Category Archives: photography

two remarkable rocks

A birthday walk along Beauchamp Point Road (a gravel throughway on the east side of Rockport’s harbor) disclosed some marvelous rocks. This one immediately found the title ‘Krishna hugs a blue whale’ though so far as I know there’s nothing in the Mahabharata to suggest that Krishna, who did lots of pretty amazing things, ever did anything with cetaceans:


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A bit further down Beauchamp Point Road I came upon this fantastical eroded rock:


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Of course I immediately see a face, but a closeup of the rock is even more jaw-dropping (and click on the image once it comes up in Flickr to zoom in further):


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We’ll surely be visiting this one again in different seasons and different lights.

While we’re at it, consider this, from the same general area but mirrored:


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There’s more on the Beauchamp Point Road rocks via Maine Geological Survey.

Encounters with the Numinous


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On my birthday I spent an hour or so in about 100 yards of beachfront rocks at Drift Inn, territory that I had explored before and found to be inexhaustible as a source of vibrant images—some anthropomorphic or zoomorphic, others abstract and otherwise fractured, and still others shapes and textures that hint at still-mysterious underlying order.


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The geologic forces (pressure, strain, erosion) that formed what we see are merely a freeze-frame moment in processes that have taken place over vast stretches of time, and are of course continuing. The rocks of a decade or a century hence will look much the same, but a visitor tomorrow or next spring may not see the same things that I saw and photographed. Different light conditions change the view from hour to hour and day to day, and the flat light of an overcast morning discloses different figures than one sees in the raking light of a clear dawn or late afternoon, or in the mistiness of a rainy day. And angle of view and distance from rock to focal plane—and of course the framing chosen by the photographer—are other axes of variation.

Within that hundred yards (perhaps 10 yards wide) I found hundreds of tranches that spoke to me, some of them clearly faces or creatures, others only disclosing hidden creatures once the images were processed.


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Stories popped out of some, while others remained mute designs.


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Some were marvelously different if I rotated the image as taken, or tweaked the vibrancy and sharpness.


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The question of optimal presentation of this wealth of images is vexed: large prints on paper, encouraging immersive viewing on gallery walls? Screen-filling digital still, or video? Dissolves? Ken Burns-style pans and zooms? For me, each image is first and foremost an object of contemplation into which I can fall in search of Minor White-like elseness (yes, they are pictures of rocks. But what else are they pictures of?) and Stieglitzian Equivalents (visual moments of personal discovery and epiphany) and, often enough, bits of free-hand numinosity and revelation perhaps more felt than verbalized.

Would an impartial observer visiting those hundred yards have anything like the same experience I enjoyed? To what degree was mine a prepared mind, expecting faces, equipped to see references to Chinese landscape painting


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or Buddhist iconography


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or similarities to any of thousands of images stored in my mind from a lifetime of looking? Just how idiosyncratic are my readings of these bits of silicacious narrative? I see gargoyles, djinni, caricatures, disembodied spirits, reminders of other worlds fictional or fantastical, allusions to particular styles and movements in art history…


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The possibility of capturing and presenting tracings of the figures I see (via Apple’s promised Sidecar link between iMac and iPad) suggests a new mode of explication, but will require a deep dive into graphics software.

The whole set from Drift Inn on September 16th is available as a Flickr album.


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unfamiliar ways

Today Andy Ilachinski’s post quotes Richard Dawkins, with this punchline:

…we can recapture that sense of having just tumbled out to life on a new world by looking at our own world in unfamiliar ways.

This is just what I’ve been trying to do in being attentive to faces that manifest as I prowl, looking down and looking around. And they are everywhere:


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And there are dancers:

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And magical geographies:


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And (with a grateful nod to Tolkien) roads winding ever on and on:

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And enigmas, always enigmas:

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Mt. Megunticook

As we were climbing Mount Megunticook last weekend, this thought wafted through my mind:

Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing,
or
is my imagination working overtime?
How would I know?

Finding faces in beach or mountain rock is an exercise in imagination, perception, analogy, metaphor. But always: the more, the more, and definitely the merrier, as I’m pulled along by the joys of discovery. As Broot observed: Rock faces are on rock faces.

And just this morning Andy Ilachinski posted this quotation from Leonardo da Vinci:

If you look at any walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see divers combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expressions of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number of things which you can then reduce into separate and well conceived forms.

A few cases in point from the Megunticook trove:


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My search for rock persons continues.

two Newfoundland gravestones

As I work on a project (photographic or otherwise) I’m continuously wondering why—seeking for reasons, bits of insight, overarching whithers. What is it about gravestones that keeps me returning to cemeteries? It turns out that the answers are many, and not simple, forever unfolding into new revelations of the depths and varieties of Form. For me, so much of the pleasure is in reading (that is, imagining, chasing, constructing) the Story contained in any instance of the Form.


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This stone is from Querpon, at the northern tip of the western shore of Newfoundland. ‘Killed by dogs’ is not a phrase found on many gravestones, but we surmise that Murray Roberts might have been teasing tied-up sled dogs (there were not many snowmobiles in Querpon in 1967) who got loose and took revenge. I had a chance to find out, but muffed it: also visiting the tiny graveyard the day I was there was a man of more or less my age who was “visiting the parents” and told me he’d left Querpon in 1962 to join the Canadian Forces and only returned to Querpon when he retired… but he’d have been a teenager at the time, and would surely have remembered the incident. And it’s not unlikely that Murray was a shirt-tail cousin, Querpon being about 20 households.

This double stone, from Isle aux Morts at the southwestern tip of Newfoundland, sketches a tale that it turns out we can fill in details on. We begin with two brothers, a disaster to a named boat, a precise date, even some detail on their marital status:


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Straits Pride II went down in a storm 29 years ago, and the incident was thoroughly investigated by the Transportation Safety Board:

On 17 December 1990, the F.V. “STRAITS PRIDE II”, inbound to St. John’s, Newfoundland, from
the fishing grounds with a two-third load of round (ungutted) codfish stowed in the fish hold,
encountered adverse weather, capsized and sank throwing the six-person crew into the ice-cold waters. Three crew members who managed to board the inflatable liferaft were subsequently rescued, but the remaining three lost their lives.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada determined that the vessel continued to fish after learning of a forecasted storm warning and that the combined effects of the weather, shipped seas, stowage of the catch, free surface effect of liquids, loss of the port paravane, and downflooding caused the vessel to capsize and sink by the stern. The suddenness of the capsizing precluded efforts by three of the crew to successfully abandon the vessel, displacing them into the sea. As they were wearing only normal winter clothing with approved lifejackets, their survival time was limited. The other three crew members boarded the liferaft from the sea and were rescued some eight hours later in a mildly hypothermic condition. (see the detailed report of the incident)

and there’s more, in the form of a song:


I also learned (via Google) that Russell Bond’s wife Darlene died in February 2019, and that Russell had found a life-ring from the Ocean Ranger in 1982:

Officials at the Search and Rescue Center said Friday that a life-ring found on Newfoundland’s south coast was not from the Ocean Ranger oil rig that sank in February but from a Greek vessel bearing the same name. The ring was discovered on the beach at Burnt Islands, near Newfoundland’s southwest corner, last week by Russell Bond, a local fisherman. Bond turned the life-ring over to the RCMP and told local reporters he was certain it had come from the giant oil rig that sank Feb.15 on the Grand Banks, killing all 84 crew aboard.

Small things, bits of drama from lives lived quietly, of no great significance, but fascinating for their essential humanity.

Rocks from whom one learns


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Last night I took this specimen along on a visit and our hostess said “oooh is this a gift?” and I was immediately protective. “Certainly not!” I said, and immediately regretted my vehemence in defense of my rock, as I hadn’t even photographed it yet. I did make its portrait today, and thus recognized a Lesson in Attachment—one I might have learned (but had clearly forgotten) with the Bodhidharma example cited at the end of the Morphic Resonance post. In what wise is this rock my rock? Why should I wish to hold on to it? Wouldn’t it be better to appreciate it and pass it on so that others could enjoy its verisimilitude? Isn’t it enough to have discovered its several personalities and felt its agency? Yes, yes, 10,000 times yes.

of Morphic Resonance

It’s been months since the last post here, almost 3 quite busy months since our return home from this year’s cross-continent trip. The last six weeks included a very successful gallery show for Broot and a one-day pop-up show for me, and we’re now in Nova Scotia, just finishing another 3-week trip, this one a 55th anniversary circumtransit of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence (four nights by freight boat from Rimouski to Blanc Sablon PQ; ferry from Labrador to St. Barbe, Newfoundland; north to L’Anse aux Meadows, then down the west coast to Gros Morne National Park, then ferry to North Sydney NS, and finally to Horton Landing; home to Maine by the weekend).

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The usual welter of thoughts and reading and explorations of this’n’that accompanied, of course, so there’s much to get caught up.

The Flickr photostream tells many tales but also leaves out happenings that didn’t happen to get photographed. I’m just uploading the bountiful harvest of our week in Newfoundland, and thinking through What It All Means. And wondering what’s next. There are Flickr Albums of faces, surfaces and abstracts, and landscapes as a first stab at sorting the hundreds of images.

The perennial puzzlement of how to think about and what to do with the vast array of anthropo- and zoomorphic images of rocks and wood and water seems to be heading toward a resolution, but the complexities and leaps of association that underlie will take some explication. The cut-to-the-chase of the moment is an evolving scheme for a multimedia gallery presentation next summer, the provisional title for which is

Morphic Resonance:
Portraits in Stone, Wood, and Water

but the emergence of that title takes us back more than 3 million years, to the Makapansgat Pebble, which is surely an anthropomorphic form.:




The hominin ancestor who picked up and carried the pebble some 20 miles from its geological origin seems to me to represent an early (I’m tempted to claim the earliest) instance of aesthetic Consciousness in our own evolutionary branch [“possibly the earliest example of symbolic thinking or aesthetic sense in the human heritage”]). My own pursuit of wholly imaginary faces in various materials seems a direct descendant. I’ve been chewing over the deeper significance of this for the last year or so (since I learned of the Makapansgat Pebble). A couple of weeks ago the phrase “morphic resonance” drifted through my mind, and seemed somehow portentious (though I can’t remember when/where I first encountered it). It turned out to be a coinage of Rupert Sheldrake:

Morphic resonance is a process whereby self-organising systems inherit a memory from previous similar systems. In its most general formulation, morphic resonance means that the so-called laws of nature are more like habits. The hypothesis of morphic resonance also leads to a radically new interpretation of memory storage in the brain and of biological inheritance. Memory need not be stored in material traces inside brains, which are more like TV receivers than video recorders, tuning into influences from the past. And biological inheritance need not all be coded in the genes, or in epigenetic modifications of the genes; much of it depends on morphic resonance from previous members of the species. Thus each individual inherits a collective memory from past members of the species, and also contributes to the collective memory, affecting other members of the species in the future.

This seems akin to notions of ‘distributed consciousness’ with which I’ve been toying in the last year or so, and surely skates on the rim of mystical hoo-hah. I direct your attention to the Bodhidharma posts of February 2018 for earlier instances, and of course to the Just a Rock: a lithic menagerie book; see also Form Finds Form and Just Another Rock and Allegories and Agglomerations for more kindred threads.

department of co-incidence

During a visit to Vashon Island, a series of unplanned conjunctions took me to the Vashon Bookshop for a half hour of browsing before our reservation at the marvelous May Kitchen and Bar. This book leapt into my arms:




Stephen De Staebler was my 9th grade history teacher (1957-58), and offered a high-energy version of World History to a class of 15 or so engaged and eager students. He also taught a class in stained glass for 5 of us, with lead and solder and glass cutters, the real deal. He was only at the school for a year, but was unforgettable for his contagious enthusiasm. He went on to become a well-known sculptor and teacher at San Francisco State, and died in 2011. His website (stephendestaebler.com) represents his work quite well. I was something between delighted and gobsmacked to discover a gallery of masks that presage my recent work with lithic personalities. At the very least, we draw upon the same mysterious vein of mimetic imagery (“a term used in literary criticism and philosophy that carries a wide range of meanings which include imitatio, imitation, nonsensuous similarity, receptivity, representation, mimicry, the act of expression, the act of resembling, and the presentation of the self” in its Wikipedia rendering). There’s also this quote to consider:

Much of art is play in the serious sense,
like magic, trying to restructure reality
so that we can live with the suffering.

-Stephen De Staebler, 1984

I’m not quite sure what to do with “the suffering” but I’m pleased to consider what he might mean. It’s the sort of responsibility one has toward one’s well-remembered teachers. Alas, there are only a couple of 9th grade classmates left who remember Steve De Staebler, and I wish I’d been able to convey my thanks to him for what he taught and what he Taught.

Spring, finally


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Just about to depart for a 6-week cross-country driving trip, anticipating many opportunities to photograph novel things in unfamiliar territories. I’m sure that thoughts about photography will arise as we go, and perhaps when we return I’ll have the requisite inspiration to plunge into the Blurb books that have been gathering a head of steam during the winter.

One that seems somehow inevitable is tentatively titled Elevenses, being the eleventh:

‘Elevenses’ (‘elevensies’ if you are a Hobbit, or a non-Hobbit with a penchant for puerile language) refers, as the word itself suggests, to food taken at eleven in the morning. Actually, the word applies not to the mere snack itself, but to the whole concept of a brief, healing pause in the crisis of the day. It is peculiarly British, and is rather more significant than its common definition of “a light informal snack” would suggest. It is, in fact, an institution, an inviolable right, a routine without which the British could not (would refuse to) continue with their working day. (Note to any country considering invading Britain: do it at eleven a.m. when everyone’s attention is focused elsewhere.)
(from theoldfoodie.com)

Perhaps Elevenses wants to be free-standing, and thus able to include occasional images that have appeared in other books. Perhaps it’s about what I think about photography, and about my own practise in the medium. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to know which are my own ideas, which are my distillations of others’ ideas, and which are basically purloined words of other writers. I imagine Elevenses as an effort to sort those various strains out.

As I have read about photography I have transcribed especially trenchant passages, in which authors seemed to be speaking directly to my concerns and sensibilities of the moment. It’s difficult to know how useful such extracts might be to others, unless I am able to use them to illustrate or exemplify some particular point or issue in my own photographic work.

One more ears-of-hippopotamus that I’ve been contemplating: Landscapes of the Imagination.

And why not give Ansel Adams the last word?

Ansel Adams to Dick Miller, 1973:
My concept of photography is nothing tangible. I want my images to vibrate in vacuum, giving vent to the intangible tangibles of the immediate tangent. My prints reflect my deep non-concern with the concernable. When I am out with my camera I am in with my libido.

If photography is silence, then I am a sonic boom. If photography is a sonic boom then I am extinguished. One must make a decision: is photography an art or is it a rural funicular railway, descending into levels of non-comprehension, ornamented with the pangs of perverse euphoria?

My photographs reflect just that and nothing (more). My reflections reflect my photographs; a spiritual, Zen-like reflection of the reflectivity of the reflective spirit.

I stand supine at the realization of my semi-experience. May my prints cause a re-supinization of my spectators. Let us PRAY!

clarity


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All the world is taken in through the eye,
to reach the soul,
where it becomes more,
representative of a realm deeper than appearances:
a realm ideal and sublime,
the deep stillness that is,
whose whole proclamation is
the silence and the lack of material instance
in which,
patiently and radiantly,
the universe exists.
(Mary Oliver, “Emerson”)