Snow: Silver World pt.10 Epilogue

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Photographs from the 
Silver World Part X ~ Epilogue   

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Snow: Photographs
from the 
Silver World 

Snow: Photographs from the Silver World (2015)is the fourth project in a quartet of projects exploring Sacred Art - and The Sacred in art - in relation to my creative process in photographic picture-making.   The other three projects are "An Imaginary Book" (2011-13),  the The Angels (2014)and The Photograph As Icon (2014-15).

In the Introduction to this project I presented several symmetrical snow photographs I had made in mid-January, 2015.  I had originally published them in the Epilogue to my Icon project, but when I realized that those photographs were what had awakened me to the idea of the Silver World project, it became quite clear that those images must also be included in this project.  I am presenting two of those early, initiating images below, though in a revised format that is consistent with all the other Silver World photographs.  An additional new image, which was made at the same time as Image #1 below, can been seen at the very bottom of this page.  

  Epilogue, The Silver World       Image #1       Revised  Symmetrical Photograph originally from the Icon project     

      Epilogue, The Silver World      Image #2       Revised  Symmetrical Photograph originally from the Icon project     

Like Snowflakes
So many people have complained about how difficult the winter (of 2015) had been, and yet I loved every day of it because of this project.  Each of the four-fold symmetrical Silver World photographs seemed to have gracefully fallen upon me like snowflakes from the heavens--spontaneous, unique crystallizations of my creative process which transformed my world view from what for so many was a most difficult time into what had become for me a continuum of excited anticipations and visual revelations.  Each snow-filled day of the winter of 2015 provided me the opportunity to explore an interior imaginative landscape of extraordinary, numinous, crystalline beauty.  

fig. 1   A microscopic view of a snowflake--
a beautiful ice crystal or aggregation of ice crystals 
that began as cloud droplets.  Their abstract geometrical designs  
are typically of a kind known as "six-fold radial symmetry" (Wikipedia).

 Epilogue, The Silver World         Image #3       This  four-fold symmetrical image is from Part 1 of the project        

The Breath and the Space-Between
The Silver World project is focused on the sacred art traditions associated with Taoist and Zen philosophies.  However I have also included (as in my other sacred art projects) teachings from the Yogic traditions.  This is important for me because I have been practicing Siddha Yoga meditation since 1987 with a true meditation master.  click here   Though I have been contemplating the idea of doing an entire photography project associated with the art and sacred teachings of Yoga, thus far I've been content with pointing out correspondences that I see existing between the yogic teachings I have come to know from my own personal experience and the teachings in other traditions (these have included, so far, Islam & Sufism, Russian Orthodox Christianity & the Icon, and Taoism).    


I came upon a passage in Chung-yuan Chang's book entitled Creativity and Taoism (see Part IVwhich references Yoga in the context of what is termed "abstract meditation."  I was struck by the word "abstract" and its association with meditation for two reasons: first, because I have been fascinated by the way my symmetrical photographs often seem to exist between representation and abstraction or "non-repreresentation;" and second, because I consider my creative process in photography a form of meditation-in-action.  So I thought it would be interesting to present that text excerpt from Creativity and Taoism here and then juxtapose it with a yogic teaching by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda about meditation.  Chang writes:    

     . . . Through non-action [contemplation-meditation-surrender] absolute quietude is achieved.  One sees one's own original nature, and when this occurs one interfuses with the ten thousand things and becomes one of them.  This interfusion of one's self and the ten thousand things is all-pervading and all-embracing.  In this state one is selfless.  Thus, we say, one is in the realm of non-being, or void.  This, too, of course, is the basic goal of Yoga.
          Yoga, as the  Indian philosophers interpret it, is a way of abstract meditation (samadhi) and transcendental wisdom (prajna).   . . .  From the earliest Chinese records we have, and from the works of Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu as they have been handed down to us, we know that "abstract meditation" was practiced in the early days by the Taoists, and that transcendental wisdom was achieved by them.  Closely connected with meditation, the consequence of which is wisdom, are the breathing techniques ordinarily associated with Yoga.    (emphasis in blue is mine--SF)

Chang then continues on for several pages writing about the practices of Yoga-like Taoist breathing that helps achieve "emptying oneself," for "Tao abides only in the emptiness." 


My meditation teacher, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, and her teacher, Swami Muktananda, have written and lectured extensively on the power of the breath and its relationship to the practice of meditation.  The following excerpts are from a talk Gurumayi gave in 1983:

          When you exhale, the world comes into existence; when you inhale, the universe dissolves within yourself.  It is said, the entire universe is the breath of God.  As the Pure Being exhaled, everything came into existence; when the Pure Being inhales, everything will dissolve.  This creation, maintenance, and dissolution continually takes place.  It's a phenomenal occurrence that happens in and for everybody.  So when you have the awareness that with your exhalation everything comes into existence and with your inhalation everything dissolves, even this common practice of breathing becomes a miracle.
          It is the power of the supreme Self that brings the air inside and takes it outside.  Your mind becomes quiet when you focus your attention on the space between the exhalation and the inhalation because this space is pure; in it there is no thought, no feeling, no tiredness, no activity.  That which holds the in-breath and the out-breath together is nothing but pure bliss, that which holds two thoughts together is nothing but pure bliss, and your exhalation and inhalation are permeated by this love, this joy, this bliss.
          Your breath contains everything: your longing and your attainment.  This entire universe is the breath of God.  So it is said that those who have controlled their breath have immense power.   (emphasis in blue is mine--SF)


I have quoted the words of Francois Jullien from his book The Great Image Has No Form quite extensively for this project (see Part V).  Here I want to focus on his writings about the breath and that which is between the breaths, between the outside and the inside, the "visible" and "invisible," the "there-is" and "there-is-not."  These binomials which relate to Taoist painting are extremely important in relation to my creative process and the symmetrical photographs I have made.  I will elaborate on this at the conclusion of the epilogue, but first, here are some selected texts from The Great Image Has No Form:

. . . the painter paints the world emerging-submerging. . . not quiescent.  He paints the world coming out of the original confusion or sinking back into it, following the great respiratory alternation, breathing in and breathing out, that bring the world into existence.  He does not aspire to immobilize it as Being and to determine it as object.  He paints it between "there is" and "there is not" . . .   Between the "there is" that takes over presence and its complete dissolution in absence, the painter grasps forms and things surging up and fading away at the same time.  He paints them on their way . . . as a continuous process.

Everything in the universe originates in the same breath-energy. . .  It leads to the infinite diversity of beings, man included, and to their relations with one another and their cohesion within a landscape. . .  "rising and falling, soaring upward or sitting down, the mountain brings about the great respiration of the world."   And the painter, communicating with it through his vital breath, grasps it through the alternating motion of his brush.  Thanks to the variation of empty and full, the painting breaths as well.

From such a concentration is born the painter's capacity to "become one" with what he paints, by mingling his "life" with it. . . . In its respiratory effusiveness the sage's breath-energy mingles completely with the world's breath-energy in constant renewal.  

. . . is it not listening rather than seeing that is now at issue?  Sight aggressively projects attention outward, whereas listening gathers it up within. . .  The Taoist master explains that, as you rise toward internal concentration, you need to listen, not with your ears, but with your spirit; and not with your spirit but with breath-energy, qi. . . 

What does painting aim to paint? . . . The painter will surely refrain from invoking the "visible," because he is well aware that his labor, once it achieves any degree of profundity, is to make the invisible appear: invisible feelings, or the "soul," or the "spiritual," or "breath-energy," or the continuous transition of existence and its slow incrustation in things.    (emphasis in blue is mine--SF)

". . . when the whole landscape vanishes in confusion
--emerging-submerging, between there is and there is not--
that is what is difficult to figure" 
[i.e., to paint, to photograph]  
Qian Wenshi, painter  

Epilogue, The Silver World        Image #4        Symmetrical  Snow Photograph        
This is a new image constructed from Image #2--Part 8 of this project.

Regarding the Symmetrical Photograph  
I am continually trying to articulate what for me is at the heart of the mystery of the four-fold symmetrical photographs.  I have been making and contemplating them for over four years now and they continue to hold my fascination.  I am particularly intrigued by the way the four-fold process transforms what seems to be a rather ordinary representational photograph into something completely new, extraordinary, numinous and abstract (i.e., non-representational).   I know too that in some subtle way, on some deeper psychic level, I am being transformed by the making and the contemplation of these images. 

The texts I have been reading for the Silver World project have given me a new vocabulary and some different ways of seeing and understanding my creative process with the symmetrical photographs, so I will attempt once again to write about them . . . though the words end up sounding too illogical, and what I would really like to say seems un-sayable.  But this is the nature of the intermediate, Imaginal World, the world of the visual Symbol which serves as a bridge between the outer and the inner worlds.  


Although She becomes the whole Universe
Her immaculate purity is never lost
Although She assumes countless forms
Her true identity remains intact
Whatever we see or don't see
Whatever exists or doesn't exist
Is nothing but the play of this Supreme Power . . . 
Lister to Her voice
Hear it echo through creation
Without fail, She reveals Her presence 
Without fail, She bring us to our own perfection

                              --Tao Te Ching  trans. Jonathan Star 

The four-fold symmetrical photograph is a visual construction which inexplicably transforms four identical images, juxtaposed such that each mirrors the others (above and below, and left and right), into a uniquely new and wholly Original image of Unitary Reality.  I use the word "original" here in the sense that the radiant alive-ness of the image, its ever-flowing stream of creative energy, has the presence or character of the Primordial Fount from which all that is visible and invisible emerges.  (Jullien has written at great length about the Fount

The four-fold symmetrical photograph is essentially circular in form, therefore it has a center-point.  It is within the space of the center-point that the four echoing images interfuse, crystallize into a unity.  

The center-point is nothing but the space-between the four images, and this space-between also pervades every point of the interfusion of the four images.  The symmetrical image is the visible manifestation of the center-point turned inside-out; an image unfolded from within itself.  Indeed, it is my experience that the symmetrical photographs are self-created.   

What holds the four-fold image together, what transforms the four images into One, has no name.  If I take those names used in the above texts--the Breath-energy of the Tao; the Breath of God; the Grace, Love, or Power of the Supreme Self--it is with the understanding that the names are but a convenience; they merely strive to point toward that which is eternally changeless . . . and paradoxically that which is continually moving and trans-forming.  What gives The Great Image its profoundly creative resonance, its angelic music, its numinous-ineffable presence and meaning transcends the limits of words.

When I am in the process of making a symmetrical photograph, or when I sit quietly and contemplate a particularly attractive image, my mind often becomes quiet--thinking dissolves into silence--and the moment, though suspended, becomes expansive.  In these exceptional moments of aliveness, I have viscerally experienced the "breath-energy" flowing out of the image; I have experienced being breathed by that energy.  I have been graced with a closeness to the image, its presence, its perfection, its Origin . . .  such that I have felt indistinguishable from it.   ~   Such is the power and mystery of the symmetrical photograph.  

Note: I have revised this last section "Regarding the Symmetrical Photograph
every day since the page was first published on May 1.     
 This latest version was published May 9, 2015 
  ~  SF  ~ 


This concludes the Silver World project.  I invite you to watch for my next project.   I will post any new work in my "Latest Additions" section at the top of my Welcome Page when it is ready for public viewing.  Thank you for visiting and participating in The Silver World project.  ~~  Steven Foster 

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Visual Postlude

Epilogue, The Silver World  Image #5       Symmetrical  Snow Photograph: Rose Hips and Ice Crystals  (made the same day as Image #1 above)      

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.