Babysitting Photos pt.4 Commentaries & Epilogue

Babysitting Photographs Studies VII
Part IV : Commentaries &  Epilogue

Click on images to enlarge
Part I : Sleepy Baby Stroller Views and Dreamscapes
Part II : On the Ground Floor Babysitting Photographs 
Part III : Symmetrical Babysitting Photographs
Part IV : Commentaries & Epilogue

Before I get to the commentaries I must once again make it clear that there is a difference between contemplating an image and writing commentaries on images.  Contemplation is a deep, concentrated engagement with an image, and most importantly an image that is functioning as a symbol for the contemplator.  It's an experience of becoming absorbed in the image, opening one's heart and mind to it, and listening.   A silent dialogue with the image occurs, which is to say the contemplator is contemplating him or her Self through the image, an image that is the visual embodiment of the unity of being.

Commentary #1
Are we peering down at a bloody body part, perhaps an organ?  Is it a heart that has been cut or broken open?  The image is both beautiful, mysterious, and a bit terrifying to me . . . perhaps because of memories it invokes.

This symmetrical photograph was constructed with a picture I took of a pomegranate that had been split apart, seeded, and abandoned on the granite kitchen counter.  A ceiling light can be seen reflecting in the polished stone.  A sharp edged shadow of the "empty carcass" projects into the orb of light.

The pomegranate is an ancient archetypal symbol.  I know too well its meaning, which I will share with you, in part, from a Wikipedia article at this link pomegranate

In Ancient Greek mythology, the pomegranate was known as the "fruit of the dead", and believed to have sprung from the blood of Adonis.  ~  The myth of Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, prominently features the pomegranate. In one version of Greek mythology, Persephone was kidnapped by Hades (God of Death) and taken off to live in the underworld as his wife. Her mother, Demeter (goddess of the Harvest), went into mourning for her lost daughter, thus all green things ceased to grow.                                   

My story begins in 1975 when I was offered an opportunity to create my own photography program in the Art Department at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.  I accepted the offer and in the late summer of 1975 I left my teaching job at Georgia State University, in Atlanta, and my wife Gloria and our two children moved to Milwaukee.  Shaun was age 3 and Jessica was less than a year old at that time.

Our first winter in Milwaukee was very difficult for us; we all got deathly sick in January.  Gloria, Shaun and I eventually got better, but Jessica, just one year old by then, kept getting worse.  We had to admit her to Childrens' Hospital.  Jessica came very close to dying.

Out of this terrifying experience came a photography project entitled The Persephone Series.  It is both a very personal expression of fear and helplessness, and the portrayal of a great archetypal drama that parallels in many surprising ways the Greek myth of Persephone.


When my wife and I were asked to babysit Claire in February, 2016 it was because she had become too sick to go to her day care center.  Her fever would not go down.  Indeed, it lasted for over a month.  Claire was about the same age as Jessica when this all began happening, so perhaps you can imagine the anxiety we experienced as we cared for Clare amidst the frequent flashbacks to our memories of Jessica strapped to a hospital bed with intravenous needles stuck in her forehead.

Jessica survived the ordeal which is explained in full detail, and pictures, in the Persephone project mentioned above.  She is a mother herself, now.  And Claire eventually got better and was able to go back to her day care center.


I do not mean to imply that the symmetrical image of the pomegranate is about all this.  As a symbol, its meaning is open ended for each person who engages the image.  I am sharing with you memories associated with the subject matter in the photograph, and certain qualities of the image that ignite those memories.

Still, the pomegranate plays a significant role in the archetypal story of Persephone and her mother, Demeter, and Hades.  Whether we know it or not, we live our lives in timeless unconscious patterns shared by all those who have come before us.  In this world of duality, each one of us will die; death belies everything we do and experience on the surface of this Earth.  Indeed, death can be a great inspiration to us to live our lives as fully as possible in each present moment.  On the other hand it should also be noted that in the transcendent realm of the soul, death is but an interworld.  

I inivte you to visit my photo project The Persephone Series and my illustrated essay Death, Art and Writing.    


Commentary #2
I am providing you here with an opportunity to see--next to each together--the source image in relation to its four-fold symmetrical transformation.  Both images are, for me, articulate photographs in their own terms; both are spatially engaging, ambiguous images; both have an intriguing play of light and shadow.  I like both images.

What you are seeing in the straight photograph immediately above is a corner of a dark framed mirror that had been placed temporarily in the corner of a room, on the floor, out of Claire's reach.  It will be hung on a wall some day, but who knows when?  Since my son and his wife moved into their new house they have been too busy with caring for Claire and attending to their demanding jobs to do things like hanging mirrors.  The right edge of the image shows a fragment of a child's toy, perhaps the leg of a small child's swing.  It's partial reflection can be seen in the left edge of the mirror.

The symmetrical version of this image is fascinating to me, and with a little imagination, its a bit humorous too.  The image reconstructs the fragmented mirror as depicted in the source photograph, that is to say the symmetrical version makes the mirror whole.  By a slight stretch of the imagination the symmetrical image has somehow magically "hung" the framed mirror on a wall.

It's a luminous, slightly mystical image.  If perceived as an image of reunion and ascension, the rising resurrection of a mirror, both the reconstructed image of the mirror and the photograph itself becomes a symbol upon which we can reflect and see ourselves.

You will notice that in the symmetrical version of the source image, I have taken out the fragment of the object on the edge of the picture.  Nonetheless you can see the missing part in the mirror's reflection, but now it's in the very center of the symmetrical image, and the fragment has been made whole by the symmetrical transformation.

What is that thing in the center of the frame anyway?  The question must be asked again, because it's no longer what it was before the symmetrical transformation occurred.  Is it a reflection?, or are we looking through a dark frame at the object itself?  Perhaps we are seeing a framed photograph or a realistic painting of a thing we have no name for. . .  perhaps an object that is being Glorified by radiant light whose source is also unknown, omnipresent and omnidirectional . . .

Commentary #3
When toys are no longer used by a child they get stored away, piled up, left for another time.  They may be used again by a next child, or perhaps given away to a friend or relative, or possibly taken to a resale shop.  

These used toys nonetheless have an inner life.  They have absorbed the love and adventures it has shared and endured with the child who befriended them.  Once abandoned, however, the toys talk to each other silently.  ~  If you sneak up on them on a Christmas eve, at midnight, you may be given a once in a lifetime chance of overhearing what the toys are saying to each other.  You might see a light in their eyes.  You might understand these objects in a way before unimaginable.  ~  Once the toys are called back into human service, they become mute once again, at least to adult ears.  They once again become a mirror upon which a child can reflect its own inner Imaginal life.

Beyond the fact that this image reveals eye contact between the two toys, I am particularly intrigued by the hanging dark shape in the background (or is it in the foreground?).  It's a familiar shape, and curiously it lies in the diagonal path that extends through the entire pictorial space of the image. 

The dark shape reminds me of a speech ballon or bubble, those spaces in cartoon frames devoted to the words being spoken by the cartoon's characters.  Also, perhaps because the shape seems so animated and anthropomorphic, I can't help but be reminded of the Sesame Street character named Cookie Monster.  Claire and I have looked at many Sesame Street books together.  They held her attention, like good friends do when a story is being told.  She liked hearing me say in a slow drawn out gruff voice:  C  o  o  k  i e    M  o  n  s  t  e  r 


Commentary #4
Though this may look like a straight, i.e., un-manipulated photograph of a decorative wall piece, it is in fact a four-fold symmetrical construction of a source image.  The symmetrical image is much more interesting to me than the wall piece I photographed.  Having said that, I have no idea what inspired me to make either the source photograph, or the symmetrical construction.  

Light is often a primary motivating factor in wanting to make a photograph.  What I can say about the image that is before us, is this:  I really like the rich grays of the wall's textured surface and the silvery light that gives the gray tone its sensuous luminosity.  I like the subtle colors of the objects, and the vibrating shadows.  In a strange way the shadows provide an animated pulsation to the object, a breathing luminance that brings the object to life.  I also like the face-to-face directness and simplicity of the image.  Still, I think its odd the way this image is so deeply satisfying to me.  I need to go more deeply into this image for myself . . .

Commentary #5
This image is from part two of the project, and it's followed by another image of the electric piano, one that reveals the underside of the keyboard we are looking at here.  What is it about this image that's worth taking note of?  The red spot of light on the left edge; the red line boarding the back edge of the white and black keys; the short white line suspended just above the center of the keyboard; the silky soft-colored highlights on the finished wood just below the keyboard; the varying tones of light and gray in the diagonal shadows and surfaces of the keys . . . 

Claire and I have spent a lot of time together at the electric piano.  It has all sorts of buttons you can push to change the sounds coming out of this unlikely object in the possession of my son and his wife.  Actually it was gifted to them by a friend who decided to get married and move back to China with her new husband.  Claire loves to push the buttons . . . on the cloths dryer, various remote control wands, ipads and iphones.  She has lots of toys that have buttons to push. . .  And she is rapidly learning how to push the buttons of her parents and her grandparents.

In this image we are looking down into the space of the piano, approximating the more intimate view of one who is sitting at the keyboard, about to play the instrument.  If I allow my eyes to simply relax as I stare at the white and dark shapes of the keys, and the diagonal shadows playing across them, the shapes start dancing around as if they are responding to the music coming from the Imaginal world.

Commentary #6
This is a photograph of a photograph; actually, my photograph of my photograph.  The framed print (3.5 inches square) is in a 12x12 inch black frame and it's hanging in the stairwell that leads up to the second floor of the house.  This is a very elegant space that perfectly suites my image which is from the Garage Series, 1999-2000.  This particular photograph happens to be the permanent collection of photographs at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Now, doesn't that impress you? and make you want to look a little more carefully?  The entire series of photographs is a visual response to the music of American composer Morton Feldman.  I thought of the garage shapes as self luminous gems floating in black space, visual equivalents for the notes in a musical composition, which in Feldman's music subtly emerges from silence, becomes suspended in a musical space for some time . . . until it decays back into silence. 

When I retired from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2007 I felt deeply frustrated with the worlds of university politics and art politics.  I wanted to leave Milwaukee and leave as much baggage behind, and move on to another less conflicted life.  I gave many of my frames to my students.  I gave some framed prints to my daughter Jessica, and to my son, Shaun who expressed special interest in having some of the framed garage pictures, so I gave him several boxes of them which have since been stored in several living spaces over the past eight years.  But now some of the pieces are up on the walls of the house he inhabits with his wife and daughter.

When I was babysitting Claire I would glance up once in a while to look at them . . . It was like seeing some old friends from the past.  I'm glad I gave Shaun those framed pieces; abandoning one's creative work can be like loosing one's child--something that inevitably grows into an unsayable grief.  We have so much to learn from our wounded egos, and other such precious things we become so attached to.       

Commentary #7
This is a straight photograph, but it is, in a way, a construction.  Every line and shape and play of light and shadow seems carefully choreographed, accounted for, placed into alignment in just the right way with regards to everything else.  Can there be a secret formal language in operation here?  Does it mean something that the screen cuts through the center of the chandelier and its ring at the bottom?  And what about the top right corner of the screen, the way it touches so precisely the darker ring of the chandelier?  

I like the way the vine spills out and over the edge of the dark bookcase; the way the bottom of the vine hangs down and touches the edge of the couch against the back wall.  I love the play of light and shadow on the ceiling.  And there is a kind of formal pleasure for me in the series of horizontal bands that frame the top of the photograph, and which run perfectly parallel to the top edge of the picture.  There is something beautiful about the subtle tone changes across those planes of horizontal space.  ~  This photograph is a complete world in itself, a complete universe, just as the room itself is, just as the house is.  ~  Does the pictorial form belong to the creator of the photograph? or is it inherent within the world that the camera was pointed at?  Perhaps the duality implied by the question doesn't really exist. 

Commentary #8
This mysterious, atmospheric, and for me very powerful symmetrical photograph first appeared in the project There Is No Thing To Know, the project that just preceded this one. The image was placed in the context of a reference to the Blue Pearl, a mystical Siddha Yoga concept which you can learn about if you visit my Blue Pearl project.

This image is in sympathy with the meditative state in which I photographed while Claire was napping one late winter afternoon.  I made the source image for this photograph just I myself was napping; as I rested I listened not only for Claire's awakening, but as well the recording of the Siddha Yoga mantra being chanted by Gurumayi and perhaps hundreds of other Siddha Yoga students.  The mantra, when concentrated upon and imbibed inwardly, has the profound affect of quieting the mind and soothing the soul--an excellent state of mind in which to photograph.  

The golden setting sun was casting a web of tree limb shadows onto the front room window.  The snow in the shadow areas outside looked deeply blue, as if reflecting the blue of the sky above.  

I cannot explain or interpret the symmetrical image which for me is a symbolic image par excellence, the kind of image that can only be unveiled by taking it inside one's own heart.  There, important listening and giving-and-receiving will happen in a silent dialogue.  The "language" being "spoken" will be "otherworldly" and yet uniquely suited to each contemplator.   

Commentary #9
This image is from part one of the project, its third section, which visualizes my Imaginings of what Claire is dreaming as she naps in her stroller.  It is a straight photograph of the decorative design on a black or dark blue Chinese ceramic vase.  I was attracted to the vase by the highlights being reflected in its shinny surface from the front room windows.  The vase was hidden away in the shadows, on the floor beside the couch.  When I got down on the floor to see what was catching the light in the shadows I was surprised to see this dreamscape image in the vase.  Its image literally emerged out of the dark surface of the vase and the shadowy space in which the vase was situated . . . like the way dreams emerge out of the unconscious into a subtly veiled visibility.  

A good photograph, and more specifically one that functions as a symbol, unveils the apparent world. In our experience of a symbol we will be taken to the Interworld, which, says Henry Corbin, is "a transcendent, Imaginal world "alive with the magical energy of sensory images conjoined with their inner-world essential archetype-Images."  

Commentary #10
This final commentary regards one of my very favorite straight photographs from the first two parts of the project.  It is a picture of Claire's hand print smudged on the surface of a mirror.  I love the blue streaks in the edge of the glass and the halo of blue in the background, and the soft-focused white deckled left edge--which reminds me of the snapshots we got back from the drugstore when I was a kid.  The deckled edge in this picture was an unexpected surprise to me.  I like the way it transforms the usual shape and proportions of the picture's rectangle.  

Of course the primary concern here is the handprint.  I see an animal form in the smudges.  Is it a horse or an elephant?  It has the primitive presence of a figurative cave drawing.  We humans are leaving our mark on the world in all sorts of conscious and unconscious ways.  For example, I worry about how Climate Change will impact the future lives of our granddaughter, Claire, and our grandson, River.  

Children like Claire can't help but spontaneously manifest their primordial archetypal images, such as in this case a smudged handprint on a mirror.  The images just pour effortlessly out of their inner most beings for they have not yet learned to fear what others might think of their creations.  I try to photograph spontaneously from my inner most being; it requires a silent mind and an open heart.  

Whose image, then, are we looking at here; "mine" or "Claire's?"  Is it a symbolic photograph or merely a document of a primordial trace left on a reflective surface by a young child?  Is the image a product of the force of nature, an intentional act of claiming ownership of part of the world; or the intuitional revelation of a grandfather-artist?  Maybe Claire's handprint is simply a gesture of celebrating her emerging consciousness, an act of becoming aware of one's self as it is discovered, recognized, reflected in the world?  My son told me the other night that Claire recognized herself in the mirror for the first time.  

Against the containing walls of the cave of Pech-Merle [in Cabrerets, France] prehistoric artists apparently held their hands and blew red ochre and black cinder over them, leaving tracery visible 20,000 years later.  The hands appear to ride the energy of the horses across the wall evoking a kind of shamanic permeability of human, animal and spirit worlds.  At the same time . . . [the hands suggest] the expressive potential of emerging human consciousness . . .     Hands signify the sovereign, world-creating reach of consciousness; they embody effectiveness, industry, adaptation, invention, self-expression and the possession of a will for creative and destructive ends.    . . . Perhaps the hands of Pech-Merle express the gestures of worship or tell a story, or, we may imagine, convey the greeting of primordial elders to their awed descendents.  
from The Book of Symbols - Reflections on Archetypal Images, Taschen press


As I was writing the commentary above I spontaneously got the idea to try making a symmetrical photograph with the image.  I think it was the comment I made about the mirror and discovering one's self reflected in the world that sparked the idea.  

 Symmetrical Babysitting Photographs, Image #16       Claire's Smudged Handprint on a Mirror

What a pleasant surprise, what a gift this symmetrical image is!  I love the way it has come into the project, at the very end, and as a visual response to a contemplation I was writing on its source image!  The symmetrical image is the newborn child of a collaboration between Claire's gesture and my seeing her traces left on the surface of a mirror.  It is such a stunning way to conclude the project it seems there is no need for commentary.  Its presence could be enough. 

Still, I would enjoy sharing with you my imaginings that the symmetrical image is a portrait of Claire . . . as a primordial baby . . . perhaps suspended in her mother's womb.  Or maybe it's an image of Claire standing by an ancient pool looking at her self reflected in the roundness of the body of blue water.  

In terms of Corbin's study of the interworld in his book Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth perhaps the photograph gives us an Imaginal glimpse of the strange and hypnotic figurative forms of the spiritual body, shimmering like a self-luminous jewel, surrounded by a blinding white flash: the primordial light of Creation.  




It is now early May, four weeks since Claire's fever broke.  She has returned to her day care center and Gloria and I have not done any babysitting in these past four weeks.  I filled the time with working as much as possible on the Babysitting project.

We have seen Claire and her parents a few times over these past four weeks.  They visited us just the other night for supper, as a matter of fact.  Claire seems to have grown so much in the past few weeks.  She's learning new words so quickly now and walking ever more assuredly.  She is smiling, laughing, doing lots of ecstatic screaming when she gets exited by something, like when she was chasing our cat Bella.  Claire really enjoys our paying attention to her; she likes to make us smile.  She has learned to "play" to her parents' camera . . . they are always photographing her.  

And Claire loves being with the other kids at her day care center.  Her parents say she cries when they drop her off, but they think it's mostly an obligatory gesture on Claire's part.  When the parents look back, after Claire thinks they have gone away, they see her quickly turning around and running off to be with the other kids.

Those six weeks of nearly full time babysitting Claire were very challenging for my wife and me, especially since Claire's fever worried us so much and invoked memories of our frightening experiences with our daughter, Jessica when she was Claire's age.  But the present crisis has passed, and we all have grown from the experience.  Gloria and I feel good that we did all that we could to be of help to Claire and her parents, and I am feeling grateful to have had the time and energy to make the Babysitting photographs and complete this project.


This project page was completed and posted 
on my Welcome Page in the 
"Recently Added" section
May 4, 2016


Click on images to enlarge
Part I : Sleepy Baby Stroller Views and Dreamscapes
Part II : On the Ground Floor Babysitting Photographs 
Part III : Symmetrical Babysitting Photographs
Part IV : Commentaries & Epilogue

Related Links:
Death, Art and Writing        

The Studies Projects     
Here is the list of projects that belong together under the Studies category.  The projects are listed from the earliest originating project to the present.

Studies 1994-2000
Studies II : Monk's Quirky Music 1994-2000
Studies III: Color Photographs 2006 - June 2013
Still Life Studies IV 2013
The Creative Process Studies V 2014
The Space Between Color and Black&white Studies VI 2014
The Babysitting Photographs Studies VII 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.