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.

Living vicariously

If anyone was wondering what my camera has been up to since I stopped using it some months ago, then let me say that unlike me, it has not been idle. My daughter who recently turned 16, has been putting it to good use.

I’ve written about Stef and her still photography before but she has since developed a taste for making films and I am more than happy to encourage her in this endeavour. In that vein, I have given her my Sony which isn’t ideal as a movie camera but is nonetheless better than her older Olympus. Not to mention that it is also cheaper than buying her a Sony A7RII which is what she would really like but like all crafts, the gear only becomes important when the skills are well established and she still has plenty to learn and practice in the art of filmmaking.

She is strongly inspired by nature. Her experience of the Grand Canyon and Yosemite last year, opened her eyes to the beauty of the natural world and she is determined to go back some day and film those places along with a number of others that she has read about.

In the meantime, she is happy filming places closer to home. Places which hold their own beauty and which present worthy challenges to her budding desire of filmmaking.

Stef shoots, edits and scores her own movies. With only one more year at school she hopes to study Film & TV at university but for now she would be encouraged just seeing the number of views go up so if you have a couple of minutes please have a look. And she’d also be happy to get any feedback, good or constructive, if you have any to offer. With school and all her extracurricular activities she doesn’t have much time for this passion of hers but she hopes to build up her portfolio between now and when she leaves school so if you like what you see and you like to subscribe to YouTube Channels then I am sure she will be thrilled if her channel subscription count goes up along with the view count.

As for me, I’m looking forward to the day when I’ll be able to say to people that my daughter is a director of photography. I guess that makes me one of those parents who lives vicariously through their children. And you know what? I’m totally fine with that.

Thanks for reading and for watching.

Some place in between

In the movie Inception, DiCaprio and friends use technology to infiltrate dreams and plant ideas into the mind of their target. There are lots of topsy-turvy scenes in the movie which are quite trippy and disorienting but which create an absolute feast of surrealism.

There is a good chance that I was influenced by that movie when I created this somewhat unoriginal idea. At least on some subliminal level since I only made the association once I finished working on it.

I watched another movie recently called Ex Machina – my favourite Artificial Intelligence movie yet – in which the creator of the AI, Nathan, talks to the protagonist, Caleb, about Jackson Pollock.

Nathan: You know this guy, right? – Jackson Pollock. – Jackson Pollock. That’s right. The drip painter. Okay. He let his mind go blank, and his hand go where it wanted. Not deliberate, not random. Some place in between. They called it automatic art. Let’s make this like Star Trek, okay? Engage intellect.
Caleb: Excuse me?
Nathan: I’m Kirk. Your head’s the warp drive. Engage intellect. What if Pollock had reversed the challenge. What if instead of making art without thinking, he said, “You know what? I can’t paint anything, unless I know exactly why I’m doing it.” What would have happened?
Caleb: He never would have made a single mark.
Nathan: Yes! You see, there’s my guy, there’s my buddy, who thinks before he opens his mouth. He never would have made a single mark.
Nathan: The challenge is not to act automatically. It’s to find an action that is not automatic. From painting, to breathing, to talking, to fucking. To falling in love…

Not deliberate, not random, some place in between…

Making pictures can put me in that place. Sometimes.

I like to imagine doing all my actions in such a way: not deliberate, not random but some place in between. Acting independently of my brain’s programming. Acting in the spirit of mushin no shin, mind without mind. Coming into direct contact with reality without any intervening belief systems, dogmas or philosophies.

Not deliberate, not random, just some place in between.

Twenty thousand days

To me, most Rorschach inkblots look like sand islands surrounded by azure seas.

To me, most Rorschach inkblots look like sand islands surrounded by azure seas.

Today, I am exactly twenty thousand days old. Seems like a lot of days and yet the only one that feels real is today.

As I sit here at a desk typing these words, watching the sun set, I realise that I don’t truly remember any of the past 19999 days, at least not clearly. My memories are disjointed and full of gaps. Even yesterday cannot be recalled in full details from the moment I woke to the moment I went to sleep. At best, I remember past days much as I remember a dream upon waking up. Only today feels truly real. The rest of the 19999 days feel like a notion, an idea. Or dare I say, an illusion.

Maybe that’s the great cosmic joke that I’ve read in those Zen and Buddhists stories, the one that makes people laugh out loud upon enlightenment. Maybe it’s all just a dream and yet we spend so much time worrying and fussing and planning.

Maybe. Who knows? Certainly not me.

Anyway, twenty thousand days… that’s a lot of days and yet it feels like… just one.

Flat lining

The rocks

Consciousness is the software that runs values and attitudes. It is the underlying system of beliefs and biases, the life-support system of the mythos. But in so being is it not part of the mythos itself?

I’m running out of photos to post. An expected consequence of not taking a camera on my outings I suppose.

A friend recently told me about Lightroom Dashboard and got me to use it with my Lightroom catalogue, and the graph showing the number of photos taken over time flat-lined a few months ago. Oh well.

The photo above was taken some time back and is one of the last photos I created which holds some meaning. Actually, meaning might be the wrong word. The picture itself doesn’t have meaning in this case. It would be better to say that this picture holds a meaningful association. This picture was simply an incidental side effect to a train of thought that was occurring at the time it was made while I was out with my daughter. I didn’t even remember I’d taken it but I do remember noticing how silvery the light looked.

It’s a plain photo but I rather like the rocks. And the clouds. And the flatness of the light. It’s kind of neat.

A very small viewfinder

Untitled, 2015

In my previous post I expressed my concern about the accelerating rate of change – especially with respect to technology – and it’s impact on our sense of wonder and appreciation. Having thought about it some more I feel that I must balance this out or failing that, at least place my view in the correct perspective. There is always more than one way to look at the world.

When I look at a thing or a person or a situation I try to remind myself that what I am seeing is not the thing/person/situation but rather my knowledge of it. I consider this an important distinction.

What I wrote in my previous post may have left an impression that I see the rate at which technology is evolving as somehow bad; that it comes at a price, that what might be gained on one side of the equation causes something to be lost on the other. My analysis of the situation – simplistic as it was – is a fragment of a much bigger picture; just as a photo is limited by its frame thus becoming a fragment of a scene rather than a complete picture. Any analytical thought which I apply to the matter of technological change is in fact applied to my experience of it, and my experience, being limited by definition, ensures that my analysis is merely a framed snapshot of what it is. And just like the photo above, it omits far more than it includes.

The reality is that when something is lost something is also created. In other words it’s not a matter of loss and gain but rather one of transformation. All of it is part of a birth and death cycle that is neither good or bad; it just is. Any judgement of good or bad is merely a thought; nothing more.

When I wrote about the loss of wonder and appreciation, I did so from a perspective that was all my own. It was based on my understanding of wonder, my understanding of appreciation and my experiences that for the most part belonged to an age where change happened at a relatively slower pace. As such, I need to look beyond that limited viewpoint. I need to look up from the viewfinder that is my experience and see what’s beyond my frame. Sadly, this is a difficult task because all I am likely to achieve, is simply enlarge the frame a little by zooming out. And should I ever be so lucky as to see a big picture, can I ever be sure that what I see beyond the original frame isn’t just a fabrication of my own imagination?

Still, simply understanding the limitations imposed by my point of view will hopefully go some way in creating some small amount of objectivity. Or failing that, some small amount of open-mindedness.

When I try to look beyond my frame of experience by, for example, looking into my children’s points of view – different frames, different limitations – I see that perhaps wonder and appreciation aren’t being lost but redirected. From my children’s younger, less skeptical perspectives there seems to be a number of growing movements working at simplifying and minimilising various aspects of life by building smaller homes, living more efficiently, pursuing quality over quantity, expressing ideas in innovative and creative ways and so on. Instead of relying on comic idiocy or vulgarity or cute animals, there are people who are using technology to create not only works of beauty but works of wonder and meaning as well. There is a lot going on out there that the news media is not even remotely interested in reporting. That’s a shame.

Of course this view is just an alternate picture within a different frame. Any sense of hope it may portray is not more or less real than the concern I raised in my previous post. It’s just another view, another perspective, another way to look at the world.

What I am really wanting to say in this post is: There is what I think I know and there is what I know I don’t, which leads me to suspect that I don’t know s**t.

I don’t see reality, I only see my knowledge of it.

And I’m looking through a very small viewfinder.

The pursuit of upgrades

Untitled, 2015Untitled, 2015

Here are a couple of photos I made some months ago while out shooting with my daughter. They were shot late in the afternoon, the light was poor, the contrast low and the tones flat. They took a bit of post work to make them look like this but as they say: no amount of post-processing will make a bad image good. But still, I like how they’ve turned out despite being too soft and a little noisy.

When less than stellar technical results are achieved it is tempting to blame the gear. After all, there are times when good quality gear makes a big difference. Not that I would know first hand since I buy my gear based primarily on one criteria, namely, price. The cheaper the better. In any case there is no doubt that good quality lenses will deliver sharper results than cheaper ones and have bigger apertures to boot. Generally speaking. To be frank, if I ever get back into photography in any significant way (I’ve passed on all my gear to my daughter who is making good use of it), I will seriously consider buying quality equipment even if it means having only one quality lens.

However lately I have been wondering about the “upgrade” mentality that seems to permeate all facets of life these days; be it with photography, mobile phones, tablets, wearables or even cars.

I know of photographers who upgrade their cameras every twelve to eighteen months. They usually justify each purchase by pointing out the latest improvement believing that there is a direct causal relationship between the gear and the quality of the resulting images.

I would argue that considering the quality of each and every piece of gear they buy, any improvements are more likely to be attributed to improved skills on the photographer’s part than improved technology. Surely technology has reached a point where yearly releases of cameras is unnecessary and unwarranted other than for the sake of corporate profits. Of course some upgrades may be warranted if a photographer moves from shooting stills to shooting low-light video for example, but what if he is shooting the same thing?

I recently watched a number of short films shot by a young film maker my daughter put me onto and after watching six or so I noticed that the description of some of the films mentioned the camera that was used. On the first description I read, the camera mentioned was the GH4. Since I had not noticed any difference between any of the movies I watched – on a 55″ HDTV – at least in terms of technical quality, I assumed that they were all shot using the GH4. It turned out I was wrong. Each movie was shot with a different camera including a 5D Mark III, a GH4, a RX100III and a RX100.

Alright, so maybe I simply lack the appraisal skills to differentiate between the output produced by the different cameras in the same way that I cannot always tell why one amateur singer is judged better than another in a singing contest when they both sounded pretty much on par to my ears. After all, I don’t know all the possible reasons that people might have for upgrading on a yearly basis but no matter how I spin it in my own head, it seems, for the most part, rather senseless.

I do not wish for this to come across as a rant or some statement about consumerism or environmental responsibility. That is not my point. When I said that the “upgrade mentality” had me wondering, I meant it in terms of something far less tangible, perhaps insignificant. More of a romantic notion one could say, born out of some nostalgic contemplation.

It is fair to say that technology has become ubiquitous. So much so that many people, especially younger generations, have no sense of wonder when new technologies emerge. Self-driving cars? Whatever. Mission to Mars? Don’t care. More computer power than an Apollo moon mission in a mobile phone? Yeah but can I take selfies with it?

This absence of wonder for the great engineering achievements of the modern world saddens me but that’s not all that does. Appreciation for these things is also disappearing it seems.

The speed at which updates come out has turned most technology into disposable devices. There is no time to appreciate fine workmanship or to value one’s tools of craft. When a new camera comes out, lip service is given to design in as much as it impacts look-and-feel and then the talk quickly turns to pixels and sensors and focus speed, sometimes finishing with what next year’s model should improve on. Is it possible to decry a camera’s shortcomings but still end up feeling any sense of connection to it?

This is the part where the nostalgic, romantic part of my wonderment comes in. I seem to remember – as far as I can trust my memories – a time when photographers had an affectionate bond with their camera. When every flaw of the tool was understood and worked with. When the camera was appreciated for its strengths and loved in spite of its weaknesses. When every scratch and dint told a story of a photo captured or missed. A time when “upgrading” was not something taken lightly and caused a twinge of sadness for the camera that would be shelved. Perhaps I am just talking about caring. Caring for an object which may be inanimate but still has… How best to put it? Soul? Is it not one of our special powers as humans: the ability to imbue personality into an object; to turn a machine into an old friend? At least when given enough time and when our attention isn’t focused on the forthcoming announcement for the next model.

Of course I am romanticising the past but I’m still left wondering if something important isn’t being lost in the constant pursuit of upgrades. Something essential to our happiness.