11/29/10

As Above, So Below Mirror In the Temple



As Above, So Below  
Mirror In the Temple


        Click on the images to enlarge


That which is Below corresponds 
to that which is Above,
and that which is Above corresponds
to that which is Below,
to accomplish the miracle of
the "One Thing"
_____
The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus
Alchemical Treatise

Introduction
I had just completed my Photography and Yoga project and was beginning to look for hints, signs, celestial messages . . . anything! from my creative unconscious for directives regarding what I must pursue in the next project.  I was thinking a lot about the body at that time and I suspected "the body" would somehow become an aspect of the forthcoming project theme.  My wife Gloria had fallen and cracked her pelvis bone in four places just as I had begun the Photography and Yoga project; I had been struggling with an aching tooth (#30) that I knew would have to come out (I was avoiding dealing with it until Gloria was feeling better); plus some of my friends and relatives were having serious body issues.

In addition to all this, as I was working on Photography and Yoga I would frequently come across references to "the body as the temple of God."  Here are a few examples which I found them quite attractive:

The body has been man's companion and friend through many births, through many different journeys of pain and happiness.  . . . It is the ladder to the city of liberartion; it is the great temple of the inner Self.  In the innermost part of this bodily temple, God, the Lord of love, lives as the inner Self.  Swami Muktananda, Darshan #23

The body is without consciousness, so it cannot feel pain or pleasure. . .   The soul does not experience pain or pleasure, and the soul lies much beyond the state of sleep . . .  because the soul is pure Consciousness; the soul is always beyond the reach of such experiences.  It is only because of the union of the soul and the body . . . the state of ignorance, or the state of delusion . . . [when] we are identified with the body and the mind . . . that we experience pleasure or pain.  Swami Muktananda, Darshan #83

Do not see your body just from the outside.  Go within and experience the energy which flows through the body and allows every cell to pulsate, to live, the energy which allows every thought and emotion to fructify, which is also the energy which holds the universe together.   Swami Chidvilasananda, Darshan #23

When grace strikes, earth turns into gold,
The common stone is charged with alchemy.
Look, the bliss I sought for years and years,
Now flashes upon my sight.
There in a temple wombed in earth,
I've seen a gem, and cast my past behind me forever.
Unnamed Saint, quoted by Swami Chidvilasananda in Darshan #67

And so it seemed "the body" was a likely possibility for a project in some way.  Despite what I think however, I have learned to trust my Creative Process, for it knows better than "I" do what needs to be done.  I try to pay attention, and carefully watch for its directives, and then surrender to them once I recognize them.  Nonetheless, when I enter the space between projects I do sometimes become impatient.  This never pays off, of course, it only means I have to work harder to pull myself back into alignment with the grace, the divine will which is at the very heart of my creative process.  I simply have to open myself into a receptive state of mind and watch vigilantly for what are often very subtle communications that are trying to make contact with me with directives.  I have also found that oftentimes it can be useful to just begin making photographs and then contemplate the images, because there can often be a message in an image, or a series of images, that unveil the directive.  It's as if the images provide a direct though nonverbal line of communication between myself and my creative process.

As it turns out, it wasn't the body that was so attractive to me in the idea "the body is the temple of God" . . .  it was the Temple, the "spiritual body."

One day I was contemplating "the body as the temple" theme and I remembered an earlier fascination with something I had read in one of Tom Cheetham's books on the work of Henry Corbin about the temple.  I remembered the passage also had something to do with a mirror.  So I re-searched Cheetham's books for that passage, and when I found it I felt a lot of energy begin moving inside my body.  I was on the right track, it seemed, but I wasn't sure how Corbin's words (which I will present below) could take me visually into the new project.  

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According to Cheetham and Corbin, images of the temple, Imago Templi, should be understood as both physical (architectural) sacred spaces, and as symbolic images which invoke the internal, imaginal temple, the sacred place within the soul or psyche, or within what Corbin terms the mundus imaginalis, the imaginal world.  Corbin saw everything that existed in the sensible, terrestrial world as a mirrored reflection of forms within the soul, and the mundus imaginalis.  In alchemical terms, this idea is stated thusly:  As Above, so Below; That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above . . . 

We enter into the various forms of the Temple, these sanctuaries--both sensible and symbolic (the Imago Templi)--so that we can carry on a silent dialogue with our own divine nature.  In sufic terms, this might take the form of a meeting with the angel of our being; in yogic terms, the spiritual practices--such as meditation and contemplation--help the student to enter the sacred space of the heart, the very center of his or her being.  The great yogic and sufi saints agree that the heart is the dwelling place of God, our own divine Self.  

Cheetham and Corbin write about the Imago Templi as poetic images associated with the center of the world.  The temple, as a symbolic image, conjoins "heaven" and "earth."  The symmetrical images, in particular, have a very powerful center-point in which four mirroring images conjoin.  Corbin and Cheetham have said that these various forms of the Imago Templi have the character of the mandala or yantra which are usually circular and symmetrical images which provide the contemplator with a visual road map that leads him or her into the "heart" of the image itself, its center-point.  Imaginatively moving through such an image
 correspondingly transports the contemplator into the center of his or her own soul.  Such images, if they are explored imaginatively, can quiet the mind and help re-unite the fragmented soul.  In other words, these Imago Templi affirm and make possible the experience of the Unity of Being.

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Corbin's essay : "Emblematic City"
The passage I had been looking for in Cheetham's four books, about the mirror and the temple, was a quote by Henry Corbin from an essay entitled "Emblematic Cities."  I found it in Cheetham's The World Turned Inside Out.  In the excerpt that follows Corbin is writing about the Friday Mosque at Isphahan:

At the geometrical center of the enclosure [of the Mosque] we find a basin whose fresh water is perpetually renewed.  This is a water-mirror, reflecting at the same time the dome of heaven, which is the real dome of the templum, and the many-colored ceramic tiles which cover the surfaces.  It is by means of this mirror that the templum brings about the meeting of heaven and earth.  The mirror of the water here polarizes the symbol of the center.  Now this phenomenon of the mirror at the centre of the structure of the templum is also central to the metaphysics professed by a whole lineage of Iranian philosophers, [in particular, for Corbin, it was Sohravardi, a sufi mystic and philosopher] among whom the most famous lived at one time or another in Isfahan.  Henry Corbin, from his essay "Emblematic Cities" quoted in Cheetham, The World Turned Inside Out

When I re-read this text it seemed to be speaking directly to me about the symmetrical photographs I had been making for the past few years.  The mention of mirrors, reflections, "the meeting place of heaven and earth". . . it all felt so familiar and relevant to me.  So this text excerpt from Corbin's essay lit a fire in me, and I longed to know what else Corbin had written in the essay.  Through a website that Cheetham has created, The Legacy of Henry Corbin I was able to find a complete online version of "Emblematic Cities."  And, indeed, I discovered what for me was important additional material that helped me to better define this project:   

The four cardinal points (north, south, east and west) [of the mosque] are given by the four iwans [trans: vaulted portal openings onto the courtyard].  These remain horizontal; it is the mirror which gives the vertical dimension, from the nadir to the zenith. . .   Let us now transpose this idea of a virtual image to the plane of a mystical reflection.  To transpose the image of virtuality into actuality is to accomplish the very operation which, for the metaphysicians of the school of Sohravardi, signifies penetration into the mundus imaginalis [the imaginal world] . . .   

The phenomenon of the mirror enables us to understand the internal dimensions of an object or a building situated in the space of this world, because it leads us to grasp its spiritual dimension, the metaphysical image which precedes and shapes all empirical perception. . .   To see things in the mirror is, as an Iranian Sheikh expressed it, 'to see things in Hurqalya, highest of the mystic cities of the mundus imaginalis.  The mirror simply shows us the way to enter Hurqalya.  Henry Corbin,"Emblematic Cities"

These words of Corbin hold many powerful ideas for me, ideas which I associate directly with my process of making and contemplating visual symbols, and especially the symmetrical photographs.  And Corbin's words seemed to be demanding of me some kind of visual response or dialogue.  As it turned out, this would take the form of a sequence of three symmetrical images inspired by Corbin's words--not only the words from "Emblematic Cities," but also from a published lecture series entitled "Temple and Contemplation."  For me at least, the text excerpts and the photographs presented in this project shine a light on each other and generate a new plane of meaning for me.  In the forthcoming Commentaries section of the project I will explain how the sequence of images came into being and share with you additional text materials from Corbin's "Temple and Contemplation."  

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Corbin's World & The Mundus Imaginalis
Admittedly, Corbin's world requires some effort getting into, but for me it has surely been worthwhile, and I am grateful to Tom Cheetham and his books for bringing Corbin's remarkable body of work to a larger audience in an accessible way.  The mundus imaginalis, which is central to all that Corbin writes about, is the inter-world, the intermediary space necessary for communication to occur between the intelligible and the sensible, between heaven and earth, between philosophy and actual experience--which Corbin's Iranian mystics had direct knowledge of and had written about.  Corbin devoted his whole life to interpreting the mystic revelations associated with this intermediary archetypal realm of the soul.  

It seems to me the symmetrical photographs are very much about the space between the intelligible (representational) images of earth, and the mystical (archetypal, abstract) images of "heaven."  These living images, which are constructed from four reflecting images, meet and merge into each other at the very center-point of the image.  The final product constitutes nothing less than a radical transformation of the source image into an altogether new image, a living, luminous symbolic image of multidimensional Unity, images that transcend verbal description and provide the contemplator with entrance into what Corbin terms the mudus imaginalis.

Corbin wrote about a theosophy of art, sacred imagesIcons, "treasures" brought back from journeys within the mundus imaginalis.  Cheetham explains: "What is required of  . . . such art [icons, symbols] is not representation, however beautiful, but transformation and transfiguration of the soul and of the world."

The sequence of three symmetrical photographs presented in this project, below, function for me as symbols, vital images from the mundus imaginalis, images of grace, luminous temples"golden" alchemical transformations . . . in which the Self reveals itself.   

When grace strikes, earth turns into gold,
The common stone is charged with alchemy.
Look, the bliss I sought for years and years,
Now flashes upon my sight.
There in a temple wombed in earth,
I've seen a gem, and cast my past behind me forever.
Unnamed Saint, quoted by Swami Chidvilasananda in Darshan #67

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The Destruction of the Temple ~ and ~ Its Reconstruction 
Corbin was deeply concerned about the destruction of the Temple, that is to say, the desacralization of the world, and of course we see this manifesting every day in the most literal and distressing ways.  It is crucial that we transform this fragmented world--which is in ecological-spiritual-political/corporate decay--into a Paradise, or a least something close to it.  This will require soul work, not just immediate attention to all the physical problems of the planet.  We are in a global crisis precisely because the soul of the world has been ignored and essentially, collectively lost. 

Corbin writes about how in pre-Christian antiquity the entire world was a sacred place, a Temple; and every human being was a Temple of Light, a "sanctuary of the human microcosm."  Today, says Corbin, the world has become a crypt because man has lost his soul.  If we follow Corbin's view, the goal of art today must be nothing less than a regaining of the vision of the world as a sacred Temple, a revitalization of the vision of one's own body as a sacred space, a Temple of Light.  

The transforming power of symbolic images, the Imago Templi brought forth from within the soul, the mundus imaginalis, images alive with creative energy, the very energy which created the world and which holds the universe together, will help play a necessary role in changing the world.  But of course we can only change the world one person at a time.  If the personal soul can be made whole, our planet will have a chance of becoming a more perfect paradise.  My contribution toward Corbin's admonition that we must "reconstruct the Temple" has taken essentially two related forms: the practice of making and contemplating symbolic photographs, and the practice of Siddha Yoga Meditation

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Three 
Symmetrical Photographs
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A Triadic Visual Sequence


     Image #1   As Above, So Below    ~    Symmetrical Photograph: Living Room Vaulted  Ceiling 



     Image #2   As Above, So Below    ~    Symmetrical Photograph: Bird Bath Mirror



     Image #3   As Above, So Below    ~    Symmetrical Photograph: Reflections in our Refrigerator Door


Commentaries 
on 
the photographs

Introduction
The source photographs with which I constructed the above three symmetrical photographs were made quite impulsively, intuitively, within minutes of each other.  The brief shooting session occurred a few days before I had finally understood what my next project would be about, and shortly after I had found and re-read the quotes from Corbin's essay "Emblematic Cities."  I didn't quite realize it at the time, but it's clear to me now that Corbin's text churned up a lot of creative energy inside me that needed to be released and given spontaneous visual form.  The three photographs I am presenting here are part of a larger group of finished images from that brief shooting session, but these three in particular, placed together sequentially, provide a unique visual coherency that feels deeply, personally meaningful to me as a visual response to Corbin's words.  The photographs provided me with the "sign" I was looking for from my creative process; the three sequenced images and Corbin's words form a synergy that unveiled the project you are now seeing here. 

I remember that in the process of photographing the bird bath a thought flashed into my awareness that I was making the photograph because of Corbin's writings about the mirror in the temple.  However I countered this thought with the feeling that the image I was taking would probably end up being too obvious and uninteresting.  I never thought any more about it . . . until I experimented with the bird bath source image, applying the four-fold symmetrical process to it.  The results of the process was quite surprising to me.   

When I am out photographing, making source images as potential material with which to construct symmetrical photographs, I find it nearly impossible to pre-visualize how the process will transform the source image into a finished work.  I have pretty much given up trying to do that.  I enjoy "receiving" the symmetrical transformations as surprises, gifts from a more creative source than my ego and intellect.  When I see the finished symmetrical images, they are as new and fresh (and surprising) to me as they must be for you. 


On the Construction of Symmetrical Photographs
If you would like to better understand how I construct the symmetrical photographs from a single source image, here are some links to earlier projects in which I have attempted to explain it: 
Preface to my project "An Imaginary Book"
Part 4: Acadia : Arcadia?  Commentaries & On the Construction of the Symmetrical Photographs


A Triadic Visual Sequence
The three symmetrical images presented above constitute a single unified visual statement in which the whole is for me greater in meaning than the sum of its parts.  Though there is something of an implied narrative in the spatial progression from one image to the next, truly speaking each photograph is related to the others in meaningful ways that are for me unsayable, beyond the limits of language.  Their meanings individually and as a set of three are open-ended and changing.  In the commentaries that will follow on each of the images, I will share with you my own personal "readings" of the images in relation to Corbin's writings.  My readings are not "the meanings" of the images--their meaning is your personal responsibility.  I am only writing here about the way I see the images and texts relating to each other, as they are reflected in each other, as they interpenetrate each other.  

There is a certain visual logic to the progression of the triadic sequence: simply put, I am looking upward in the first, downward in the second, and into the space between in the third.  In transposed terms, I am looking up at "Corbin's dome" in the first; I am looking down at "Corbin's water-mirror" in the second; and I am looking into "Corbin's abstract mundus imaginalis" in the third.  I will elaborate further about all this below, where I write about each of the photographs separately.  

I will also introduce you to some additional text excerpts from a published series of lectures by Corbin, entitled "Temple and Contemplation."  I think the fifth lecture contains important material that relates very powerfully to the "Emblematic Cities" essay.  I am again grateful to Tom Cheetham for making me aware of both these published works by Corbin in his book The World Turned Inside Out.


click on the images to enlarge

Image #1 Vaulted Ceiling
The source image for the first symmetrical photograph was a picture I took of our vaulted living room ceiling.  I was drawn to making the exposure by a strange light that was being reflecting up onto the ceiling, just to the side of the ceiling fan.  I had never seen this kind of light on the ceiling before; it seemed to me a mysterious occurrence.  There is an interesting synchronicity regarding the vaulted ceiling that served as the subject matter in this image; it corresponds to Corbin's mention, in his essay "Emblematic Cities," of the word iwans, which translated into English means "vaulted portals."

The upward looking view in the photograph could be transposed to Corbin's dome of the templum; the dome of heaven.  I am looking up, as I have already explained, because of an unusual light that was being reflected up onto the ceiling, perhaps from a pool of water below.  

The picture's soft, round, womb-like blue corona is very comforting and inviting to me; I want to give myself to it.  However, when I start thinking about the origin of the blue color, again I become mystified: where did this heavenly blue color come form?  (Perhaps from the sky reflected in a pool of water; perhaps from the interior world of the Templum, . . .  Hurqalya, highest of the mystic cities of the mundus imaginalis, the imaginal world.)  And what is the object emerging subtly from within the center of the blue space?  It looks like a star, perhaps a gem, whose subdued, warmer light is radiantly stretching vertically into the newborn space. . .   

Look, the bliss I sought for years and years,
Now flashes upon my sight.
There in a temple wombed in earth,
I've seen a gem, and cast my past behind me forever.
Unnamed Saint, quoted by Swami Chidvilasananda in Darshan #67


click on the images to enlarge

Image #2  The Bird bath-Mirror 
This is a very strange image.  It looks at first like an "object photograph," but the basin is suspended in an unfamiliar, even irrational space.  I can't make sense of the distance between the basin and the green carpet of mowed lawn.  The bird-like shadows above and below the egg-like shape seem menacing, like guardian totem figures.  Though the "bird shadows" appear above and below the basin, there is no apparent shadow for a column upon which one would expect the basin to be standing.  The markings on the surface bottom of the basin--which is under water--could be a cryptic text, perhaps a ritual image from another culture, another time.  Perhaps the basin is a ritual object and not a bird bath after all.    

This symmetrical photograph could be placed in a category of imagery I pursued many years ago, thing-centered photographs.  This is worth mentioning here because of what Corbin said in his essay about the internal spiritual dimensions of objects:  The phenomenon of the mirror enables us to understand the internal dimensions of an object or a building situated in the space of this world, because it leads us to grasp its spiritual dimension, the metaphysical image which precedes and shapes all empirical perception. . .  

The "phenomenon" Corbin was referring to is the reflected image of the mosque's dome in the water mirror, which at the same time was reflecting the "dome of heaven," the "real dome" of the Templum.  Corbin writes: To see things in the mirror is . . . 'to see things in Hurqalya, highest of the mystic cities of the mundus imaginalis.  The mirror simply shows us the way to enter Hurqalya. 

In addition to talking about the internal, spiritual dimension of the mirrored image, Corbin also speaks of the vertical dimension which the reflected image unveils in the things of the world.  This "vertical dimension" is boldly asserted in the third sequential image, below, but in general the idea of the vertical dimension transposes in the symmetrical photographs to their center-point, the imaginal place in the photograph where the four mirroring source images conjoin, and in their conjunction become transformed.  When we look at the symmetrical rendering of the bird bath we are no longer looking at a photograph of a bird bath, but rather a mystic unveiling of that object's spiritual dimension, its metaphysical image which precedes and shapes all empirical perception. . .  

This symmetrical photograph of course transposes to Corbin's water-mirror which reflects the dome of heaven; it is the water-mirror that reflects the strange heavenly blue light up onto the vaulted ceiling of my living room; it is the ritual-alchemical vessel in which all of the corresponding things in "heaven" and on "earth" melt into one another and become "One Thing."

That which is Below corresponds 
to that which is Above,
and that which is Above corresponds
to that which is Below,
to accomplish the miracle of
the "One Thing"
_____
The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus
Alchemical Treatise


click on the images to enlarge

Image #3  Reflections In a Refrigerator Door 
This mysterious abstract image seems a visual explication on Corbin's statement:  . . .  Let us now transpose this idea of a virtual image to the plane of a mystical reflection.  To transpose the image of virtuality into actuality is to accomplish the very operation which, for the metaphysicians of the school of Sohravardi, signifies penetration into the mundus imaginalis [the imaginal world] . . .

This last of the three sequenced symmetrical images completes the spatial progression initiated by the first two.  I am looking directly into a vibrantly alive, luminous space imbued with sacred presence, a pictorial space which provides me with direct vertical entrance into the space of the soul Corbin calls the mundus imaginalis.  It is essential--a matter of life or death--to get inside the space between the vaulted ceiling image and the water mirror image below it, and this image accomplishes the task in an astoundingly evocative, transformational manner for me.

This image contains an infinitely vast horizontal space which shimmers behind a bold luminous vertical presence that looks like a vibrant pole, or column, or ladder of light.

I associate this image with Corbin's definition of the Latin word Templum, which I discovered in the last of five published lectures Corbin gave entitled "Temple and Contemplation."  He says the word Templum means "a vast space, open on all sides, from which one could survey the whole surrounding landscape as far as the horizon. . . ." Corbin adds: "The word itself connotes the idea of a place of vision . . ."  

The shimmering column of light, or ladder, connects two corresponding-mirroring shapes at the top and bottom of the image.  These diamond shapes (gems) could symbolize "heaven" and "earth," and the "ladder light" of course is associated with Corbin's Temple, the Imago Templi.  At the very center of the vertical form there are two lines of light, one vertical, one horizontal, that intersect each other at the very center-point of each line.  This intersection point is also the center of the entire image.  The presence of this cross of light within the image--in the center foreground of the image--has the character of a "celestial message."  Perhaps it's an angel proclaiming the Unity of Being.

There is a series of stacked lines just above and below the two diamond shapes.  They remind me of ripples in a pool of water, like those one might see in the heart of an Islamic garden, a reflecting pool which is perpetually renewed with fresh flowing water from a mountain stream.  Of course these "ripple" lines transpose to Corbin's water-mirror below the dome of the Temple . . .  

Corbin's "Temple and Contemplation"
In part five of his published lecture series "Temple and Contemplation" Corbin speaks about the relationships between the act of contemplation and the sacred presence that pervades the Temple.  The temple, says Corbin, is both a divine dwelling-place and the place, the organ of vision.  I can easily transpose these notions to my symmetrical photographs for I embrace the idea that my symmetrical images function in the same meaningful and mystical way as Corbin's Imago Templi.  Indeed, symbolic images are the dwelling place of divine grace; they are the sacred vessels which contain but also transmit divine creative energy, the very energy that "holds the universe together."  Symbolic photographs are the conjunction-point, the imaginal place of vision.  Also, the symmetrical images often seem to me filled with eyes of consciousness that are looking out at me; in this sense, then, these images become for me "organs of vision."  But they are also vehicles of seeing, images which unveil visual worlds not accessible to the viewer except via the photographs.  In this sense too, they are both places and organs of "vision." 

When a symmetrical image is radiantly alive and functioning as a symbol for me, it becomes a kind of "spiritual body" pregnant with divine Presence.  As such, it has the potential to change me, transport me into the sacred space of my own heart--that mystic place which Corbin calls the mundus imaginalis.  The deepest meanings of such an image can only be fully engaged and absorbed when I give myself to it completely, when I take it into the very center of my being, and in a state of silent contemplation . . . simply listen.  What the image has to say to me will return me--in a state of heightened consciousness--to the Origin of all that is and is not, the nameless silent sanctuary, the Self


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Closing Words 
I will close this project with the words of Henry Corbin from "Temple and Contemplation":

This is what it means to contemplate: to "set one's sights on" Heaven from the temple that defines the field of vision.  By the same token, the idea of contemplation introduces the idea of consecration. The term was actually used above all to designate the field of Heaven, the expanse of the open Heaven where the flight of birds could be observed and interpreted.  Perhaps the idea of the cosmic Temple . . . should be viewed in this light.  Thus sacralized, the word templum finally came to mean the sanctuary, the sacred building known as a temple, the place of a divine Presence and of the contemplation of this Presence.  Thus, the Latin templum became the appropriate word with which to translate the Hebrew and Arabic expressions that . . . connote the idea of a divine dwelling-place; whereas, through its distant etymology, the word itself connotes the idea of a place of vision.  The temple is the place, the organ, of vision.

In order for the material Temple and the immaterial Temple [Imago Templi] to symbolize with each other, both of them need to be lifted out of the isolation of a world without correspondence, and to be perceived on the level "where bodies are spiritualized and where spirits take on body" (Muhsin Fayd): the level, that is, of the spiritual body.  This in itself is the definition of the imaginal world, the world where . . . the Imago Templi is made manifest.  from part five of the published lecture series "Temple and Contemplation"   click here to see pdf


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This project, "As Above- So Below ~ The Mirror In the Temple" 
was announced in the "Latest Addition" section 
of my website's Welcome Page on
November 3, 2015




Other Related Links


On The Sacred In Art :  Seven Photography Projects


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. 






















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