Aging, America, Archetypes, Art, Beauty, Bible, Buddhism, Christianity, Consciousness, Contemplation, contemplative photography, creativity, Dying, Expressionism, Flowers, histir, History, joy, Life, Love, meditation, Mindfulness, Mysticism, Nature, Personal Growth, photography, spirituality, Theology, Vipassana, Zen
One of my stories is that life is short and I grow old. The pressure to share, to contribute, to pass along some of the experiences and teachings I have been fortunate to have received grows. Our world is not only composed of atoms and such but also of beliefs and stories. Beliefs and stories function so as to “define what is socially, affectively, cognitively (and imaginatively) relevant, and existence is transformed by that which is relevant” (P. Berger, 1980). Stories do many things. Some stories inspire and some entrap. But I am jumping ahead.
Back in my time, the boom times, back when I was a toddler, American art transitioned by way of a mash-up of Cubanism, Constructivism, the Bauhaus schools and Surrealism. They called it “Abstract Expressionism.” The primary movers and shakers of this new art were stylistically diverse yet certain threads of commonality ran through. For starters, the “principle players” in the development of art and photography were heavily influenced by the holocaust and by the mushroom cloud, which was vivid and raw in the collective psyche. In the homeland, books by Freud and Jung, Nietzsche, Sartre, were becoming available and quickly absorbed in our melting pot. Also too, the first translations of Buddhist and Hindu texts entered our collective consciousness with “dharma bums and blues.” Joseph Campbell and Robert Bly. Beat poetry, myth, symbolism, quantum physics and existential theology came together to re-awaken humanities desire to explore the psyche in the hopes that we might “boldly go where no one has gone before” (G. Roddenberry).
“Art was understood to be profoundly solitary and archetypally human – a timeless struggle for creativity and a quest for authenticity,” (“An American Century of Photography, (1999), pg 72,) and “abstract expressionism represented a shift from aesthetics to ethics; the image was no longer expected to be beautiful, but to be true, to be “an accurate representation or equivalence of the artist’s interior sensation or experience” (pg 272). Common to Rothko, Kooning, Pollack, et al and photographers such as Callahan, Moholy-Nagey, Weston, Adams, Bullock, Cunningham and Minor White was that “each work of art presented an ” “equivalence” (Stieglitz) of the artist’s subjective self” (pg 274).
No photographer used the camera in a more deliberate quest for self-discovery than Minor White. White, who was the first editor of Aperture magazine, and whose direct protégées include Jerry Uelsmann, Paul Caponigro, Carl Chiarenza, Walter Chappell and John Loori Diori; was in turn, heavily influenced by Christian mysticism, Taoism, Zen Buddhism, Gurdjieff and Carl Jung. “The camera is first a means of self-discovery and then a means of self-growth the artist has one thing to say – himself” (White, M. pg 273).
It was the early 70′s when I picked up a camera. It was a Canon Ftb with a 50 mm lens. In no time I was hooked and I’ve remained more or less hooked ever since. Back then a serious photographer had to know about Ansel Adams and the zone system for metering and film development. And I quickly became serious. I had a bulk loader of Pan Atomic X and a spot meter. Ansel Adams provided the guidelines of the “how-to” of black and white photography but it was Edward Weston then Minor White who provided me with the inspiration and planted the seeds of what has now seemingly becoming perhaps my life’s work. Namely, the practices of exploring capabilities of the camera and the processes of image creation as a spiritual practice grounded in Christianity but made alive and practical with Vipassana Buddhism.
As Henry Callahan, was to note: “we see in terms of our education. We look at the world and see what we have learned to believe is there…but as photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs” (pg 268). Texts attribute Buddha as saying: “with our thoughts, we make the world.” Buddha would have been a Nikon kinda guy I have no doubt.
In Japanese there is a word “kado” which translates as: “the way of the flower.” The concepts to which “kado” refers have been adopted by Zen Buddhism and are practiced as part of the Zen arts, as a sacred art grounded in the practices of mindfulness and meditation; being unburdened by past or future, free of judgment, experiencing life as fully in the moment, of awakening to our lost innocence of heart, and learning to see with the eyes of a child. With a clear mind we can experience the life of a flower as a reflection of our own life.
Perhaps as a gift of older age, or merely the cumulative weight of the thousands of moments I have spent in the dirt observing and repeatedly attempting to record on film or chip some semblance of the essence of a flower, I am finding that indeed, photography has become a sacred practice.