Commentaries: Acadia : Arcadia ? pt 4

Acadia : Arcadia?
Part 4 : Commentaries
                     On Constructing the Four-fold symmetrical photographs 

   Acadia : Arcadia ?  part 4  Commentaries              

the Four-fold Symmetrical Photographs  

Symmetrical-Mandala Image #1                                                          Symmetrical-Mandala Image #2

The very act of constructing the Four-fold symmetrical photograph is for me a ritual act, a form of meditation.   It is related to what depth psychologist C.G. Jung termed active imaginationand what the great Sufi mystic Ibn 'Arabi termed Creative Imagination.  I love the way a simple photograph (see the two source images below) can be transformed into a surprisingly mysterious, beautiful Iconic image through the four-fold process.  Following is a detailed but necessarily simplified and abbreviated step-by-step description of how I construct my symmetrical photographs:

I begin with a single photograph which I call the "source image."  The source images for the two symmetrical-mandala images above are shown below; they are not particularly interesting pictures of rocks which I had taken in Acadia National Park.  click on the images to enlarge 

The source images used for the two symmetrical-mandnala  images above
Image #1                                                    Image #2 

First, I crop the source image as necessary, and adjust the tones, contrast, and colors--both locally and overall, as necessary.  

Second I duplicate the adjusted source image, flip it upside down and place that image directly under itself.  I then seamlessly conjoin the images such that they reflect each other as if in a pool of perfectly still water.  

Next, I duplicate that pair of vertically conjoined images, and horizontally flip the duplicate and place the duplicate beside the original conjoined vertical image pair.  I then seamlessly conjoin those two image such that they perfectly mirror each other in the other.  

At this point I may see a need for additional adjustments in tone, color, contrast, etc.  Then I place the image in a black space and add the green "suns" centered on the top and bottom edges.  For these particular images I then added the green and blue lines around the image within the black space.

The final four-fold construction is a perfectly symmetrical image consisting of the same one image reflected upon itself both vertically and horizontally, and seamlessly conjoined into a visual unity, essentially a "circular" symmetrical image which has at it's very center a point or bindu.  In some images you can see the bindu and in others it is only a subtle, invisible presence.  In any case the true center point of the image is invisible; that is to say it is in the center of the center of the center of the image.  The bindu symbolizes the transcendent, divine Origin of the image.  The image as a whole symbolizes the Oneness or Unity of Beingthe Absolute, God, the Self . . .  the Origin of all created things.  

I surrounded both images with a colored line.  I don't typically do that, but it works for me visually in these two photographs which at once are separate and inseparably complementary opposites of each other and thus form a unified whole as a diptych.  The green line around image #1 echos the green within the central part of the image and the two green suns centered on the top and bottom edges of the black space surrounding the image.  The color green has a symbolic significance in Sufism which I will explain in the next paragraph.  The blue line around image #2 symbolizes the Blue Pearl, the invisible bindhu or point at the center of the center of the photograph.  The green lines around the image seem to reflect the divine light of the green suns shinning upon the image from above and below; in case of the blue lines, they seem to reflect the subtle light of the Blue Pearl which is coming from within the center of the center of the image

The black space in which the image pair is suspended represents silence, the Sufic black light of fana--nothing, infinite Shiva, the Supreme Witness, the Eternal divine Presence which exists in all things, and in which all things exist.  The green "suns" centered on the top and bottom edges of the black space represent the light of grace, divine illumination.  The color green symbolizes, in the spiritual tradition of Sufism, the completion of the spiritual journey. click here  The green suns and the black space is a convention I have decided to carry over from my earlier project "An Imaginary Book".


The photographs in Part I of the project probably need little additional commentary.  The primary intention behind the images presented in Part I was of course to share images that describe the beauty of the place, Acadia National Park.  Perhaps some of the images unveil to some extent Angelic presence--I took all of the photographs in the park at the time I was working on the Angels project.  However it is the symmetrical photographs in Part II that are most successful in those terms, it seems to me.  Image 11, below has angelic presence, despite it's pictorial baggage.


Image #11


I always say don't trust a photograph, because it is often a fiction, a lie, a celebration of vision, a construction of belief, an attempt to persuade.  And certainly don't trust what an artist says about their work.  Artists are often the last to truly understand how blind we all are to the true nature of the Creative Process.  

I think is is safe to proceed on the notion that if you feel anything when you perceive a photograph it is because it is functioning as a mirror for something inside you.  Find out what it is, become silently absorbed in the image and listen to what it has to say to you.  Everything outside us exists inside us; what we see outside comes from within.  This basic spiritual truth is something we forget or can't truly understand so we want the artist to explain the image to us.  It is important to consider the consequences of what I am hinting at here.  

I cannot tell you how to experience my photographs.  However when it comes to the symmetrical photographs, clearly I try because the Icon or symbol is for me the true entryway into the imaginal world and an infinitely deeper transcendent meaning.  I sense that kind of meaning in most of the symmetrical photographs, though in some it's present perhaps in limited ways.  The symmetrical photographs in general function for me as Icons, and rather than trying to explain that here, I am thinking of devoting a future project to articulating all that's involved regarding the concept.   

I believe in intentional fallacy.  Despite my good intentions and high ideals, I could be fooling myself--and trying to fool others--you--in order to better convince myself of something that is not quite true or at least not yet fully understood.  Pay attention and listen to the photographs . . .  that's what really matters. 

Favorite Photographs : Acadia Part I

Image #35

I particularly like the way the foreground shapes in in the rocks are echoed in the cloud shapes in Image #35  above.   There is a primal quality to the way the rock in #25 below is projecting green shrubs outward from its "mouth."  Its as if something is being said in a language we haven't yet learned. 

Image #25

There is something very natural, graceful about the transitions from the foreground's rocky shores to the broken, patterned luminous sky in image #14 below.   This is a very articulate image in the tradition of the Hudson River School.  Like some of their best works, which at times were truly revelatory of a transcendental kind of beauty, this photograph in its simplicity is very powerful for me and has Angelic presence. 

Image #14


Favorite Photographs : Arcadia Part II
Many of the four-fold symmetrical "Arcadia" photographs in Part II are very powerful for me.  Some of my favorites were first published in the Angels project Part VI  and Part VII .   I like in particular the images constructed from closer-up views rocks and tide pools.  The distant views are unarguably magical, but too often they seem to me overly sweet, too uncomfortably like pictorialist illustrations for the Paradisal Imaginal Worlds.  This is admittedly a bias of mine, and should not distract you. 

Entire Worlds Suspended in Space
I have always been fascinated by things visually suspended in space.  This goes back to earlier projects such as The Departing Landscape ~ Triadic Memories ~  Thing Centered Photographs.  Many of the symmetrical photographs in Part II of Acadia-Arcadia? are about a "place" suspended between above and below, rational and irrational, physical and spiritual, Earth and Heaven.   From the top of Cadillac Mountain I felt on top of the world; it was as if I could see the entire planet in one glance . . . and I think this is what the first six or so images in Part II are about for me.  

Image #1

The Intermediate Imaginal World is a particularly meaningful concept in terms of Islamic Sufic mysticism and the writings of Henry Corbin and Tom Cheetham.  They both write articulately about this complicated idea.  I have provided a good selection of text excerpts from their writings in this project, and I've included some below as a Textual Postlude.  Cheetham and Corbin both have a graceful, even poetic way of putting into words for us what the great Sufi mystic Ibn 'Arabi was trying to say back in 13th century Spain.


Image #16

Holding in Balance
There is a certain danger in trying to transform the world photographically into a four-fold symmetrical photograph.  It's easy to get enthralled by the magic inherent in the process and thus loose sight of the actual image.   Rather than truly functioning as an Icon, an image may be nothing more than a decorative shell, merely a reflection of the artist's inflated ego.  Our mode of perception determines our experience of images; and on the other hand, mysteriously, the image itself impacts our mode of perception.  

I have noticed that I tend to prefer the symmetrical images that are more radical in visual transformation--and sometimes that means going to the very edge of abstraction.  See image #16, above.  This degree of visual abstraction helps me gain some aesthetic and personal distance to the image as it is and to the source image used in its construction.  What fascinates me most is when an image holds in perfect though tense balance the relationships between representation and abstraction.   

The apparent world holds in its appearance the presence of a mystery: call it the archetypal Origin, the Celestial Twin, the transcendental background . . .  A photograph that functions as an icon seems to bring this mystery face-to-face with the viewer.  That presence unveiled by the iconic image transports me into the imaginal or intermediate world.  

The image #7 below is not truly symmetrical, but it contains symmetrical elements.  It is for me a magical photograph: I like the way the "christmas tree ornament" is suspended from the sky and centered over the luminous blue waters.  The central form has two "black eyes" which is complimented and echoes by the two "white eyes" below.  The image is somewhere between the Face of an Angel and an imaginal landscape. 

Image #7


By its very nature an image that functions as an Icon (or symbol) transcends language; it is "about" what is unknowable.  As Swami Kripananda wrote in her book The Guru's Sandals - Threshold of the Formless: "form has led to the Formless."

When an image stops your mind, and you feel yourself becoming inwardly silent, and at the same time you feel yourself resonating to the image in a way that makes you feel more alive with energy, and more aware than ever before seeing and experiencing it, then you know you have come face-to-face with the Origin of the image, one's own Self.   

The term "face to face" implies mirroring, and of course symmetrical photographs are about mirroring image upon image vertically, image beside image horizontally.  If the image moves you beyond your familiar self, it is functioning as an Icon or symbol.  Through the image one experiences the Unity of Being.  As Corbin and Cheetham have written:  the viewer, the contemplator is the eye with which God is seeing, witnessing, contemplating Himself.  Image #15 holds that mystery for me.  I like the way the "green suns" centered on the edges of the black space cast a shadow below (and above) the white rock.  There are eyes everywhere:  everything is looking at me.

Image #15


The Colon and the Question Mark
The title of this project Acadia : Arcadia? has a colon and a question mark in it.  The question is: can we come to terms with the the idea that Arcadia is as real--as a world of the imagination--as Acadia, the national park in Maine?  Are the two reflections of each other?  

The colon in the title of this project can be explained by the following excerpts from Swami
Kripananda's book, The Guru's Sandals - Threshold of the Formless.  She is writing about the meaning of the two syllables of natural, self-created mantra of the breath, Hamsa:    

Ham is considered the bindu . . . the in-breath . . . and the dimensionless point into which the universe is absorbed, the subsiding back into formlessness, into Shiva.  

Sa is defined as visarga . . . the out-breath . . .  emanation or creation, the issuing forth of Shakti into manifestation and form.  Visarga consists of two dots written one above the other like a colon [:] at the end of a word.

The word Hamsa, then, represents the union of these two opposites, Shiva and Shakti, the world within and the world without.   

Image #3

Textual Postlude

     Corbin speaks . . . of the iconography, the theosophy of art, as it were, which accompanies this vision of the world.  . . . What is required of such art is not that it be representational, but symbolic. 
     In the spaces of iconographic, symbolic art, [Corbin writes] "All the elements are represented in their real dimensions, in each case perpendicularly to the axis of the viewer's vision . . .  
     Contemplation of the image becomes a mental itinerary, an inner accomplishment; the image fulfills the function of a mandala.  . . . to contemplate them is to enter into a multidimensional world . . .  And the whole forms a unity of qualitative time in which past and future are simultaneously in the present." 
     The function of such an art is not representation, however beautiful, but transformation and transfiguration of the soul and of the world . . . Tom Cheetham  The World Turned Inside Out


This concluding  Part IV  of my Acadia : Arcadia? project 
was first posted ithe "Latest Addition" section of 
my Photography Website's "Welcome Page"  
on December 2,  2014.

Other Related Links:
On the Construction of my Symmetrical Photographs

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.