Center of Being pt. 2 Commentaries-

Commentaries on Selected Photographs

The Center of Being  part 2
Thing-Centered Symmetrical Photographs

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The Center of Being : Thing-Centered Symmetrical Photographs
Part 1   :  The Internal Dimensions of An Object
Part 2  :  Commentaries On Selected Photographs
Part 3  :  Epilogue : The Circle  &  The Wheel of Consciousness

Addendum : The Blue Pearl


Many of the photographs included in the Thing-Centered Symmetrical Photographs project came spontaneously as I was working on other, earlier projects; the remaining images came relatively quickly after I had committed myself to the project's theme.  In either case the work is the product of a willingness to surrender to the needs of my creative process and so I work as intuitively as possible and try to be open to the surprises that the process provides.  Given this perspective, then, it usually seems fruitless to try to explain how the pictures come into being, though I am often tempted to do so.  In any case, now that the pictures are made, I can stand back and look more carefully at what has transpired.  The yogic scriptures say that nothing perceived is independent of perception, and perception differs not from the perceiver; therefore the universe [on in this context, my photographs, and my perception of the photographs] are nothing but the perceiver.  In other words, I am looking at and considering myself when I comment on "my" pictures.  On the other hand, how you perceive my photographs and what I say about them, is nothing but you.  Finally, there's nothing that is not Shiva, the Creator of all that is and is not: 

Just as waves arise from water, flames from fire, and rays from the sun,
even so the waves of the universe have arisen in differentiated forms from Me.

All italicized words above are yogic scriptural texts taken from the book Splendor of Recognition by Swami Shantananda   

Commentary #1

I made the source image for this symmetrical photograph on a cold, windy morning, just as the sun was rising.  I was walking in the space between my house and my neighbor's house when I saw a flickering of light and shadow on neighbor's house.  The rising sun was coming through the leaves of a large bush and projected an appearance on the side of the house that reminded me of dancing flames in a fire place.  It seemed like a sign, an attempt to get my attention: Something is happening here, something important; you should make a photograph.  So I rushed into the house to get my camera.  When I returned, what I had seen was still there!

I don't often write about my experiences associated with making source images which I use for the four-fold symmetrical constructions.  Most of the time I get a very subtle hunch to "take" a picture and that's all there is to it.  But, it seemed important to share this story here, and I am rather surprised that the rather simple picture I took that morning transformed into the very dramatic picture we see above, an "explosion" of light and dark shards.  This is an image of the "Creation" of the world; an image of the expanding roundness of being, the "flashing forth" of an entire universe made of an infinity of differentiated things that share in the "Great Unity" which in certain schools of yoga is named "Supreme Consciousness" or Shiva.

When I first saw the image the dark and light shapes flying out from the center reminded me of a glass container shattering into an infinity of shards; synchronistically, while I was writing this commentary I received an email from a friend who shared with me a story told by Dr. Rachael Naomi Remen to Krista Tippett, host of the radio program On Being.  Dr. Remen received the story from her grandfather, a Kabbalist.  Here is a transcript from part of the broadcast:

In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life.  And then, in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light.  And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessel containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke.  And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.

Dr. Remen continues:  Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident.  We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world.  It's a very important story for our georgia.  And this task is called Tikkun Olam in Hebrew.  It's the restoration of the world.  http://www.onbeing.org/program/listening-generously/transcript/845#main_content


Commentary #2

Perhaps this photograph was made through a microscope, or a telescope.  The scale of space is ambiguous, the subject matter uncertain.  Are we inside a thing, or are we looking up toward the cosmos?  In Swami Shantananda's book Splendor of Recognition, and more specifically in his commentary on sutra 15 of the Pratyabhijna-hrdayam, he writes about yoga as a process of inner expansion, of "going within our own consciousness."  When we do that (through yogic practices such as meditation and contemplation) he says "our consciousness begins to extend beyond the body and the mind and to take into itself all that it encounters."  When this assimilation is complete, he says everything appears as the Self; "all one perceives is, in totality, one's own being." 

Swamiji tells the story of a woman who was taking a meditation program.  Her mind became quiet and she could feel her awareness expanding beyond the limits of her body . . .  beyond the meditation hall  . . .  beyond the streets outside the building  . . .  beyond Cananda  . . .  beyond North America  . . . 

He writes:  "When this woman's awareness had expanded to the point where she experienced that the Earth in its entirety was contained within her own Self, she noticed that the planet seemed quite small to her and that it was nothing for her to place it into her own heart . . .  Her consciousness continued expanding through the galaxies toward an astonishingly infinite universe.  Everything seemed minute, and finally she held the whole of the universe in her heart.  At that point a quest crossed her mind.  If all the universe exists within my heart, who am I?  The answer came immediately  . . . I am Siva, the Lord, the true Self.  I am infinite, eternal and unlimited.  I am pure Consciousness.  Only I exist.  The universe is a play of light and shadow within my Self.  I am the only Truth."


This is an image of the Blue Pearl.  
I will devote an entire project to this theme later.  
Watch for it.


In part 1 of this project I quoted scientists who also understand the yogic teachings and their relationships to Western ideas.  They see the way the two perspectives reflect on each other.  I will restate a few of their comments here to make this point clear in relationship to the above image: What you see as solid objects are not really solid; they are only configurations of energy.  ~  A particle, rather than being a hard substance, is instead an ever changing flow of myriads of particles and quanta that transform in a cosmic dance of hide-and seek.  ~  Everything in the universe is interconnected . . . Nothing is destroyed; it only changes form, and when it gets dissolved . . . all that remains is its essential nature, which [according to Kashmir Shivaism] was Consciousness all along.  ~  When one holds the mind on a thing [the mind's power] leads to the "disappearance" of the physical object, to its absorption into one's self or the absorption of the self into it.  An intimacy is gained with what once was considered utterly other than oneself.


Commentary #3

The two symmetrical thing-centered photographs above share the same subject matter: Euonymus alatus, known variously as winged spindle, or burning bush, a large bush known for its bright "burning red" color.  Indeed, regarding the first image, which was made in Vermont, when I first saw the bush from a distance I was attracted to it, to make a photograph, because thought the bush was on fire.  Sunlight was coming through its red leaves from behind, dramatically spotlighting the bush against the dark ground.  Now, in its four-fold symmetrical transformed version, the image invokes something like a fairy tale image of a burning bush on the edge of still waters, perhaps a pond, or small lake, or a luminous angel.

If I had made this picture about a year ago I would have placed it in the Angles project.  It's fiery mirroring "wings" form a circle of illumination, a hauntingly beautiful and mysterious living image of unity, an angelic specter, seen at a distance, in flight, in suspended time, in infinite eternal space.

There is also a musical presence in this image for me as well.  The light and color and the visual form of the image manifest in my imagination as a combinations of sounds that rhythmically unite in circular waves.  Last night I happened to read a line in a poem by Joseph Donahue that made me think of this image: The notes flow through each other.

When I am writing commentaries on photographs I give myself several weeks to allow ideas to present themselves to me.  So often there is synchronicity at work within all aspects of my creative process; for example, in any moment something totally unexpected, even irrational, could generate a corresponding insight for me about an image I have been in the process of writing about.  The line of poetry I read last night is an example of that.  ~  It's difficult to explain how music and visual images reflect and unveil each other, but it has been something I have had a feeling for for many years; indeed music has been a major source of inspiration for my work (see my introduction to the Welcome Page of my photography website).  In this case, however, it was the poet's words that awoke in me the realization that sound or music was an important aspect of the picture's meaning for me.


The second burning bush image, which I made in our front yard, in Canandaigua, NY is more  immediate, more physically present and confrontative, like a close portrait.  Some of the bush's green leaves have yet to turn red; it's midway through the process of maturing.  ~  The image is less round compared to the first one.  A strong central horizontal patterned movement dominates the image across the entire form.  Also, there's a cross motif that intersects the image at its center point.  

The bush has eyes through which I sense a consciousness that is looking out and at me; its gaze meets mine.  The image wants to speak with me; it is living thing, but its less mysterious than the first burning bush image; this one is not yet on fire.  But, all in good time.  ~  I have had a brief conversation with the image, the kind of wordless communication that occurs in silence, the kind best friends or lovers know about.  Thus, I know that this bush is sad; it longs for something . . . 

When I pair images like I have here in this particular commentary, the space between them must be acknowledged, respected, and considered, for there is a natural dialogue that occurs between images when they are placed next to each other.  One must make an effort to enter into the space between them, and listen.  So much knowledge is offered in silence.  The great sages have taught over and over again that silence is the source of All that is and is not.


Commentary #4

This image is radiant with soft light and gentle silence.  It reminds me of the Dark Stone image I presented at the very beginning of part 1 of this project;  there is a wheel of light "spinning" in the center of the dark space in the center of this image.  (click on the image to get a closer view)  ~  I can never get close enough to an image, it seems.  New worlds just keep opening up, one into another as I go deeper and deeper within.  ~  The wheel is suspended in the center of a dark space, then by a ring of illumination.  The overall tone of the image is velvety bluish-grey-nocturnal; all of the tones are alive with interior light.  Perhaps we are looking up into the starry cosmos through an opening in the night sky.  

The subject matter I photographed was a puddle of water on our driveway.  Back in the mid 1980's, when I was working on the Thing Centered Photographs project, I made many pictures of puddles.  Like ponds and lakes, puddles are the "eye of God," and Corbin's "Mirror in the Temple" which unites heaven and earth.  

I have never stopped making thing-centered photographs.  The very gesture acknowledges a thing's consciousness and opens for me the way to an interior dialogue with what the great poet Francis Ponge called the things of the silent world.  ~  To take a thing-centered photograph, and then to go on and use it as a source image which I transform it into a four-fold Symmetrical Thing-Centered Photograph, is as well a great pleasure for me, a surprising leap into the deeper questions of the mystery of existence.  This four-fold puddle image certainly has plenty of mystery in its own quiet way.


Commentary #5

This image, too, began as a Thing-Centered Photograph which I transformed into a symmetrical photograph.  A ceramic bowl which my wife Gloria made was sitting on a little round table near our front door; I was attracted to photograph it by the way the light was reflecting smoothly on the table's surface, and by the way the light seemed to be embracing the shadow of the bowl.  In this symmetrical transformation of the original thing photograph, the white shapes remind me of "angel wings."  I wonder in amazement at how I came to recognize the possibility of turning that seriously intended thing-photograph into the symmetrical photograph we see before us--which is so fanciful and slightly surreal.    

I don't quite understand how I am seeing the object which is clearly at the center of my attention and at the very center of the rectangle.  I know the bowl has been turned upside down on itself, and yet I readily accept its humorous mystery.  ~  Inside the "opening mouth" of the two conjoined bowls there is a darkly glowing red light, a very deep color, like the smoldering coals of a recently blazing fire.  I imagine the light of the coals rhythmically pulsating as if breathing in, and breathing out.  ~  The bowls, positioned one on top of the other, reminds me of a clam opening itself to the world.  Perhaps there is a pearl inside.


Commentary #6

The same round table pictured in commentary #5 above is presented again in this photograph.  The color of the first is absent here, and the pictorial space is quite different, though it would be challenging to describe the nature of the space rendered in either symmetrical image.  Some questions arise:  Is this a bonafide thing symmetrical photograph?  What is the thing at the center of the picture?  It looks like a fragmented, oblong ring?  Is there a blue dot in its center?  Why?

We are seeing here the shadow shapes of a flower arrangement centered on the round table.  The shadows projected onto the table's highlighted surface vary in sharpness, from hard to soft; some of the shadows seem to be shimmering or vibrating, or perhaps whirling.  Yes, there are tiers of circular movement, and each tier seems to have its own different character, velocity and direction.  Nothing was actually moving when I made the exposure for the source image, but I don't mean to deny the pictorial reality of the photograph, and yet the image also has a sense of stillness or stasis about it.  I am fascinated by the way images like this one offer such contradictory readings simultaneously.   

If we look to the symmetrical photographs to affirm what we already know, they will fail us.  These images are very resistant to being put into limiting, rational boxes of understandings.  It's better to assume that the imaginal world these images unveil have their own particular reality, a reality quite different than the one we have become conditioned to.  If we choose to truly engage these images, me must to so on their own terms, then we can enjoy their surprising twistings and turnings, their revelations of the unknown, even as they may seem to mirror glimmers of the reality with which we appear to be familiar.  

I have found a nearly perfect circle within this image.  It is quite satisfying to recognize such a resolved wholeness amongst so much varied visual energy.  ~  Though it looks like a black and white image, there is some deep blues in the dark grays reflecting the center point.  ~  I see four heart shaped leaves symmetrically placed.  I wonder if there are more hearts on the periphery which is concealed by the falling off of the light.  ~  My intellect tells me I am looking at shadow shapes on the surface of a round table that is halved and mirroring each other one above the other; but this is not a spatially "flat" image, just as it is not a static image.  And what about the oblong fragmented ring at the very center of the image?  ~  I think it is best to leave an image with some questions.  I can always return again, when I'm in a receptive mood, open to listening to answers that may be being offered. 


Commentary #7

This image may be less about the object centered in the frame, and more about the space in which it is situated.  Is that a mask which appears to be sitting on a wood surface suspended in a rather undefinable space with streaks or perhaps "wings" of light either behind or below the table?  The wings are an integral part of the constellation of things that constitute the center of this rather odd "thing" symmetrical photograph.  

The image affirms for me the idea that objects may not be so separate from the spaces in which we find them.  Some things are so strange, or unknown that we have no name for them, and yet their "identity" is tied directly to the context in which they are situated.  It would be a useful exercise to apply this question to all of the images in this project.  The atmosphere of a photograph, the feeling-tone of and image, may be tied directly to the thing at its center, or even its light.

Why am I seeing angels in photographs of objects?  Perhaps its because all things, like all people, have at their centers what Henry Corbin and his mystics call an Angel of the Face, that is to say an eternal aspect, some subtle essence related to the idea of a soul, a guardian angel, some undefinable  transcendental presence.  Surely the constellation of things in this image, including the streaks of light which form a cross behind or below the centered table surface and its "mask" are united as one thing in a space that is linear or rational.  Perhaps the angel in this image is in the light, or in the atmosphere or space of the image.  Perhaps the angel is hiding behind the mask.  

This image definitely has its angel.  Its "eyes" are looking out at me, protecting something . . . perhaps the consciousness that hides behind its mask.  The essential aliveness that I feel lurking in the entire image moves from the eyes of the mask, to the cross of light, to the entire space behind or below or surrounding the mask and the table upon which it sits. 

I''m fascinated by the image, but I am a little annoyed with it, and I am close to being bored with it.  But these are also signs of attraction and some potential revelation.   ~   There must be more . . .

Once the transmutation is effected . . . [through active Imagination and its manifestation of archetype Images] the task is then to understand . . .  how things reflect its own Image to the soul, and how this self-recognition of the soul brings into being a spiritual science of the Earth and of earthly things, so that these things are known in their Angel . . .  CorbinSpiritual Body and Celestial Earth


Commentary #8

This symmetrical photograph has at its center a pile of leaves surrounded by tree shadows.  The pile is directly in front of me, but at the same time it feels distant, removed, as if inside an expanding space which is growing larger and more active with the stretching unfoldment of the moment.  I mean to say Time seems alive in this image, and I associate this dynamic with the expansion of the space.

Though a rather dark, earthy image, the pile of leaves has transformed into a colorful jewel, or perhaps a king's crown made of gold and rubies.  The dark but colorful object has a kind of majesty and internal radiance.  The radiating quality of the shadows give the image an unfolding growing luminosity, and yet, at the same time, the constellation of shadows remind me of a spider and its web or a mouth which is about to consume the thing at its center which has eyes.  


Commentary #9

This image, a combination of the fanciful and the terrible, is about a totem bird, or a conference of birds, in flight.  Its a different kind of flight though; its flight suspended in time -- eternal flight.  The"bird" is enormous, hovering over the entire world, watching, waiting . . .   Its multiple wings turn like the seasons, in silent circles.  The turning creates a mysterious harmonic sound, something like birdsong, the unknown truths hidden in waves of moving air.  Only a few can see or hear the immensity of this strange thing, this green presence in the blue sky; the photograph can only hint at what is essentially invisible. 

I have been reading Joseph Donahue's book of poetry entitled Dissolves.  He's the poet I quoted above, who wrote 
The notes flow through each other.  I will conclude this page of commentaries with the words of the poet:


But the birds

bear witness to

where all thought

comes from, because

song and flight are wedded,

because song and flight 

are thought,

because thought

and song are flight, or

because flight and thought

are song, or because

Pythagoras came to be

if only to prove how

harmonic ratios

offer new life,

just as gratitude

brings us, at the turn

of a season, to a new truth.


*          *          *

This project, "Thing-Centered Symmetrical Photographs"
was announced in the Latest Additions section
at the top of my websites Welcome Page
on February 14, 2016

Click on the image for best viewing
The Center of Being : Thing-Centered Symmetrical Photographs
Part 1   :  The Internal Dimensions of An Object
Part 2  :  Commentaries On Selected Photographs
Part 3  :  Epilogue : The Circle  &  The Wheel of Consciousness

Addendum : The Blue Pearl

Other Related Links

Siddha Yoga Path
Thing-Centered Photographs  1980s / 2003-ongoing
Pratyabhijna-hydayam / Splendor of Recognition

On the Construction of Symmetrical Photographs

Celestial Gardens
Preface to "An Imaginary Book"
Part 5 : Acadia / Arcadia 

OnThe Sacred in Art : An Ongoing Series of Photography Projects

"An Imaginary Book"  2013
The Angels  2014
The Photograph as Icon  2014-15
Snow : Photographs from the Silver World  2015
Photography and Yoga  2015
As Above, So Below : Mirror In the Temple  2015
Field of Vision  2015
Thing-Centered Symmetrical Photographs  2016

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.