“Prolegomenon” means “a preliminary discussion.” The discussion to follow in this first post starts by looking back at those global, social, and cultural forces which arose together in the 40’s and 50’s to form a new weltenschauung. A new way of perceiving of knowing self, world, and others. This shift of perspective in turn, transformed art and brought forth new creative processes and abilities and of these, photography first and foremost. So, briefly I will look at these influences and how they affected the development of art in general and photography in particular. Always keeping in mind that humans see and know the world and self through a particular kind of “lenses” and “filters” which are conditiones of and by time, place, race, gender and class, and by all those social-economic-political-geopolitical ideas which so strongly limit what we think and what we believe is possible for us to see.
The rest of the title is a pun. In the bible Jesus is attributed to have said “the first would be last. Thinking here is that the first post of the blog will become buried such that to find one’s self reading this, one must wind backwards to this “first discussion.” Thus the first shall be last.
Today, thousands suffer from the consequences of an earthquake of unparalleled power. This decade has seen unprecedented environmental and geo-political upheavals. Each decade is turbulent. It is the story of life. The universe, this earth, these skies, mountains and oceans can change in an instant. The same holds true for our cultures, our institutions and the “ego-edifications” we erect to honor ourselves thus hoping to insure our presence upon the world will not quickly fade. These too are constantly changing. What man of power, country, or institution will fall tomorrow? All is flux. In flux too, are our thoughts, our fears and our desires. Nothing remains the same. A wise one spoke to remind us “the only constant in the universe is change.” And intellectually, we all know this to be true, but we tend to not live our lives as though we believed it. We tend to prefer the “security of our misery to “the misery of our insecurity” (S. Kopp).
Intellectually, we also know that life can change drastically in a matter of seconds. One can suffer a stroke, fall off a curb, sniff Hantavirus, be told they have MS or cancer. And there are vast powers way beyond our control that can arise out of the deep blue and force us to remember that life is tumultuous.
The decades of the 40’s and 50’s, when all us “baby boomers” became incarnate, were then as they are now. A mess. Not much has changed really. We are still at war (once again fighting in a war of choice) and Japan has once more been subject to mass devastation and is about to become irradiated again.
Life is short and I grow old. The pressure to share, to contribute, to pass along some of the experiences and teachings I have been fortunate to have received grows. Our world is not only composed of atoms and such but also of beliefs and stories. Beliefs and stories function so as to “define what is socially, affectively, cognitively (and imaginatively) relevant, and existence is transformed by that which is relevant” (P. Berger, 1980). Stories do many things. Some stories inspire and some entrap. But I am jumping ahead.
Let me tell you a story…….
Back in my time, the boom times, back when I was a toddler, American art transitioned by way of a mash-up of Cubanism, Constructivism, the Bauhaus schools and Surrealism. They called it “Abstract Expressionism.” The primary movers and shakers of this new art were stylistically diverse yet certain threads of commonality ran through. For starters, the “principle players” in the development of art and photography were heavily influenced by the holocaust and by the mushroom cloud, which was vivid and raw in the collective psyche. In the homeland, books by Freud and Jung, Nietzsche, Sartre, were becoming available and quickly absorbed in our melting pot. Also too, the first translations of Buddhist and Hindu texts entered our collective consciousness with “dharma bums and blues.” Joseph Campbell and Robert Bly. Beat poetry, myth, symbolism, quantum physics and existential theology came together to re-awaken humanities desire to explore the psyche in the hopes that we might “boldly go where no one has gone before” (G. Roddenberry).
“Art was understood to be profoundly solitary and archetypally human – a timeless struggle for creativity and a quest for authenticity,” (“An American Century of Photography, (1999), pg 72,) and “abstract expressionism represented a shift from aesthetics to ethics; the image was no longer expected to be beautiful, but to be true, to be “an accurate representation or equivalence of the artist’s interior sensation or experience” (pg 272). Common to Rothko, Kooning, Pollack, et al and photographers such as Callahan, Moholy-Nagey, Weston, Adams, Bullock, Cunningham and Minor White was that “each work of art presented an ” “equivalence” (Stieglitz) of the artist’s subjective self” (pg 274).
No photographer used the camera in a more deliberate quest for self-discovery than Minor White. White, who was the first editor of Aperture magazine, and whose direct protégées include Jerry Uelsmann, Paul Caponigro, Carl Chiarenza, Walter Chappell and John Loori Diori; was in turn, heavily influenced by Christian mysticism, Taoism, Zen Buddhism, Gurdjieff and Carl Jung. “The camera is first a means of self-discovery and then a means of self-growth the artist has one thing to say – himself” (White, M. pg 273).
It was the early 70’s when I picked up a camera. It was a Canon Ftb with a 50 mm lens. In no time I was hooked and I’ve remained more or less hooked ever since. Back then a serious photographer had to know about Ansel Adams and the zone system for metering and film development. And I quickly became serious. I had a bulk loader of Pan Atomic X and a spot meter. Ansel Adams provided the guidelines of the “how-to” of black and white photography but it was Edward Weston then Minor White who provided me with the inspiration and planted the seeds of what has now seemingly becoming perhaps my life’s work. Namely, the practices of exploring capabilities of the camera and the processes of image creation as a spiritual practice grounded in Christianity but made alive and practical with Vipassana Buddhism.
As Henry Callahan, was to note: “we see in terms of our education. We look at the world and see what we have learned to believe is there…but as photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs” (pg 268). Texts attribute Buddha as saying: “with our thoughts, we make the world.” Buddha would have been a Nikon kinda guy I have no doubt.
In Japanese there is a word “kado” which translates as: “the way of the flower.” The concepts to which “kado” refers have been adopted by Zen Buddhism and are practiced as part of the Zen arts, as a sacred art grounded in the practices of mindfulness and meditation; being unburdened by past or future, free of judgment, experiencing life as fully in the moment, of awakening to our lost innocence of heart, and learning to see with the eyes of a child. With a clear mind we can experience the life of a flower as a reflection of our own life.
Perhaps as a gift of older age, or merely the cumulative weight of the thousands of moments I have spent in the dirt observing and repeatedly attempting to record on film or chip some semblance of the essence of a flower, I am finding, that indeed, photography can become a sacred practice.
This blog will unfold as the practice of sacred photography unfolds. I will post images and stories of how those images came to be, what the experience of bringing them forth was as best I am able. I will also share techniques both camera and post production techniques. I will share and answer questions or comments regarding Photoshop techniques and how this journey continues to unfold. I invite all to share.