Nine hundred years before Christopher Columbus landed the Santa Maria on the Bahamas Archipelago, an acorn germinated and became the Angel Oak. This tree is believed to be almost 1500 years old, one of the oldest living organisms east of the Mississippi. It grows on John’s Island near downtown Charleston, South Carolina.
To walk beneath this awesome tree is to enter God’s living room. It is a space scented by the crisp brown leaves that carpet the ground. It is to bask in the yellow green glow of light filtered by a million leaves. It is to ponder just how much life is lived inside the arms of this created living thing. One can try to follow the fractal patterns of the branches down to the twig and leaf, but it cannot be done. This Angel Oak never stops growing in an eternal push into the heavens that has spanned 56 generations. Rooted in the earth with arms reaching the heavens, it is like a bridge from God to mankind, and we could use a merciful bridge.
Arles, an ancient city in the south of France, celebrates the Provencal culture with parades in the streets and a spectacle inside the Roman Arena. The Queen of Arles and her Maidens march in a procession, along with the Brotherhood of the Herdsman with their well trained horses. There are traditional dances, horse races and games. The colors, the long lines and pattern of dances, and the interaction of horse and trainer seduce the photographer and compel him to create images that sustain and please.
I visited France for the first time last summer. Most of it in the in the Luberon Valley in the far south. And like the typical photographer-tourist I took many pictures during my two week stay. Over five thousand. Digital photography lulls its practitioners into a state of endless acquisition. There is a sense, at least to me, of freedom from financial restraint. It costs no more to take a hundred photos than to take three. But the cost comes later when you try to make sense and order of all the images you have made. It is doubly hard when the photographer is not on assignment but rather on a holiday. Anything is fair game to photograph. For me it becomes a matter of looking and feeling, and listening and framing– all with an open mind and heart.
In the book The Photographer’s Eye John Szarkowski discusses the development of photography as an art and writes “It was the photographer’s problem to see not simply reality before him but the still invisible picture, and to make his choices in terms of the latter.” There is something akin to magic in creating an image out of invisible reality. Photography can do this and do it with apparent effortlessness. Yet to do it successfully is a great labor and a great gamble. The photographer must make some sense and order out of the image harvest. Selection, production, sequencing, and presentation all must follow the work in the field. My desire is to communicate the mystery and majesty in the visible and invisible reality I encountered. Photography has bequeathed this potential and a willing soul is necessary to receive it.
Szarkowski concludes his thoughts about the growth of photography with: “An artist is a man who seeks new structures in which to order and simplify his sense of the reality of life. For the artist photographer, much of his sense of reality (where his picture starts) and much of his sense of craft or structure (where his picture is completed) are anonymous and untraceable gifts from photography itself.”
May these images communicate a reality that is mysterious and wonderful, that is intentional and with purpose.
To climb a hill – just to be alone for a while – is a pleasure I relish. The constant upward pace quickens my heart rate, deepens my breathing – this must be good for me I think. The light changes as I continue up, more blue sky appears, and there is more grass because the trees are smaller and the sun reaches the ground. As the path curves ahead, I glimpse a much broader view of the sky, and I reach a clearing at the top. I am distracted and pick up a hedge apple, also called an Osage orange. This hard, warty, softball sized tree fruit is familiar to me, yet still is very strange. It cannot be eaten by man or beast. The one I picked up was bruised when it fell off the tree and has sticky white sap on it. So I toss it back on the path and photograph it. Then I gather a couple more and toss them on the path. Further along, old farm implements sit rusting on the ground. I pick up some hedge apples and lay them on top.
What compels me to do this? An instinctive urge to create, to alter, to record. This is how I was made, I think, and shuffle along the higher ground to see what other wonders I can find.
Every year since 2010 I visited a friend’s home in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania and photographed the gardens, the house, and the interior. Sometimes I photographed the extensive flower and plant collection; relishing the rich colors and diversity of form. But I was always drawn to the house and the surrounding yard and outbuildings. It was here the drama of priority was played out before my camera lens. Clearly energy and resources were spent on the rare plants and shrubs. But just as obvious was the evidence of neglected maintenance and order. The bamboo and vines planted to decorate home and yard have not been tended, and now threaten to engulf the house. Inside, against a kitchen window, an icon of Jesus stands as if a protection from the threat outside. The home, despite the appearance of disregard, becomes a sanctuary.
These photographs are about priorities and what we give up to meet them. They are about genius and what is deemed important. They are, in the end, a testimony to how we spend our time and resources. While there may be decay and chaos, there is still inherent beauty and interest in what is left behind. To some, the home may be a chance to showcase possession and pride, but to others it is simply a place to rest and nurture relationships.
The images were taken using a home-made lens attachment constructed from a salvaged, plastic view-finder camera. This distorts the image and allows for selective focus, while boxing the composition with a black frame.
INSIDE THE GATE
These portraits of trees are photomontages, and by virtue of the process used to create them, can be considered “inverse panoramas.” I have at times considered these images as from a divine perspective or vantage point. It is as if one crosses through a gate or threshold into another realm, spiritual perhaps, where time and space are collapsed. From the perspective of the tree, they also represent a passage of events and time.
When I select and emphasize the individual tree, my intention is to open a gate and allow the viewer to listen and explore; and perhaps relate to the central figure in ways not before understood or realized. Similar to us in its branching, arterial-like symmetry, is there another way to appreciate a tree? John Ernest Phythian reminds us that “It is not by pretending the trees to be human that we can become and continue keenly interested in them but by seeing and feeling both their likeness to us and their difference from us.” Why are we so similar and why are we drawn so to the tree?
In the making of these images, I am attracted to the tree by its form, size and setting. Often while driving, I spot a candidate to photograph and debate in my mind if I want to pull over and wade through the wet grass or simply continue home. It is the potential for that next interesting and mysterious print that drives my ambition to collect more images. Another tree for the collection. Another window into creation.
Lighthouse is a metaphorical journey exploring my creative evolution as a visual artist.
I work intuitively and am intrigued by the symbolic meaning in my images. A lighthouse symbolizes guidance; spiral stairs signify creative energy, growth and rebirth. Climbing the stairs of this dark interior space to dizzying heights, one instinctively moves past shadowy figures toward the unknown. To dream of walking up a flight of stairs manifests a higher level of understanding. Moving toward the light to see the horizon beyond represents an expanded sense of self and new beginnings.
This work uses x-rays to explore the micro-evolution of cameras and is a metaphor about the limits of evolution. While form and media may have changed, the camera is still a camera: a tool to create images by capturing photons of light. Today’s sophisticated digital cameras look and operate far differently than the first cameras of the nineteenth century, however the essentials have not changed. The photographer points a contraption with a lens towards the subject to encode its likeness on a storage medium, be it film or digital sensor. And this contraption has been manufactured in many wonderful and clever designs, the complexity usually hidden inside. While making these x-rays, I have been surprised and astonished by what I found inside the cameras. The lens, when imaged from the side, contain a multi-element train of perfectly shaped glass forms. And although I have heard them turning but never saw them, gears and cogs are revealed.
Speciation is the process where new species can arise when populations are re-productively isolated. The can be due to random mutations and natural selection, or hybridization between closely related species. This process of speciation has been documented by many and is difficult to deny. Many insist that this is indeed evidence of evolution in action—given enough time this same process has given rise to all forms of life on earth. And many also insist that this process can indeed produce species and variation within species, but claim this is the limit of evolution—no one has ever seen a dog produce a non-dog. So, to close the loop—a camera is still a camera, though tremendous diversity exists.
In quite another sense, this project is an homage to the cameras I have owned, used, or handled. The tools of the trade, having faithfully imaged for decades, have themselves been imaged. The resulting images align with an inner desire to probe those unseen spaces and realms I sense exist, but do not observe with my eyes.