“And what is art, but in its purest sense, simply the expression of the human experience in whatever form it may take? At its very essence, art is the Universe’s desire to know itself, and through our images, words, music, and cultural traditions finds its expression”
This article is the theme and partial content of the second chapter of a book and seminar in progress entitled: Photographing The Art of Nature and The Transformative Power of Seeing.
The first chapter which is the title of the book was presented in a recent article here on LuLa.
I have come to regard the concept and actual state of nakedness as representing that which we truly are, both physically, mentally, and spiritually. We wear cloths to both warm and hide the body, smile and laugh to both be joyous and mask emotional pain, and in the quiet nakedness of our undisturbed thoughts, introspectively explore our true and essential spiritual self. The famous bumper sticker says: “Art saves lives”. Absolutely, art saves lives because it is healing, and, what is healing but to be made whole? Art heals because it provides us a vehicle by which we can explore and express those aspects of ourselves and our life experience that often remain hidden in the shadow of our subconscious. Art can lay bare and reveal the essential nature and character of our true and authentic self. Perhaps more importantly, it unveils the unspeakable beauty and rapture of creation that is all around, yet mostly hidden from a world too busy and in a hurry to see and experience it. It is the artist’s fundamental nature in seeking meaning and purpose to expose oneself to the world for all to see. This is both our greatest risk, but also our greatest gift.
“In the shadows of our being lie those aspects of our true nature that we wish to deny and hide. It is only with the courage to acknowledge what we hide in our shadow of our true self, that we may at last bring them into the light of acceptance, that they may, at last, make us whole”.
“Wholeness is possible only with the coexistence of opposites. In order to know the light, we must experience the dark”.
Fundamentally, art is our search for existential truth. Through it we attempt to make meaning and understand our place in the universe and our relationship to each other and the world around us. As artists, we are all unique in what we express and how we express it. However, common to all is our search for meaning. One of the primary ways in which the artist constructs meaning is through the use of the visual metaphor and symbolism.
Said Carl Jung:
“Knowledge of the symbols is indispensable, for it is in them that the union of conscious and unconscious contents are consummated”.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” The subconscious is where our experiences, beliefs and memories are stored. Self-knowledge, the understanding of our thoughts and behaviors and their influence on our lives, will make the unconscious conscious”
Through photography, we are able to unconsciously transform objects and forms of the landscape, endowing them with great psychological importance. By assigning importance to symbolic forms or metaphors, we can objectify subjective reality, feelings, and affects by giving them concrete visual form, making them conceivable and understandable emotionally as well as intellectually.
“Adversity introduces a man to himself”.
“Fear and Courage Are Brothers”.
“Your vision will become only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams.
who looks inside, awakens”.
“It is in the condition of imperfection, that we are led to the state of perfection.. where concept, form, function, and their harmony, become perfect in an inherently, singular uniqueness”.
“One of the hardest lessons in life is letting go. Whether it is guilt, anger, love, loss.. Change is never easy, you fight to hold on, and you fight to let go”.
“No man steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river and he’s not the same man”.
“And what is forgiveness but love unbound and set free”?
Connecting the conscious with the unconscious mind is an important part of the artmaking process because creativity emanates from unconscious processes, and some of the symbolic themes we employ in our images are not apparent to us at the time we create our work. As artists, we must transform our experiences into symbols or metaphors to communicate ideas, which, when viewed in the totality of the finished image, expresses meaning and importance. It is then, in this process that we begin to both make a conscious connection between that which lies in our subconscious and our conscious world of immediate thoughts and realizations, that our truth and essence are revealed.
“Let tears flow of their own accord, for they open our hearts and lead us to our true selves”.
“Life is not a destination, nor is it a journey. For as the snow melts on the mountain and bounces and swirls its way down the mountain, coursing through creeks and rivers on its way to ocean, there to once again become one with its source, soon to evaporate, rise into the sky and at last return to the earth, thus completes this unending cycle. For life … is but an eternal dance”.
Thus the photographer should pause to consider, what am I attracted to and why? What are the themes or creative expressions that consistently appear in my images? More importantly, how do I use the essentials of photography … light, composition, symbols, metaphors, etc., to express and convey theme or ideas? In short … who or what am I trying to say about myself and my experience? The transformational power of photography lies not in photographing things in and of themselves, i.e. patterns shapes, colors, textures, light, etc., rather, how the interrelationship between any or all of these elements in or otherwise employed in an image can and does express meaning in what we encounter in the landscape. The things of photography.. patterns shapes, colors, textures, light, etc. are like artifacts at an archeological dig, they give us facts and information, but only when taken in context … i.e. “in situ” is their full meaning and importance available to the viewer. Here, “in situ” refers to not just where its found, but what meaning is expressed by its positional and cultural relationship to all other artifacts around it. As such, it is the totality of all artifacts at a site, that gives the “fullest picture” of the historical meaning of that site. As such, ideally, these photographic essentials, when used with skill and experience, like a conductor and his wand choreographing a symphonic performance, will indeed convey the importance and meaning to the photographer of what is expressed in their image.
Furthering this analogy, another way to conceptualize it is to think of listening to a great symphony, or metaphorically speaking, a visual song. While a symphony is a creation and manifestation of all of the elements of which it is made; notes, phrases, measures, tonal dynamics and textures, harmonies and rhythms, when we listen to and experience a symphonic work, we allow ourselves to be become part of the music, absorbed into and carried along like a leaf in a stream, our emotional responses bouncing and cascading in its harmonic and rhythmic ebb and flow. It is likely only apart from a performance that one might disassemble the symphony and consider each of the components of the piece(notes, phrases, etc.) as artifacts in the overall creation for educational instructive value. And, like studying the compositional elements of a symphony, studying and understanding the essential elements of photography(light, composition, symbols, etc) can embed in us a deeper and more intuitive sense of how to employ the elements to their greatest effect for the greatest artistic expression in our images.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”. “And, there is no greater path to healing and wholeness than having the courage to tell your story, that others may at last, know your truth”.
Maya Angelou/Abner Prior
For me, the highest purpose of photography isn’t really about photographing things, its greatest purpose and thus relevance is about revealing meaning. For me, this is both photography’s greatest challenge, but most exquisite joy. Thus, in a readily apparent and observable way, as we view our body of work created over time, the journey of our spiritual awareness and evolution is evident before our very eyes. And, as I stated in my previous article: “becoming a more consciously awareness being is precisely how we become better photographers.
A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, Discover.