The virtual photographer

Sunrise over desert city
Lately I’ve read and listened to a number of articles and conversations that argue over taking photos versus being in the moment when in some beautiful, exotic location; as in: you can’t versus you can, truly enjoy a place when you’re always looking at the world through a little screen; with people on both sides arguing they are the happier bunch. I never read or listen to the end so, you know, whatever.

But hey, having gone from making photographs for decades to making none to speak of for close to a year and a half, and having recently visited one of the most picturesque places in Australia for the first time and sans-camera, allow me to explain the differences in experience between visiting a beautiful location with a camera and taking loads of photos, and visiting a beautiful location with no camera and, you know, taking no photos. Especially as it pertains to my level of happiness (which is as good a measuring stick as any in this sort of argument).

So here it is, the difference in my happiness levels when I’m in a wonderful location without a camera versus with a camera is… well, none. Either way, I can’t say I felt any difference. There’s no regretting not taking a camera and there’s no feelings of being more in the moment one way or the other.

So there you have it. A totally unscientific, totally useless opinion which helps nobody, much like those articles and conversations I mentioned at the start.

Anyway, in anticipation of some questions people may have here are some rather vague and most likely, useless, answers:

No, I didn’t miss having a camera. Well, technically I had my phone (my 16yo daughter was in France and I needed to be available) but a few months ago I downgraded to the cheapest phone I could find and I am not sure that the photo-making apparatus that it comes with actually passes off as a camera. It’s okay for selfies I guess. In really good light. With minimal contrast. When all the planets align. A couple such photos did make it to Instagram or FB Messenger for my daughter, and for my son who was at home, but the taking of these snaps is not what I would consider picture making.

No, I doubt I’ll regret not having any photos of my trip. I always think of holiday photos as being for other people to look at since I don’t look at them myself. Though my wife – who wasn’t too happy about me not taking the usual holiday snaps – decided to take on that responsibility and used her own, very capable phone and did a fine job of it. On a side note, one thing I realised (and this may sound far too cynical for some), is that in this day and age with millions of people sharing photos, all I would need to do if I really wanted to see some snaps is do a search. In fact, the photos in the link above are pretty much what I saw.

Yes, there were a few times where I saw something which resonated on some level beyond pure aesthetic beauty which I would have captured had I had a camera. In fact, I saw waves of amazing metaphysical beauty, 4-5 metres high, perfect clarity and colour, with massive spray whipped by an offshore wind that truly made them look like horses with white manes galloping across azure fields. And every now and then, the sun would catch that spray creating mini rainbows, turning those spectral horses into My Little Ponies®. Totally surreal. So yes I would have made a number of photographs of these waves but frankly, it suffices that I got to see it. It’s now a memory in my DNA which will only get better with age; the way good memories tend to do. Not having a digital copy of it is neither here nor there for me.

Yes, there was a palpable feeling of immersion with my surroundings that came from walking around without a camera, which in itself, was significantly different to the feeling of concentration I experience when trying to capture a scene with a camera. This one is difficult to explain but the difference, while tangible, is just that: a difference. I find neither situation to be better than the other if we’re talking about enjoyment or contentment.

I don’t know what any of this means in terms of my future photo making. I still don’t have any strong urges to take photos, much less to go shopping for a camera. Over the decades I’ve been driven to take photos for many reasons. When I started this blog in 2009, I had decided to explore the creative process a little deeper, specifically with regards to the relationship between creativity and consciousness. In the past six and half years and 350 posts later, how I’ve used a camera and how I’ve made photographs has changed numerous times. The way I perceive the world has also changed. This exploration, within the context of art and more specifically, photography, has taken me to all sorts of philosophical and metaphysical mindscapes which are, by their very nature, endless; so I could be looking for a camera again some day.

For now, not having a camera doesn’t make me feel overly different from when I took a camera with me everywhere I went. All I know is that when I’m in some picture-worthy situation, it’s not  about what I have or where I’m at or what I’m doing or not doing which determines happiness. It’s whatever enables the story of ‘me’ to drop away in the sheer bliss of the moment and whatever that might be, whatever allows ‘me’ to fade away, it is always far more satisfying than any concepts or ideas. With ‘me’ out of the way all that is left is feeling, tasting, seeing. Most of all, it’s being; being with no attachment to ‘me’. It is raw pleasure where there is just what’s happening, without ‘me’. That, I suppose, is how I might describe happiness.  Happiness comes in the absence of ‘me’ and in the presence of nothing. And everything.

Ok, so that probably made no sense. Words tend to get in the way. What I’m trying to say is: Take ‘me’ out of the picture and who is left to worry about things like an SD card full of shots or an SD card sitting on a shelf back home? Or, in other words, what’s wrong with right now if I’m not thinking about it?

Anyway, enough of that. For now I will leave you with the image above. Digitally created, mixing a bit of an old photo with some “drawn” elements, it is what I find myself creating these days, in lieue of photographs. In case you can’t tell, it’s of a sunrise over a city at the edge of a desert. I made it as a virtual photographer standing in an imaginary desert, looking east, totally lost in the imaginary grandness of it all and just being.


Feeling the Northern Star in the southern sky

The lone pine

A recent conversation.

Friend: So what is it that you look for in art?
Me: The same thing that I look for in the world around me. The reveal.
Friend: The what now?
Me: The reveal. The thing that is in plain sight but gets obfuscated by too much thinking.
Friend: Ah… Ok, so what is this, ‘thing’.
Me: I told you. The reveal.

Conversing with me can be a little frustrating I’ve been told. The trouble with philosophising about life is communicating it.

Before I attempt to explain myself, I should probably explain the accompanying picture. The astute readers will have picked up on the fact that this is not a photograph. I’m fairly sure that I have no photographs left to share so I am resorting to drawing pictures,  by hand via a mouse. I will state the obvious at this point and say that it is a much slower process than clicking a shutter but no less satisfying.

So, what is this “thing” that I look for in art?

I am not trained in art (in case the picture above didn’t make it obvious), nor in art appreciation for that matter. I just like art and have liked art for a long time. However, a deep appreciation of anything be it food, scotch, dance, Cuban cigars etc., requires an education, be it formal or informal, mentored or self-taught. With regards to art, I fall in the informal, self-taught category but despite many years of practice I remain at the amateur level. And I’m good with that.

When I first started to get interested in art I thought of art in terms of aesthetics. I either liked the look of it or I didn’t and as far as I was concerned that’s all my involvement required.

Over the years I learned some of the technicalities that go into making art and that became another way of appreciating art. I could approach an artwork and study its composition, its tones and colour arrangement, its lines and forms, the way it flowed, the way the various elements led my eyes around the scene, the use of textures and light and so on. In the end I would assess all those elements and I would either like what I saw or I wouldn’t. For a long time, that was the way I would view art and again, as far as I was concerned, that’s all my involvement required.

But over time it became apparent that there were many different levels of liking. In fact I even found different levels of not-liking. Why would an artwork make me teary, or lift my spirit, while another would make me angry or annoyed?

It was only when I noticed my reactions to music that I wondered if there was another way of looking at art. I know absolutely nothing about music. I cannot read music, I cannot play music, I cannot sing. I can’t even tell my do-re-mi from my mi-fa-sol. And yet, music can take me places like nothing else can.

The thing is that when I listen to music I give myself over to it. I come to it without preconceived ideas about tempo, harmonies, melodies, or whatever else goes into the making of it and that’s because I know nothing about what goes into the making of it. In fact, music often feels like a minor miracle to me.

And so, at some point, I tried to let go of my knowledge of art and give myself over to it. This took time. A lot of time. I don’t find it easy to let go of beliefs and opinions. I don’t find it easy to quieten thoughts when it’s just me and a photo or a painting. Music at least fills my head leaving no room for anything else but a picture, well, it just sits there, quietly.

Anyway, sometimes, mind quietens down enough. Then the picture’s whispers can be heard and some nuance, some aspect of the picture reveals itself. It does so in a wordless language. A language built up from years of experiences and circumstances that are only mine. It will connect with me in ways that I understand, ways that I can relate to and that’s rather nice to be sure.

But on even rarer occasions, when I am truly disconnected from all but the art piece, then, well, then the reveal is beyond any language, it is neither perceived or experienced. It is no thing, it is nothing, it is featureless consciousness. It is like the potential of bread in a grain of wheat, or a window pane in a grain of sand. It is like feeling the Northern Star while looking at the southern sky.

The reveal was always there of course, but it’s like the forest that cannot be seen for the trees; let go of the trees and there lies the forest.

Friend: Oh, ok.
Me: Too weird?
Friend: I would say you’re nuts. A beer short of a six-pack as Kierkegaard would have said.
Me: Did they have six-packs back in his day? But yeah, he wouldn’t get what I’m saying either. Damn existentialists. But that’s ok, I question my sanity on a daily basis.
Friend: You should.

A little later.

Friend: So, I’m afraid to ask…
Me: What?
Friend: To get this reveal thingy from the rest of the world, do you have to forget everything you know about the world?
Me: No. I suspect I would have to let go of everything I believe I know about me.
Friend: Right.

Some seconds pass.

Friend: You know, make that two beers short of a six-pack.

Not looking, just seeing

Blow me a kiss that I may catch it with my open heart

In another month or so it will be a year since I’ll have done any photography.

Interestingly I don’t miss it. Which is weird because there was a time when the idea of not making photographs would have been as foreign to me as the idea of not eating. But here I am, without camera and without desire to make photos.

Some things have remained unchanged however, such as my interest in photographs and art in general. I continue to look at various works from snapshots to the more abstract “can-we-really-call-that-photography” kind of stuff and everything in between. I still find myself absorbed by all forms of visual arts. I remain fascinated by what other people see and express through their chosen medium.

In a recent conversation about this quandary of mine, a friend commented: “Well you only ever took photos to figure out stuff. Maybe you’ve got it all figured out now.”

I certainly haven’t got it all figured out (whatever ‘it’ might be) but it is true that with regards to my own picture-making endeavours, it feels like I’ve lost the sense of need or perhaps the sense of purpose. When I see what would once have been a potential shot I am still stopped in my tracks, I still let myself be immersed in the scene but the idea of actually capturing it feels pointless. Not in a fatalistic or nihilistic way but the need to capture such moments is simply gone. At least this confirms what I have long suspected: I am not a photographer.

Many years ago I hung out with surfers and they’d talk about “the perfect wave”. I asked if there was such a thing and one guy said something like: “Oh dude, it’s a concept man, it’s an idea, you can’t be looking too hard for it or you’ll just miss it you know?” And when I asked “Miss what? The perfect wave?”, he looked at me like I was stupid or something and said: “No man. Life. You’ll miss life.”

So perhaps I’ve just realised that whatever I am looking for can’t be “found” with a camera in the same way that looking around the house for my glasses is futile if they are already sitting on my nose.

But then again, the looking is just another part of life too isn’t it?

Anyway, this isn’t to say I will never take photos again but when that might be is anyone’s guess. Though getting back into it will require me going shopping which I am not too fond of, even when it’s online, even when it’s for cameras. Still, the new Pen-F does seems rather fun and the A6300 sounds promising and of course my daughter wouldn’t mind it at all if I came home one day with a RX100 IV.

All the infinites

All the infinites

To die without regret is to have lived 10000 lifetimes or a single lifetime without imagination.

Here is an image that isn’t finished. Not that anyone else looking at it would know. It is what it is but for now let us pretend it is art. It should be okay to do so because it’s aesthetics or artistic qualities are not the point.

The image is made up of numerous photographs. On their own, each photograph is unmemorable. They are correctly exposed photos of things and possess no artistic merit or emotional value whatsoever. What is more, the photos were taken days or even months apart in unrelated locations. The only interesting thing about them is that I took them at all. I am not the kind of person who randomly shoots things. I have little interest in seeing what something looks like as a photograph (unless it’s taken by someone else). For the most part, when I walk around with a camera I capture what I see as an abstraction of a thought or idea that is itself triggered by what was just seen. A kind of closed circuit loop.

The fact that I took these inconsequential photographs is not the only strange thing about them, but also that I kept them at all. But keep them I did and eventually, for reasons I do not know and by a process I do not consciously perceive, these images are viewed collectively, or somehow remembered, and brought together as if linked by a thread of cognition running through them which suddenly becomes visible. A vision starts to form and the photographs are merged as one.

As the final image develops, certain elements come as a surprise. Such as the red tones in the above example. Surprising because the predominant colour in each of the individual photos was blue.

I don’t know how this happens. I don’t know why I take such photographs when I do and I don’t know what prevents me from deleting them when I clean up my drive and I don’t know what makes me link them together into a single picture. I don’t know. Not really.

Art is not a means to an end because the end goal is achieved immediately at each step of the creative process: Art nurtures the spirit.

Art does not deal in facts and figures. It does not seek to prove its worth or fit into preconceived moulds or genres. It is what it is. It does however, require an element of faith; first in myself but ultimately in life itself.

As I see it I can describe my life as having two parts: My inner life and my outer life. The outer life demands the most attention, it’s loud and brazen and beautiful and weird and ugly and scary and promising and so full of things; lots and lots of things. Even art appears in the outer life. My inner life on the other hand is quiet, almost silent. Beauty here is ethereal as are emotions. Truth is felt here at times though it is easily obfuscated by the harsh glare of the outer life the way the sun obfuscates the stars in the day sky. Art also exists here in the inner life. I suspect art (or in my case, the appreciation of art) is born here.

When I live the outer life I feel overwhelmed by information often times passing itself off as knowledge; knowledge about things. Buried under facts and figures I feel obliged or perhaps just tempted to find meaning in that knowledge or even in the things themselves. Sadly, if it is there, it escapes me. Meaning in the outer life seems elusive, fleeting, mere shadows.

Living the inner life however, is far simpler, more fluid and less demanding. There’s clarity and acceptance and the promise of answers even though the questions themselves seem unimportant. Even the question that asks for meaning loses relevance. And yet it is in this inner spiritual life – the source of art – that I feel sure of finding meaning.

And therein lies the trap. With the impression that meaning will be more readily found in the inner life, a disconnect happens between inner and outer, a kind of detachment between the two. The separation of inner and outer makes everything appear separate from everything else. Everything co-existing in a fashion but doing so chaotically without any apparent purpose. However, that sensation of separateness between me and everything else, between inner and outer, does not make sense to me.

Just like each of the separate photos that were taken to make this final picture. Individually, they made no sense. It was only when they came together that their purpose, their meaning, was found. And due to their apparent lack of connection, abstraction was the only way to relate them.

For me, abstraction provides a way of objectifying the outer life in a way that is independent of subjective reality thereby uniting the inner and outer views of reality. What I am trying to say is that while abstraction is often described as a departure from reality or as imaginary, for me, abstraction actually provides a clearer view of reality and a clearer understanding of life’s purpose. Imagination is, after all, what made this image possible; even if I have no idea where imagination comes from in the first place.

I doubt this makes much sense to anyone else. I’m having difficulty finding the right words but if I was to summarise it I would say that for me: Art and life are inseparable.

Yeah, I know… still no clearer. Sorry.

One last try: Imagination points to all the infinites that life has to offer and art is its language.

Ends and beginnings and other random time events

The boogie boarderSo 2015 was perhaps the slowest year for me in terms of photographic output. Almost non-existent really. Perhaps 2016 will provide me with a bit more impetus to get out there and shoot something. A return of some creative mojo would be welcomed. Of course that will mean buying a camera which is a shame because I don’t enjoy the process of shopping especially when there are too many choices.

Anyway, while on the topic of new cameras let me direct you towards the Light L16 camera which is due to come out this year. Some of you may already be aware of this camera as it was announced in October or November last year. I only heard about it yesterday. This camera has yet to prove itself but I am delighted to see a camera company dispense with the traditional film-camera body.

It seems to me that the camera industry is far too nostalgic about making modern, digital cameras look like film cameras. This may well be due to the market insisting that it be so but I can’t help but wonder how restrictive and inhibiting such thinking might be. The L16 incorporates some clever and innovative uses of modern technology which would not be possible in a traditional camera body. I’ll be interested to follow the launch of the L16 and I hope that it is a success; if only to encourage other camera manufacturers to think outside the proverbial and traditional box.

On a different note, I recently received the yearly report from WordPress which presented a bunch of stats for Plop over 2015. All the numbers were small and unmemorable as expected but there was one that stood out, namely the total number of posts for Plop. The number, by my reckoning was about 300 short. I’m not sure where all the posts have gone (and I doubt this will impact anyone) but I should have a look into it some time.

Also, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all the readers of Plop, especially all the regulars who’s comments makes it all worthwhile by injecting some wonderful insights, inspirations, encouragements, questions and levity into this blog. Many thanks to you dear friends.

Lastly, I wish us all, the strength, the courage, the sense of humour, the creativity and the wisdom to take on whatever life decides to throw at us this year. May we all have the best, and failing that, may we all make the best of what we get.

The unified field

The unified field

The unified field. Where all things and events are merely interconnected differentiations in form.

In a comment to a previous post, Ted Byrne wrote that the concept of “now” was itself not a thing. I agree with him when viewed within the context of this reality made real by thoughts and senses, opinions and ego. But perhaps within the context of a unified field where space and time become space-time, where all that exists is not there and then but here and now, eternity might simply appear as being made up of infinite nows. No pasts, no futures, just infinite moments in one immediacy.

The unified field. Where life flows timelessly.

∼ § ∼

As I am still without new material, I have here an image I made some time back. It is a loose and somewhat philistine interpretation of the Unified Field Theory (UFT). To be frank, I applied a large dose of creative licence to my representation of the UFT. Albert Einstein would not be amused, I am sure.

I won’t go into any explanation of the image (the opening blurb along with the caption will have to do). And I won’t go into the making of it which took more time than I care to admit due mostly to my incompetence at digital manipulations but I will state that at least, I was able to do some justice to the vision I imagined at the time of making the original photograph. Too many times I don’t even get close to achieving that.

∼ § ∼

Which brings me to the third part of this post.

Before Christmas I read an article that compared photographs and paintings – I would provide a link but I’ve been away since and I cannot recall where I saw it. The article made numerous comparisons many of which seemed rather strange to me. If my memory serves, one particular statement was along the lines that painting was subjective while photography was objective and neither should try to be anything else. It’s possible that the author was being funny or sarcastic – it’s difficult for me to read tone in an article – but at the time it read like a serious proposition. The suggestion, as I understood it, was that painting is for abstract representations of a subject while photography is for realistic representations of a subject.

To limit art, in any of its forms, is for me, incongruous, amiss and just plain wrong. As I see it, art needs to be free of limits. Certainly this can be abused at time but that’s a small price to pay to ensure untethered human expression.

I’m not suggesting that I view painting and photography in the same light. They are, after all, different crafts and as such I can, and usually do, judge them using different criteria. However when it comes to artworks, irrespective of their form, I tend to judge them simply as art; that is, in terms of feelings and emotions, meanings and sentiments, intents and expectations.

The image above was a photograph of the sea and of breaking waves but in this final state it is not a realistic representation of those elements. The image is now a photograph depicting an abstract representation of the Unified Field. Does this mean I should have used paint as my medium? I imagine it would look rather nice as an oil painting on a large canvas but would that change the intent? Would that provide a deeper or even more obvious meaning? Is this image a farce because it is a photograph that does not represent the sea and breaking waves?

I have no idea and will never know since my painting skills are far worse than my digital-manipulation skills. However, as it states in the caption below the image: I see all things and events to be interconnected differentiations in form. As such, I find that it’s best to leave limits out of the equation.

Especially where art is concerned.

I find that doing so provides me far richer experiences.

The silent witness

Consciousness is the thread in the fabric of spacetime

Consciousness is the thread in the fabric of space-time

When I wrote “Some place in between” I thought I was posting my last photograph. Having not handled a camera in months and being extremely frugal with the shutter before that, getting to the last photo was expected. This photo on the other hand, was a surprise.

I took this shot in 2008 and misclassified it with family snaps. And there it stayed, completely forgotten until recently when I was in the process of moving family shots to the Cloud.

It’s not an especially good photo but it will serve the purpose of this post.

I have a strong attraction to blur in photography because I am fascinated with motion. After all, it’s an attribute of all things in our reality. From the smallest quantum particles to the largest galaxy, there is unrelenting motion.

As I sit here at my desk in Brisbane Australia (latitude 27º 30′ 00″ S), the rotational speed of the Earth is 1487.9 km/h (924.6 mph). The Earth’s orbital speed is 107,200 km/h (66,600 mph). Meanwhile, the Solar System is moving around the Galactic Centre at 828,000 km/h (514,000 mph). And if that’s not fast enough, the Milky Way is moving at a ridiculous speed of 600 km/s which is around 2.16 million km/h (1.34 million mph) towards the Hydra constellation. Amazing right? I mean, imagine being a navigator on an intergalactic spaceship and having to find your way home after being away for a couple of years. That’s some pretty freaky maths you’d have to do.

Anyway, there’s an allure to putting units and numbers and labels on things: kilometres per second, miles per hour, light speed, light years, E equals m C squared. Anything to make this seemingly crazy world seem more orderly, less chaotic, less frantic, more still. Of course all these units of measure are all arbitrary as Lucien Poincaré tells us all too clearly in “The New Physics and Its Evolution”.

But what does the universe care that two plus two equals four or that there’s a maximum speed limit or that Fibonacci worked out a cool sequence of numbers?

The best reason I’ve heard for humanity’s incessant need to measure and codify comes from a movie that came out last year. As the protagonist Lucy – in the 2014 movie of the same name – says in one scene: “We’ve codified our existence to bring it down to human size to make it comprehensible. We’ve created a scale so that we can forget its unfathomable scale.”

Motion everywhere, never stopping. And yet …

… there is this one thing; so intangible that it can easily go unnoticed, but for all its elusiveness it’s everywhere I turn my attention to, perfectly still, completely unmoved by anything. I’m not sure what to call it but the best I can come up with is presence.

In the caption under the photograph I wrote: Consciousness is the thread in the fabric of space-time. When I first wrote this I was seeing consciousness as the element that separates space from time, the thing that allows duality to be perceived. I thought of consciousness as knowing or what allows us to measure and codify. The thing that is forever searching for answers, seeking understanding, wanting to create. Now however, I don’t see consciousness as the thread in the fabric so much as the entire fabric itself.

When thoughts are silenced and I am as still as I can be,  when I let go of all my ideas, my beliefs, my labels and anything else that I consider self-defining, in those always-too-short moments – moments I have so often associated with making photographs – I become totally present.

Presence: the silent witness to everything.

And in that presence I sense that I do not have consciousness so much as consciousness has me.