Abstract Symmetrical Photographs

       Symmetrical Photographs
           Double-page illuminations for "An Imaginary Book" Chapter III

Click on images to enlarge

Click on images to enlarge
Note:  This is the third in a series of nine core projects or "chapters" for "An Imaginary Book" which was inspired by my travel experiences in Turkey in the spring of 2011, and my concentrated studies of Islamic sacred art and sacred knowledge that followed the first project Prayer Stones.  MPreface, the Epilogue and all the core and peripheral projects in the "book" are available at this link "An Imaginary Book" which offers a brief illustrated introduction to each of the projects.   Steven D. Foster  


Introduction: Abstract Photographs
In my introductory remarks to the Celestial Gardens project I commented on my fascination with photographic abstraction and the high degree of transformation that occurs to the source images used in the construction of the Four-fold symmetrical photographs.  In my recent Islamic studies I have come to better understand how and why the sacred art of Islam is based primarily in abstract geometrical and stylized vegetal designs.  This has provided me with new insights into the nature of abstract imagery as it relates to my own photographic works.   

I had decided to travel to Turkey in part to understand better the influence that the abstract designs in Turkish rugs had played in the musical compositions of Morton Feldman, an important influence on my creative process as a visual artist.  The idea occurred to me, after completing Celestial Gardens, to try using some of the Feldman inspired abstract images from my earlier projects as source material for a new series of symmetrical photographs. 

The Abstract Symmetrical Photographs do not conform rigorously to the Four-fold symmetrical format that was used in the Celestial Gardens and Prayer Stones projects.  In fact most of the work involves a simpler structure: the mirroring of a repeated abstract image across the horizontal axis only.  As such these new images echo the basic structure of the double-page Qur'an illuminations I had seen and experienced in Turkey and that served as the the inspiration for "An Imaginary Book." 

I have continued to use the "little suns" centered on the top and bottom edges of the marginal space of each image.   This provides a graphic continuity between the work in this project and the works in the two earlier projects.  The half-roundels also serve to define the imaginary vertical axis line in the center of the image, while at the same time inferring the location of the gutter space of an imaginary book . . . across which two mirroring images face each other.  Several of the abstract symmetrical photographs actually manifest a visible vertical axis line which extends beyond the image area into the margin space and appear to "point" toward the little suns.  The green glow around the little suns will be explained in a later project.

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #6  (green & red stairway)  ~  19x25"   double-page illumination

The "Chromatic Fields" 
The abstract photographs used as source material for these symmetrical images are from two of my Morton Feldman-inspired projects: Chromatic Fields, and Abstract Photographs both of which are parts of a larger project entitled Triadic Memories.  The Chromatic Fields are related to the Islamic arabesque, which is used in Islamic architectural ornamentation, Qur'an illumination, and prayer rug designs.     

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #1  (dotted grid)  ~  19x25"   double-page illumination

The Symbolism of  Weaving & the Cross 
The abstract repetition field photographs are related to Islamic prayer rug and textile designs because of their warp and woof, vertical and horizontal repeating image patterns.  It is worth mentioning again that my repetition field photographs were inspired by the music of American composer Morton Feldman whose late music was inspired by the Turkish rugs he had collected!  

Rene Guenon's book The Symbolism of the Cross proved to be quite relevant to this project.  Guenon discusses many fascinating aspects of the warp and weft structure in relation to the Cross motif, and how the meeting of the vertical and horizontal threads in a fabric, or a rug, form a cross.  The points where the threads cross and meet, he says, are symbolic of a universal center, a certain state of being.  He writes: "every stitch in the fabric, being thus the meeting-point is thereby the center of such a cross."  Regarding the two opposing directions of the cross he writes: "The horizontal direction may be taken as depicting the human state, and the vertical direction that which is transcendent in relation to that state." 

Guenon says that weaving is used to represent the world, or the aggregate of the indefinite multitude of the states or degrees that constitute universal Existence.  He writes: "in the Upanishads, the supreme Brahma is called 'That upon which the worlds are woven, as warp and weft.'"  Also Guenon discusses the Taoist doctrine in which all beings are subject to the continual alternation of the two states of life and death; he writes "the commentators call this alternation 'the to-and-fro motion of the shuttle upon the cosmic loom.'"

Guenon also writes about the symbolism of the spider's web in relation to the symbolism of weaving, and of the Universe as a vast book.  The book reference is of course to the Qur'an, and this reference has a special resonance for me since I have referred to this project and all of the other nine projects as "chapters" for "An imaginary book."  See my Preface for a fuller explanation.

The following quote regarding weaving and the carpet as a metaphor is by the great Islamic scholar Titus Burkhardt from his wonderful book Art of Islam: Language and Meaning:
                         Let us conclude by mentioning the significance of the carpet in the esoteric symbolism of Islam.  It is the image of a state of existence or simply of existence as such; all forms or happenings are woven into it and appear unified in one and the same continuity.  Meanwhile, what really unifies the carpet, namely the warp, appears only on the borders.  The threads of the warp are like the Divine Qualities underling all existence; to pull them out from the carpet would mean the dissolution of all its forms.  

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #11  (triangle on side)  ~   19x25"   double-page illumination

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #3 (two moons behind a veil)  ~   19x25"   double-page illumination

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #12  (circled triangle w dots)  ~  19x25"   double-page illumination

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #10  (soft black diamond)  ~   19x25"   double-page illumination

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #9  (blue interior)  ~  19x25"   double-page illumination

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #2 (opening  a book, opening a door)  ~   19x25"   double-page illumination

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #13  (circled white dots & blue lines)  ~   19x25"   double-page illumination

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #18  (abstract flower design)  ~  19x25"   double-page illumination

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #4 (face reflection)  ~  19x25"   double-page illumination

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #20  (expanding crystal)  ~  19x25"   double-page illumination

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #19  (circling birds on lines)  ~   19x25"   double-page illumination

Aniconism & Abstract Images
There is a prohibition in the Qur'an, the Islamic holy book, regarding idolatry.  This  prohibition is known as aniconism.  To avoid confusion on this issue, it is best to understand that aniconism does not strictly condemn the depiction of all human figures in Islamic sacred art.  On the other hand, the goal of abstract and stylized visual ornamentation in Islamic sacred art is simply to prepare the seeker, to quiet the mind, to open the heart, in order to be receptive to the sacred which the reader is about to encounter through the words of God in the Qur'an.  Titus Burckhard says this about aniconism: 

The prohibition of images in Islam applies, strictly speaking, only to the image of the Divinity. . . .  Aniconism became somehow an inseparable concomitant of the sacred; it is even one of the foundations, if not the main foundation, of the sacred art of Islam.  

A sacred art is not necessarily made of images, even in the broadest sense of the terms; it may be no more than the quite silent exteriorization, as it were, of a contemplative state, and in this case--or in this respect--it reflects no ideas, but transforms the surroundings qualitatively.

By precluding every image inviting man to fix his mind on something outside himself and to project his soul onto an "individualizing" form, it creates a void.  In this respect, the function of Islamic art is analogous to that of virgin nature, especially the desert, which is likewise favorable to contemplation . . .

The proliferation of decoration in Muslim art does not contradict this quality of contemplative emptiness; on the contrary, ornamentation with abstract forms enhances it through its unbroken rhythm and its endless interweaving.   Instead of ensnaring the mind and leading it into some imaginary world, it dissolves mental "fixations," just as contemplation of a running stream, a flame, or leaves quivering in the wind, can detach consciousness from its inward "idols."   

The geometric patterns and stylized vegetal forms used in Islamic sacred art are based on mathematical laws of repetition.  There is an entire archetypal cosmology involving the point, the circle, the triangle and the square that becomes part of the symbolic language embedded in the imagery we find in Qur'an illuminations, mosque decorations, carpet designs, Islamic gardens, etc.  I will be exploring this more in later "chapters." 

                                      Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #15  (golden spheres field)  ~   19x25"   double-page illumination

Version 2 of Crystalline Paradise : Moorish Spain #33-2:  Seville Cathedral floor design  
Symmetrical Photograph 19x25"

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #27  (circled triangular shapes under gridlined space)   19x25"   double-page illumination

Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #17  (multicolored triangulated circle)  ~  19x25"   double-page illumination

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A  B  S  T  R  A  C  T 
 Infinite Beauty Photographs

The six images below were made for the Infinite Beauty project, which is chapter six of "An Imaginary Book."  Since their source images were abstract photographs, including  some of the Four-fold Abstract Symmetrical images above, I thought it appropriate to include them on this page, though as a separate collection. 

Abstract Infinite Beauty Photographs  (Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph - Vibrating  star lines)   20x25"  double-page illumination  

Abstract Infinite Beauty Photographs  (Abstract  Symmetrical Photograph #16B - turquoise triangles )    20x25"   double-page illumination  

Abstract  Infinite Beauty  Photograph #23  (circled lined triangles)  ~  20x25"   double-page illumination

 Abstract Infinite Beauty Photographs  (Abstract Symmetrical Photograph: Triangles, Circles inside a Square)  20x25"  double-page illumination 

 Abstract Infinite Beauty Photographs   (opening  a book, opening a door)  20x25"  double-page illumination

Abstract  Infinite Beauty  Photograph #22  (abstract garden )  ~ 19x25"   double-page illumination

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A Note Regarding the titles 
I have added parenthetically in the titles under the abstract symmetrical photographs some words that may either describe the abstract image or offer a hint of my own personal-poetic interpretation of the image.  The titles are not intended to explain the meanings of the abstract imagery but rather to provoke the contemplative viewer in certain possible directions.  My belief is that these abstract images have enough integrity and autonomy that their meaning is "open-ended," that is to say, the images will function for the contemplative viewer as symbols and as such their "meaning" is unknown, essentially not-sayable and yet full of potentiality.  The meaning will be different for each viewer according to their individual capabilities.  For more about interpreting visual symbols see the texts in project number seven, Ta'wil.

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The next chapter (IV) of "An Imaginary Book" is entitled Crystalline Paradise : Moorish Spain.  Gloria and I traveled to Spain to visit some of the most beautiful Islamic architectural buildings and Islamic traditional gardens ever made.  Please come along for the visit . . . 

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V.  Recommended Reading
I have drawn quite freely from the following texts.  All are highly recommended. 
Titus Burchardt           Art of Islam, Language and Meaning
Martin Lings:               Symbol & Archetype       
                                        Splendors of Qur'an Calligraphy and Illumination
Seyyed H. Nasr            Islamic Art and Spirituality
Keith Critchlow            Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach
Emma Clark                 The Art of the Islamic Garden

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.