Photography & Yoga 8 Time

Photography and Yoga  ~ Part 8 ~

Time has many facets: past, present, and future.  Yet it is  unending.     
 When time has become totally still inside you, knowledge arises 
 within, and you experience the Truth.  
If you try to catch up with time, you'll never succeed;  
 time has to become still for you.  And this time,  
 this eternal time is the blissful Absolute.  
Swami Chidvilasananda  
October 1, Resonate With Stillness

In photography's evolution as a technical process and in its evolving pictorial history, the element of time has played a crucial role.  As film emulsions were improved over time, and thus required shorter and shorter exposure times, cameras could be made taken off the tripod, and they were made smaller so they could then be handheld; photographs could be made in low existing lighting conditions making it no longer necessary to use flash powder or flashbulbs.  As a result, a whole new photographic vision unfolded because of the advancements in film emulsions, camera design and lens manufacturing, which ushered in the small snapshot box camera which produced photographs at a low enough price so that everyone could afford to buy a camera and make their own photographs.  For the more serious amateur, there was the 35 mm camera with its new lens technology.  The era of "spy photographs" and the "instantaneous photograph" evolved.  Now it was possible to "capture" events unfolding in the flow of time (at fast shutter speeds ranging from 1/30 of a second to 1/500 of a second). 

In the 1930's the great photographer Henry Cartier-Bresson began making photographs with the Leica 35mm camera, such as the image below.  His work influenced a whole new wave of photography that peaked in the 1950's and 60's including the photojournalism seen in Life Magazine by great photographs such as W. Eugene Smith.  And the new "street photographer" artists began to photograph the new "social landscape" such as Robert Frank and Gary Winogrand.  Much of my own early photography (1963-1975) was influenced by these photographers.

Henri Cartier-Bresson 1933

Gary Winogrand, 1964

In 1952b Henri Cartier-Bresson published his book of photographs entitled The Decisive Moment which included his famous manifesto in which he wrote:  Of all the means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes forever the precise and transitory instant.  We photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing . . .  Photography implies the recognition of a rhythm in the world of real things. . .   Our task is to perceive reality, almost simultaneously recording it in the sketchbook which is our camera. . .   If a photograph is to communicate its subject in all its intensity, the relationship of forms must be rigorously established. . . . In a photograph composition is the result of a simultaneous coalition, the organic co-ordination of elements seen by the eye . . . We work in unison with movement as though it were a presentiment of the way in which life itself unfolds.  But inside movement there is one moment at which the elements in motion are in balance.  Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it.

Edward Weston,  Pepper No. 30, 1927

The Moment of Recognition & Revelation
When I re-read Cartier-Bresson's manifesto, I was struck by his use of the word "recognition." It reminded me of Edward Weston's famous phrase "The Flame of Recognition" which for Weston was a moment of revelation that sometimes occurred for him in a much different creative process, for Weston worked slowly, deliberately with a large format 8x10 inch camera which usually required exposures ranging from minutes to hours.    

Weston wrote articulately about his concept of seeing photographically, which involved the intuitive process of seeing in his mind's eye the finished photographic print as he was viewing the world on the ground glass of his camera.  Working in this way, the moment of recognition could occur as he was "pre-visualizing" the image, perhaps as he was viewing his negative, and other only after he could see the negative in printed form.  

In a well known passage from Weston's Mexico Daybooks of 1927, he writes about his one last attempt to make a successful photograph of a green pepper that he had come to love so much for its elegant, twisting toro-like form.  He had been trying to photograph it for several days, and it was rapidly decaying in the heat of his small Mexico studio.  He felt he had only one last opportunity to make a successful photograph of the pepper before the pepper was ruined by the heat.  It took almost a full day to make the correct exposure, and in the previous tries, if a truck passed by, its sound vibrations often jiggled the camera and ruined the sharpness of the negative.  

He had placed the pepper in a large metal funnel, and used only the dim light that entered through the one small window in his studio.  The soft faint illumination on the pepper, he believed, best reveald the essence of what he called the pepper's significant form. . .  

Fortunately for him and for us, his last attempt to photograph the pepper was more than successful; it was for him a revelation.  He wrote excitedly in his daybook: 

It is classic, completely satisfying,--a pepper--but more than a pepper: abstract, in that it is completely outside subject matter . . .  this new pepper takes one beyond the world we know in the conscious mind. . .  it takes one into an inner reality--the absolute--with a clear understanding, a mystic revealment.  This is the "significant presentation" that I mean, the presentation through one's intuitive self, seeing "through one's eyes, not with them"; the visionary.


The Splendor of Recognition
In part three of my Photography and Yoga project I quoted extensively from Swami Shantananda's book The Splendor of Recognition, which is a collection of commentaries on the 20 sutras of the Pratyabhijna-hrdayam, an ancient yogic scriptural text based in the Indian philosophy known as Kashmir Saivism.  The sutras deal extensively with perception and the Five Creative Acts of Shiva.  Below are excerpts from Sutra's #5, 10 and 20.  They all make references to the perceptual experience of Recognition, and they also make references to time, such as: "every instant of our lives," "the cycles of the universe," "coming together in a flash," "in a moment of revelation," and "the ever present movement of the spanda."

Sutra 5
"The point of sutra five is to tell us that our perception, like the very world itself, is divine Consciousness. . .  Through our vikalpas [perceptions] we actually create that world."

"[Kasmir Saivism] invites us to have this recognition in every instant of our lives: to see that our world reflects back to us our thoughts, our feelings, our interpretations-- our perceptions--and that, then, becomes our reality. . . supreme Consciousness takes the form of our perception."

Sutra 10
" . . . Grace is the solution to concealment.  By means of grace, the Lord ends the concealment he has imposed on himself.  He comes to the recognition that his own Consciousness penetrates the cycles of the universe.  In other words, grace resolves--or dissolves--the illusion of duality inherent in the individuals's universe."

Sutra 20
"Utpaladeva, having attained the goal of yoga, says that he wished to serve by sharing his insight with others.  Everything comes from one's recognition of the Great Lord, Siva."

"Recognition arises when our cognitive understanding of the Lord's glorious nature and our mystical experience of our own Self come together in a flash, in a moment of revelation, and we know: I am God."

Pratyabhijina, then, is the knowledge of the knower turning back to know itself.  The light of the Self reflects on itself, always turning to its own rapturous presence as the only knowledge that exists.  In the impeccable space of the heart . . . every action is an act of worship, and all perceptions are forms of meditation."  

"As a yogic practice, pratyabhijna involves a persistent and steady return of our awareness, over and over again, to the ever present movement of the spanda that vibrates in all our actions and all our thoughts. . . ." 

"The most significant of the various [yogic] practices . . . is the remembrance of the essential 'I am' that pulsates as our very heart."


Recognition is remembrancere-cognition, re-turning, reflecting back upon and knowing one's own Divine Self.  The terms such as flash of recognition, the flame of recognitiion, the decisive moment . . . all refer to that experience in the photographic creative process when one see's one's Self in the image being perceived and pictured through the medium.  It is the moment of remembrance: I Am That; I Am the Moment, I am that which I have been looking for. 

Often, when I am out photographing, or contemplate my symbolic photographs, Time comes to a standstill; my mind becomes quiet; and in that eternal moment I come face to face with my own Self reflected in the image . . .   


The Boy, the Bat, and the Ball    Studies,1994-2000     Steven Foster

A Personal Story   
The Boy the Bat and the Ball 
I have had some remarkable experiences while practicing my photography.  Here is an example in which time stopped as I made a photograph in the flash of inner and outer light which merged together in the decisive moment:  (note: this Personal Story -#6 - is taken from the Epilogue for my project "An Imaginary Book")

It was the late afternoon of a perfect warm summer day.  The sunlight was bright and crisp and clear.  I was walking around my neighborhood with my 35 mm camera looking to make photographs for my Studies project (1994-2000).  I walked by an alley entrance and saw in the distance a little boy throwing a ball into the air and trying to hit it with his large plastic bat.  He was very concentrated on his task.  

I sensed a possible photograph so I nonchelantly walked toward the boy trying not to project any interest in what he was doing so as not to draw attention to myself and distract him from his play.  I readied my camera in my hand (which was hidden behind my back) as I approached the boy.    

When I got about eight feet from him I positioned myself such that the the sun was directly behind him.  When he threw the ball up into the air I raised the camera to my eye and quickly took a photograph.  

As the shutter of my camera opened I experienced an intense flash of white light; time stopped; the world dissolved for a period of time into pure light; then I saw the ball suspended in the air.   Everything in that blinding moment was light except the boy, the bat and the ball.  It seemed to me then that the light I had experienced was internal, the light of the Self, the light of the Timeless moment.    

I don't think the boy even noticed I took his picture; he threw the ball up in the air again as I walked away.  The photograph I made looks to me very much like what I experienced.

Often, when I contemplate my photographs my mind becomes still, time seems to become suspended.  The meaning of the photograph, then, is simply the experience of being consciously present in that timeless moment. 


                                                                            Photography & Yoga      Image #27        Time           Symmetrical Photograph

When Time Becomes Timeless   
Time is very important.  In the words of the poet-saint Sundardas:  "Time both creates and dissolves.  It seizes us and reduces us to ashes.  . . .   Sundardas says, time will vanish as soon as we realize the Self."  ~  As soon as you recognize the stillness of the soul, you are no longer afraid of time.  Time becomes timeless.  And in the fleeting moments of your life, you experience eternity.   Swami Chidvilasananda  October  21 & October 29     Resonate With Stillness 

The Timeless Moment Between   
The great poet-saint Jnaneshwar Maharaj wrote:  "The natural state of the Self is found at the invisible juncture, the timeless moment between the fading of the seer and the seen and their reappearance.  It is like that wavering moment when sleep has just ended, but we have not yet fully awakened."  ~  The state of the inner Self is in every moment, and the experience of it can be seized at the invisible juncture, between two thoughts, for example.  As one thought dissolves and another thought arises, there is always a short interval, a space, and this is a timeless moment.  Swami Chidvilasananda  October  17     Resonate With Stillness

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Our Every Action Vibrates In Eternity
Every action of our lives touches some chord that vibrates in eternity.  It isn't that in this minute you perform a particular action, and then it fades away, forgotten.  Whatever action you perform reverberates throughout the cosmos.  Whether this act is performed through the body, through the mind, or through your speech, it will sound in eternity.  ~  Everyone's mind is the cosmos, everyone's heart is the cosmos, everyone's being is the universe, so whatever action you perform, good or bad, is going to continue to re-echo.  It is never forgotten, nor is it overlooked.   Swami  Chidvilasananda  December 23  Resonate With Stillness   

He is the Great Artist
If you understand that He is the main actor in this drama of the world, if you understand that He is the great artist, if you understand who He is, then you will know who you are, and you will find sublime peace within.  ~  If you understand His game, you will realize that you and I do not exist; you will realize that only He exists.  Then you will understand that you and I are one and the same, and the moment this recognition takes place, love will arise. . .   Swami Muktananda  December 30   Resonate With Stillness 

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