My Images for Maine Photographers Showcase, 2024
Boothbay Harbor, March 28 - May 3
(printed on aluminum by dye sublimation, 20 x 30 inches except for Flowers Cove, 36 x 24)

Artist Statement

50 years ago I was immersed in the study of hundreds of studio portraits of 19th century Nova Scotians, quarried from junk stores and coaxed into revealing their life stories. Ever since, I've continued to seek out and puzzle over the marvelous variety of visages in such vernacular photographs, in a still-accumulating Abandoned Ancestors project. Thousands of eyes, noses, mouths and hairdos later, I am still delighted to discover new physiognomies.

A decade or so ago I began to notice and then to photograph creatures peering up at me from rocks as I walked the Midcoast shoreline.The beings in these five photographs are entirely in the viewer's imagination, but no less real for their mysterious existence. The lithic materials themselves are vastly ancient, but ephemeral at the same time: fracturing and erosion reveal forms contained within the rocks, and accidents of light and deposition seem to disclose personalities in the unliving materials. Once you begin to notice such faces, they are everywhere in glorious surreal pareidolia.

I have also been exploring the even more elusive beings who emerge when rock photographs are opened out into bilateral symmetry: creatures thus released stare directly at us, daring us to deny their reality. Something made out of Nothing. Were they there all along, or are they mere figments of our subconscious minds?

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Flowers Cove




The Hinges of Reality

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I continue to work at explaining to myself (and potentially to others) the origins and meanings and significance of my engagement with rocks. The central notion uniting the five images above is visual imagination, epitomised in Minor White's famous injunction:

One does not photograph something simply for 'what it is', but for what else it is.

A rock is ... an ancient fragment of non-living material, about as fundamental and basic a material as can be, but still capable of inspiring a recognition by the viewer of ...well, what? The representational, perhaps the symbolic, producing or inspiring some sort of mental image that parses form and pattern for meaning.

The mind is forever executing comparisons: "that looks like..." allows us to make some sort of sense out of things seen, to fit them into our reality; and to enhance the sense of wonder that's always potential in our encounters with the physical world; and to inspire us to venture into metaphysical worlds — the more-than-physical.

The "that looks like..." activity is built in to human capabilities, and is manifest in examples like the Makapansgat Pebble

A bit of rock collected and transported as a talisman by a pre-sapiens hominid ancestor
(nearly 3 million years ago), who [must have] thought "that looks like... a face!"

Anyone can play "that looks like...", and play is surely a fundamental human activity. The five images in this show are abstractions from the natural and visible world, figments present for anybody to see. Making the captured pixels into a story is a creative enterprise, a fabrication, an expansion on and interpretation of visual evidence.

Why give a moment of attention to such figments? After all, most of what they do is to invoke or perhaps provoke the imagination, a vastly mysterious facet of the mind's capabilities. Such images encourage us to go beyond the literal, beyond the purely physical processing of light and shadow and color that happens in visual perception [photons arriving at the retina, and that information being passed along to the image processing infrastructure of the brain, and thence to the mind, where the work of interpretation happens...]

Rocks are at the same time æternal and ephemeral —the oldest maybe 3.5 billion years, the youngest brought in as sand by every rising tide, and down from above with every rivulet. Epics of erosion, deformation, cleavage, subduction, vulcanism and glaciation have inscribed a glorious and continuing global lithic narrative.

These rocks, my rocks, are caught in a tiny moment of time, in which I noticed them, framed them, and brought them home, and then called forth the captured pixels on my computer screen, and nudged them into presentable images by adjusting parameters to please the eye, and to convey the intended or discovered sensibility. Would one find the same image an hour, a day, a month, five years later? No. That's what I mean by 'ephemerality'. Once you attend to the diurnal rhythms of a rocky beach, or walk the sands of a retreating tide, alert to shapes and forms and erosion processes, and once you reckon with variation in the qualities of light falling on rock or sand (bright or chiaroscuro, from what direction, at what hour, in which season), you place yourself in the ever-changing drama of the lithic world.

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See also blog posts on Bodhidharma found and lost, not-Bodhidharma, and Kuan Yin


coughed up by Flickr

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An experiment in video presentation of lithic beings:

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