Constructing the Four-fold Symmetrical Photograph

the Four-fold Symmetrical Photographs
[Excerpted from part 4 of the project Acadia-Arcadia] 


a brief essay on 
"Straight Photographs"

SymmetricalI mage #1                                                          Symmetrical Image #2

The very act of constructing the Four-fold symmetrical photograph is for me a ritual act, a form of meditation.   It is related to what depth psychologist C.G. Jung termed active imaginationand what the great Sufi mystic Ibn 'Arabi termed Creative Imagination.  I love the way a simple photograph (see the two source images below) can be transformed into a surprisingly mysterious, beautiful Iconic image through the four-fold process.  Following is a detailed but necessarily simplified and abbreviated step-by-step description of how I construct my symmetrical photographs:

I begin with a single photograph which I call the "source image."  The source images for the two symmetrical-mandala images above are shown below; they are not particularly interesting pictures of rocks which I had taken in Acadia National Park.  click on the images to enlarge 

The source images used for the two symmetrical  images above
Image #1                                                    Image #2 

First, I crop the source image as necessary, and adjust the tones, contrast, and colors--both locally and overall, as necessary.  

Second I duplicate the adjusted source image, flip it upside down and place that image directly under itself.  I then seamlessly conjoin the images such that they reflect each other as if in a pool of perfectly still water.  

Next, I duplicate that pair of vertically conjoined images, and horizontally flip the duplicate and place the duplicate beside the original conjoined vertical image pair.  I then seamlessly conjoin those two image such that they perfectly mirror each other in the other.  

At this point I may see a need for additional adjustments in tone, color, contrast, etc.  Then I place the image in a black space and add the green "suns" centered on the top and bottom edges.  For these particular images I then added the green and blue lines around the image within the black space.

The final four-fold construction is a perfectly symmetrical image consisting of the same one image reflected upon itself both vertically and horizontally, and seamlessly conjoined into a visual unity, essentially a "round" or "circular" image which has at it's very center a point or bindu.  In some images you can see the bindu and in others it is only a subtle, invisible presence.  In any case the true center point of the image is invisible; that is to say it is in the center of the center of the center of the image.  The bindu symbolizes the transcendent, divine Origin of the image.  The image as a whole symbolizes the Oneness or Unity of Beingthe Absolute, God, the Self . . .  the Origin of all created things.  (see my project The Blue Pearl)

In some of my symmetrical photographs, as in the ones illustrated above, I have surrounded the images with black space which represents silence, the Sufic black light of fana--nothing, infinite Shiva, the Supreme Witness, the Eternal divine Presence which exists in all things, and in which all things exist.  


The four-fold images were first created for the project "An Imaginary Book" after traveling in Turkey and having a series of mystical or visionary experiences associated with Islamic Sacred Art.  For me, the symmetrical photographs are quite literally a visualization of the primary Islamic doctrine, the Oneness, the Unity, of Being.  

At the pure center or true heart of the symmetrical image, where the four mirroring images have crystallized or merged into one, there is the imaginary Pointthat primordial mystery, the Origin from which all created things emerge.  

Keith Critchlow: Islamic Patterns
The circle is the archetypal governing basis for all the geometric shapes that unfold within it . . . reflecting the unity of its original source, the point, the simple, self-evident origin of geometry and a subject grounded in mystery.  The circle has always been regarded as a symbol of eternity, without beginning and without end, just being.

Note:  Scroll down below for my page about "Straight Photographs"

Related Links 

Welcome Page to my Departing Landscape website which includes the complete listing of my online hyperlinked photography projects, my resume, contact information, and more.


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I put the word "straight" in quotation marks because, in truth, there is no such thing.  Every photograph you will ever see in my varied and many projects are subjected to any number of adjustments, altercations, corrections, fine tunings, even transformations . . .  such as you'll see in my four-fold Symmetrical photographs; or the use of movement blur in my Windswept Landscapes, and the Italy project; the multiple exposures in my Persephone Seriesthe out-of-focus Portraitsthe reversal of tonalities in my Negative Print Seriesthe collage prints in The Lake Seriesthe use of masks to change tones and remove information in the print relative to the original negative, as in my Dream Portraits project, the Garage Series, and the Thing Centered Photographsthe use of repeated imagery as in the Triadic Memories project; and the use of overall faded light gray tonalities, as in the Faint Photographs project.    

"Straight photographs" are images based on the appearance of a relatively unaltered mechanical, optical, chemical rendering of the apparent world.  See the work of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz.  It's a philosophy of picture making that was in opposition to Pictorialism 

When I make an exposure for a straight photograph I can imagine the finished, fine-tuned photograph in my "mind's eye."  Ansel Adams called it pre-visualization, or others have called it "seeing photographically."  The digital files I create with the digital camera might go through some unexpected changes later, but generally, when I prepare a "straight" photograph for publication of my blog, the adjustments are relatively minor--in the sense that they are almost never detectable.

But every digital file that my camera creates when I make an exposure needs to be subjected to various manipulations of one kind or another, and these are essentially of two types:

     --those made in the camera-work part of the process
     --or those made in the post-production, refinement stage of the image using the tools in Photoshop 

Adjustments, minor or major, to the camera made image file are an absolute necessity.  Photographs are pictures, and I, as a picture-maker, will do what I must to get each photograph as visually articulate, clearly stated and fully functional as possible.  

Most of the decisions to correct or change or enhance an image is intuitive.  If it looks like something needs to be changed, I try it to see if it then looks or "works" better.  If I like the results, I keep the change and continue on with my other works.  If I don't like the adjustment, I go back to the original state I began from and try something else, or leave it as it is. 

Sometimes an impulse, an intuition, or grace directs the process in surprising, unexpected ways  It's finally a matter of aligning a subtle interior (Imaginal-archetypal) image with the actual picture I am working on.  I work until there is a feeling of alignment, which usually indicates completion of the process. 

When I make an exposure in my camera, where I stand (physically, emotionally, conceptually or philosophically) determines to a large extent how the picture looks and feels in terms of qualities and directions of light, composition, visual structure, the relationship between things in the frame, and the relationship of things to the edges of the frame.  What I include in the frame of my camera, and what I do not include in the frame, the way I created relationships between things in the frame by moving just a little to the left or right, a little closer or further back, up or down . . . all these nuances can make a big difference in how the picture looks and how it means.  There are so many options and choices to consider when making a photograph.  To think about it at the time of photographing could be overwhelming.  For me, it's best to trust my intuition, follow what my heart wants to try to do even if I don't have the foggiest idea about why . . .

After the exposure is made, there are many Photoshop adjustments to the image that are possible and often necessary.  Sometimes I imagine and adjust my camera work to anticipate how these post-production changes will figure into the final image.  But most often I discover the things that need adjusted or corrected as I am sitting in front of the computer screen studying the image, readying it for publication. 

I can, with Photoshop tools and adjustments control and change the overall lightness and darkness of an image, its contrast, its color saturation; I can make these kinds of changes to the image in local areas or even for particular subject or shape in the image.  I can move shapes around in the rectangle to some extent.  I can add things not in the original image.  Photoshop makes nearly anything possible, but it takes experience, knowledge, and an intuitive sense of what is called for in an image to make the kind of changes that brings the image into full fruition, completion, fine-tuned articulation.  In the tradition of the "straight photograph" all of these fine-tuning adjustments should go unnoticed by the viewer.  A "straight photograph" looks un-manipulated, unchanged.

What for me is the most important of all intentions as an artist is the making of a photograph that functions as a symbol.  This requires working with the eye of the heart, allowing grace to make the decisions.  The goal is to set the shakti --the Creative Power of the Universe free via the image; to allow the radiance of an image to project outward, unobstructed by thoughts and superficial intentions, ideas and misguided uses of the technical processes of the medium.  A true symbol is a fully articulate visual thing which becomes a transmitter of divine energy into a contemplator of the image.  All this is discussed in my project Grace-Photograph-Symbol-Universe.
See also my project: Photography and Yoga.

Truly speaking, then, every photograph you see is the product of some kind of world view, individual  perspective, or attitude.  Most images you will see, not just mine, are made to reflect personal preferences, editorial policy, a sympathy for and influences from a history of previous works, particular beliefs, ideas . . .  interests of all kinds.  

More importantly than all of this, however, for me at least, is the intention of serving the Creative Process, allowing it to have its own voice.  I enjoy discovering through the process.  Images made with grace mean in unimaginable ways.   What a photograph has to say to me or show me must always be new, and that means its essential meaning is unknown.  Photography for me is a process of gaining Self-knowledge, intuitional insights.  Indeed, a symbolic photograph is about the unknown, the unsayable, and yet the visual nature of the image must be "just so" in every way possible if it is to serve grace in the most direct and most meaningful way.  

The Creative Process has a will of its own.  I try to be its servant, but that means making the conscious decision (sacrificing the ego) of getting out of the way so that It can do what It must do.  The Creative Process, its grace, must not be obstructed by my desire to control, to impose my will, or my unwillingness to face the unknown through my photographs.  Straight photographs are vulnerable to the whims of the ego, and the glittery options available in Photoshop.  Being true to the heart is all that is necessary for a straight photograph to function as a symbol.

Welcome Page to my Departing Landscape website which includes the complete listing of my online hyperlinked photography projects, my resume, contact information, and more.