"An Imaginary Book" a brief introduction

"An Imaginary Book"

  A Brief Introduction   
  The Complete Collection of Photography Projects
  inspired by Islamic Sacred Art and Sacred Knowledge
   Steven D. Foster


A Brief Introduction  
"An Imaginary Book" is a collection of online photography projects inspired by my travel experiences in Turkey in the spring of 2011, and in particular my experiences of Islamic sacred art.  

I worked continually on this project for two years; it now consists of nine core projects, a Preface, and an Epilogue, five peripheral projects, and a collection of text excerpts on the sacred art and sacred knowledge traditions of Islam.  See the list of project titles above; the core projects are listed in the order in which they were made.  Click on the blue colored hyperlinked titles to visit the complete online projects. 

The first project, entitled Prayer Stones, began as a simple blog intended to document my trip to Turkey for friends and family.  However it spontaneously took on a creative life of its own and turned into a much more poetic and deeply considered contemplation on the sacred initiated by several mysterious experiences I encountered during my travels in Turkey.

Each of the nine core projects is a visual and textual meditation on the sacred art and sacred knowledge traditions of Islam, and on a more personal level "An Imaginary Book" as a whole is a meditation on my creative process and it's relationship to the sacred.


After returning from Turkey and completing Prayer Stones I began a concentrated study of Islamic sacred art and sacred knowledge.  I became particularly interested in what I was reading abnout the Qur'anic, Prophetic and Sufic traditions.   My webpage Sacred Art, Sacred Knowledge  provides a complete listing of the books I have read and recommend.  It also contains a collection of textual quotes from those books, definitions of words and concepts, etc. 

At the visual heart of the book is the Four-fold symmetrical photograph.  My Preface includes a detailed explanation of how I constructed the symmetrical photographs and the symbolic significance of the imagery.  Because the Preface provides important contextual information for the book as a whole, I recommend you read it first before looking at Prayer Stones and the projects that follow it.  

Because "An Imaginary Book" was initiated by several encounters with the sacred, I decided to conclude the book with an Epilogue which presents additional stories of my own personal encounters with the sacred.  I was inspired to create the epilogue by the writings of the great French Islamic scholar Henry Corbin (1903-1978) and his ideas about the "visionary recital," and Tom Cheetham, who writes beautifully about Corbin's ideas and the implications they have for the contemporary world. 

Below I am providing  brief introductory statements and image samples to familiarize you with each of the projects.  Click on the blue colored hyperlinked project titles after the summary statement (or in the titles list above) and you will be taken to the complete online project which includes images, texts, and links to related materials.

In 2016 I created a page devoted to all of my projects that were initiated by "An Imaginary Book."   I invite you to visit The Sacred Art Photography Projects to see a complete listing of all my online sacred art projects created since "An Imaginary Book."  

I also invite you to visit the Welcome Page of my photography website; you will find there a complete overview of my career as a photographer-artist including over fifty projects dating back to the 1960's.   My resume, contact information, biographical articles, and more are available here: About Steven D. Foster.

Welcome to "An Imaginary Book."   

Steven D. Foster
June 2013

~ Click on the images (once=twice) for a sharper more detailed enlarged image
~ Click on the blue highlighted hyperlinked project titles to visit the entire online projects  

The Nine Core Projects
 ~ A Brief Introduction ~

Prayer Stones  My Trip to Turkey: A Poetic Travelogue
"An Imaginary Book" was inspired by several surprising and deeply moving experiences of the sacred I encountered while traveling in Turkey.  I have described these experiences in Prayer Stones, the first "chapter" of the book.  I also explain how I came upon the idea of making the Four-fould symmetrical photographs, like the one below which uses as its source image a close-up photograph I took of a marble column in the famous Haggia Sophia in Istanbul.   Visit: Prayer Stones.

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Celestial Gardens Symmetrical reflections of Paradisal Unity
The second project or "chapter" of the "An Imaginary Book" was inspired by my discovery of the relationship of the symmetrical photographs I had been making for the Prayer Stones project to the traditional Islamic sacred garden.  The Islamic garden is considered to be a sacred place and an earthly symbol reflecting its archetypal divine Paradisal counterpart.  Visit: Celestial Gardens.



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Abstract Symmetrical Photographs
Throughout my career as a photographer I have had an active fascination with abstract imagery which is at the very heart of the Islamic sacred art tradition.  For this project I returned to some abstract works I had produced for an earlier project and used them as source material for this set of symmetrical images.  The inspiration for this project was the double-page Qur'an illuminations I had seen (and experienced) while traveling through Turkey.  Visit:  Abstract Symmetrical Photographs.


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Crystalline Paradise  : Moorish Spain
An important part my creative process for "An Imaginary Book" has included an intensive scholarly study of Islamic sacred art and sacred knowledge.  In my research I repeatedly came across enthusiastic references to The Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain; The Alcazar of Seville, Spain; and The Great Mosque of Cordoba, in Cordoba, Spain.  These and other Moorish places in Spain are world famous for their excellent Islamic gardens, and their wonderful Islamic architectural ornamentations.  Exactly one year following my trip to Turkey, I traveled to Spain (spring, 2012) to experience these architectural masterpieces for myself.  The trip yielded images which I used in this fourth project in the series.  Between the photographs you will find fascinating text excerpts that provide insight to the images and the "book" as a whole.  Visit:  Crystalline Paradise - Moorish Spain.


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The Tree of Life
Often, after I would complete a chapter for the "book" I would think to myself, surely this project brings the book to a conclusion.  Then another intuitive idea would spring into my mind: a flash of an image, or a strong response to something I had just read would provide me with the direction and energy for yet another project.  A few months after I had returned from Spain and finished Crystalline Paradise, despite my hunch that the book project had come to an end, I quite unexpectedly, spontaneously created the photograph below.  The Tree of Life is a sacred symbol in many cultures including the Islamic, Qura'nic Tradition.  This project includes several related photographs and a fascinating collection of texts excerpts on the theme.  Visit:  The Tree of Life.

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Infinite Beauty Images of never-ending continuity . . .
My interest in traveling to Turkey was inspired in part by the music of  American Composer Morton Feldman who had created music inspired by several Turkish rugs he had collected.  Between 1999-2007 I produced several large bodies of work in response to Feldman's music including one entitled the Chromatic Field photographs, which consist of repeating images and image patterns.  In my Islamic studies for "An Imaginary Book" I became aware of the relationship between my Feldman-inspired photographs and Islamic arabesque -- repeating image patterns used in the designs of prayer rugs,  mosque ornamentation and Qur'an illuminations.  For this sixth project, I used Four-fold symmetrical images from the five earlier projects as source material with which I constructed the Infinite Beauty images, such as the one below. Visit:  Infinite Beauty.  Reminder:  click on any image to enlarger it.

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Ta'wil Unveiling the "Hidden Treasure" 
My study of Islamic sacred art and sacred knowledge finally led me to the fascinating musings of Tom Cheetham which in large part are meditations on the ideas and writings of the great Islamic scholar Henry Corbin.  I became especially inspired by Cheetham's interest in the idea ta'wil, the Arabic word for "return of creation to its true origin."  The concept drew me back to some of the Infinite Beauty photographs which I had just recently made but which seemed to me lacked full realization as images.  In other words I had sensed a "hidden treasure" in those images which required yet another degree of transformative unveiling.  Please visit the seventh chapter of "An Imaginary Book" entitled  Ta'wil : Unveiling the "Hidden Treasure."


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The Light of Creation
The eighth chapter of "An Imaginary Book" explores a concept that extends the idea of ta'wil: namely Recurrent Creation, or "perpetual ta'wil."  The great Sufi mystic Ibn 'Arabi wrote about this rather complex theory of manifestation around 1220, and it certainly challenges our familiar contemporary concepts of time and creation.  This project provided me with a way to bring together similar theories of manifestation from both the Islamic and Hindu traditions which are vibrantly alive with literary images of mystical, pulsating suns and flashing lights!  Visit: The Light of Creation. 

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The Green Light of  Sufi Travel
The inspiration for this, the ninth and final project was Henry Corbin's fascinating book The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism.  According to the experience of several Sufi saints which Corbin discusses in his book, when the "traveler" (mystic) completes the inner journey back to it's creative Origin, that is to say Paradise, the Self, the Angel or Divine Being . . .  an atmosphere of green colored light is manifested above a mystic "well" in which the traveller had been held captive.  Since "An Imaginary Book" was initiated by my mysterious experiences of the Sacred while traveling in Turkey, it seemed auspicious to conclude the book with this project all aglow with the mystic green light of liberation.  Please visit: The Green Light of Sufi Travel.   Note: after writing this I decided later to conclude the book with an Epilogue which consists of a collection of personal stories, or what Henry Corbin defined as "visionary recitals." 

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Thank You 
Thank you for visiting this brief introduction to "An Imaginary Book." 

Steven D. Foster 
Last revised  June, 2013

"An Imaginary Book"
   The Complete Collection of 
    Photography Projects inspired by 
    Islamic Sacred Art and Sacred Knowledge 

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.