Reverence For Light

Reverence For Light


I dedicate this posting to my friend, Marty Ducheny, who kept me laughing and admiring his ability to turn a phrase. On one of our many walks in Spring Grove Cemetery—where he is now buried—he commented that my photography reflected a “reverence for light.” It was such a fine and true statement, I put together an exhibit of about eighty black & white photographs and exhibited them at Xavier University’s art gallery using that phrase (and this image) as the title. It was very well attended; very gratifying. Afterward, I published a Blurb book by the same title, using this photograph for the cover.

Light is energy and it’s also information, content, form, and structure. It’s the potential of everything.

David Bohm

Light created the eye as an organ with which to appreciate itself.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe

About This Image

I was rearranging my darkroom and had a common hardware store reflector with a 150 watt bulb in it, clamped to the rafters above my bench. It was just a work light. Linda came to talk and I noticed her beautiful fingernails. Wanting to photograph her hands and work quickly, I tilted the reflector up and had her hold  her hands in front of it—with her elbows on the bench to keep them still. I guessed at the exposure, took one hand-held shot and discovered that I was out of film. Some things are just meant to be.

One of the good things about self-publishing with Blurb, aside from the printing quality, is that visitors to the site’s bookstore can review a book by turning all the pages. If you care to visit, here’s the link to Reverence For Light and my other Blurb books.

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

An a reminder: My current email address is:


This image has special meaning for me. I was in high school, a new member of the camera club, wandering the streets of downtown Cincinnati at night looking for photographs. A building had recently been demolished at the corner of 5th and Plum Streets and, unlike today where such places are fenced in, I was free to walk around. I  made several exposures of City Hall and the Cathedral in the distance, with beams and mounds of bricks and debris from the demolished building silhouetted in the foreground. The shattered glass on the ground caught my eye and this photograph is the result.

Eight years later I was employed by the television station that had built a new facility on that very spot—the same station where I’d performed on The Dottie Mack Show, as one-third of her special guests, The Pantomime Trio. I was eleven years old. Fast forward several decades and the TV station was replaced by a much larger structure that evolved into the current Duke Energy Convention Center. As if my being attracted to the place where I would be employed as a cinematographer were not enough of a synchronicity, when I took the position of director of the television center at Xavier University, I inherited the lighting grid from that same station—the lights that my sister, a friend and I performed under.

Now, looking at this image, I reflect on the process of change. Buildings are demolished to make way for more, bigger and better structures. Mortar, glass and steel are still used, but in much improved and variable forms. We speak of “positive” and “negative change,” but the labels only apply to us because we are flesh and bone and we have feelings, all of which can easily be hurt. From a much broader perspective, change is evidence of life. And as such, it affirms that life is evolving. Advancing. I wonder about the term “inert,” because nothing qualifies. Throughout and including the universe as we currently know it, nothing stays the same forever. Everything changes. By defining “life” as that which changes, the universe and everything in it is “alive,” a living system.

At the human level, because I think and feel, I have preferences and expectations. I want the changes I experience to satisfy my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs and wants. When that happens I’m in my comfort zone, moving forward on the crest of the universal “tide.” On the other hand, when entropy manifests as breakdowns or blocks in these areas of my being, it feels like the universe is not friendly, not cooperating, holding me back or making things difficult. Placing blame is a natural first response. And then I search for reasons. Why is this happening? What does it mean? And then I remember, in themselves breakdowns and blocks are not the cause of my distress or disappointment—they are impersonal events. Just happenings, whatever the cause. It’s my resistance to them that causes confusion, disappointment, dissatisfaction and suffering—not getting my way, things not working they way I want or expect them to. My experience of the difference between one morning when the traffic flows on the expressway, and the next when it’s backed up entirely depends upon my response to it. I can rail against it and look for someone or something to blame. Or I can settle back, observe and allow that this is the way life is moving and wait for the situation to change. What’s “negative” about change is either the perception or the response.

It’s wonderful and inspiring to hear people expressing a desire to create “positive change” or “make a difference in the world” by improving conditions for individuals, systems and societies. I salute them and they give me hope for the future. Equally, I honor and respect those who, by the quiet manner of their courageous living—I think of my dad—the quality of their character or simply their loving presence are affecting change. Mathematician Petru Dumitriu wrote, “If I love the world as it is, I’m already changing it: a first fragment of the world has been changed, and that is my own heart.” What encourages my patience and optimism in the face of negative changes are those three little words—loving the universe “As it is”—constantly loving what is by stepping back, observing and allowing.

Through breakdowns, blocks and disappointments, I want to remember that today’s disaster, however small or large—symbolized here by the shattered glass—will give rise to something better tomorrow. And yes, that too will eventually succumb to entropy. But out of the ashes will come another advance, and another and another as life inexorably moves onward and upward. Life began on this planet about 3.6 billion years ago with self-replicating molecules. That we’re still here and considering how far we’ve come is for me, a source of confidence that life “knows” what it’s doing. My challenge and privilege is to accept it on its own terms.

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.

Alan W. Watts

About This Image

Title: Shattered Glass

File #: 065-A2

I got down on my knees in order to position the highlights—from a street light—so the glass shards would form a pleasing composition.

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

And a reminder: My new email address is:


Experiences, positive and negative, result in assumptions that drive policies, action and reactions, all of which have consequences for identity, for demonstrating—not just talking about—who we are as a people. A case in point is the current global immigration crisis. The purpose of this blog is to reflect and appreciate through the contemplation of images, so my intention here is neither to judge nor offer solutions to this complex issue. Instead, I reflect on the assumptions underlying the creation of laws that drive decisions, which in turn have consequences. Atticus Finch’s closing argument in To Kill A Mockingbird, illustrates the power of assumptions.

“The witnesses for the State…have presented themselves to you, in this court, in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption—the evil assumption—that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption one associates with minds of their caliber. Which gentlemen, we know is in itself a lie as black as Tom Robinson’s skin, a lie I do not have to point out to you. You know the truth, and the truth is this: Some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women—black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men. There is not one person in this courtroom who has not told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, and there is no man living who has never looked upon a woman without desire.”

The science of whole systems and the fact of biological evolution support the long term viability of “inclusion.” Life evolves by creating variety, and despite the accommodations it requires, the dynamics of diversity propels evolution forward. Within all living systems there are cells that, for a variety of reasons, are or become toxic. In the human body, the immune system is the first line of defense in protecting the body as destructive cells grow and develop. The social equivalent of the immune system are law enforcement agencies. 

An unexamined, trial and error approach to managing immigrants, creates tension within the social body and stirs up resentment and anger beyond it. When a society fences itself off from diversity—and possibly destructive individuals—it severely limits it’s future potential, resources and resilience. Persons, humanely treated, have positive potential that can be cultivated. Aside from those few bent on destruction, the vast majority of immigrants are highly motivated to make things better. Their intention is constructive. Among them may be the next generation’s great contributors. The downside to an exclusion strategy is the limiting of diversity, an essential feature of biological evolution. Closing out also fences in. In time, the “insiders” limit their resources and capabilities to innovate, to create solutions to new challenges and adapt to change gracefully. 

A compassionate people view themselves as a whole, interdependent system composed of individuals capable of manifesting both light and shadow, angel and devil, good and evil. They devise laws and puts into place systems that attempt to minimize the darkness, but not at the expense of the light. When faced with a cancerous tumor, unless we give up, we don’t sit down and wall ourselves off from the world. We deal with the offending agents, try to contain them or remove them while continuing to function. It makes no sense to disadvantage the health and well-being of the whole, when threatened by a few. 

Of course, the world has changed dramatically since the days of Ellis Island where 450,000 people entered the United States in the first year. And of the 12 million admitted between 1892 and 1954, only 2 percent were deemed unfit to become citizens. Certainly, the American “melting pot” was more of a “cauldron,” but out of it came the scientific geniuses, captains of industry, artists, engineers, philosophers, educators and politicians—and you and me—who built and continue to build the most powerful free nation on earth. 

Destructive forces have always played, and continue to play a central role in biological, human and social evolution. It’s one of the ways Nature continuously renews itself. Now that humanity is largely in charge of evolution, it’s how we learn what works, what doesn’t, and how to manage the shadow aspect within all of us. Currently, we’re learning that a reactive posture, operating from fear, only concedes more power to the powers of destruction. It’s one of the ways they succeed and grow.

The measure of a people’s strength and greatness is not their potential to destroy. It’s the ability to create a context wherein diverse people can be safe, optimize their health and pursue an education that will help them realize their higher potentials and dreams. 

Breakdowns present an opportunity to shift direction, to make a fresh examination and choose more wisely by considering the consequences of policy and action before they’re implemented. With regard to making judgment about a group of people, I paraphrase Atticus’ response to the evil, shadow aspects of human nature, made by the prosecution and bystanders: we know the truth, and the truth is this: some people lie, some people are immoral, some people, irrespective of race, religion, national origin or worldview cannot be trusted. But this is a truth that applies to the entire human race. There is not one person who has not told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, who can be trusted 100%. It’s a perspective that encourages tolerance, fairness and compassion, qualities associated with light.


Begin challenging your assumptions. Your assumptions are the windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile or the light won’t come in.

Alan Alda

About This Image

I was walking by a schoolyard at lunchtime and had a camera with me. One of these kids came over and said “Hey mister! Take my picture.” I told him to get some of his friends together and I would. He did. And I did. That was in 1962.

My email address changed a while back. As a reminder, it’s:

You are invited to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography




Shopping Carts


In the 2010 movie, “Meek’s Cutoff,” a scout, claiming to know a shortcut through part of the treacherous Oregon Trail, led a wagon train of three families across a desert. Although the film doesn’t answer the burning question “Did they find water after many days without it?” the artful and realistic depiction of their difficulties made a lasting impression on me. In one scene, to lighten their load, the settlers dumped their furniture and other precious items out the back of the buckboards. In another scene, a runaway wagon is destroyed and the family’s water barrel breaks open. Adding to their mistrust of the guide—and at times each other—they argue over whether the Indian they captured is leading them to water or away from it.

In my novel, Jaguar Sun: The Journey of an Ancient Maya Storyteller, the protagonist spends his days traveling jungle trails between cities, some of them seven days apart, on foot, through the tropical cycles of wet and dry seasons. I’m amazed by the resilience and determination of those who came before us, across cultures. Relatively speaking, the abundant American lifestyle that we enjoy is only a recent development, only a few of generations in duration. When I was a child, my grandparents used a coal-fired stove, had a dirt floor pantry, got water from a well and had no indoor plumbing. Now, for Linda and me, the prospect of moving, even within the same city, is quickly dampened by the need to move our—okay, mostly my—stuff.

I’am amazed by what it takes for me to live from from morning to night. A recent road trip provided a demonstration. Just to spend a day photographing, my car needs to be filled with stuff—peanuts in case I had a blood sugar problem, a cooler to keep water and film cold, four camera cases, two tripods, flash unit, a filter kit, exposure meter and log book and a flight bag with waders, socks, underwear, a spare pair of shoes, items on hangers and more.

As life and living becomes more complex, physical systems expand. Early on, Eastman Kodak Company profited greatly by the fact that cameras needed to consume film and paper, that needed chemicals to be processed, and variations on these to meet the demands of special circumstances and techniques, thereby generating even more revenues. Every appliance is a system that needs to be continuously fed, or at least maintained. I can’t just have a computer. I have to have peripherals, applications, service contracts, cabling, bluetooth, backup drives and a printer that consumes paper and ink. The same with smart phones, televisions, DVD players and other entertainment systems. Professionals and hobbyists alike, in every area, need a lot of “stuff” in order to do their work or exercise their creativity. Businesses have an insatiable appetite for consumables, as do sport-related systems that require equipment and uniforms. It’s a guess, but I estimate that we use twenty times the number of disposable batteries we used five years ago.

Those of us who live in an abundance society are privileged, but with it comes the responsibility to minimize our ecological footprint. So also, state and governmental agencies that should be managing resources wisely, that is, sustainably. While “consumerism” and the uncaring, unconscious production and consumption attendant to it, can rightly be cited as a contributor to global warming and a variety of social ills, the argument that the earth is finite, a closed system, doesn’t hold water. As a living system, the earth is autopoietic—self-creating. It’s continuously making itself over. Evolutionary biologist, Elisabet Sahtouris, observed that the Earth is an autopoietic system, a whole system, “A giant cell within whose boundary membrane other smaller cells evolve, multiply, die and are recycled—(all these are) holons forming within the great Earth holon.”

The planet adapts and renews itself in response to natural and man-made change. Of course that doesn’t guarantee that the human species can or will survive such adaptations. And that’s one of the good reasons to cultivate foresight and invest in responsible planetary stewardship, to look ahead and plan responses to devastating potentials such as rising sea levels, rogue diseases, terrorism and asteroid bombardment.

What to do? I can get books, CD’s, DVD and more at the library rather than purchase them. I can donate books I don’t intend to use. I can recycle our everyday waste and save fuel in a number of ways. The list goes on. But mostly, I can reduce consumption overall by making decision more conscious of environmental consequences. Is this a need or want? Considering the above image, I can be more aware and selective in what I put in my shopping carts—on and off line.

Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.

Wayne Dyer

About This Image

Title: Shopping Carts

File #: DC 5982

I’d spent the day photographing around Champaign, Illinois. After dinner, I was going to my car when I noticed these carts all neatly lined up. The long shadows on the pavement served as vectors compositionally, and the cast shadow of the light pole broke the static, bottom-heavy elements, so I got out my camera and took the shot. In Photoshop I increased the brightness and contrast so the textured wall wouldn’t be as prominent as it is in the original file. I also increased the “clarity” in Adobe Lightroom so the carts would be crisp. I don’t recall the name of the store, but there’s a big, backwards “R” on each of the carts.

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


Harvest Moon

Reflecting on this image, I thought about how, at various times of the year, farmers enrich the soil to get desirable results. It led me to consider what I do to enrich my life. And am I sufficiently engaging in those activities and environments?

Movies, television programs and commercials show people having fun, but seldom do they show people engaged in activities that are enriching. Lately I’ve noticed that in some cities the preference of park boards has been to provide facilities for recreation—picnic shelters and benches, playgrounds, merry-go-rounds,  playing fields, volleyball courts, golf courses, canoeing and walkways where vendors can set up for special occasions. Other cities place more emphasize on the management of the natural environment itself. For instance, the Metro Park system in Columbus, Ohio has as its stated mission, “To conserve open spaces, while providing places and opportunities that encourage people to discover and experience nature.” In one of their brochures I learned that each year, “More than 7 million people enjoy quality outdoor times in the parks, and more than 180,000 people participate in free nature education programs.” Nature first, human recreation second. I drive a hundred miles to explore and photograph in those parks because, although there are picnic venues within them, the primary features and attractions are nature, undisturbed by man-made objects and structures.

Certainly, we who live in urban areas need outdoor places where our families can have fun. But we also need well managed and maintained wilderness places where the spirit can be renewed, where we can walk through tall forests and gorges, meander along creeks and discover meadows, ponds and marshes—diverse ecosystems where birds, reptiles and animals are protected. When in nature we can breathe better. A recent study at the University of Michigan found that walking in nature improved short-term memory, restored mental energy (reducing fatigue), relieved stress, reduced inflammation, improved vision and concentration, contributed to sharper thinking and creativity, boosted the immune system and reduced the risk of early death. Didn’t we already have a sense of that? We say a walk in nature “re-charges our batteries,” perhaps because we come away feeling “charged” with fresh inspiration and determination—clearer thinking. There’s also a kind of satisfaction that derives from experiencing nature—like having a drink of water after being very thirsty. For me, the word that encompasses these benefits is “enrichment.”

And nature is just one source for enrichment. These sources abound, even in the most complex aspects of modern life. For instance, why do I choose not to have a smart phone or engage in social media? Why do I continue to write this blog when only a few people subscribe to it? Why do I research, write and self-publish novels when only a handful of people will read them? And why do I continue to photograph with black-and-white film? Because all of these activities are enriching, they feed my soul.

Of course, what enriches one person will not necessarily enrich another. Just as some plants thrive in nitrogen-rich soil, others abhor it. The challenge then is to discover the activities and environments, even the people and social situations, that feed our particular soul—and engage them regularly.

Everybody needs time to reflect and contemplate, and the most inspirational and peaceful place to do so is in nature.

Akiane Kramarik

About This Image

Title: Harvest Moon

Location: Wilmington, Ohio

File #: 992

I made this photograph on one of my two-day photography expeditions. I’d set up my 4×5 view camera by the side of the road to shoot in the other direction. The light wasn’t right, so I waited. And waited. And I looked around. The sky was so bright when I started, I hadn’t noticed the moon. And the expanse of field seemed featureless. Still, I kept looking in that direction because of the wispy clouds. I must have waited a half hour for the sun to set between a barn and a silo. When it finally did, I took the shot. By then the sky had darkened and the moon became obvious, so I crossed the street and composed another shot, the moon above the field.

Suddenly, what I thought was smoke appeared on the horizon to the right. I was going to wait until it dissipated to take the shot, but when I realized that it was dirt being stirred up by a tractor I changed my mind. The tractor was moving slowly enough that I had time to do a critical focus, take a meter reading, set the exposure and insert the film holder. By waiting, I also noticed that the sky darkened even more, making the moon and clouds a little brighter. When the stirred-up dirt reached the left side of the frame I took the shot.


The Persistent Seeds

It’s not unusual to see vegetation sprouting through cracks in the pavement, but these little plants were growing in mud alongside a railroad track that had been thoroughly covered with oil. They speak to me of the resilience and continuity of life. In this instance, seeds from dying plants sunk into the mud and were overlaid with more mud and water, snow, ice and oil spills. Nevertheless, despite these conditions and a harsh winter, when the moment was right, the cells within these plants awakened to the call of Spring and, rising in the direction of heat and light, gave birth to the forms of their “ancestors.”

Observing this process—and relating it to the lifecycle of maize plants—the ancient and modern Maya adopted the belief that death gives rise to life. While the ancients believed that only divine kings would reincarnate, the general population believed—as many do today—that their sons and daughters “replace” the souls of their grandfathers and grandmothers, providing continuity of their lineage essences. Ethnographers studying the Maya report that within certain societies, when an elder dies his relatives begin to look for his “kex,” a newborn replacement for him within the extended family. (It’s similar to the Tibetan’s search for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Also for the Maya, as with maize and other crops, birth and rebirth demonstrates conclusively that life is not a straight line of events from birth to death, but a continuous cycle, a sacred round wherein life—and consciousness—“breathes” in and out, allowing old forms to die and new forms to be born.

Although the forms we take bear some resemblance to those of our fathers and mothers, and we carry within us their genes—along with many of their values, beliefs and aspirations—we are, like the plants in this image, new and unique individuals carrying forward the biological essences and thought patterns of our ancestors. Just as the composition of the soil influences a plant, the physical, mental and social composition of the environments we grow up in condition our thinking, responding and creating, often in ways that are different from our parents. Because consciousness increases with complexity, each generation is more knowledgeable and aware than the last. And this increased awareness, particularly as it multiplies and globalizes, will lead us—gracefully or painfully—to assume greater responsibility for the quality of the “soils” that will nourish our grandchildren and their grandchildren when they “Touch the Earth”—the Maya’s way of referring to a soul’s incarnation.

For indigenous people the world around, maize was the perfect metaphor for life because a single stalk will be toppled by gusts of wind. To survive, it must grow in close community where there is support.

To live is to communicate life, because life is essentially a spreading, growing phenomenon. Therefore, the more one communicates life, affirms life in one’s fellows, gives oneself to enhance their lives, the more one is alive, is truly living, and thus, is truly oneself.

Beatrice Bruteau

About This Image

Title: The Persistent Seed

File #: DC4169

Before 9/11 I often photographed in railroad yards. Since then, because of security restrictions, it has become difficult to gain access. This image was captured at a railroad crossing close to the highway. Judging by the number of pools of oil up and down the tracks, there had recently been a leak or spill from one of the tankers. This little green plant, poking its leaves out of the muck, called to me and I couldn’t resist. In Photoshop I increased the contrast of the ground and raised the saturation of the green leaves just a bit.



In part, our uniqueness as individuals traces to our capacity to perceive, beyond merely seeing. Aldous Huxley famously observed that “The eyes and the nervous system do the sensing, the mind does the perceiving.” The eyes gather information and the nervous system delivers it to the brain where it is sorted, referenced to memory and interpreted. The object of my reflection here is that everything we sense and know comes down to interpretations based on perceptions. In this light, the mystics and physicists who observe that this world is an illusion makes sense, particularly when we consider that our perceptions—and the acts that follow from them—are determined by the lenses through which we view each other and the world.

Even as we use instruments to learn about objective reality, interpretations relating to it are subject to the “lenses” of our observation—our biological inheritance, family upbringing, peer group, exposure to physical and social environments, education, affiliations, status, belief systems and accumulated experience. In a sense, each personality is a culture unto itself,  uniquely formed and constantly under construction. I am not the person I was ten minutes ago, much less ten years ago because my personal and social lenses are dynamic, ever changing. Recognizing that everyone is seeing through different lenses should urge tolerance and compassion in our interactions, or at least some respect and patience when our perceptions, judgments, preferences or choices differ. Yet across cultures, people are willing to risk everything for the satisfaction of being “right” or being in possession of “the truth” or the “best way” to accomplish something. We will kill and be killed holding onto a perception or belief that derives from it. Is my personal reality fixed, so dependent upon my way of seeing thing and being right that my world would crumble if it were proved otherwise?

I can’t imagine. But considering that one of our primary lenses are the stories we’re told—and understanding the power of story, which provides the basis for all religions, cultures and most everything we believe in—I can see how personal realities could become fixed and immutable. I think of the radicalization—brain washing—process. But there’s survival value for the individuals who are open to different points of view and change. Writing of the power of story and storytelling, Jean Houston asserts “Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.” Given that, the way to win a war or achieve political office is to tell stories that affect changes in perception.

In many instances, clashes over differences in perception have more to do with strategy than outcome. Americans generally agree on the fundamental rights and privileges articulated in the Constitution and Bill Of Rights, but we are divided on how to realize them. Some see political power as an opportunity to strengthen the whole of society by empowering the governing body to act on behalf of citizens. Others, fearing the possibility that those who govern will overstep or abuse this power, prefer to empower individuals and corporations directly, believing that they can and will take responsibility for themselves. We may want the same outcomes, but we see different ways to achieve them.

Differences in perception are often the root cause of conflict. Archaeologist David Freidel defines “culture” as “the shared conception and perception of reality in a society.” In places like the Amazon where nakedness was pervasive, there was no shame in it. Indigenous peoples the world around perceived rocks, mountains and art objects as being alive, while we only attribute life to animated organisms—and the environment is paying the price for that perception. Farmers destroy rainforests in order to feed their families, whereas environmentalists view those same forests as the lungs of the planet. A dandelion for one person is an object of beauty; for another it’s a weed.

So what is the truth? Who is right? In one lens better than another? According to the Bible, it’s by our actions—consequences—that we shall be known. Philosophically we can say that, for the most part, each individual’s perception is valid for themselves. It’s their personal reality. But actions have consequences. If the dandelions in my yard are crowding out the grass, I can run the lawn mower over them with impunity. But when I put down poison to kill them, animals and birds can be affected, and that has consequences for the neighborhood. For instance, a neighbor of ours had a cat that died from eating another neighbor’s grass treated with weed killer. We say that “Seeing is believing.” Like all good formulas, it works both ways: Believing is seeing. Thus the popular phrases: “We tend to see what we believe,” and “We see what we want to see.” Perceptions are always biased by what we already believe. The “truth” or “rightness” of a belief or perception is and can only be personal, a singular viewpoint.

Perceptions gain credibility by consensus. Lacking objectivity, the best I can do is be respectful of others’ perceptions and try to consider the consequences of my actions. Easier said than done. Arguably the greatest teaching of Jesus was to “love they neighbor.” In this context it amounts to respecting that we’re all together, experiencing different realities, and make room for them, at least in consciousness. In practice, it comes down to having an open mind and making a good faith effort not to judge. Now, when I see the image of these vintage eyeglasses, I will be reminded that we all “wear” unique and ever changing lenses.

A person has not only perceptions but a will to perceive, not only a capacity to observe the world but a capacity to alter his or her observation of it — which, in the end, is the capacity to alter the world itself. Those people who recognize that imagination is reality’s master we call “sages,” and those who act upon it, we call “artists.”

Tom Robbins

Power rests in the conjunction of what the individual perceives of his own internal being. What he perceives in the world about him, and how he relates these perceptions to establish his relations with other human beings.

Richard Adams

The world you perceive is made of consciousness; what you call matter is consciousness itself.

Shri Nisargadatta Maharaj

About This Image

Title: Vintage Eyeglasses

File #: 849

Linda purchased these glasses at an antique fair. I was intrigued by the shape and the glass, so I set them on a large sheet of artist’s paper and moved a single light around them to see what would happen. I choose a bare bulb because I wanted the shadows to be crisp. The bright highlights in the deep shadow at the bottom of the image were a complete surprise.


Staples in Telephone Pole

I often told my students that the art and challenge of a film and television director is “attention management,” capturing and holding the viewer’s attention and moving it from place to place within and between scenes. In ancient cultures chiefs, rulers and landlords played that role, sending out “criers” who went around shouting the news and information they wanted their subjects to know about or take action on. Ever since, the rapid evolution and expansion of communication technologies has occurred as a consequence of complex societies where many more people wanted attention—and for many more reasons.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a monk, nailed a list of grievances against the Catholic Church onto the door of a chapel in Wittenberg, Germany. A consequence was the Protestant Reformation. In June of 1982, I tacked a notice on telephone poles and community bulletin boards inviting people to come to a local park to discuss ways to promote Cincinnati as a “City Of Light,” a place where notable thinkers and achievers in the arts, sciences and humanities would come to dialogue and express their views on stage and on television. Fifty people showed up and met once a week for four months, but the financing we needed didn’t materialize and that was the end of it. In July, 2012 I photographed this thoroughly stapled telephone pole near Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. I imagine that, as a consequence, uncountable numbers of people attended theater performances, convened at symposia, lectures and recitals, found lost animals, bought and sold property and goods, offered and secured services and met their significant others. Represented on this pole is a nexus of attention. And while it may still be used to attract attention, we now have an intercommunicating network of technologies performing that function through cables and between satellites and land-based towers, enabling potentially every person on the planet to capture, hold and direct the attention of everyone else.

Technology pundit Esther Dyson wrote that “The most important finite resource in the late 20th century is people’s attention.” More recently, author David Shenk observed that “As competition heats up, in order to get our messages across, we have to wrap them in ever more provocative and titillating packages; we TALK LOUDER (his emphasis), wear more and brighter colors, show more cleavage, say shocking things.” It’s the phenomenon of “desensitization.” Because repeated attention  diminishes our response to dramatic sights and sounds, filmmakers and television producers feel they have to keep raising the bar on violence, sexuality and special effects in order to gain and hold our attention.

Executives in the radio, television and film industries say they’re in the business of delivering news, information and entertainment. Increasingly however, it has become apparent they are actually in the business of maximizing attention, arguably with less interest in content and more interest in securing “eyeballs for advertisers.” Having invested many years in the television industry professionally, and after having researched its history, structure and social function, I’ve come to the conclusion that commercial television is stuck in a period of prolonged adolescence  because that’s the current state of the dominant culture. Television is a social mirror. It reflects the mentality of the people it serves. So as long as we viewers are passive consumers rather than active advocates demanding intellectually stimulating, inspiring, empowering, personally enriching, useful and socially responsible programming, we will continue to complain that there are “hundreds of channels and nothing’s on.” Nonetheless, as a long term optimist, I believe there will come a time when television will reflect and serve a society that has evolved into adulthood.

Where we are right now is not a bad place. A multitude of pressures, especially those relating to economics, environment and security, are urging us to learn that our communication “toys” have the potential for higher purposes. But before these can be realized we have to learn how to use them securely and responsibly. I believe that, through these pressures, including long term public dissatisfaction and industry experimentation, television professionals will come to appreciate the medium’s higher potentials and discover that delivering substance has survival value. Currently, power is perceived as residing in the technologies themselves, but these are just the means of message production and delivery. The greater power resides is the delivery of real value, images and messages that contain substance—content that matters, that helps us relate better, construct meaning and build more satisfying and contributing lives. As a nation becomes more complex and realizes its interdependence with other nations, it could even become necessary for the media to turn its attention more toward matters of personal safety, growth, social development and environmental stewardship. Public television has been a leader in this regard.

Because attention is a choice, it’s formative. It shapes us. And it defines us. A guideline prescribed for novelists is to reveal the truth of a character more through their actions than through their words.  Socially, because the mass media, particularly television, provides a common “reality” reference for most of us, our collective attention generates “memes”—units of culture, including colloquial language, gestures, fads and trends in fashion, food and music. Memes largely define what is “cool” and acceptable in the culture, so advertisers keep them in front of us to entice us to “spend” our attention capital—dollars— accordingly. Anthropologist, Edward T. Hall, wrote that “Culture is what we pay attention to.” So knowing that my attention is simultaneously cultivating myself and society, I can more consciously choose to direct it.

What we pay attention to is no trivial matter; we are what we attend to. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

About This Image

Title: Staples In A Phone Pole

File #: DC2201

Location: Columbus, Ohio

I went to the Ohio State University campus in July, knowing that there would be fewer students and therefore less chaos and more freedom to shoot. After photographing some architectural features and other subjects, I was returning to the car when I saw this telephone pole. Because of the many staples, it “spoke” to me as an example of a low-tech way to capture the attention of passers-by. Using Photoshop, I increased the sharpness and contrast. Also, I boosted the color saturation to make the wood more vibrant than it appeared in the original.


Ribbed Bivalve Shell


Linda and I have been visiting outdoor antique shows in the summer months for many years. While she looks for an occasional curiosity for the house or a gift, I look for objects to photograph. Although the above image was made in the studio—and neither object was obtained at a fair—it calls to mind an important observational lesson acquired by walking around and scanning items on display at these fairs.

In the early years, I used to wear myself out walking up and down the rows of vendors, looking for that rare situation where the quality of light illuminating an object peaked my aesthetic sensibility. Later on I noticed that there was a pattern to the places where I was more likely to find something to photograph. They were the booths that were less cluttered, and the objects on display were separated by some space. When the items were all clumped together in one case or on a table, none of them seemed important. Visually is was chaos. But when one object was singled out for display, isolated, my eye went right to it. Now, when I see a cluttered display I pass it by. If the vendor doesn’t care enough about his or her offerings, it’s not likely that I will either. Conversely, when I see objects separated out, displayed on a clean surface or cloth where the sunlight enhances its form, color or texture I have to investigate.

Our minds are visually impatient. When presented with a rose bush we look from one blossom to another. And when we’ve seen them all we move on. Whether it’s cars, food, furniture or shells on the beach, we want to see everything. That’s natural and appropriate. But by taking it all in—the wide perspective—we can miss the deeper experience that comes from focusing on just one object and staying with it for a time. We all know the greatest compliment we can pay an artist is to spend time with his or her creation.

Novelists use “particularity” to describe a character, setting or situation. Here’s the description of a scene: “Sam pounded the bar, insulted the bartender and threw his beer bottle on the floor.” We get the idea, but particularity makes it sparkle: “Sam’s eyes lit with rage. He pounded his black fist on the bar, grabbed his Budweiser by the throat and, cursing the bartender, threw the bottle to the floor. It shattered and people scattered as peanut shells rose and floated along on waves of dark liquid and foam.” In writer-speak, particularity amounts to “showing” rather than “telling” what happened. Since “God is in the details,” it behooves us to go in close and examine one item at a time.

An object surrounded by space creates a context of value. It’s why museums and gallaries give as much space as possible to their important holdings. And sometimes and artist will choose wide matting within a frame to surround a picture with blank space. Likewise, filmmakers hold on a shot so viewers have time to examine the elements within the frame. And to set them off, jewelers display their finer pieces with lots of space around them. The message of space surrounding an item or image is clear: “This is precious, worthy of your undivided and sustained attention.”

Out in nature our visual strategy is more often deductive—scanning the whole beach before looking for the particulars on the sand that appeal. The shell in this image is very common. Ordinary. But when it is displayed alone with care and lit to enhance its features, it becomes extraordinary. With our attention held on a particular shell—an inductive approach—we gracefully ease into appreciation and gratitude for all shells, and nature itself. I’ve noticed: while a forest can evoke a “Wow” in me, a single tree can speak more poignantly to me of “treeness,” of essence beyond but including magnitude.

In environments like antique, flower and car shows where there’s a lot to see, the mind wants to move on once we’ve recognized an object for what it is. But the soul is better served by focused attention, beyond recognition. So in these situations, I avoid the booths or areas where there is visual “noise,”  and gravitate to the displays where there’s evidence of order and caring in both subject and presentation. That’s when I’m more likely to find something worth photographing. Presentation matters.

 Always to see the general in the particular is the very foundation of genius.

Arthur Schopenhauer

About This Image

Title: Ribbed Bivalve in Wood Bowl

File #: 852

The above shell was found on the beach in Florida. I was in the studio playing with the light on a wooden bowl, trying to see what a highlight on the bottom would look like under diffuse and specular conditions. I liked that the diffusion created a cloud effect, so I looked around for an object that might be appropriate to put in the center of the bowl. I thought the shell was too big at first. But when I moved it above the center and looked at it on the ground glass it seemed to be floating above the “clouds.” The bowl sat on a light table, so the background was bright white. Finding this distracting, I used a voltage regulator and brought the brightness down to middle gray.


Alphabet Letters


The whole system’s principle of “equifinality,” a term coined by the father of systems theory, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, holds that in open systems, those that have external interactions, a given end state can be reached by many potential means. To lock on to a single pathway, observation or solution can overlook a simpler or better way to reach a goal. The advice then, for managing complex human and social systems, is to reserve judgment and keep an open mind.

One of the implications of this principle is that each and every member of an individual human or social system has equal opportunity to affect the outcome of the whole—by paying attention to potential solutions and staying open to alternative pathways to reach a goal—noting that any change will affect the output or outcome. Change any element, person or function, however slightly, and the system will perform differently than it otherwise would. Stated positively, no matter how small, invisible or seemingly insignificant a person’s function, he exerts an influence on the system’s performance and outcome.

A rock group is an open system composed of interacting members. As such, it performs differently each time the performers take the stage. Things happen. One musician substitutes for another. A guitar is not properly tuned. The drummer is trying out new sticks. The lead singer is depressed. The amplifier was replaced and now the sound is different. Likewise, corporate cultures change when an employee begins to eat lunch at his desk, when a mother brings her toddler to work and when an executive begins wearing jeans. It’s the reason we can’t step into the same river twice. Every millisecond, the water molecules are different; stones move; leaves fall in; the wind and fish contribute to turbulence. The example I cited for my students has to do with film and television production considered as a social system. Change one word in a script, decide not to stop for lunch, swap out a microphone or a light—every decision alters the outcome. We see it in television series’, where success in the first season generates more money, more expensive talent and new writers who have their own ideas about what will succeed in the next season. Time and larger budgets brings changes and suddenly The Good Wife isn’t so “good” any more, Sherlock’s cases become more complicated and are anything but Elementary and Person Of Interest shifts the story emphasis from an interest in persons to cyber warfare.

Equifinality gives us a reason to appreciate that our everyday choices and decisions are already making a difference. My wife’s switching from merely “fresh” to “organic” head lettuce affected changes—in our bodies, in local retail and national farming systems, health systems and the economy. Slight, yes. But nonetheless real. Little things add up. Every time we make a purchase, turn on the radio or television or engage in social media, we contribute to the sustainability of the medium and cast a vote for more of the content. This is especially the case with internet interactions because producers, marketers and distributors garner profits by watching and tabulating our choices.

Knowing that my choices and decisions are constantly affecting change, brings me to the realization that I have the potential to affect positive change in all of the systems within which I operate. That’s an empowering thought. At the same time I want to be more aware of my choices and decisions. Is this the message I want to send? Do I really want to sustain this activity? Do I want to cast a vote for more of this product to be produced? Is this information, service or philosophy in alignment with my values? Does this situation lift me up or inspire me? Do I want to support a company that isn’t socially responsible?

As I write, it occurs to me that this sounds like a lot of self-regulating introspection. Editing this piece, I hesitated and observed that the individual letters I put together, the letters and words I’m choosing and the questions I just posed are affecting the whole system—this contemplation. Do I really want to recommend these kinds of self-regulating questions for myself and you the reader? Indeed I do, because I’m advocating that we dig deep into our authentic selves before making our choices. Making them with more awareness of the consequences, however small, seems to me to be better all around, and more responsible personally and socially.

I have to admit that there are times when I go against the voice of my authentic self, as when I consume more sugar than I know I should. Sometimes we just want what we want—and we accept the consequences. On balance, I find comfort in the act of making “a good faith effort.”

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

About This Image

Title: Alphabet Letters

File #: DC2437

Location: Lawrenceburg, Indiana

Walking the grounds of an antique fair, I came upon these unusual looking magnetic letters sitting on top of an oil drum.