whole.  If we can find others to blame, we have no need to change and even better, we have no need to even look to see if our behaviour had some culpability in the process.

Taking responsibility for our thoughts and emotions is hard.

All that we are is a result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become. Buddha

Meaning and creation

Our obligation is to give meaning to life and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life.  Elie Wiesel


Creating an image is easy – just point and shoot, paint or write.  But will such an image speak to others?  Will it speak to or for us? Unless we see the meaning in our images, then they can neither speak for us or to us.  We must see a meaning before we create the image or it becomes pixels on a page.

What does this image mean to me?  I have no idea of the relationship between the couple – are they married? Neighbours? Siblings or cousins? Old friends?  I don’t know.  Are they talking deeply about philosophy or chatting about the effect of the weather on their yaks? Again, I don’t know.

Therefore I have to create the meaning for myself.  What attracted me enough about this couple to take the photo?  The intensity of their conversation.  Clearly these are not strangers, circling each other to find common ground.  Their body language speaks of a closer relationship.  For me they seem to have created a space around themselves to have this discussion. Whatever the conversation, it has an importance to them.  And so, I feel the importance of this exchange, even if I do not understand it.  I can relate to it in remembering similar conversations I have had.  So – we have a connection of sorts.

The weathered faces also speak to me of a difficult life, endured and survived.  My life has not been as physically difficult as theirs, but I can relate to parts of their lives, from my childhood, from being a parent, from surviving my own difficulties. Again, I can see connections between their lives and mine.

When they see me with my camera, do they see connections between us?  Probably not.  They see a stranger, someone from a  world unlike theirs.  But if we were to sit and talk, we could establish those connections. We could establish common ground over family, over food, over difficulties we have met and managed.

But for now, to give my image meaning, I have to imagine those connections, create them, give this couple a story that may or may not be true.  If I can create the image effectively I may be able to pass my connections and understandings on to those who look at this image.  Will they see the human connections between themselves and this couple?  How can I create meaning for others from this image?  How can I make the human linkages clear?  If I can create meaning in this image, then I have managed to move my images from the passive and indifferent, to the meaningful and connected.

Looking for beauty

The taint of age can be very beautiful. The wreckage of man-made objects is something more beautiful than the new. Rust and weathering adds a patina of . . . well, I call it ‘elegant shit’ or ‘elegant gorp’. – Brett Weston

Searching for beauty is instinctive.  We look for beauty in men and women because they signal healthy breeding processes for the survival of our species. Beauty in nature attracts insects to fertilise flowers and create new life.  Majestic mountains and serene landscapes have been painted and photographed over and over, their beauty inspiring us and being transferred around the world in images that we label as beautiful.

But for me there is equal beauty in the imperfect, the old, the forgotten and the dying.  In these things I feel as if I can find deeper meanings.  The immediate attraction of overt beauty is not there, so I must look further to find value and meaning.

In judging people we have been told so often about books and their covers that we almost never say we want a beautiful or handsome partner.  We talk instead about other qualities – warmth, compassion, sense of humour etc.  But these qualities take longer to manifest, our first attraction is to symmetry, health and beauty.   Often ‘less-then-perfect’ people are unconsciously rejected from our choices, no matter how much we deny this ‘shallowness’ within ourselves.

Unless we are antiques experts, we rarely see beauty in old ‘stuff’.  It’s an old cup, with faded painting and perhaps some crazing on it.  Where is the beauty?  Even more rarely do we see the beauty in bent and broken  items.  They are for the rubbish pile.

But if we slow our judgment processes, we can see beyond the lack of perfection, beyond the cracks and dents.  We can see into the humanity of a person, we can find the history of use for things, imagine the history that has caused the breaks and twists.  Old and dying flowers or trees speak of regeneration in other forms.  Wrinkled faces and hands tell many stories of love and work.

When my camera takes me for a walk, I frequently focus on the obvious beauty of a garden first, but soon I am drawn to the flowers past their prime.  Their shapes are less predictable, their colours softer and their positioning speaks to me of death within life, of regeneration within death.  Walking in industrial areas creates the chance to explore human dreams and their implementation, and the effects those dreams have on the earth.  Debris, pollution, emptied streams  … none of these things are seen as beautiful, but the shapes and forms they create, the colours of rust and metal, the shine of oiled mud, these all have a beauty within themselves.

A deeper part of this beauty is that they force us to examine what we are doing to the world around us.  Dead trees at the edge of a once healthy lake engage and revolt us simultaneously.  Their stark beauty captures our lens, their origin our minds.

This ‘elegant gorp’ has more messages for us and more meaning than simple beauty.

Influences or plagiarism?

The Reader

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.” – Confucius

My passion for photography has increased over the past 7 years.  I no longer leave my home without carrying at least one camera.  My eyes are continually drawn to things to photograph.  Street photography, landscapes, macros, architecture – there is just so much to photograph, so much that speaks to me of the connections between people and people, between people and their world and my connection to the world.  I have thousands of photographs, not all categorised yet, not all worked on yet, but waiting for me.

As I upload new photos I am cataloguing them with keywords and at the same time setting myself the task of doing the same with one or two batches of the older photos.  From this I can see that themes are emerging.  Clearly I ‘see’ the same issues, the same interests in many places and they call to me to record them. They fit in with my vision of the world.

In the last 6 months I have begun to look at other photographers blogs as well, and am frequently inspired by their wonderful images and ideas for collating those images.  If I have noticed a theme running through my recording of the world around me and then I see that theme made alive in a collection by another photographer, am I plagiarising or being influenced?

One particular series that concerns me now is the wonderful series by Steve McCurry http://stevemccurry.wordpress.com/ .  His ‘sleeping’ and ‘readers’ series resonates strongly with me because I have so many images of people sleeping and reading in interesting places.  These have been collected over a number of years, and labelled under ‘daily life’.  If I re-arrange them now into those specific areas because I recognise the clear connections – am I cheating??  They are by no means the same images, but by re-collating them, do I run the risk of ‘stealing’ creativity?

If I read a romance novel and write one later, have I stolen the concept of ‘love’, of boy meets girl, lovers have difficulties, lovers reunite and live happily ever after?  Or have I recognised the universality of the theme and interpreted it with my vision?

I have been developing a list of projects I want to eventually put together, when I find more images that fit, and in the meantime, I keep finding more ideas, and the more I read in books, magazines and on the web, the richer my ideas become, and together they will merge with my vision to create something unique.

I want to acknowledge the influences, but not plagiarise.

Transience and control

What is actual is actual only for one time. And only for one place.
T. S. Eliot
Wandering around the evening streets in China always brings something of interest to see.  This man in engaging in a traditional activity – water calligraphy. The intensity of his expression and the care he used for his work caught my attention.  Calligraphy takes many years to learn and many, many hours to perfect.  Here he was, out in the public arena, demonstrating something he knew well and loved.  But in this demonstration, he also knew that within a few minutes, his work would disappear.  The water would dry and we would see nothing of where he had been and what he had created.
This empherality was accepted, planned for and seen as an absolute given.  He could have used paper or carved his work into stone, but instead, he chose to acknowledge that we cannot control the elements, we cannot change the way the natural processes occur.  He chose to work with these processes.  In doing so, he created a momentary beauty for all of us watching and he perhaps gained a few coins for his skill as well.
It is hard for us to accept that there are so many things we cannot control.  Our ego demands that we have the world circle around us and that things change to fit our needs or our wants.  For me, this is perhaps the darkest side of our dark side. We push and manipulate others to give ourselves that sense of control. Our dark side, the deepest unconscious somehow tends to believe that the world and the people there exist only to fulfill our needs, remove our insecurities and make us feel powerful.
How do we learn the lesson that control is not the real need?  That we are only what we are and no more? That  acceptance and tolerance of the world around us, and for the people within it are more important?  Sometimes we need others to push back – each time we try to control them, to take away their rights of action, speech and independence we have to have them say or demonstrate NO!  For those trying to meet their needs by attempting to control us, we need to be able to say clearly NO!
This is not easy for many people.  The fear of upsetting others, of being unpopular or unwanted prevents many people from clearly saying or demonstrating their ‘NO’.  But by not using our voice or by allowing others to close us down, we become lesser people ourselves.  We lose the chance to strengthen ourselves and we lose the chance to give the manipulator the understanding that s/he cannot meet needs through controlling others.
If we do not want the sharpness and the hurt of others abruptly stopping us to teach us our limits, we need to take our own journey into our psyche and look for the insecurities that make us want to control others.  Making the journey into that dark side is not easy, because it means that we have to face our own ephemerality.  We are not the centre of creation; the world will move and survive well (or better) without us, and worst of all, that the people within our sphere are not ours to manipulate or control  We need to find other ways of becoming secure and of feeling real.
In this image, I have been able to preserve this moment in time.  But I know that I can never recreate it exactly as it was. The artist has written and moved on, happy with his art, accepting that he cannot control the drying air.