Studies : Sufism pt.1 Intro & Photographs

Studies : Sufism
SignsVeils & the Symbolic Photograph 
"records of encounters with God   
in the little details of everyday life."
Studies project #8 - Part I, Photographs

Studies : Sufism  ~  Signs, Veils, The Symbolic Photograph
click here  Part I : Introduction & Photographs
click here  Part II : Text Excerpts from William Chittick's book: Sufism  [forthcoming]
click here  Part III : Commentaries on the photographs and texts

After completing Illuminations (Photographs and Poetry of Hafiz and other Poet Saints) it occurred to me how important the presence of the Quran had been to the project, and indeed to my entire creative process over the last five years.  If the poetry of Hafiz was at the center of the Illuminations project, certainly the Quran was at the center of Hafiz's poetry and his entire mode of being, for he was both a Sufi and a well known qari' -- one who recites (with a most beautiful voice) the Quran by "heart" (by memory).  At the very center of any Sufi's view of reality stands the revelations of the Quran and the Hadith--reports of the Prophet's words and actions.  As I was contemplating all this, it then occurred to me that practically all of the photography projects I have made since 2011 were directly related to a surprising visionary experience I had involving an "illuminated" Quran.

Though I am not, and never have been a practicing Muslim, I became very interested in Islamic Sacred Art during a two week tour of Turkey that my wife and I took in the spring of 2011.  While there I experienced the sacred shrine of the famous Sufi poet-saint, Rumi; and several times a day I heard the "Call to Prayer" wafting through the air.  I also heard part of a recitation of the Quran, and I saw many wonderful Quran's opened to their most exquisite illuminations.  I saw amazing Turkish and Islamic Prayer Rugs, and the several wonderful mosques we visited were filled with beautiful decorative designs.  My wife and I were also able to witness the meditative dance and music of a group of whirling dervishes.

The Quran came into my life with an intensity and mystery that I could never have anticipated.  As I wrote in my Afterword to Illuminations, on the last day of our tour my wife and I were viewing an exhibition of old illuminated Qurans.   I noticed one of them becoming literally radiant with light; indeed, as I stared at it in wonder it's glow grew even brighter.  Its was as if it had an inner life of its own, as if it were being "illuminated" from within.  The title of my project Illuminations is a reference to that important experience which initiated an ongoing series of projects I call The Sacred Art Photography Projects.

After I returned home and contemplated all that I had experienced in Turkey I was drawn into an intense series of soul-searching questions: "What exactly is Sacred Art?" and "Would it be possible to create "Sacred Art" within a contemporary art practice such as my own?"  "How would I do that?" ~ "What would the work look like?" ~ "How could I justify the work as being Sacred Art?"

I have completed a large number of Sacred Art photography projects in an attempt to address these questions.  The very first of the projects, "An Imaginary Book" was a direct response to my experiences in Turkey.  A complete listing of my online, hyperlinked Sacred Art Projects is available on my blog's Welcome Page. 

The Illuminations project made me conscious of how very little I knew and understood about the Quran, its teachings and the hadith of the Prophet.  I had been reading books by Tom Cheetham and Henry Corbin, and for many years I had been reading the poems of Rumi, yet it never quite dawned on me how important the Quran was to Sufism.

So I decided to do some reading about the Quran and searched the web for recent publications that might be attractive to me.  I found a remarkable book, The Study Quran, which had been published just last year, in 2015.  It has received high praises by many authorities for its new translation of the Quran, its new commentaries, and its collection of essays about the Quran.  It had been a monumental book project (over 2,000 pages) which took nearly ten years to complete; and the entire project was guided, edited and introduced by S. H. Nasr, a respected and celebrated Islamic scholar with whom I was quite familiar.

I became especially interested in one of the essays in The Study Quran entitled "The Quran and Sufism" by Willam Chittick.  As I read through Professor Chittick's deeply knowledgable and articulate essay, I noticed in one of his footnotes that he had written a book in 2000 entitled Sufism.  I immediately obtained and read Sufism after I finished the essay, and I am very glad I did.  The book goes into more detail about Sufism and its relationship to the Quranic and Hadith teachings, and it includes some remarkable historical Sufi writings.  As I was reading Sufism several ideas for a new project came spontaneously into mind, and they finally crystalized into this three-part Studies project.


I had been looking for a conceptual or ideological framework into which I could contextualize a new collection of my Studies photographs that I had been accumulating in a folder over the past year or so.  In case you do not know my work, Studies are straight, un-manipulated photographs that perhaps at first glance might appear to be mere records or "snapshots" of the apparent world.  I published seven other Studies projects before this one, and I have often used my Studies photographs as "source" images with which I constructed my Symmetrical photographs--like the ones published in the Illuminations project.  Anyway, though I had enough Studies images for an eighth project, I lacked a thematic idea for the project . . . that is, until I read Professor Chittick's writings on Sufism and its relationship to the Quran.

I have always considered my Symmetrical photographs "sacred" works of art.  My very first symmetrical images were inspired by the illuminated Qurans, the rugs, and the mosque designs I had encountered during my travels in Turkey.  My very first attempt at making Symmetrical photographs was for the  "Imaginary Book" project.  Since then, over the past five years, the Symmetrical photographs have been at the very center of my Sacred Art Photography projects.  I have kept the Studies photographs separate from the Sacred Art projects, as you may already know if you have seen my website's Welcome Page

However I have been growing a little uncomfortable with this separation of the two large series of projects.  In some ways, especially on purely visual terms, the separation does serve a purpose, but deep in my heart I have always had the understanding that the very best of my Studies photographs are no less works of Sacred Art than my Symmetrical photographs.  My measure in this regard has to do with the way any of my photographs--straight or symmetrical--function for me.  If an image is deeply moving, emotionally resonate for me; if it invokes the presence of the divine; if it is radiant with the light of an unsayable meaning . . . then it surly must be a "Sacred" work of art.  In other words, any image that functions in this way for me I designate to be a symbolic photograph.   

The Symmetrical photographs look like Sacred Art.  But how can a mere photographic record of outer world appearances carry such inner transcendent meaning?  I will be addressing this and many other related questions in the third part of this project, the Commentaries.  In the second part of the project I will include text excerpts from Professor Chittick's book Sufism that will help me articulate the answers to these questions in my Commentaries from the Sufic perspective.


". . . records of encounters with God in the little details of everyday life" 

About the Project's Subtitle 
The project's subtitle "records of encounters . . .  " are William Chittick's description of the writings of Baha Walad, one of the early writers of Sufism (d.1230) and Rumi's father and teacher.  The entire eighth chapter of Sufism is devoted to Baha Walad's writings which, says Chittick,  are "personal "I" statement meditations, each beginning with a phrase or verse from the Quran, a hadith, or a recollection."  The chapter is entitled "Images of Beatitude." 

As a prelude to my photographs below, I want to offer you one brief passage from Baha Walad's meditations.  I resonate very strongly to some of his writings, and this particular passage seems to be in perfect sympathy with how I view my creative process in general, and more specifically, with many of the Studies photographs I am presenting below.  Here are the words of Baha Walad: 

These words of my thoughts, like green herbs and saffron--from which breast have they sprung up? . . .  Then I saw that God is working alone behind this curtain of the Unseen. . .  No one becomes cognizant of how He works. . .  Then I saw that the world is like a house that God has brought out.  He has sent out my meanings on its inside, like aware individuals . . .  My substances are like the walls of the houses, within which the meanings walk.  The world is sweet for those who find it like Eden.  After all, how should I not be happy?  God does all my acts.  He by Himself makes and gives being to my earth, my air, and all my atoms.  

Studies - Sufism 
SignsVeils, & the Symbolic Photograph 
"records of encounters with God in   
the little details of everyday life."

Please note: to view the images at 
optimum quality click on them
once, possibly twice


Set One : Inside The House

Image #1     Studies : Sufism     Open front door and wreath

Image #2     Studies : Sufism     Lettuce spinner and knife

Image #3     Studies : Sufism     Golden light in the corner of the front door hallway

Image #4     Studies : Sufism     Golden light, paper towels, chimes and shadows

Image #5     Studies : Sufism     Plant shadows on office wall

Image #6     Studies : Sufism     Bathroom curtain and light dots

Image #7     Studies : Sufism     Mirror, two frames, light switch

Image #8     Studies : Sufism     Water bowl and plant

Image #9     Studies : Sufism     Bird, lamp, rocking chair, golden light on woods

Image #10     Studies : Sufism     Juice glass on granite counter

Image #11     Studies : Sufism     Plant shadows on basement wall of house

Image #12     Studies : Sufism     Hanging vines and shadows on basement stairs wall

Image #13     Studies : Sufism     Computer reflection

Image #14     Studies : Sufism     Lamp, bird, and shade-covered picture window

Image #15     Studies : Sufism     Golden light and shadows in bedroom

Image #16     Studies : Sufism     Bed post and lamp shadow

Image #17     Studies : Sufism     Bananas and two bowls of little tomatoes

Image #18     Studies : Sufism     Head of lettuce and cabbage

Image #19    Studies : Sufism     Bella with a green crown

Image #20     Studies : Sufism     Glass of water, table setting with peach table cloth

Image #21     Studies : Sufism    Illuminated puja, with pictures of 
Baba Muktananda, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda
and Bhagawan Nityananda

Image #22     Studies : Sufism     Early morning winter scene 
Gloria returning to the house after feeding the birds


Set Two : Outside The House

click on the images to enlarge

Image #23     Studies : Sufism     A circle of plants on deck railing

Image #24     Studies : Sufism     Fish in luminous green pond

Image #25     Studies : Sufism     Light, hanging paper cloud, and internal lens flare

Image #26     Studies : Sufism     Half door to basement stairs, Unitarian church

Image #27     Studies : Sufism     Jessica and newborn River resting with rainbow blanket

Image #28     Studies     Grandma Foster and River offering straw to the cows

Image #29     Studies : Sufism     Airport wall with light on light switches 

Image #30     Studies : Sufism     Clouds floating over meadow and shadowed woods


Set Three :  Taughannock Creek Series 

click on the images to enlarge

Image #31     Studies : Sufism     Taughannock Creek, Detail of stones in water

Image #32        Taughannock Creek, Ghost-like stone form and little water pool

Image #33        Taughannock Creek, Constellation of white stone forms in water

Image #34     Studies : Sufism     Taughannock Creek, Close view of puddle in creek bed

Image #35     Studies : Sufism     Taughannock Creek,     Landslide next to the creek

Image #36     Studies : Sufism     Taughannock Creek,    Water flow patterns


This project was published on September 1, 2016
along with Part II and Part III.

Studies : Sufism ~ Signs, Veils, The Symbolic Photograph

click here  Part I : Introduction & Photographs
click here   Part II : Text Excerpts from William Chittick's book: Sufism
click here   Part III : Commentaries 

Related Projects
 Illuminations: Photographs and Poetry of Hafiz and other Poet Saints  2016 
"An Imaginary Book"  2011-13  
Welcome Page see the complete listing of online Studies and Sacred Art Projects

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.