Before starting on this post I would like to say a quick word of thanks to the people who have kindly sent me email. Especially those who have shared their insights or questioned my ideas and my photographic work. It is always appreciated.
Not too long ago I received an email from a reader who questioned my choice of subjects in my photographs relative to my philosophical outlook of life which she assumed to be either Buddhist or Taoist. She wanted to know how I saw a connection between my usual images of urban grunge and decay and the ethereal beauty of Taoist or Zen teachings. Her expectations envisaged images of pebbles and meandering brooks, Japanese gardens and orderly patterns, of proverbial frogs jumping into ponds.
Firstly I need to point out that I am neither Buddhist or Taoist. I find it best to hold no beliefs or concepts which tends to be how I perceive all philosophies and religions. It is true that I favor quotes from Zen and Taoist scriptures but only because they are the least distorted interpretations of pointers that have been given by teachers throughout the ages. At least as far as I can tell. These teachings, or pointers, are common to many religions but in some, such as Christianity and Islam, the interpretations of the parables/pointers seems to be done in such a way as to benefit the few in order that they may control the many. Again this is just my view on the matter. In any case, as I’ve already mentioned, I prefer not to hold onto concepts and see no benefits in being dogmatic about unprovable principles. Beliefs, after all, are just thoughts. Totally intangible.
Now having said this there is no denying that I still philosophise about life and such as the posts in this blog will testify. But I do so with the understanding that it is all quite useless and conceptual and that it is best not to put a label on it (even though the need to communicate does require the use of such labels). I tend to philosophise purely for entertainment value. I do not mean to be flippant but I have no other way of expressing it.
So how do my photographs relate to my philosophising? Well in short, they don’t. At least not in any mystical or esoteric way. The photographs have little to do with anything. In fact I have never as yet printed one and only began keeping them when other people started to express interest in them. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy my images. Quite the contrary. I get a lot of pleasure and joy from my images. There’s excitement when I finish processing an image and blow it up to the full size of my 17″ screen. I love immersing myself in them and being subtly aware of the myriad thoughts they evoke, the good, the bad and the ugly. And of course I get a kick when others appreciate them and bring to them their own feelings and interpretations. That, in part, is what art is about, the sharing of joy and fun, feelings and emotions, memories and imaginings. That’s how I see it though it surprises me how many artists don’t see it this way. Perhaps that is a sign that I am simply not an artist, merely an hobbyist. In any case that is a whole other topic.
Getting back to the topic at hand, while I thoroughly enjoy my images I am not attached to them and from a philosophical point of view they are almost illusory in nature. It’s not the image that is important to me or the subject, it is the imaging, the process of making the photograph and the most important part to that process is the initial seeing. The subject matter is not part of the process, it is, for all intensive purposes, inconsequential. The subject is illusory while the seeing is real. In other words it is unimportant whether the subject is a grungy alleyway or cherry blossoms in full bloom. What is all important is the clear seeing and the detached acceptance of what is seen. There is a strength, a power, an awareness that comes at that moment of seeing and accepting. I do not shoot the alleyway because I choose to, I shoot it because it is inevitable that I do. At the moment of seeing there is a sense that everything this present moment has to offer is a fated consequence of the past. Life has unfolded itself to this very moment just as it is, despite any apparent desires on my part for it to be otherwise. So if there is to be a connection between my photography and my philosophising than it is between seeing and amor fati, the love of one’s fate. Fate is life and life is truth and art connects it all together in a boundless embrace of beauty and clarity.
There is a possibility at this point that I will be labeled a fatalist or a determinist. That is fine, I don’t mind but those labels may carry with them an implication of capitulation, of not having control. There may even be an assumption that I am forced to like all that happens, all that I see but that is not what amor fati points to. It points to not fighting against what is, choosing instead, to accept it, as it is. Paradoxically, as so often happens in life, out of this simple acceptance comes freedom and independence. And thus the very limitations that fate appears to beset on me are transmuted into beauty and creativity.
So in photographic terms, my success in creating a photograph that I will like, comes from accepting fully that which is presented to me. When I allow the mind to relax its grip on the world perceived, through the simple act of acceptance, creative energy is released and transformed into… well… art, or in my case, a photograph. A photograph that brings me bliss.