Essay: Death, Art, Writing

Steven Foster

I wrote the following essay in January and February, 2003 for Clark Lunberry’s course "Writing in the Visual Arts" at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  He had asked me for a sample of my writing that related to my work as a photographer. 

I had been suffering from a terrible toothache at the time.  In fact I had just been to the dentist; he told me my tooth was dying.   It occurred to me that my creative process had many things to do with death and dying so I decided to write the following essay for Clark to use in his class.

The original draft has since undergone several revisions (revision are an important part of my creative process).  
In August, 2012 I illustrated some of the stories with images from my photography website.  Another revision (May, 2013) was sparked by some writing I had done for my Epilogue to "An Imaginary Book" click herea large project consisting of nine related photography projects, a Preface and the Epilogue.  Most recently I have added some sections in November, 2016 in the midst of working on a new project entitled "Death, A Meditation in Photographs and Texts."  

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1  The Fear of Death
The fear of death was apparently a constant presence as I awaited birth in my mother’s womb.  Mom told me (many times) that my younger brother had died at birth, or was delivered dead upon birth; that there had been complications when she went into labor (her cervix did not open).   I’m not sure about all the details but my baby brother apparently suffocated trying to get out of the womb. 

Thus, when my mother got pregnant again with me she was terrified that the same thing would happen again, so throughout her pregnancy she worried about me possibly dying at birth.  When my time came to be born I was delivered cesarean section. 


2  First Remembrance of Death 
My first memory of death goes back to when I was six or seven years old.  My neighbor Ralphy had an older brother, Clark, who used to terrorize us both, constantly, in any way he could.  One Easter Ralphy got a little baby duckling as a gift, and while he and I were playing with it his bully brother Clark came over and stepped on it.  I can still see the whole drama vividly:  blood started flowing out of the baby duck’s beak;  the duck staggered and struggled briefly, then died right in front of us.  We were heart broken and we grieved deeply over this baby's violent, senseless death.   Ralphy and I held a funeral for it, and we buried it in a little grave beside the garage, under the rhubarb leaves, one of my favorite hiding places when we played Hide and Seek


3  Hide and Seek  

I used to play hide-and-go-seek with the other neighborhood kids.  Our favorite time to play was at dusk, that twilight time between dark and light.  I used to love to hide in the front yard lilac bush in the spring when the flowers were fragrant.  Other favorite places included the “foxhole” Ralphy and I had dug in his back yard (1957, 58 or 59).  It was a little creepy hiding there in the twilight.  It was a little too much like being in a grave.  Regardless of where I hid, I usually would close my eyes because it seemed to me it helped me to be less visible; it was as if I would merge with the place in which I was hiding.

4  "War"  

We had dug that “foxhole” (in Raphy's yard) because we use to play “War” a lot in those days with the other neighborhood kids.  It was a good place to hide and shoot from, and it was cooler in the hole on a hot summer day.  One time, I remember very clearly that I had decided it would be more fun to shoot "the enemy" with a camera instead of a gun.  I borrowed my sister’s x-ray machine from her Nurses Kit and pretended it was a camera.  I watched Man With A Camera on tv a lot; it was one of my favorite programs.  I loved watching the darkroom sequences in which a photographic image would magically emerge onto the piece of paper as it rocked gently in the chemical trays. . .

5  My Dad's Death

My dad died in August, 1955 just a few weeks before I turned ten years old.  I was staying with my cousin while my dad was in the hospital.  It was a very hot night so we went to the band concert in the nearby park, but I had a terrible fever and was freezing!  I was so cold I had to be taken back to my cousin’s house and wrapped in blankets. 

That night I woke myself up as I feverishly, rhythmically, pounded on my pillow, harder and faster - harder and faster.  This really upset my cousin who was sleeping in another bed in the same room with me.  He ran to get my Uncle Bob.  While my cousin was gone, the pounding stopped.  I didn’t know how to explain to my uncle why I had been doing that.

A few hours later, just at the crack of dawn, I remember hearing a bird crying out in the nearby woods as my aunt Lilly came up the stairs and into our bedroom.  She asked me to go downstairs with her.  She looked very sad, very concerned.  She told me that my father had died in the night.  As I was listening to her, I was looking out the living room picture window at a telephone pole by the alley; it had a big transformer on it. and there were lots of cross bars and lines.  That image haunted many of the photographs I was to make later in my life. 

From the Series City Places  
Click on the image to enlarge

6  Epiphany   
A few weeks before my father died (he was in the hospital at the time) I had this epiphany: my cousin came running up to me with a handful of small, black and white snapshots he had just gotten back from the drugstore.  He excitedly placed them in my hand.  When I looked down at them, I knew in that very moment that I would be a photographer.  That's what I wanted to do.  It felt as if my life depended on it.

I began reading camera magazines, and books on photography from the library.  I studied the cameras and darkroom equipment in the Sears Roebuck Catalogue.   At Christmas time I asked for a film developing kit.   I would set up a make-shift darkroom in the basement using the top of the washing machine as a table.  

Click on image to enlarge

7  The First Christmas Tree (after my dad died)  
That first Christmas after my dad died was very difficult for me and my mother.  I'm not sure how it was for my sister; she was seven years old then.  We went out and got a Christmas tree early that year, before it got too cold and snowy.  We stored it in a bucket of water inside our garage.  But just before it was time to bring the tree into the house for decorating we had a major cold spell.  The water in the bucket froze; and when we brought the tree into the house and put in in the stand . . . all the needles fell off the tree.

It was a horrifying experience for both me and my mother.  We both felt so helpless; and the event served as a palpable reminder  of my dad's death and his absence in our life.

But we called my Uncle Dave and told him what happened and he came right over that same day with a fresh tree for us.  He was my savior, my stand-in dad.  He had served as a photographer during the war and he had some darkroom experience.  Later, after Christmas, this would prove to be tremendously important to me as I will unveil in the next story. 

8  The Christmas Gift  
I got the Christmas gift I wanted: a film processing kit and some trays and a little contact printer.  When I set up my darkroom in the basement after Christmas, I excitedly processed my first roll of film; but the film came out blank; perfectly clear.  I shot another roll and processed it; and for the life of me I could not get my exposed film to develop out with images on it, even on a third try.  

I was in tears by the time I called Uncle Dave about this.  He thought that since the film came out totally clear (no numbers or Kodak imprints on the edge of the film) that perhaps the developer solution that came with the darkroom kit was spoiled.  So I went to the camera store and got some fresh developing chemicals.  My next roll of film came out perfectly.  Uncle Dave had saved the day again.

Photography was for me in some ways a substitute for my father.  It filled a huge gap in my life.  It empowered me; it gave me something to live for; it provided meaning in my life at a time when my mom was depressed and struggling to find ways to make ends meet.  

One perceptive art reviewer told me he felt there was a deep sense of longing expressed in much of my work.  Perhaps this feeling was a longing for the absent father; of course it makes sense to think of it this way.  But then that longing could also be for something transpersonal, as well . . . as an experience that occurred later confirmed for me.


My mother remarried a few years after my my dad died.  It was a troubled, unhappy marriage. I didn’t like my stepfather.  He was a gambler, perhaps an alcoholic.  He died from a freak medical situation when I was 21 years old; I was a student in Chicago at the time.  His death was in some ways liberating for me.  But my longing for a father presented problems for me in various ways.

Over the years there have been many men I’ve tried to project my ideal father-image onto.  Not surprisingly none of these men lived up to my ideal.  I put them up on a pedestal, and one way or another they would end up disappointing me and I ended up rejecting them or pushing them away somehow.  Minor White and Nathan Lyons were two teacher-mentors that ended up failing me in one way or another.  The problem was not all theirs, of course; it was also mine.

9  The Death of A Student  

A few months before I wrote this essay an ex-student of mine called me on the phone.  His voice was very weak.  He was having a hard time breathing.  He didn’t want to talk with me about photography, or art; he wanted to know what I knew about death.  He was dying.  He had at most a few days or weeks to live, and he knew of my yogic studies and meditation practices;  he wanted to know what the yogic sages had to say about death and dying. 

The yogic saints say that the time of death in any given incarnation is set at the time one is born.  They say we choose the family we are born into because of the karma we have to come to terms with in that particular incarnation.  They say that a life is most meaningfully lived when it is used consciously as a preparation for death.  ~  I told my student friend all this and more in the half-hour we had together on the phone.   I called him the next day . . .  he had passed on.

1o  The Death of the Ego  C.G. Jung, Alchemy, Synchronicity & my Creative Process
When I was a graduate student at the University of New Mexico (1969-1972) I was required to prepare a major written thesis, as well as a visual thesis.  I wrote a 110 page paper on Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity, and the medieval alchemical process in relation to the creative process in photography.  Visit: The Symbolic Photograph.

The medieval alchemists stated that there are two important parts to the creative process:  the practice - the attempt to unite--transform--masculine and feminine base substances into the philosopher’s stone, or gold.  The second part of the process was known as the contemplatio, the coming terms in some intimate, personal way with of meaning of the transformation.    

At the psychological heart of the alchemical process there must be the “death” of the ego which allows for the dissolution of the illusion of duality, and thus the realization of the Unity of Being, which Jung called the Self.  When the ego is dissolved, there is finally the union, or alchemical marriage of opposites, and the goal (transformation of base metals into gold) is then accomplished.  Jung called this alchemical metaphor of psychological union Individuation, something very close to what the Eastern sages call Self-Realization.

11  The Contemplatio 

Meditation or contemplation on a symbolic image is a crutial part of the creative process; it's an attempt to psychologically withdraw the unconscious contents that get projected into the art objects (a photograph for instance, in alchemy its the base metals).  Jung would argue that it’s not enough to make something (a dream diary, a box of photographs), put it under the bed, forget about it and then go out and make more.  It’s important to share the work with others, and it’s just as important to try to integrate, internalizd the meaning of the work's unconscious or intuitive meaning into one’s conscious awareness or understanding.

12  Writing 

For me, writing about my creative process and my photographs has been an important way for me to contemplate my work, to see the connections between things emerging in my creative process, to see patterns in the ideas that have unfolded over the months, and years of making  photographs . . .  and then put it all into some kind of personally meaningful holistic perspective. 

13  My Photography Blog  
In November, 2010, I began one of the most important art projects of my life: my photography blog-website entitled The Departing Landscape.  TheDepartingLandscape.blogspot.com   It has become for me a wonderful way of presenting my photographs, organizing the work, focusing on conceptual frameworks, etc.  The blog  involves lots of writing of introductory texts, interpretive responses to images, excerpts of important things I've been reading, etc.  The writing for my blog has become a very important part of the contemplatio aspect of my creative process.  I say "part" because a very important aspect of contemplation is a silent dialogue that one must have with individual images.  This experience is too difficult to write about; it is extremely personal, and essentially it is beyond the ability of words to convey to others.  This experience of silent integration of the work must be kept private.  

14  The Symbolic Photograph  
To repeat and extend what I have just said above, it's important to understand that some of the most important kinds of meaning that manifest in a creative process is not-sayable; that is to say, the meaning of a photograph can be beyond the limitations of language.  This kind of meaning may be integrated in part through life experience alone, and in part through a kind of intuitive absorption or interiorization of the imagery in a process of meditating on the images.  

Jung would say that images which function at these deeper unconscious levels of meaning are living symbols, images alive with unknown potentiality, images that unvil the mysterious alchemical marriage of internal psychic archetypal content with their corresponding archetypal physical world counterparts.  

These images which unite inner and outer worlds of meaning into a visual whole invoke a unique individual meaning in each viewer who gives themselves to the image in an intimate process of contemplation.  The same image will mean differently for each person according to their individual capacities and experience.   The same image could mean differently for the same person at different stages of his or her life.  ~  Again, if this interests you visit this link: The Symbolic Photograph.

15  A Near-Death Experience in Brooklyn  

Just weeks before going to New Mexico for my graduate studies in photography, I asked Gloria to marry me.   She was studying art at Pratt University in Brooklyn, I was living in Manhattan and working for a commercial photographer; we had been getting together on the weekends for nearly a year.  

I was very unhappy with my work and with living in New York city.  I needed to get out of  the city and I wanted to be with Gloria.  When I got the invitation to go to the University of New Mexico on a fully paid fellowship with a living stipend, I asked Gloria to come with me.  We decided it would be best to get married.  During the summer of 1969, as we were preparing to get married and move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, just weeks before we were to get married, Gloria got hit by a car.

Gloria lived in an apartment in Brooklyn close to Pratt.  Her sister Phyllis, who had married my friend, Jim, lived in the same building.  We all were in Phyllis and Jim's apartment at the time of the accident.  Gloria and Phyllis were preparing a Saturday night meal, and Gloria had to go out for some things at the corner grocery store.  I was listening to music with the headphones . . . and after a while Phyllis and I both got this sinking feeling when we realized Gloria had not come back from the store.   She was gone way too long, so we went out looking for her. 

When I saw a crowd of people near the corner store under the elevated train tracks with lights flashing and sirens howling, I broke through the crowd and saw a chalk outline of a figure drawn on the street.  Inside the drawing there was a puddle of fresh blood.  I learned from the police that had been Gloria who had been hit by a car and she had been taken to the hospital.  

"Puddle and lines on street with tree shadows" 
From the series Studies  
Click on the image to enlarge

The police rushed me and Phyllis to the hospital in their car with sirens blasting and lights flashing.  I remember feeling grateful for the police – their concern and help, their authority to stop traffic and go through red lights . . .   

In the hospital waiting room, I remember just being amazingly numb, suspended in time and feeling.  My whole life with Gloria had perhaps just been taken away from me. 

Gloria survived.  Several teeth had been knocked out, a bone in her foot was broken.   She had a concussion.  For most of the next two years I would often see her go into a kind of day-dreaming-like trance, with eyes glazed over because of the concussion.

Since then I have been obsessed with photographing puddles.  In the case of the image above I was conscious of the direct association of the image to Gloria's accident--the puddle of blood inside the drawing of a figure on the street.  It has often occurred to me that my other puddle photographs may relate back to that experience in a very subliminal way as well - though of course the meaning of any photograph could not limited to this kind of association alone.  Photographs that function as true symbols are open-ended in its potential meaning.  

16  A Healing  and a Birth 

In 1970-71, while I was in graduate school in New Mexico, and Gloria was finishing up her undergraduate degree there in ceramics and art education, we discussed having children.  We thought perhaps the world was too messed up to bring another child into the world; perhaps it would be better to adopt children.  We then discovered that Gloria had cysts on her ovaries - she probably would not be able to have children anyway.  The desire to have our own child then became quite palpable.

During our second summer in Albuquerque, Gloria’s sister, Florence, visited us. When she learned of a healing group that met at a church on the outskirts of town, she urged Gloria  to take her there.  Florence was interested in these kinds of things, and besides, she was suffering from athletes feet at the time, perhaps there was a chance it could be healed.

At the church a woman struck up a conversation with Gloria.  She told Gloria that she had been coming often to the church since she experienced a healing there.  When Gloria learned that the woman had been healed of cysts on her ovaries Gloria broke down in tears.

The healers at the church spontaneously formed a circle around Gloria and laid their hands on her and prayed.  The next time Gloria went to the doctor he discovered that the cysts had disappeared!

We decided to stop using birth control and just accept whatever happened.  Our son Shaun was born in April, 1972, just a few weeks before I got my MFA degree.  Our daughter Jessica was born in January, 1975, in Atlanta.

17  Persephone: Another Near Death Experience   

My first teaching job was at Georgia State University, Atlanta.  I taught with John McWilliams.  He and I and others founded a photography co-op, Nexus in 1973.  After living three years in the south we decided to try finding a job in the north, closer to our families.  Our daughter Jessica was born just a few months before we moved to Milwaukee in 1975, where I was hired to set up a new photography program within the Art Department.  Shortly after our arrival there I began a new series of photographs which was to become entitled The Persephone Series.

In February, 1976, our first winter in Milwaukee, everyone in our family got deathly sick.  Gloria, Shaun and I eventually got better - but Jessica kept getting worse; she nearly died from dehydration and other complications while in the hospital; the doctors could not accurately diagnose her situation.  It was a horrible experience, seeing our little child strapped to a hospital bed with an intravenous needle stuck in her forehead.   I have written about this experience in detail in my online photography project posted on my website.  Visit: The Persephone Series  

From The Persephone Series

The Persephone Series is, to me, a remarkable, intuitively produced body of work that provides a visual personal narrative that runs in uncanny parallel to the archetypal Greek myths about Persephone, her mother Demeter, and Hades, Lord of the Underworld, Lord of Death.    

In the myths, Persephone's mother Demeter made the earth barren and cold until her lost daughter could be found.  It turns out Hades, Lord of the Underworld and Lord of Death, had abducted her and taken her down into the Underworld to be his Queen of the Dead.  Through a deal Demeter made with Zeus, Hades had to allow Persephone to return to her mother for the spring, summer, and fall seasons, the seasons of fertility, growth and abundance; then for the winter months of the year, Persephone had to return to Hades and serve as his Queen of the Underworld. 

I named the series of photographs after the Persephone myths only after a literary friend of mine saw the work and was struck by the emotional intensity of the work and the correspondences between the images I had made and the mythic narratives he was familiar with.  

My experience of our young daughter nearly dying, and the unconscious making of this body of photographs, for me substantiates Carl Jung’s ideas about Synchronicity and his writings about archetypal-mythic realities that belie our individual personal life stories.

18  Death Wish Experience on the Wisconsin River  

In the summer of 1984 (in the month of August to be more specific) I took my kids Shaun and Jessica on a camping-canoe trip on the Wisconsin River.  I was working on a photography project at the time entitled the “Family Life” Series.  I was photographing only things and events that related directly to my immediate family-life experience. 

I typically would be involved with photography projects that would necessitate me being away from the house and my family for hours at a time.  But in 1984 Gloria decided to go back to school to get a graduate degree in social work so she could get a job after graduation which would help us earn enough money to send our kids to college when they got older.  I would support gloria in her studies by taking on more of the family chores and spending more time with the kids so Gloria could have time to study.  I decided to make photographs only around our house or in situations that involved my kids and Gloria.

The kids and I were having a great time alone, swimming off the sand bars in the Wisconsin River, when I nearly killed myself on a large tree limb that was laying hidden under-water on the bottom of the river bed. 

I hit my head so hard on the tree limb I nearly went unconscious.  I think some part of me  wanted to die, and I'll explain this in a moment; but remarkably, an interior voice or thought or feeling arose in me: I had a choice: 1) I could go unconscious, and drown there in the river leaving my kids stranded, without a father; or 2)  I could choose to live and be with my kids.

I remember how the thought flashed before me that if I chose to die, I would be leaving my children just like my dad had left me when I was ten years old.  

I had always felt cheated, and I was angry with my dad for “leaving” me, and I didn’t want to do that to my kids.  So with all my will…I pulled myself up out of the water.  Blood was all over my face and chest; I had badly scraped myself on the hidden tree limb.  I still have visible scars from this incident which remind me of this near-death experience.  

From the series Family Life  

I later realized there was actually a connection between this near-death experience and my father’s death.  
I had heard of the “unconscious death wish” and looked more closely at that idea in relation to my experience in the Wisconsin River.  My dad had died in August – at the age of 39.  My near-death event took place in August of my 39th year!

I am grateful to Gloria and my children Shaun and Jessica for or shared life together.  I owe them my life in so many ways.  They have been such an important part of my growing-up process, and an important part of my creative process as an artist as well. 

From the series Color Diptychs 

19  My Mother's Death  
In 1988-89 I did a series of color photographs shot at night, mostly in the city, near street lights of varying light & color temperatures.  Most of the images are looking up through trees into the evening sky.  While working on this project I was reading lots of books about death and dying.  I wanted to learn how different cultures around the world dealt with death.  Some cultures have very beautiful and supportive and healthy ways of dealing with death; in the United States generally, we as a culture live in fear and denial of death. 

I love the way the Tibetan culture deals with death.  The book entitled The Tibetan Book of the Living and the Dying was very important to me while I was working on this new series of color photographs.  I especially was impressed with the idea of the Bardo, which are in-between psychic “places” one would go in after dying.   They are places or spaces in which one prepares for the next world, or the next life.  The Bardo can be places of contemplation where one integrates what he or she has learned in the previous life.  One then takes this knowledge and understanding into the next life.

My readings about the Bardo led me to the idea of presenting my night color photographs as diptychs.  I wanted my viewers to imaginatively enter into the space between the images to discover for themselves any meanings the work might be offering or invoking in them.  You can see images and more text on this project by visiting my online project:  
Color Diptychs.

I didn't really understand that the photographs I had been making for this project was  intuitively a preparation for death;  indeed, a
 few months after I completed this project my mother got very sick with pneumonia and died.  This project, I believe, was yet another example of what Jung termed synchronicity.


I had a very moving and fulfilling experience with my mother in the hospital when she died.  The day before she passed, she had gone unconscious.  I was alone with my mother in a hospital room when the room mysteriously became illuminated with a very strange, unearthly kind of light.  It seemed as if the light was coming from inside the walls.  I felt very comforted by the experience actually.  It was as if I was being given a sign that something greater was in charge and over-seeing the process.

The following day the nurse told me she saw signs in my mother’s condition that indicated that she would probably be passing soon.  She encouraged me to telephone my Aunt Ginny and my sister Janice to come immediately if they wanted to be with me and mom at the time of her passing. 

My sister lived 60 miles away, but she immediately left work and drove to the hospital.  My aunt Ginny was able to come to the hospital right away.  It was as if my mother waited for my sister’s arrival; when she entered the room, Aunt Ginny and I were holding my mother's hands in a prayer circle.  Shortly after Janice joined our circle our mother took her last breath. 

Just minutes after my mother took her last breath I experienced a tremendous sense of joy and release.  It felt as if I were sharing in the experience of my mother's spirit, its sense of finally being free of the body!  It was an amazing, wonderful experience, mixed with feelings of loss and gratitude . . . for my mother had suffered a very challenging life full of struggle and loss; she loved me and my sister; she cared for us and made so many sacrifices throughout her life for us.  All she wanted was to be with my dad, who had died in 1955.

Addendum: Less than a year later, Gloria experienced an inner vision of my mother while performing a yogic ritual at a meditation program called an Intensive.  Gloria was waving a tray with a light on it in front of the pictures of the three gurus in the Siddha Yoga lineage:  While waving the candle before the pictures, Gloria spontaneously "saw" an inner image of my mother, rather youngish, in a flowered dress, smiling, happy with her arm around her husband, my dad.


20 My Photograph of Gloria's Mother  
A few years later I was visiting Gloria's family in Rochester, NY.   I was in the garage, looking for things to photograph, when my mother-in-law came out of the house, walked through the garage and out the back garage door that opened to the back yard.  I didn’t know why but I quickly took a photograph just as she was stepping through the threshold of the garage doorway.  In fact I shot so quickly I forgot to focus or adjust the exposure.  The picture came out completely out-of-focus and overexposed … but in the most beautiful and visually articulate way, as you can see here in the image below.  (click on the image to enlarge it) 

Detail from Visual Poems
Less than a year later Gloria's mom died.  The family asked to use that picture in the funeral service as it visually depicts her passage between a world of darkness and a world of light.  The poet and philosopher Novalis (in 1798) said “The seat of the soul exists in that place where the inner world and the outer world meet, and on every point of the overlap.”

This photograph later became the first image in the triadic Visual Poem which I used at the top of my 
Welcome Page for my photography blog, entitled The Departing Landscape. 


21   "Are We Going To Live Forever?"

A month after concluding this essay on Death, Art and Writing, the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq materialized.  As I write  this, of course the war continues to unfold.  So many young men and women have already died and will die in this war.  A yogic friend sent me the following quote from a talk given in the early 1970’s by the great saint, the founder of the Siddha Yoga Path, Swami Muktananda in response to a question about war, death, and living.  What better way to end my essay on Death, Art and Writing, than with the words of a saint:

Question:  “. . . even if there is no war, are we going to live forever?”

Swami Muktananda's Answer:   “God is performing three functions constantly: creation, sustenance, and destruction.  War is nothing but the destructive aspect of God. … Whether a war is just or unjust, it springs from attachment and aversion.  It springs from desire. …

Whatever is inevitable will happen.  If a war has to happen, it will happen; nobody can prevent it.  …  You must remember that he who is born must also die, and the hour of death is appointed at the hour of birth.

You should think about the war going on inside you.  That war is more destructive than any outer war…  The irony of your life is that you want peace, but what you get inside is agitation; you want love, but what you feel inside is hatred.  You want serenity, but what you find inside is disturbance.  First you should understand this contradiction and try to remove it from your life.

There is a time when there is a surge of creative activity, with scientists, engineers, and architects building up things; and then there comes a time for destruction, when bombs are manufactured and whatever has been built up is destroyed.  So there are doers of good as well as doers of evil in this world.  It has been like this from time immemorial, and it will continue to be like this until the end of the world.  For this reason one should take refuge in discrimination and try to find out the means to save oneself.

Lord Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad gita that this world is transitory and he should become aware of this and contemplate the inner Self.  The world doesn’t have much value, it may end any day.  So you should concentrate on the inner Self.

One wonders how many kings and warriors and artists and writers have appeared on the scene of this world and disappeared.  Some of them were creative while others were destructive, but none of them survived.  There was a poet-saint, a very good poet-saint called Narayana, and he says that one should be aware of two things in the world.  The first is the Lord, and the second is death.”


The following notes were added to this 
collection of writings in November 2016 

22.  The 9-11-2001 Attack 
I had not been able to write about this horrific event since it happened; I have avoided dealing with it consciously; it has creeped into my work though I have not dealt with it face-on in a photography project until now, in November, 2016.  I am currently in the process of completing a project about death that consciously acknowledges the that event.  It is entitled  Death, A Meditation in Photographs and Texts.  Here is a symmetrical photograph from the project.  It is for me an image of the Angel of Death:

The event of 9-11-01 took place the day following my 56th birthday, and since then, on each and every birthday, I celebrate my birth in the anticipation of that Day of Remembrance--that horrific day that followed my birthday, when 2,996 deaths occurred . . .  as if in an instant.

I was teaching a photography course the morning after the 9-11 attack.  I was stunned; most of my students were confused.  I made it a short meeting, then encouraged anyone who might be interested to stay after class and discuss in an informal gathering what they were thinking and feeling about the horrifying event.  I remember saying something about how difficult life experiences, such as this one, must eventually be transmuted within our own individual creative processes; that they are an opportunity for growth, for a higher understanding, and perhaps a healing, after all has become interiorized.  But, it will take time; it will take whatever amount of time it needs for each person.

Indeed, it is now fifteen years later, and I am finally consciously acknowledging the shadow which 9-11-2001 -- its dark remembrance -- has since then cast each year over my birthday.

Visual Poem  "Falling"    

Please see my two projects, Broad Brook Photographs 9-10 & 9-11 . 2016 and its counterpart Death, A Meditation in Photographs and Texts.   The two projects speak for themselves.  But, synchronistically, I must share with you here, one part of a longer poem I have just read by Rilke which touches me deeply, especially in the way that it relates to my project Death, A Meditation.   

In my Introductions to both projects I mentioned the remembrance of images I saw on tv and the internet of people falling alone through space from the Tower windows.  Those images--so heavy in their silence--continue to haunt me, like the image of a telephone pole I saw out of the picture window the morning after my dad died (see #5 above).  Since 2001, images of falling have appeared in various ways in my work, such as in the Visual Poem above.

The Rilke poem excerpt I want to share with you is about falling.  It is the first stanza of his Elegy For Marina Tsvetayeva which I just found in a book I'm reading entitled Letters : Summer 1926.  The book chronicles a series of letters that were written between the three great poets: Rilke, Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetayeva.  Here are the words of Rilke:  

Oh, those losses to space, Marina, the plummeting stars!
We do not eke it out, wherever we rush to accrue
To which star!  In the sum, all has been ever forereckoned.
Nor does he who falls diminish the sanctified number.
Every resigning plunge, hurled to the origin, heals.


Faint Photograph from The Departing Landscape project

23   The Departing Landscape : Project and Blog
The Departing Landscape is the title of a photography project I began in 2007 in Milwaukee, and it is also the title of my photography blog.  My project The Departing Landscape consists of a collection of ten projects which share in a common theme having to do with death, or people leaving, walking or fading away, or falling; of the corruption, decay and departure of the Natural World, our planet, the Earth (as we once thought we knew it).

In 2011 I read Bill McKibben's most important book Eaarth, which paints a very bleak picture about the inevitable demise of this planet due to human greed and reckless neglect which has led us to the threshold of the demise of the natural world.

Shortly after reading the book I became aware of the very serious threat to New York State of being horribly corrupted and polluted by the gas and oil industry . . . and New York politicians.  The State was considering a very destructive, polluting horizontal drilling process known as hydrofracking.  This process gains access to deadly fossil fuels which we no longer need and which is creating huge problems for the entire planet, such as global warming, fresh water shortages, and many kinds of pollution to air, land and water.

Gloria and I became very involved in protesting against hydrofracking within the state; I actually created a blog to help educate people to the ugly truth of this very dangerous possibility in a state that has wonderful fresh water resources, organic farming, a thriving wine industry and tourism related to the famous Finger Lakes region.  We live in the Finger Lakes area and we were fighting for our lives and our property as well as the issues that pertained to the state as a whole, and ultimately the decay and departure of the entire planet.

The term "the departing landscape" comes from Morton Feldman, a composer I love.  I have made several photography projects inspired by his ideas and music.  He said: Decaying sound . . . the departing landscape . . .  expresses where the sound exists in our hearing--leaving us rather than coming toward us.

In 2010 my son Shaun, who teaches three dimensional computer graphics at RIT, encouraged me to create a blog for my photography projects.  The idea appealed to me in a way I could not have imagined.  It would liberate me form curators and gallery directors and the pretensions of the art world that had for such a long time made me feel so uncomfortable.  I was preoccupied with the Departing Landscape project at the time so it seemed the right title to give to my blog:  TheDepartingLandscape.blogspot.com

The Departing Landscape project is mostly about the death of the natural world; but it is also about the decay of my experience of teaching at UW-Milwaukee.  State politics were corrupting education and forcing departments to fight over a bone (dwindling budgets) that had practically no meat on it.   I could not handle the stress of it any longer.  At the same time as all this was happening Gloria had been suffering from a very aggressive form of breast cancer which we discovered in 2003, and though she was doing well four years later, after a very difficult period of chemotherapy, the very real threat of its return, along with my discontent with teaching at the University convinced me it was time for me and Gloria to take the trip to Italy that we had been longing to do.  I retired from teaching in 2007.  After our trip to Italy that year we sold our house in Milwaukee and moved to Canandaigua, NY.

Gloria's health has since then stabilized;  I have been more prolific and happier as a producing artist since my retirement from the university; and my blog has been for me a blessing.  I have no more desire to exhibit my work; I am content to share it over the internet.


This concludes my Addendum, at least for the present (it is the first week of November, 2016.)  I invite you to see the related links below for additional information about my personal history, other personal stories, and my photography projects that focus on death.

Related Links:

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.