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.
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Fires of life and death

This photograph was taken from a train window as we returned home from the southern part of China.  I am often frustrated when I take photos from cars or trains, as they are so often blurry and indistinct.  But this one seemed to retain its essence for me, showing approaching dark, the speed of life and how we depend on fire.

A fire from a gas burning power station, providing light and warmth for thousands of people, at the same time burning the resources of our world and polluting the atmosphere.

How do we balance our need for warmth, light, cooked food and industry with our need for clean air, clean water and clean soil?  This is a battle that at the moment the environment in developing countries is losing.

This need for balance can be seen in our own lives and photography.  How to balance light and shade, how to manage contrasts to create the best shot, the shot that best expresses our vision?  How to create the space in our lives to spend hours or days taking photographs when we have family and work to consider?  The necessity of carving out time for our creative and expressive needs is great, and yet it is frequently the first piece of time we give up when our lives become busy.

By doing this,  we devaluing our need for creativity and expression. Are we denying an essential part of our psyche?  For it is often from our creativity that we can best see and understand the deeper parts or the hidden corners of our ‘self’.  To push these sections of self to the background, seeing them as luxuries rather than as part of our core being then denies their growth, and our greater understanding of ourselves.

In our busyness we must ensure we have the time to think, to create, to delve into our expressive self and in doing so aid our growth.

“Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.”
Robert Fulghum

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The vision thing

Seeing what is there

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to an artist/photographer friend’s studio.  It was fascinating to see his works.  His walls were hung with completed paintings and mounted photos,  on his work table there were works in progress.  His cat was in charge of everything!

The visit was inspiring as well.  My friend is preparing for a solo exhibition in Indonesia later this year, and the theme is orchids.  But not just orchids, the heart of the orchid, the centre, the wellspring of new generations.  His vision is to see into the beginning.

With his photographs, he shoots macros of mostly inanimate objects.  These shots are so close that bark becomes completely abstract. Pebbles becomes shapes and forms rather than identifiable.  The colours are often monotone, giving the forms more depth and mystery.

We spent the afternoon drinking tea, talking art, photography, travel, making money and creating.  Over dinner we agreed that ‘seeing’ what is happening around us is important for our inspiration.  Not just seeing with our eyes but seeing with a vision.

When I looked at this photograph of the heart of a pansy flower – a very common garden flower – there was so much beneath the surface.  The likeness to human genitalia, the source of both our species and the flower species; the strong contrasting colours between petal and petal, between petal and heart, evoking thoughts of people of different races  and unreasoning prejudices; the moisture in the depths of the flower, nourishing new life.  So much below the surface, and yet so much of it seen only in my mind.

Looking at the visions expressed by others makes me question where do we find vision for ourselves? When we look around us, how do we learn to see the patterns in life and the heart of things?  Where does our vision of what we want to express come from? How do we find it in the external world if we are photographers?

Wynn Bullock looks into the depths with photography:

“In photography, if I am able to evoke not only a feeling of the reality of the surface physical world but also a feeling of the reality of existence that lies mysteriously and invisibly beneath its surface, I feel I have succeeded. At its best, photography is a symbol that not only serves to help illuminate some of the darkness of the unknown, but it also serves to lessen the fears that too often accompany the journeys from the known to the unknown.”

Looking at the reality that lies beneath the surface is where vision meets ‘taking a snap’ to create something with a greater meaning.  Finding the reality beneath has to come from within the photographers internal reality. We need to see deeply into ourselves so we can see more deeply into what is lying before us.

If a photographer does not evolve as a person, then the photographs will also not evolve.  If there is no personal growth, then there is no photographic growth, no matter how technically skilled the photographer is.  Each step of personal growth leads to a step in being able to create a deeper vision, of being able to see the reality beneath the surface.

So, a paraphrase of Proverbs 29:18 might be useful:

“Where there is no vision, the photograph perishes.”

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