Immensity

Approaching the perennial questions

Sky & Buildings

A mind game that has enhanced my appreciation of the scope of the universe began when, on a clear day somewhere in the 60s, I sat on a park bench overlooking the Ohio river. Having recently read about optics and laser technology, I pointed an imaginary laser into the sky and wondered how far the beam would travel before it would hit something solid. Practically, of course, this wouldn’t happen because gravity would bend the beam as it neared massive objects and a black hole would actually suck it in. (Being a mind game however, I can change the rules).

Irrespective of my position on Earth and no matter where I pointed the laser and assuming it would travel in a straight line, there’s so much matter in the universe it would eventually contact something solid. It would never move on infinitely, despite the current estimate that only 5% of the universe consists of solid matter. The picture this painted for me then, was a universe that had some solidity to it. It appeared to have a boundary. But now we think we know better.

Anyway, I played on. Might the laser beam penetrate into another universe, the multiverse? Of course, none of this can be known for sure, but there’s the hope that the recently launched James Webb telescope will shed some light on the subject.  Anyhow, contemplation is its own reward. The simple act of thinking about immensity generates deep wonder, appreciation and an expansive perspective because at both ends of the spectrum, micro and macro, matter vanishes into mystery.

According to physicist Brian Greene, “If the entire cosmos were scaled down to the size of earth, the part accessible to us would be much smaller than a grain of sand.” On the one hand, that unfathomable scale and the awesome beauty it evokes can make human beings, even the Earth, seem insignificant. On the other hand, we experience an inner universe which, according to some spiritual traditions (notably Hindu Vedanta), regards consciousness and matter as One, constituted of pure awareness.

My fascination with immensity transfers to photography, often by pointing my camera up. If I had access to an electron microscope I would likely be photographing down as well. The photograph of these buildings in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio are an example of the former. In contemplating it, I see their vertical lines as vectors that extend into the atmosphere and then space indefinitely going, going, and going… until they converge at the Big Bang.

Scientists regard that as the origin of our local universe, but if there’s an eternal multiverse as is being postulated by some scientists, there wouldn’t be a beginning or an end. The same conclusion was reached millennia ago by Indian Vedantists, authors of the Vedas, who saw (and see) the manifest universe as a projection or expression of consciousness, which is One.

The nameless, formless Reality, the transcendent awareness in which you are now permanently awake, is precisely the same Reality that you perceive blossoming around you. Brahman is not different from Shakti. The perfectly peaceful Absolute is not different from the playful relative universe. They are simply not two realities. Nor are they two dimensions of the same reality. They are not even two perspectives. Not two! Absolutely not two!

Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Hindu mystic 

(Brahman is pure consciousness or God. Shakti is the fundamental creative dynamism that gives rise to universes).

Given these perspectives, I often wonder at the fact that we are creatures who walk on the surface of an awesome and beautiful planet, while overhead there’s unimaginable immensity there to be witnessed day and night just by looking up. To my way of thinking, it will take the integration of both science and spiritual wisdom, objective investigation and subjective experience, before we can even come close to answering the perennial questions: Who are we? Why are we here? How does the universe work?  What does it mean? And are we alone?

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. 

Antoine de Saint Exupéry

About This Image

One of my long-term creative challenges has been to make photographs that evoke the sensibility of immensity, of space and the many forces and fields that pervade it. The sky has therefore become a regular subject for me. I often compose landscapes so the elements under the sky are tiny or small, secondary to the immensity of sky.

Because my work is largely oriented toward introspection and expression, the skies in my photographs are almost never about the sky or clouds or airplane trails. Although these can be present and are what others would say they see, my imagination goes beyond them—to deep space as if the photograph was three-dimensional.

The contemplative approach to photography is very personal for those who pursue it. While the above image is evocative for me, for someone else it’s just an ordinary photo of buildings. That’s why, when an artist makes images for personal rather than professional reasons, descriptions of purpose, approach and objectives can help others understand the significance behind the work, perhaps to see what she sees.

I used to tell my students, the world doesn’t need another photograph or video of anything. What it does need are individuals who, by engaging in a creative process, exercise and develop higher capacities such as love, caring, compassion, empathy, appreciation and meaning to name a few. Irrespective of the medium, artistic expressions of virtue, beauty and truth in particular, feed the soul of the artist and viewers. And by association, the world. The value is less about what we do, more about what we put into it.

Bibliography

  1. Geene, Brian. (2005). The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality. New York, NY: Vintage Press.


Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

 

 

Context And Order

Principles underlying information in human communication

Intersection

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 light trails 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

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.

Cultivation

By our works we are known

Corn Field

Blunt, South Dakota

When I photographed these orderly rows of young corn extending to the horizon, I was thinking about the farmer and his work, evidenced by the tractor tracks and the amount of time, money and energy it took to plant this enormous field. Reflecting on the image now, I appreciate the contribution of all growers and marvel at the process of cultivation, from conceptualization and planning to planting and harvesting. Having had no experience with farming, I hadn’t given much thought to cultivation. But now, I realize that it’s a sacred a process of deciding what’s wanted or needed, planting seeds and following through to realization.

Tracing this field back, I imagine that the farmer’s decision to plant a certain kind and amount of corn was motivated by a variety of factors among them family, economics, climate, soil conditions, insects, impact on the local community and politics. Even at this early stage, the field in this image provides evidence of the choices that were made made, including the thinking, caring and persistent hard work. And doesn’t that hold true for individuals, families, communities, schools, businesses, corporations, states and nations as well? A close examination of these social and corporate entities—their fields—provides evidence of their collective consciousness, including their worldview, values, choices and actions. Creation reflects the creator.

So what am I planting? What am I cultivating? What are we causing to grow at work and in society? Especially I ask this of the “fields” that are most formative in our children’s lives—education, movies, television, advertising and the internet. What are we creating in the fields of energy, environment, health and health care, food production and national security? As individuals and as a nation, what are the values, behaviors, manners and speech customs that we are planting in all fields.

It’s an important question, for “as we sow, so shall we reap.” The consequences of our thinking and choosing today, show up tomorrow. The fields of our lives, where we live and work and come together to collaborate, provide the context and opportunity to plant new, more hearty, robust and nutritious ideas and processes for ourselves and our children.

And what about the quality of what we’re planting? Does it contribute to growth? By absorbing it mentally and physically will we be stronger and more resilient against diseases of the social/global mind, heart or body?

Is the field that I tend and the labor I put into it, giving me joy? Just as a good cook becomes so by cooking with love, so we can become good stewards of the earth by doing what we do with love—and loving intention.

I like the analogy of soil cultivation and what we’re sowing in our families, occupations and society, not only because it encourages reflection and assessment of the present, but because it also provides the opportunity to start over and plant the seeds we truly value.

 

By their works they shall be known.

Matthew 7:15-20

About This Image

I’d spent a week making a grand loop through South Dakota and Nebraska, the Northern Plains. One of the surprising delights of photographing in this area, aside from the grandeur of wide open spaces and dramatic skies, was the sparsity of telephone poles, fences and traffic. Another, is photographing on county roads where I wouldn’t see another car or person sometimes for half an hour or more.

Regarding this particular image, I was driving down the road looking for the intersections of light, geometry and simplicity when I came upon this vista. I pulled over and walked about ten feet into the field. I took a wide shot, medium and closeup. Being there with a camera was 99% of the opportunity, and the joy in making this image.

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Individual Freedom

Independence to the exclusion of concern for others feeds  entropy

Guard Rail

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 generally 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, breakdown. 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 freedom. “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. The Coronavirus is a good example.

Systemically speaking, zero regulation equates with no growth and maximum entropy. In nature, a species dis-integrate when it acts solely in self-interest. Similarly, in human social systems, entropic disintegration is enhanced when the members act primarily in their own interest, despite justifications and rationals. One’s health, well-being and success, however it’s measured, is never secured independently, because human beings are socially dependent—interconnected and interdependent— physically, emotionally, economically and spiritually. Independence is both an illusion and an entropic idea that’s not sustainable.

Personal, social and international conflicts and breakdowns such as wars, occur in a climate of self-centeredness. “Nationalism” has often been raised as a banner to profess “love of country,” which is a healthy posture. But taken to extremes it becomes entropic when it promotes exclusion, self-sufficiency and righteousness.

Futurist and author Barbara Marx Hubbard observed that “Crisis precedes transformation.” Like pain in the body, breakdowns are a sign that entropy is having its way and catastrophic change is coming, unless something is done to repair, replace or transform the system. The rapidly declining state of infrastructure in the United States is an example. Polarization in health and government is a direct result of self-centered close-mindedness, which to me are indications that systematic transformations are underway.

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, cars with seat belts, police body-cameras, face masks and vaccines. Learning through breakdowns is difficult, but eventually they contribute to breakthroughs, even resilience as a consequence of learning.

Trouble is, getting to that point can take a lot of breakdowns over a long period of time. The ideal would be to own up to them and take syntropic action so the system can affect a shift to a more viable paradigm and behaviors. As we have seen, the misunderstanding of freedom as license, stubbornness and rigid clinging to ideas and ideologies only feeds the entropic dragon.

 

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

I was 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 the 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.

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Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost, Woods on a Snowy Evening

 

 

 

 

The Art Of Giving And Receiving

 

I think most people would agree, giving gifts isn’t easy. The challenge is to objectify caring, to make tangible a feeling or sentiment. To complicate matters there are levels of caring and the potential for embarrassment if the offering doesn’t live up to expectation—on the part of the giver or receiver. Indeed, gift-giving can be fraught with guilt or disappointment, depending upon a lot of variables. Of course it also holds the potential for giving and receiving tremendous happiness and joy.

 

Ethan Miller, my grandson, when he was four

Wouldn’t we all like to get the response above from those we deeply care about—at any age? Gifting is a critically significant form of communication, extending as far back as one Neanderthal offering a bone club to another for saving him from being attacked by a wolf.

Marriage and political alliances were sealed and terminated over the exchange of gifts. Historian Dorothy Johansen describes the gift-giving dynamic among the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada: “In the potlatch, the host in effect challenged a guest chieftain to exceed him in his ‘power’ to give away or to destroy goods. If the guest did not return 100 percent on the gifts received and destroy even more wealth in a bigger and better bonfire, he and his people lost face and so his ‘power’ was diminished. Hierarchical relations within and between clans, villages, and nations, were observed and reinforced through the distribution or sometimes destruction of wealth, dance performances, and other ceremonies. The status of any given family is raised not by who has the most resources, but by who distributes the most resources. The hosts demonstrate their wealth and prominence through giving away goods.”

Anthropologist Franz Boas reported that “Every present received at a potlatch has to be returned at another potlatch, and a man who would not give his feast in due time would be considered as not paying his debts.” My anthropology teacher, Dr. Beth Dillingham, said a family would amass great wealth over a number of years and then give it all away to those who came to witness the rite of passage. Being tied to religion, these massive giving events were perceived as ceremonies and rites of passage rather than celebrations or negotiations. They would go on for days, and when everything was gone, the host was considered powerful—because he’d demonstrated his powerful spirit. All this to say that the giving of gifts is one of the most fundamental human activities across time and cultures.

As part of the research for one of my stories I read about subtext and it helped me to see that underlying meanings are a significant part of gift giving. When we say “It’s not the gift, it’s the thought that matters,” we’re essentially saying it’s the subtext, what the gift and its manner of presentation are saying. What does it say, for instance, about a gift wrapped in a garbage or grocery bag? A gift that’s casually tossed onto someone’s lap? A gift that benefits the giver as much as the receiver? What does it say when everyone gets the same gift? Or no gift at all? Gifts speak loudly and clearly. In a matter of seconds the receiver understands the subtext. That’s why, if we really care about someone, we want the gift to say that we care about them, we see them.

The movie Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: The Circle of Love moved me to contemplate this theme. The true story, beautifully produced, tells how Dolly’s father saw her mother admiring a ring in a store. He wanted to get it for her, particularly because they hadn’t had enough money to buy a ring when they got married. Still, he couldn’t afford it. When his eleven kids realized how badly he wanted the ring for his wife, they secretly met together and decided to give their father the cost of the one gift they each wanted. It wasn’t enough, so Dolly’s father, against his wife’s wishes, went off to work in a coal mine. Long story short, miracles happened and Dolly’s father surprised his wife with the ring on Christmas morning. Here was a demonstration of deep and precious love, the giving of self, of blood, sweat and tears in order to give joy—and communicate love. Indeed, when the message is love and caring, it’s not so much the object given as what it says. And sacrifice for the sake of another is arguably the epitome of genuine caring.

The challenge for those of us who are privileged is to come up with a gift, a “text” that conveys the subtext of love, caring or appreciation. Most everyone wants to be seen for who they authentically are. Gifts that acknowledge this require paying attention—well in advance of presentation—to the objects and experiences that will please, excite or feed an interest or concern of the receiver. Although we browse for gifts in stores and online because we’ve been indoctrinated to do so in our culture, the more direct way to objectify feelings and sentiments is to give the gift of time, energy or creativity, for instance by making, writing or performing or providing something that touches the heart.

Linda taught me that women in general hope for a gift from their significant other that’s personal rather than utilitarian—something the affirms or reflects their values, qualities and virtues. Books, appliances, tickets to an event, electronics, music, videos and so on are fine, but they speak to interests, whereas personal items speak, well, to the person—how they are seen, appreciated and loved. Men on the other hand—speaking for myself and observing other men—tend to hope for items that are generally less personal and more utilitarian, objects we can use to play with, grow, construct, learn or otherwise support our work and interests.

When the intended recipients have everything they need or can buy what they want, we sometimes exchange lists to insure the recipient’s satisfaction. The subtext not only says “I want you to have what you really want,” it also provides the gift of time saved—by not needing to return an unwanted item. It’s a win-win strategy. The downside is the lack of a surprise, and for some people that’s important. Besides offering the expected in this way, a handwritten message—perhaps a compliment, appreciation or intention along with it—can enhance the subtext.

When I think of all the gifts I’ve given my daughter at Christmas time, the one that’s most memorable for both of us is a poem I wrote for her when she was in her early twenties. It was called The Tapestry Of Your Life. I haven’t been able to top it since. She framed it and occasionally mentions that the metaphor it contains continues to inspire her, even provide application in her work. Direct expressions like this are gifts that go beyond hope and expectation. They are gifts from the heart.

A subtle but significant gift that the receiver can give the giver is that of genuine gratitude for what is received, even if it’s not the perfect gift. I think it’s as important to know how to receive as it is to give. And this is important for children as well as adults. Because gifting is culturally conditioned, children need to be taught its significance, purpose and the rituals of presentation and appreciation. I know our conversations about gift-giving and receiving when Jennifer was growing up, especially as Linda wrapped gifts, made a difference in this regard. And every time I wrap a present I thank my dad for taking me shopping for my mom and sister, and then showing me how to wrap their gifts.

If you’re looking for unusual and exceptional gift ideas that deliver loving subtextual messages for children, I highly recommend Jennifer’s blog. Among other inspiring ideas there you’ll read—

“In addition to these imaginative toys, you might consider how can you give something that offers your child a part of you? This does not refer to anything store bought. Could you write a letter about what you learn from your child or all the good you see in them? Could you draw him? Could you frame your favorite picture of her? Could you write your wishes for her future? Think about how you might treat your child to an heirloom—a gift of your love—that they might keep well beyond their childhood years.”

Jennifer Miller

There is no greater love than this: that a person would lay down his life for the sake of his friends.

John 15:13

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Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

Of Seeds And Roots

How to grow a living system

Celestial Roots

Often in my contemplations there are both practical and ephemeral considerations. On the practical side, this image represents a critical lesson that, in my professional life, took me years and many trials to learn. It’s a lesson in strategy when trying to create a social entity such as a business or non-profit organization. Simply put the lesson learned is this: birth begins with a seed. Bottom up. I tried and was disappointed twice because my time, energy and money were invested in top down strategies, that is, developing business plans and initiatives to raise the money to purchase existing “trees” television channels rather than grow them from seeds.

In each instance our vision was so clear, beautiful and sound from a business perspective, I and my colleagues assumed it would be an easy sell. On paper it looked great. But no matter how grand the vision, no matter how well it’s thought out, researched and presented, if there isn’t an established track record of financial success, investors are reluctant to take the risk. They want potential that has been demonstrated to some extent, not a vision.

Growing from a seed is a hard lesson to learn, particularly when the envisioned outcome is so obviously desirable. Those who can see it want it to become real as soon as possible. Were I to start again, my strategic model would be the oak tree. Find an acorn—a seed idea taken from an initiative that has enjoyed sustained succeeds—modify its purpose and design (DNA) appropriate to the vision, plant the seed in the real world by creating a start-up operation that’s as small as possible so the life force can emerge, nurture it according to its growth needs, cut out the weeds (naysayers) and let it grow. In business terms, establish cash flow and do what’s necessary to expand.

Another aspect that I think is critical when growing a collaborative enterprise that’s unique: nurture, empower and engage the designer or visionary. The Apple “tree” that Steven Jobs envisioned, birthed and continuously refreshed has been successful because his colleagues honored his vision and commitment such that they kept him in the top decision-making position. It was a rocky road, but what a tree they built together.

On the more ephemeral side, this image points me to the unification of the three worlds—  celestial, terrestrial and underworld—envisioned by indigenous peoples. Also, the stained glass window standing in as roots evokes a sense of the strength and light that are conveyed to the tree. Or person.

All things must come to the soul from its roots, from where it is planted.

                                                                                                       St. Teresa of Avila

About This Image

“Celestial Roots” was made from a combination of four negatives. In the original image the tree was already somewhat in silhouette. The sky was blank, so I looked through my negative file and selected an image that was mostly clouds. I didn’t want the clouds to superimpose over the tree when I double exposed the paper, so I made a 4×5 Kodalith (high contrast film) positive, and from it a negative that had no detail or texture in the tree. When I made some test prints to get the proper exposure I liked the strong silhouette of the tree, but the ground was pure black. I needed something to fill it.

I had several images of tree roots but none of them seemed appropriate, especially not in keeping with the strictly black & white high contrast effect. The stained glass window showed up in my search, but it was a full-round window. The idea of the combination was interesting because the pattern in the glass carried the sensibility of roots. So I made a Kodalith positive of the rose window and used Kodak Opaque medium on a brush to remove the top half of the window. From the positive I made a Kodalith negative.

Using two enlargers, I projected and sized the tree, window and cloud images onto a piece of  ordinary 11×14 paper and drew the outlines of each in order to get the juxtaposition right. From the drawings I made two cutouts using black paper, one to cover the tree, another to cover the window. I put a sheet of  11×14 unexposed photographic paper in the easel. Exposure one was the tree, made with the black paper covering the window. I moved the easel to the other enlarger, positioned the image of the window using the sketch, and made the second exposure with the black mask covering the tree and sky. The window negative was removed from the enlarger and replaced with the sky negative—which was aligned according to the sketch and the exposure made. This process was repeated several times until the exposures and alignments were what I wanted.

I had a satisfactory print, but the clouds looked ominous. I wanted them to have more light, so I selected a negative that had both sun and clouds. The name, “Celestial Roots,” came when I was putting it together. The image was made into a metal plaque and given as the highest award by a non-profit peace organization at their annual conference. My daughter and her husband used it as the theme for their wedding.

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Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

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Coalescence

Making the slightest contact, separate masses “pull” to one another

Reflecting upon these raindrops, I’m drawn more to their  journey than to my usual inclination to trace subject matter back to its origins—perhaps because the first appearance of water on Earth has not yet been ascertained.. It is known however, that gravity keeps it contained. None of it escapes into space. According to the United States Geological Survey: “If the total amount of water vapor fell as precipitation all at once, the Earth would be covered with only about one inch of water.” But “If all the world’s water was poured on the contiguous United States, it would cover the land to a depth of about 107 miles.”

Getting back to the image, each of these drops and droplets began to take shape as invisible molecules of water vapor high in the atmosphere by attaching themselves to a nearly invisible dust particle. As more and more molecules attached—coalesced—and their weight increased, gravity pulled them down through the atmosphere causing even more coalescence. When a gazillions of these infant droplets grouped together, attracted by their electrical charges, their size increases to form a cloud where more attraction and more coalescence results in drops that literally, well, drop. The coalescence continues even when the drops splatter and run.

Notice, the drops in this image did not land on the leaf and line up this way for the picture. Their sizes and alignments are a product of their travels, conditioned by the physical forces and electrical fields they encountered along the way. Already, they are changing state, evaporating into the atmosphere. In the liquid state, drops of water assume a rounded shape because a sphere requires the least amount of energy to form and has the least possible area for the volume it encloses. That makes it the most economical, energy-efficient way of enclosing and separating two volumes of space—water and surface. Aside from the physics, I love the aesthetics—how the drops are transparent and reflect the sky. Earth and sky integrated.

Another feature that comes to mind when contemplating this image is the water cycle, the change of state: liquid—vapor—solid (ice). It’s a perfect metaphor for transformation because water is constantly changing. Like the universe and all it contains, there is rising and falling. Birth and death. Breathing in, breathing out. Lub dub, lub dub. Drip. Drip.

In preparing this post, I was delighted to find Ken Wilber’s quote in my database. It beautifully conveys the transcendent perspective, connecting being with perception. Having enjoyed a career as a visual communicator, I appreciate the significance of perception and the opportunity to expand it. We become more by seeing ourselves as more. Indeed, looking deeply generates appreciation. And that can take us to the place where we are the sun, the rain and the earth.

You in the very immediateness of your present awareness, are in fact the entire world, in all its frost and fever, in all its glories and its grace, in all its triumphs and its tears. You do not see the sun, you are the sun; you do not hear the rain, you are the rain; you do not feel the earth, you are the earth.

Ken Wilber

About This Image

It was late evening. After a hard rain, Linda’s garden was dripping wet. I took a rubber gardener’s mat to kneel on, and set my digital camera on a tripod with a macro lens. I did nothing to alter either the leaves or the drops. They were as you see them. The mode on the camera was set on “automatic.” In Photoshop I darkened the background shadows to eliminate some distracting elements.

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Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

Vision And Realization

The primacy of consciousness

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 can 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 planners. 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 moviemakers enjoy, that whatever can be imagined can be built.

Pondering the notion of vision and realization, I think of the causal relationship between mind and matter, thought and form. I think about some of 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 to 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.

It’s easy to look back and celebrate that the human 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—like the atom bomb and the Coronavirus.

We create what we can imagine, in part because it’s a challenge. Can we do it? If we build it, will they come? Looking 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? Everything emerges from thought, even thinking about thought. If not from the human mind, the mind of the Creator.

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

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. As it happened, he was the lead contractor on this enormous site and he invited me to hop in his cart. He gave me a hard 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 the above 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, but I continued through the gate intending to ask permission when I could. 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 to leave and heard a loud noise. In the rear-view mirror I saw a large  truck dumping a heap of dirt at the base of the structure and dust was billowing high 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 sun between the struts. The dust was settling fast, so I clicked off exposures fast as I could. Amazingly,  gratefully, some workers appeared atop the structure at just the right moment.

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Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

Humanity On The March

Advancing toward the light of increased awareness

Tourists On Cliff

In this image I reflect on the notion of “reality,” that what we experience and know is both an individual and social construct. There’s the reality that I, as the photographer, experienced—the bright sun and the people on the hill.  Part of that reality includes cars in a parking lot and an observation platform to the right of the walkers, so the reality within the frame is a small fraction of what I experienced. The realities of the individuals walking down the path are entirely different from my experience, each having a unique perspective based on a complex of references, preferences, relationships and motivations.

Then there are the realities that people will read into this image: perhaps humanity’s exploration of the planet, it’s advance into the future or the scale of the Earth and human beings relative to the immensity of the sun. Yet another reality is the image itself, experienced differently on a screen or on paper. These and other realities are quite easily seen and understood because our senses provide our brains with input that constructs meaning based on both our personal and social experiences.

What we do not see is objective reality. While our sensory systems evolved to maximize the potential for survival and growth, they do not detect the realities that gave rise to life and form, the worlds of atoms and quanta. For instance, the photons stimulating our retinas as we look at this image. Objectively they have no color. What the brain interprets as color has everything to do with the reflection and absorption properties of surfaces. We say a fabric is “red,” for instance, because the combination of threads absorb most of the colors of the visible spectrum other than red. Put another way, “blue” is the experience of a lack of yellow wavelengths. So while eyes perform the critical task of gathering wavelengths and generating electrical stimuli, it’s actually the brain that “sees” color. The same is true of shape, texture and dimension, properties the brain uses to interpret and construct our visual reality.

Even the experience of a solid is a mental construction. In the realm of the atom, nothing is solid. In metals and even diamonds, the hardest of rocks, there’s mostly space within and between the nucleus and electrons. At the quantum level of reality, there is no matter.

For whatever reason, the above image reminded me that the realities of everyday experience are personal constructs, moment to moment brain-interpreted creations where all sensory inputs are filtered through a myriad of past experiences and influences including physiology, ethnicity, psychology, family, education, peer associations, socialization and work to name a few. Even the realities and the symbols that represent them, such as words and images are momentary constructions. Consider how your personal reality would be changed without the concepts and words for “television” or “time.” I’m reminded of the indigenous people who experienced Spanish galleons for the first time, regarding them as monster canoes and rifles as barking sticks or fire sticks. New realities rely upon established ones to make sense of them.

On the one hand, the awareness that what we call “reality” is a construct is humbling. It leads to the observation that we live somewhere in the middle between the ephemeral and immensity. It’s also empowering because, if my personal reality is a construct, I can alter it. Make it better. What’s more, the leading edge of consciousness and technology that’s expanding our understanding and capabilities in both directions suggests that something grand is in the process of being born. In the above image, I see humanity walking with hope and determination into the light of a more awakened awareness of and appreciation for the reality that gives rise to and sustains all forms.

If an almost limitless field of action lies open to us in the future, what shall our disposition be, as we contemplate this march ahead? A great hope held in common. 

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin S.J.

About This Image

I’d been photographing the magnificent landscapes in the Badlands of South Dakota when I saw a turnout where people were walking back and forth on a walkway that led to an overlook and a grand vista of mountainous forms. There were so many people going back and forth, so I had to see the attraction.  Also, a lifetime in photography has taught me that unusual and powerful images are much more likely to occur when walking rather than driving.

“Happy accidents” happen so often, it didn’t matter to me that the lookout was crowded with people taking pictures. I set up my tripod beside several others and got the same shots. And they were nice. But the one that I celebrate most is this one, taken from the parking lot.

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Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)