System’s Confidence And Trust

Guard Rail


How about a little snow in order to better appreciate the summer temperatures? Obviously, guard rails are intended to keep cars from running off the road—and to reduce the severity of an accident when they do. Not so obvious is the observation that their presence indicates a lack of trust. Appropriately so. Bad accidents, even death, may have occurred had we trusted—ourselves and “the other guy.” This image reminds me that, because human beings cannot be trusted, safeguards are necessary, increasingly so in proportion to the level of distrust, which in highly mobile societies increases with population density and social complexity. Without safeguards the odds of breakdown increase as more people are on the road with more distractions.

At the same time, the presence of guard rails on roadsides generates trust. These metal barriers actually have served their purpose. Systemically speaking, they are “syntropic.” They reduce the effects of entropy, which is the tendency of systems to dissipate heat. In other words, break down. In the case of a highway system, entropy amounts to the dis-integration of roadway integrity. If entropy goes unchecked by safeguards such as improvements in the areas of car design, road maintenance, guards and signage, more and more severe accidents will occur. The many innovations, requirements and regulations surrounding car and passenger safety are prime examples of how syntropy reduces the frequency and severity of mayhem and catastrophe.

I reflect on the human body, mind and spirit, which are equally susceptible to the forces of entropy—from tooth decay to depression. At base, advertisers are in the business of selling syntropy: products and services that help prevent, retard, manage or eliminate the effects of entropy. (In living systems, 100% entropy equates with death. Maximum equilibrium). So to gain more confidence in the components of our personal and social lives, ultimately to increase their  health and well-being, regulation is essential. A social example is the national economy. It’s heavily regulated, not so the few can disadvantage the many, but to insure stability and increase public confidence, which directly influences the nation’s health and well-being—and the economy.

The word “regulation” in some spheres—mine was the broadcast television industry—has been seen as a threat to individual liberty. “Don’t tell me how to run my business.” Whether the social unit is a family, church congregation, community, business, corporation, nation or the global family, without regulation entropy will inexorably result in more and more severe breakdowns. Systemically speaking, zero regulation equates with no growth and maximum entropy. Such an entity would completely dis-integrate if nothing were done to reign in the propensity to act solely in its own self interest and preservation. Socially, the free flow of entropic disintegration is enhanced when the members of a system act primarily in their own interest (in some instances justifying it as a “right”), as if their health and well-being are independent of the other members of the system. It’s not. Never was, never will be because human beings are socially bound, interconnected and interdependent physically, emotionally and  economically. Independence is both an illusion and an entropic idea.

At the same time, I tend to see systemic breakdowns, in part, as the impetus for breakthroughs. Futurist and author, Barbara Marx Hubbard, observes that “Crisis precedes transformation.” Crises are symptoms of breakdown, signaling that entropy is already having its way. Dramatic change is coming, unless something is done to repair, replace or transform the system. Currently, the rapidly declining state of our infrastructure is a poignent example. And sometimes we need to experience what doesn’t work in order to rethink and redesign the system so it does work—like a  highway system with guardrails, seat belts and back-up cameras. Learning through breakdowns eventually contributes to breakthroughs, even resilience as a consequence of learning.

Trouble is, getting to that point can take a lot of breakdown over a long time. The ideal would be to recognize the patterns as breakdowns increase so the system can affect a shift to a more viable paradigm or behavior before the system reaches the point of crisis. As we have seen politically in the past decade, the rigid clinging to ideas and ideologies including stubbornness at all levels and on both sides does nothing to retard the escalating breakdowns while debate continues.


If ten people walk beyond civilization and build a new sort of life for themselves, then those ten people are already living in the next paradigm, from the first day.

             Daniel Quinn

About The Image

Guard Rail

Theme: Confidence & Trust

File #: DC5711

Snowstorms often call me out with a camera. On this occasion I did an overnight because the heavier snowfall was about forty miles north of us. I was just cruising the highway, looking for something to photograph when I came to a stoplight at an intersection. While waiting I noticed how the guardrail divided the bright sky and white snow with a nice clean line.

Since one of my constant visual quests is to find or create simplicity, the fewest number of visual elements within a frame, I backed up the car, put it in “park” with the emergency lights blinking, got the camera and ran about thirty yards hoping the police would not come.

They didn’t. I hand-held several shots, each with the guardrail at a different position in the frame. This is the one I like best because there’s just a hint of snow and the immensity of the sky diminishes the man-made object. With no other objects in the frame, the rail provides some evidence of where we are as a society. Metaphorically and physically.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith








Energies And Expansion

Early Morning Pond

Drop a pebble in a pool of water and waves ripple out. Drop a word and thoughts ripple out. So too with emotions, behaviors and all the products of creativity. At some level, given enough time, everything affects everything. And because we’re interconnected—everyone.

I thought I would provide the entire image that I use for my home page this time because it illustrates a fundamental property and process of the universe and everything in it. Energy and expansion. From photon to cosmos, whatever the matter or medium, sub-atomic or cosmic, energy characteristically radiates out in waves. It’s not the water in this image, or any substance, that’s radiating. It’s the energy moving through it. Had a cork been floating three feet from the center of these waves, it would have bobbed up and down but remained in place.

Although physicists don’t know what energy is, they know a lot about its properties, effects and how to measure it. The textbook definition of energy is the capacity of a system to perform work. And work is defined as the movement of a force through a distance. That being the case, it seems to me that force is movement itself. Nothing in the physical universe stands still. Even the atom with its myriad of sub-atomic particles (more appropriately considered fields although they are still discussed as particles) cannot sit still.

And that begs a fundamental question. If the substantive characteristic of energy is movement, how did it get started? And what sustains it? What causes the motion? As a working hypothesis I’ve adopted the notion that consciousness is fundamental to the universe. Whatever it is, it precedes matter. So could it be that within matter there is—both grand and rudimentary (as in rocks)—a “desire” to expand? To express? To manifest? I like this idea because it ties to affinity or love energy, which seeks expression and therefore expansion, a view consistent with my belief that the universe is fueled by this “dark energy,” with dark matter as field from which physical matter precipitates, providing the medium through which consciousness and love energy expands.

Of course these ideas raise questions that cannot be answered definitively, but the expansion of this kind of thinking itself, call it dreaming, speculating or envisioning helps us create meaning and approach the Great Mystery. Where there’s a question there’s always the potential for an answer. And that provides some satisfaction. In this regard I observe that the surface of the pond in this image is largely obscured by fog that is clearing somewhat. As a species we may as yet be seeing through a fog, but what has been revealed so far is exquisite beyond words.

On a more personal level, the radiating waves evoke in me a quiet and soft sensibility that speaks to the potency of influence that occurs when the thoughts and expressions that ripple out are coherent with the deep currents of life, as opposed to the big splashes that are so bold and dramatic they interfere with or distract us from the energies of contemplation and peace. An example of this would be the energies of mass media adolescence, sensationalism, hype and trash-talk. Of course there’s a time and place for both excitement and calm. Wisdom,  I suppose, has to do with discernment and finding a balance.

Any being with energy will disperse that energy. To radiate is the law of the universe. And this is true of all manifested reality… The universe cannot contain the magnificence it houses. Instead, it is compelled to express itself in ten million different ways.

Brian Swimme

 About This Image


Theme: Expansion

File #: DC 376

Lake Logan. Logan, Ohio.

I like to take two or three overnight photographic road trips each year, most of them within a four-hour drive from Cincinnati. On this particular trip I got up two hours before sunrise so I could be on location to photograph the dawning and then shoot as long as the light held.

When there are no people around and the only sounds are those of nature—birds, frogs and ducks on this particular morning—it’s easy to get in the zone. It’s like the mind steps aside and the soul takes over, responding to moments of joy as the eye scans for compositions. There’s a release of thinking and an activation of allowing that occurs—letting the energies of attraction, love actually, direct my attention, and then letting the deep place of intuition determine whether or not the elements within the frame constitute an image that works.

When I arrived at the lake the fog was too thick to shoot. It was cold so I just sat in the car with the heater on. Gradually, the fog began to lift and the water was perfectly still. I made several exposures, then I picked up some pebbles and threw them one at a time as far as I could so the rocks and reeds along the shoreline wouldn’t show in the frame. With each toss I waited for the ripples to spread out before clicking the shutter. A tripod would have restricted my ability to center the circles since I couldn’t predict where the centers would be, so I held the camera with one hand and threw pebbles with the other. To insure that the image would not be blurred I increased the ISO setting to enable a fast shutter speed and set the aperture to f11 so the depth of field would keep the expanding circle in focus.

© Copyright, David L. Smith, 2014. The images and the associated contemplations on this site are protected against any and all commercial and promotional use without the permission of  the author. However, permission is granted for individuals to download the images and print them for private, non-commercial, non-promotional use.

Context And Order



I was thinking about the complexity represented in this image when I noticed that it’s also rich in context, providing both time and space perspectives. The nighttime and elevated point of view displays pattern, while the time-exposure reveals motion. Combined, the image speaks to me of complexity, interaction, order, flow and intersection. My contemplation could have gone in any of these directions—and perhaps will another time—but for now I’m drawn to considerations of context and order.

Information theorists consider “data” to be the objective and meaningless elements presented to mind: the letters that form these words, pixels on a computer screen, notes on a music score, tonalities of light and dark in a photograph. One of my favorite quotes regarding a step up from data comes from visual anthropologist, Gregory Bateson, who observed that “Information is a difference that makes a difference.” Alone, locked between pages or in a file, a gathering of words, pixels, notes or tonalities is meaningless data. But when a mind examines that data and finds that it makes or would make a difference, it becomes “information.”

For example, the above image is loaded with information for me. A traffic engineer would derive more and different information, as would a police officer or legislator. Each would notice things the others don’t see. And that takes us to context, considerations of time, place and perspective including the recording individual’s motivation, purpose and intent. Frames (context) such as location and time enable the formation of personal meaning, which becomes the springboard for judgement and decision making. Frames themselves—all frames—communicate. The one doing the framing or providing context says, “Focus on this, not that. Pay attention to what’s being framed. There’s significance here. You may find it meaningful as well.”

As part of our quest for meaning, we’ll sometimes place our everyday, ordinary perceptions of people, places, experiences and objects in larger frames. Broader contexts enhance meaning by providing more information potential. We’re standing on the curb waiting for the light to change, shifting our gaze from a car to a child and then to an ad on the side of a truck. And suddenly, for no apparent reason, our field of view goes from close-up to wide angle, like our consciousness has changed lenses. Awareness expands. And instead of thinking about the ad or the next appointment, we’re watching the unfolding life of the city, a sense of humanity as a whole rather than a collection of busy individuals. Context, framing does that. It happens with any dramatic shift in perspective. It’s how filmmakers manipulate attention. “Look here! Now there!” Wide to extreme closeup.

For some, the above image might provide insight or trigger a memory of a particular time or place. The photograph documents. It stores data so information can be had and meaning created. For others, it might express the orderly flow of traffic in a busy city. Still others might zoom in to the signs and lines on the sidewalk, the traffic lights, benches, newspaper boxes and streetlights, which could lead to an awareness of city highways, infrastructure and the individuals responsible for them. Point of view (POV) applies to the viewer as well as the photographer, particularly when the intent it to make images that are evocative.

For me, the linearity, coherence and convergence of the lights in this image evokes the flow of unique individuals, each with their unique perceptions, concerns, experiences, ideas, potentials, desires and pursuits—and in the blending lines, their convergence. Within this frame—a hotel window around the corner from Lincoln Center in New York City—I see the myriad of diverse backgrounds and thoughts ordered and blending, a demonstration that beneath the dynamic complexity and chaos of a city, there are organizing principles at work, guiding our actions and the ascent of life. The human project.

At the heart of the most random or chaotic event lies order, pattern, and causality, if only we can learn to see it in large enough context.

                                                                                                       Corinne McLaughlin


About This Image

New York Intersection

Theme: Context & Order

Negative: 585-C4

Lincoln Center, New York, NY

July, 1981

I was in New York City for a conference and by chance my room overlooked the intersection in front of Lincoln Center. I didn’t have a tripod with me, so I soaked a towel with water to make it heavy (and wrung it out so it wouldn’t drip) and used it as a camera support. I opened the window slightly and, with the camera strap around my neck—to prevent it from falling out the window—I pressed the camera into the towel to secure it as if it were a bean-bag.

I stopped the aperture down to around f16 to reduce flare from the brightest lights and I guessed at the duration. It was probably in the area of twenty or thirty seconds, however long it took for the lights to change so the traffic would be moving in all directions.

The next time you’re out with your camera, consider a point of view that’s broader—or closer— than “normal.” Pay attention to the visual elements. Know your objective: Information? Documentation? Evocation? Expression? And then eliminate from the frame anything that doesn’t contribute to it.

Everyday Beauty Shots


In the above title, the word “shots” refers both to photographs and to the little jolts of joy that occur when we experience beauty and respond with an “Oo,” “Ahh,” or “Wow!” This happens frequently for me because Linda, being an avid gardener, often brings flowers into the house. When I see something this beautiful, I have to get my camera out. This arrangement and its placement in the kitchen window with dramatic backlight evoked such a dramatic “Wow!” in me, it stayed with me for several days, prompting me to reflect on it here. I particularly wanted to understand the factors that contributed to my reaction.

First and foremost is the subject matter, the presence of flowers—in the house rather than the garden. I’d seen these flowers growing, but they didn’t prompt me to photograph them. Growing up, we didn’t have flowers in the house. But since Linda started bringing them in—early in our marriage—it has been wonderful to enter a room or turn a corner and get a little shot of their beauty. And it’s amazing to see how the same flower or arrangement will change as the light and blossoms change.

I notice that what is chosen and how it’s displayed contribute greatly to the experience of beauty, particularly when putting together everyday objects. I’m not an interior designer, but I’ve come to understand the features that, when combined, are beautiful. For one, no matter the object, it has to do with being set apart. Special. I’ll pass by and barely notice five forks laying on the counter, but if I see one of those forks placed with the tines down on a white saucer under a living-room lamp, it catches my attention. For me, considering the same subject, if there would be a tiny pink blossom floating on water beneath the fork, it would likely deliver a shot of beauty.

More complex objects, perceived as visual “elements,” can shift the commonplace from low to high gear in terms of beauty simply by arranging them. For instance, if I were to bring home a modest bundle of flowers from the grocery store my tendency would be to put them in a vase and that would be that. Beautiful? Somewhat. Linda, on the other hand, will purchases two or three small bundles so she can combine and arrange the colors and textures, and then assemble them into several vases, thereby magnifying the beauty and spreading it out. Rather than accept the store’s arrangement, which is usually predicated on bundling types of flowers together for easy recognition, she engages her aesthetic preferences and arranges them accordingly. And often, a single flower—again, an individual set apart from the group—will show up on my desk, usually in a vase that matches the color of the blossom. Always, it prompts a “Wow!”

To isolate an object is to set it apart as unique and special. And by arranging several visual elements, be they flowers, pictures or collectibles, a relationship is created and the beauty of the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Bottom line: everyday objects that we select and purposefully place around the home or office can generate sparks of pleasure each time we see them. And these shots of beauty carry us through the day.

A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search for truth and perfection, is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.

Lewis Mumford

No thing is beautiful. But all things await the sensitive and imaginative mind that may be aroused to pleasurable emotion at the sight of them. This is beauty.

Robert Henri (Author, The Art Spirit)


Title: Flowers on the Windowsill 

This is just one of Linda’s many creations.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L Smith Photography

Get Togethers


Memorial Day, a time to appreciate veterans, serves also as a calendar marker that sort of gives us official permission to begin celebrating outdoors with cookouts, backyard barbecues and parties of all sorts, occasions where we sit around tables like the one above, catching up on family and friends. On a recent walk into two national-chain hardware stores, it became obvious to me how serious we are about getting together outdoors by the amount of entryway floorspace given over to a multitude of propane grills and smokers, patio furniture, pergola canopies, fireplaces, lawn mowers, beverage carts and bars including accessories for all of the above.

It’s my preference to celebrate my birthday each year with a family cookout at my daughter’s house. I appreciate that we Americans have the luxury, not only of the food and equipment, but also the freedom to come together in such a casual manner. For a variety of reasons, it doesn’t happen in many parts of the world.

At a recent family gathering someone asked how my parents met. I didn’t know. They’d talked about it, but I couldn’t remember the situation or the location. And there was no one left whom I could ask. It got me thinking about memory and the structure of our social gatherings. For one thing, I don’t think I ever met anyone who said “I love cocktail parties.” The structure itself is uncomfortable. Standing around with a drink in hand exchanging work-talk, gossip or trivia puts  these gatherings in the category of necessary rather than desirable for many of usWhile interesting or exciting conversations can occur at cocktail parties, more often the volume of multiple conversations trying to compete with loud music in a space with hard walls acts as a deterrent. Except for up-scale restaurants, dining out can present the same challenge to conversation. Also at parties, there’s a strong tendency to only talk to the people we know. Not so at sit-down, outdoor venues because everyone can be heard.

Even in these situations we tend to exchange current and surface information about what’s going on in people’s lives. Rarely do we share the more substantive information that deepens our appreciation and understanding of those participating. For instance, I delight when I learn something new, interesting or remarkable about family members, neighbors and friends I’d known for a long time. We think we know the people closest to us, but it can be surprising how much we don’t know.

Recently I learned that a dear friend and colleague of twenty years had passed away. Wanting to use his background as a model for one of the characters in the story I’m writing, I realized that the only thing I knew about his past was the university he attended. I knew his lifestyle and philosophy of life, but I didn’t know the experiences that shaped them. It helped me realize that this was the case with many of the people who, on occasion, sat across the table from me. It’s understandable, of course. The opportunity to share personal historical information rarely presents itself. Strangers get to see our resumes and curriculum vitas. Why not at least talk about the information they contain in gatherings of family and friends? The answer is that it would seem immodest. But in an appropriate context, such as backyard get togethers, the sharing of stories about a person’s family, education, employment, travels, significant others, awards and formative events can promote understanding and deepen appreciation, perhaps even provide life lessons for those who listen. To avoid the “Do you want to talk about me or should I?” conundrum, the host or someone else can suggest that, “Going around the table, lets have everyone tell their life story—one person at a time. Questions are fine, but no going off on tangents or someone else’s story.”

Whatever the context, the sharing of personal histories within the family is especially important for young people. It helps to shape their identity, ties them to the past and provides lessons for the future. Besides, in my experience, it stimulates a lot of fascination and laughter. When those we care about are gone, we won’t wish we knew more about them.

Telling our personal story constitutes an act of consciousness that defines the ethical lining of a person’s constitution. Recounting personal stories promotes personal growth, spurs the performance of selfless deeds, and in doing so enhances the ability of the equitable eye of humanity to scroll rearward and forward. Every person must become familiar with our communal history of struggle, loss, redemption, and meaningfully contemplate the meaning behind our personal existence in order to draft a proper and prosperous future for succeeding generations. Accordingly, every person is responsible for sharing their story using the language of thought that best expresses their sanguine reminiscences. Without a record of pastimes, we will never know what we were, what we now are, or what we might become by steadfastly and honorably struggling with mortal chores.

Kilroy J. Oldster (Author, Dead Toad Scrolls)

Title: Patio Table & Chairs 

File: 626-A3

I was visiting friends in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This was their patio furniture. What moved me to photograph it was seeing the sun reflected in the glass. It’s like the people who sat there got up and the illumination they shared remained.

(I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L Smith Photography)



I recently encountered a metaphor relating to reality. I passed over it quickly so I’m not able to reference the source, but the image stuck with me—perhaps because it aligned with Plato’s notion that the reality we experience is akin to shadows projected onto the wall of a cave. In my reading, the author created the image of a rowboat floating on a lake. The author observed that we couldn’t see the boat, only its reflection. The boat itself represented ultimate reality and its reflection our experience of that reality. Similar to Plato’s observation, the point being made was that the reflection is not the boat; the physical universe is a reflection of  ultimate reality, the obvious example being how we are blind to the quantum dimension that constitutes and sustains the world of matter.

That was nice. But what kept me thinking about the metaphor was the author’s comment that the clarity of a boat’s reflection, our perception of it, is determined by the state of the water. When the lake is still, the reality is more perfectly reflected and there’s more of a one-to-one relationship. As the water becomes more agitated the reflection becomes distorted. The more the agitation, the more the distortion.

On a recent photography expedition to the Everglades, I went farther south to photograph some turquoise water. In Key Largo, gateway to the Keys, I asked at the Visitor’s Center where I could find the closest access to clear water. I was surprised when the lady indicated that the best place was Key West. I didn’t want to drive 100 miles, so I asked if there was any place closer. “Not really,” she said. “It’s private property all the way down.” And it was. On both sides of the divided highway it was wall-to-wall shops and trees and signs, no water to be seen. After driving about forty miles I finally pulled into a restaurant that advertised “Waterfront Dining.” Indeed, after cruising the parking lot until a spot opened, I was shown to a picnic bench where, beyond the piers of a three-story deck where people sat at a bar I could see the water—and a small beach boarded by fences with no access, no place to walk along the water. As it happened, the “music” was so loud I had to leave. After two more such places I realized that, while the Keys had plenty of entertainment venues, they were not conducive to appreciating or photographing nature. I turned around and headed north.

Reflecting on that experience, I think about the juxtaposition of the beautiful and calm, clear water and the disturbed reality just thirty or forty feet from the beach. What I learned is that, along with travel comes the turbulences of traffic congestion, noise, rushing, frustrated waiting, the anxiety of making connections on time and spoiled environments. One of the reasons why, after traveling, we say “it’s good to be home” is that it’s the place where the “waters” are calm and the reflections are clear.

You can’t see wisdom, but you can see its reflection. Its reflection is happiness, fearlessness, and kindness.

Silvia Boorstein


Title: Reflection of Sailboat Masts 

File: S 343

Location: Sausalito, California

On a day when the wind was slight I was walking along the piers of a marina and came upon these reflections.

For more of my photographs I invite you to visit David L Smit Photography


Part—Whole Relationship


Do you see the jetliner? Remove any one of the pixels in the above image and there would be a hole in the whole (photograph). It wouldn’t be complete. It wouldn’t be the same photograph. Some might say it has a flaw.

The universe presents itself to us as a system composed of parts-within-wholes, of systems within systems, organized through time and evolution as interdependent levels of complexity. Each part, including you and me, is integral to the whole; and, in some holographic sense, each part is a microcosm of the greater macrocosm. Each part contains within itself the seed or template of the whole.

Christian de Quincey

Each and every individual pixel within a digital image is a necessary part of the whole picture—if it’s to be complete. Because pixels have unique characteristics such as size, color, luminance and value they are also individuals by virtue of their boundaries, each bearing a strong relationship to those in close proximity, less so for those farther away. Even the myriad of individual pixels so distant they appear to be unrelated are present and contributing to the whole picture. Had the above scene been photographed on film, the parts would have consisted of grains of silver halide which are “fixed” entities. They cannot be changed. On the other hand, because digital pixels are “virtual,” consisting of  units of electron excitations, they can quite easily be manipulated—for instance, made lighter or darker. Whether the image substrate happens to be paper or a computer screen, photographic images are mechanical systems, constituted of parts that can be manipulated—in the developing and printing processes or using software applications such as Photoshop in the case of digital images.

Not so with living systems, which are composed of other living systems each of whom continuously makes choices regarding their function and relationships. At every level, a living system is referred to as a “holon” because the uniqueness and integrity of the whole depends upon the integrity of its parts. And because each individual holon—cell, organism or person—makes decisions for itself relative to its condition, purpose, function, environment and host of dynamic considerations, they are said to be constituted of “members” rather than parts. When parts are interchanged in a mechanical system it returns to its functional design. But when members are replaced in a living system it is newly constituted. At every level then, as change occurs—within a living system or it enviornment—the holons change. They become new by adapting, or they die. Thus the expression, “Grow or die.”

Scientists refer to the decision-making capability of a holon as autopoiesis or “self-making.” By our choices we constantly make ourselves, not just our experience of life. My dear friend and philosopher of science, Beatrice Bruteau, writes that “In all living systems it’s the interactive union of the parts, the sharing of their beings, their energies, that constitutes the new whole.” The sharing of their beings. Atoms unite to make molecules, moleculres unite to make cells, that unite to make organisms, that unite to make organs, that unite to make… You get the picture.

Systemically speaking, whether we share, what we share and how we share our being, beyond but including what we do to make a living, makes a profound difference. This is especially so for those within our circle. But it’s also the case, by extension and facilitated by the electronic media, for those beyond it, the larger holons within which we are members—family, community, church, business, industry, nation, humanity. As members of church, community and political systems, we remake them by our everyday choices.

In the above image I’m reminded that every individual, regardless of circumstances, is an integral part of the  emerging picture of the human family. Every day, the quality and manner of our character, choosing and relating contributes to the making of  this picture.

What happens in and to one of the system’s parts also happens in and to all its other parts, and hence it happens in and to the system as a whole.

Ervin Laszlo


This image displays a greatly enlarged section from the lower right corner of the sky image to demonstrate how individuals (holons) contribute to and constitute the larger image. To see the jet aircraft more clearly, step back from your screen about fifteen or twenty feet.

About These Images

Title: Jetliner

Theme: Part-Whole Relationship

File #: DC 4153

It was the rainbow-like ring around the sun that prompted me to point my camera up. Looking through the viewfinder and recognizing the speck as an airplane, my first inclination was to crop it out. But seeing that the size relationship was evocative, I decided to keep it in.

After downloading the image to the computer, I zoomed in to see if the airplane was sharp. It was. And that’s when I discovered that, by zooming in as far as Photoshop would allow, there was a clean distinction between the airplane pixels and those of the blue sky. Equally fascinating visually was seeing how the sky was constituted of many colors and values beyond medium blue.

The juxtaposition of the sunburst and the jetliner, an object we consider large and carrying many people, prompted me to contemplate the nature of whole systems, part-whole relationship in particular.


Bruteau, Beatrice, 1997. God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World. Crossroad Publishing Company. New York, NY.

Land, George, 1997. Grow Or Die: The Unifying Principle Of Transformation. Leadership 2000 Inc.. Carlsbad, CA.

(This image and contemplation was originally posted February, 2014)

I invite you to visit my portfolio site at

History And Perception


Considering this  wrench, what was its history? How did it come to be? My reflection begins with the observation that someone, likely a man with dirty hands, placed the wrench on an oil drum inside a mushroom farm in Loveland, Ohio. Where was the wrench before that? Might it have been used in a factory, a gas station or railroad yard? Did it hang on a pegboard above someone’s basement workbench? Was it cherished? Was it even used? Had it sat in a metal or wooden drawer filled with other wrenches? Had it been dropped in the dirt and rained upon? Not this wrench. There’s no of sign of rust. With each of these possibilities I imagine the environment, what the users would be wearing, the grease on their hands, dirt under their fingernails—the calendars on the walls, the smell of oil and gasoline, the sound of a baseball announcer in the background coming from an cheap plastic radio and the voices of workmen talking, perhaps yelling, sounds absorbed and held in this object’s metallic memory cells. Yes, these are stereotypical images. But elements of imagination, like pieces of a puzzle, contribute to the picture of the human project, the strengths and vulnerabilities that spark appreciation and evoke compassion.

My imagination shifts to when the wrench was new, when it looked its best, gleaming bright steel with the manufacturer’s name engraved on it. Was it on display in a window? Or was it one of the many that were wrapped in brown paper and put in a box with a drawing or photo on top, specifications and serial numbers on the side? There are no right or wrong imaginings in contemplation. Each and every reflection contributes to the unfolding development of self and reality. Imagining is at the heart of contemplation. As well as enabling the exploration of times, places, events and abstractions that we could not otherwise experience physically, it sidestepping everyday thinking, inspires creativity and fuels our appreciation of what is, as it is.

Back to the wrench. I think of the manufacturing process. I see the minerals being scooped from the ground by giant, loud and smoke-belching diggers. The boulders are crushed and then dumped into a molten crucible where rock transforms into liquid. Sparks fly. Gloved men with black goggles handle the controls in a dark factory with a dirt floor. The cars parked outside are vintage 1930’s. Men in the office wear double-breasted, three button suits, starched collars and ties with finger-length clips to hold them in place. Their office managers and secretaries wear shirt waist blouses and nylons with seams down the back.

Further back in time I see a gray haired man sitting at a drafting table wearing spectacles. He also wears a tie, but his sleeves are rolled up and he smokes unfiltered cigarettes. With fine-pointed pencil in hand he transposes a sketch of the wrench with notes on dimension and weight onto a blueprint that will be used to create the model and mold.

Much farther back is the visionary (or visionaries) who met the challenge of a connection problem. How does a mechanic connect two pieces of metal in a way that they will almost never come apart without purposefully being separated? Trial and error. After many attempts and failures someone (innovation more often begins with an individual rather than a group) imagines a threaded bolt with flat sides and a tool with a handle that would turn it. Tighten. Untighten. Brilliant!

Descending the historical ladder even further, where did the iron ore for this particular wrench come from? China most likely. Other possibilities include Australia, Brazil, India, Russia, South Africa, Minnesota and Michigan. And who was the first to have the idea of the making of a molten soup consisting of iron oxide, magnetite, hematite, goethite, limonite and siderite, particularly when these minerals are scattered around the world? I think about motivation as well, the need for a material harder than any rock, the desire to build things that would last—and win wars.

I can see this wrench new, old or ancient. I can see it whole or as a conglomerate of parts. I can think about it as a solid or liquid, even as fields within fields of quanta. Perception is a choice we make, and unusual ones, particularly in contemplation can evoke wonder and appreciation. For me then, the question becomes: What is gained by different perceptions? I think it has more to do than the notion of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

There is nothing in all the world that is not God’s manifest glory and essence.


About This Image


Theme: History And Perception

Negative #: 516-C2

Fred’s Mushroom Farm, Lebanon, Ohio

I was riding country backroads looking for something to photograph when I saw a sign that read Fred’s Mushroom Farm. The place intrigued me, so I went in and told the manager I was a photographer. Would he mind if I photographed his facility?. Not only did he grant permission, he gave me a tour and described the process of growing mushrooms. He introduced me to his employees and displayed great patience while I photographed anything that caught my eye.

I shot about six rolls of 120 film in that facility, all by available light. In passing from one room to another, I saw this wrench sitting on an oil drum. I composed the shot and made one hand-held exposure. The light level was very low, so I was not surprised when the slow shutter-speed resulted in an image with shortened depth of field and slight blur. I didn’t print the negative. Years later I was paging through my contact sheets and decided that, because of the simplicity and graded light, the image might have possibilities. Now, it peaks my imagination ever time I see it.

Besides being exhibited and published, I used this among other images in my Visual Communication classes to illustrate a comment made to a reporter when he asked one of the masters of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson, the secret of his success. His response: “Be there and f8.”

This image and contemplation were originally posted February, 2014

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Vision And Realization

Construction Workers

The relationship between the workers seen here and their towering creation took me to that place of amazement over what and how fast we build. Prior to these steel structures being set in place, beams that would eventually support the bleacher seats in a football stadium, there were innumerable people involved—those with the vision and desire: geologists, engineers, architects, attorneys, politicians, bankers, investors and city planers. I think of the tonnage of paper documents, the multiple terabytes of information and images, the specification and sourcing of raw materials, contracts and the scheduling of contractors, all needing to be coordinated before the golden shovels could even break ground.

Consistently I’m puzzled by how so few men can erect such enormous structures involving so many parts and heavy materials in such a short amount of time. How do they know where to move the dirt? I see conduits and all manner of PVC pipes sticking out of the mud without any indication where the walls will go—a testament to precise planning and measurement. How do builders determine structural stresses in advance? And how do they manage every aspect of the process so the structure will be plumb and sound? Another wonder is how supervisors manage  to maintain teamwork, keeping multiple contractors on the same page, coordinating their activities in proper order? It seems to me that the building trades have arrived at, or are quickly moving toward, the realization that filmmakers enjoy, that is, whatever they can imagine, they can build.

Pondering the notion of vision and realization, I think of the causal relationship between mind and matter, thought and form. I think about the great engineering feats: the Giza pyramids, the Great Wall of China, Teotihuacan in Mexico, the Panama Canal, the Manhattan Project, the Apollo missions, the Palm Islands in Dubai, the International Space Station. They all began with a vision—honor the gods, solve a problem, end a war, explore the cosmos, build a nation or fill a need like the U.S. Interstate Highway system does. It’s easy to acknowledge that mind has accomplished great things. On the other hand, is the vision of something possible reason enough to create it? Just because we can envision a weapon, drug or deadly virus, should we produce it? As technologies advance the ethical questions compound exponentially. Excitement over discoveries can overshadow the consideration of consequences.

Indeed, we tend to create what we can imagine, personally and socially. I look around my room. I can’t identify even one object that was not first a thought or influenced by thought. Look out your window. Is there anything there that was not first a thought or influenced by thought? The only thing that comes to mind for me are clouds. Not the garden. Not the trees that were planted, moved or modified in some way. Not even the rain drops that left acid stains on my car. Wait. Not the clouds either. In addition to water vapor, they’re composed of a myriad of man-made compounds, aerosols and particulate matter, all the residue of thought-produced products and processes.

Is there anything anywhere on the planet that was not first a thought or influenced by thought? What about insects, birds and animals? Consider how human beings have influenced their evolution and migrations. The moon bears our imprint, as does the bottom of the ocean. Might the deep ice at the poles, magma and the worms growing around oceanic hydrothermal vents be exceptions? What about the planet itself? The solar system? The Milky Way galaxy?

I personally believe that consciousness does indeed permeate the universe, that the universe proceeds intelligently in its evolution and must therefore be conscious… Consciousness is inherent in every level of the universal holarchy by logical argument. 

                                        Elisabet Sahtouris

About This Image

Title: Stadium Struts

Theme: Vision And Realization

Negative # 800-B1

Paul Brown Football Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio

I’m always on the lookout for construction sites. Small or large, they’re a ready source of aesthetic elements—exquisite light, geometries, textures, surfaces, tonalities and evidence of human activity. Although permissions are necessary in many instances, it’s worth asking. Recently I was shooting through a fence when a man wearing a hardhat drove up in a golf cart. I  explained how I was just shooting for my own creative purposes and asked who I needed to talk to for permission to go beyond the fence. Turned out he was the lead contractor on this enormous site and he invited me to hop in his cart. He gave me a hat and drove me all around the site, an hour-long tour of what was to become a twenty-story office tower and retail mall.

Regarding this particular image, I drove downtown without anything in particular in mind. I just wanted to shoot some black & white film. The camera I use for hand-held, spontaneous shooting is a 2 1/4 square Bronica. I’d been out a while, shooting mostly the contours of expressway ramps under construction. I was about to quit when I realized that I would be getting into rushhour traffic, so I decided to stay.

A new football stadium was being built on the riverfront, so I made a turn and went down a dirt road behind a truck heading in that direction. The road wasn’t open to the public, so when I passed through the gates my intention was to ask permission when I got closer. Having arrived near or after quitting time, there wasn’t anyone to ask. So I drove alongside the steep walls of the stadium looking for a shot. Neither the steel beams nor anything else called out to me, so I turned around and was well down the road when I heard a loud noise. In the rear-view mirror I saw the  truck dumping a heap of dirt at the base of the structure and dust was billowing way up, causing shafts of sunlight to pierce through it.

Seeing that there were no cars on the roadway, I grabbed the camera and got out of the car leaving the door wide open and the engine running. As I approached the structure I saw the sun flare, so I moved around to maximize its brightness and position it between the struts. The dust was settling fast, so I clicked off exposures as I went. Amazingly,  gratefully, some workers appeared atop the structure at just the right moment.

(Originally posted March, 2014)

I invite you to visit my Portfollio Site: David L Smith Photography

The Evolutionary Spiral

Oil Tank Stairway #1


The metal stairway in this image evokes in me considerations of the evolutionary spiral, the universe’s operating system, which we know to “favor” increased novelty, diversity, adaptation, complexity and higher levels of organization and awareness. Along the bottom steps of the oil tank, I see the significant ordering that has already occurred. In the steps above and combined with the railing, the lighted way indicates that the direction is onward and upward. Finally, conveying purpose to this ascending pathway is the mass and structure of the tank—the universe.

Extending the metaphor, I would place the current generation of humanity in the area of transition, where light and order are emerging from the darkness (wherein dwells ignorance, short-sightedness, intolerance and the illusion of separation). I imagine the transition toward the light being fueled physically by health and well-being, safety and security, strong economies, innovations in every domain and the pursuit of excellence and what works for everyone. And because consciousness gives rise to form, I imagine that love, compassion, tolerance, collaboration, empowerment, ethical behavior and the like are the energies of the leading edge.

To some this may sound saccharine or unrealistic, particularly in light of recent political divisions and how we’re portraying ourselves in the mass media and entertainment venues. But evolution is a universal, unbounded and dynamic process that has operated, and will continue to do so, with or without human beings. What’s different in our time is that we understand this and we’ve gained some knowledge about the patterns that support living systems. Historian, Arnold Toynbee, found that a civilization’s  prospects for survival were greatly enhanced by the movement of information and resources from the top of a society to the bottom. Those that accomplished this feat of uplifting citizens at the bottom, survived the longest.

Addressing the challenge of accomplishing this, systems scientist Dr. Janis Roze, advises “We must now give equal time and focus, equal or even greater energy to those human qualities that are constructive, growth enhancing, confidence and trust inspiring, so that the power of these qualities can be consciously developed and applied both to individual lives and to the directing of societal and world affairs.”

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi connected the dots, tying the individual to evolutionary process by observing “What evolves is not the self trapped in our physical body, which will dissolve after death. Rather, what will survive and grow is the pattern of information that we have shaped through our existence: the acts of love, the beliefs, the knowledge, the skills, the insights that we have had and that have affected the course of events around us. No matter how smart, wise, or altruistic a person might be, he or she is not going to contribute to evolution except by leaving traces of complexity in the culture, by serving as an example to others, by changing customs, belief or knowledge in such a way that they can be passed down to future generations.”

As far back as we’ve been able to see, human evolution favors the passing on—physically, mentally and socially—of characteristics, qualities and thinking that promote survival. In the image of the oil tank, light isn’t emerging from the darkness. It dispels and gives form to it, creating well-ordered shadows. I observe further that the light shines from a particular direction. The direction toward a better life, individually and collectively, is in alignment with the patterns in the evolutionary process—novelty, diversity, adaptation, complexity and higher levels of organization and awareness. Knowing what we know, it makes no sense to just stand on the steps or climb down.

We live on a different planet now, where not biology but symbolic consciousness is the determining factor for evolution. Cultural selection has overwhelmed natural selection. That is, the survival of species and of entire ecosystems now depends primarily on human activities.

              Brian Swimme


About This Image

Oil Tank Stairway

Theme: The Evolutionary Spiral

Negative #: 801-B4

River Road, Cincinnati, Ohio

Photographing around industrial sites can be complicated—getting close enough, obtaining permission and dealing with security guards. As sometimes happens, the light in this situation was so exquisite I had to act quickly. There wasn’t time to ask for permission. Besides, it was a  Sunday and the place was deserted.

Prepared with identification in case someone should come to inquire, I went ahead and set up my tripod on a weed-covered bank. There was a fence and railroad cars between me and the oil tank, so I was fortunate that the telephoto lens on my 2 1/4 camera was long enough to fill the frame with the tank and eliminate the distracting elements.

After shooting several frames I went looking for someone to notify in case they had a video camera trained on me. I couldn’t find anyone, but at least I made the attempt. Usually, when I set up a tripod on or even near commercial properties, guards or police will come out. This is why, in addition to my ID, I also keep a copy of one of my publications in the car—to prove that my intent is creative rather than commercial.

Because of the distance (about forty yards) I used a spot-meter to determine the exposure. Using the Zone System, I metered the scene and processed the film to maximize the full scale of shadows and highlights and extend the range of the graded tones.

(Originally posted March, 2014)

I invite you to visit my Portfolio Site: David L Smith Photography