Growth As A Spiral

Nautilus Shell


The chambered nautilus is a creature that inhabits the Pacific and Indian oceans, today between depths of 600 to 1200 feet. Appearing in the fossil record before fish, dinosaurs and mammals, some 500 million years ago, they grew up to 20 feet long! The spiral occurs as walls are formed to seal off and make chambers to regulate buoyancy. As displayed here, the spiral moves me to considerations of human growth and development and beyond.

In the shell’s central spot I see the point of creation and emergence, be it the womb of an individual mother, our Earth Mother or dark energy at the beginning of the universe. It can represent any beginning: the birth of a project, career, a new direction in life or the birth of a nation. With movement, the spiral begins, not as a straight line, but as a curved one. Largely because clocks tick off present moments, we think of time as a straight line between yesterday, today and tomorrow. But indigenous peoples all over the world perceived time as a spiral, repeating periods marked by the regular “journeys” of celestial bodies—gods that were given names and personalities. For instance the ancient Maya—whose calendar was derived solely by observation and is accurate to within decimal points of our own—made detailed charts to indicate what happened in various cycles so the same or similar experiences could be anticipated on the next occurrence of the cycle. Researchers today refer to these periods as “calendar rounds.”

Movement gives rise to form—cells, walls in the nautilus shell, dark matter, stars and galaxies in the cosmos, knowledge in human beings, cities and governing constitutions in nations. Personally, I think of how many different people I have been since I became aware of myself as an individual. Form after form, experience after experience, role upon role, as interests, people and opportunities came and went, my personality and priorities evolved. I’ve often said, “On this turn of the spiral…”—I see things differently. I no longer believe “X” or want “Y.” With experience and education the chambers of consciousness and perception widen, become more expansive. It’s a process of reaching outward while remaining  connected, grounded perhaps. More boyant. All that came before is not lost, is present still, contributing to the next, more expansive part of “me.” As with everything in nature, growth and development is never a straight line. It’s a spiraling ascent. Rounds that come around, opportunities to examine and do better than repeat.

All evolution is a dance of wholes that separate themselves into parts and parts that join into mutually consistent new wholes. We can see it as a repeating, sequentially spiraling pattern: Unity—Individuation—Competition—Conflict—Negotiation—Resolution—Cooperation—New levels of unity and so on. 

Elisabet Sahtouris

About This Image

Title: Nautilus Shell

File #: 635

I have long been attracted to “high key,” photographic images where the dominant tonalities tend to the light and bright side. The opposite is “low key” where most of the image contains dark or black tones. Although I work in both modalities—and in-between—my aesthetic tends to favor the former.

This shell, a gift from my wife, had a beautiful spectral quality to it. On the outside, the silvery white surface, when held at an angle, revealed a rainbow of colors. Inside, the white quickly graded to deep yellow. To get these dark colors to render in high key, I first set the shell on the light table under my camera stand and positioned photoflood lights on both sides at a rather high angle. That brightened the shell and created a lot of contrast—just what you don’t want for high key. So to get rid of the deep shadows I put diffusion material over both lights. That softened the shadows considerably. Next, using a voltage regulator, I lowered the wattage of the lights so—according to my light meter—they closely matched the luminance of the light table.

With the luminance value of the shell and background fairly matched, the final step was to determine the exposure. For this, I used a standard Kodak Gray Card which has 18% reflectance. Had I taken the reading from either the shell or the light table or both, the film would have registered the full range of tones, black to white, in spite of my lighting efforts. So, by exposing for 18% gray, the film registered everything as white. Bright. The negative was dark, so in the printing I could enhance the high key through less exposure to the paper. A little underdevelopment of the film also helped to lower the contrast.

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

As Above, So Below



One of the benefits of a photographic image is that it presents us with a moment, usually a fraction of a second, and holds us there the better to reflect and appreciate the subject matter.

The live scene or situation in front of the camera is part of our continuous experience, so mentally and physically we’re always on the move with respect to it. We give it fleeting attention. Ah, nice forest, we think. Beautiful trees! And then we’re on to the next thing. Thoughts change. We loose interest. We become distracted. And the scene changes.

But when we sit with an image of that scene, the act of focused attention promotes the inner assimilation of the subject matter—in that captured moment. Spending time with a beautiful image can have the same, albeit more subtle, effect of recharging our batteries and resetting our priorities, like when a person spends time in nature or goes on a retreat. We especially recognize these benefits are occurring when the experience or observation produces an inhale, a deep “breath of fresh air.” It’s an indication that we’ve made a connection, tasted the Ultimate Reality, and all is well. A bit of the life force has been assimilated.

Beyond assimilation, there’s more to be gained by contemplating an image. For instance in this image the colors are beautiful and they mark a transition from one season to another. But what else is going on? Are there meanings to be gleaned beyond the surface appearance? One consideration was the nature and source of color, how it’s a mental construct based on a complex of wavelengths, surface characteristics and other parameters. I also thought about the diversity of different species of trees and how they blend together to create a “symphony” of harmonizing colors, forms and textures. I wanted to go deeper still. Might there be a metaphor for life or living?

The ancient adage came to mind: “As above, so below.” Man is a microcosm reflecting the macrocosm in his being. But here, it doesn’t quite hold. The reflection on the water is not a detailed or even accurate representation of the forest. Nonetheless, it is complimentary. And it generates a unique aesthetic experience. For instance, when I put my hand up to the screen and crop out the trees, the “message” is still “forest” in the reflection, but now it includes a sense of blending, merging, motion, and unity. The forest reality (consciousness) is constituted of many trees (individual thoughts). Whereas the reflection of that reality is whole, a unity of diverse species and colors, a blending of thoughts and memories.

In the “above” reality, there’s a sharp and clear transition between the individual thoughts and the sky. In the “below” reality—reflection—the “thoughts” are blending, shimmering and dissolving into the sky.


As above, so below.

Hermes Trismegistus

About This Image

Title: Autumn Pond

Location: Shelby, Michigan

File: DC 6844

I took an extended trip to photograph in western Michigan. To prepare, I did a great deal of research to find a destination that was within one day’s drive to where the color of the trees would be peaking. The weather forecast was for four days of sunshine there. So I packed up my three cameras, eager to shoot both black and white film and digital color.

As the saying goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I drove a full day in the rain, expecting to have the four days of sunlight ahead of me. You guessed it—it drizzled or rained the whole time. The clouds only parted for about two hours on the last day.

Still, the trees were awesome—as the above image demonstrates. One of the benefits of cloud cover is reduced contrast, meaning the highlights won’t “blossom” or blow out as they could in bright sunlight. And that lack of contrast can easily be compensated for in Lightroom or Photoshop. In the above image I increased both the contrast and the overall saturation. Another benefit of bad weather—for both color and black and white—is atmosphere. While Fall colors “pop” in bright sunlight, overcast and dark clouds can contribute to mood. When it rained so hard I couldn’t get out of the car without getting the cameras wet I drove at a crawl and just appreciated what was there.


Morning Glory

From universe to “nanoverse,” one of nature’s most common structural features is “branching.” Networks of all kinds, physical and intellectual, are grounded in a pattern that chemists refer to as “child” (smaller channels) and “parent” (larger) branches.

At the human level we see it in living systems—the brain, arteries and veins, leaves and trees. Branching occurs in chemistry, for example, when carbon atoms are cross-linked to form the hard plastic used in safety glasses. Branching made computers and the Internet possible. Flying at night we can clearly see the extensive branching of highway systems. Railways branch. There’s branching in mathematics and geometry. And we speak of “branch libraries” and businesses with branch offices and facilities. The phenomenon occurs wherever there is connection and flow—cities and suburbs, electrical systens, plumbing and sewer systems, streams and rivers, erosion, sand dunes and musical tunes. It’s everywhere.

Reflecting on the above image, I observe order within the chaotic, irregular lines. There isn’t one straight line, and no two of them are alike or even aligned. Yet there is cohesion, functionality and aesthetics. Systemically, I see the “parent” channels carrying water and nutrients to “child” and sub-offspring channels throughout the leaf. A microscope would reveal that each of the barren looking “fields” in between channels actually consists of a myriad of more interconnecting and intercommunicating cells. For me, the intricacy and complexity of these connections and flow channels triggers a deep appreciation of this universal design pattern—seen on other celestial bodies—one that is economical, resilient and life-supporting.

I also appreciate the pattern’s grace and harmony. Absent the color, and knowledge of the subject, one could imagine an extensive farm land with interstate highways, roads and lanes running through it. Zooming in would reveal a heavily populated area with living, thinking, decision-making beings—individual cells that have unique needs, wants and aspirations relating to survival, development, personal space and relationships. And they function together in harmony, as a whole! There are no battlefields, no indication of intolerant, greedy or power-hungry cells. On the contrary, the visual evidence alone points to a system where sharing and collaboration are occurring throughout the field. Bring back the color and the overall fied is verdant—alive.

Might this pattern and process, which appeared on the Earth about 130 million years ago and is still viable today, suggest something to the way human social systems work most effectively?


The vigorous branching of life’s tree, and not the accumulating valor of mythical marches to progress, lies behind the persistence and expansion of organic diversity in our tough and constantly stressful world. And if we do not grasp the fundamental nature of branching as the key to life’s passage across the geological stage, we will never understand evolution aright.

Stephen Jay Gould

About This Image

Title: Morning Glory Leaf

File: DC 1102

Throughout the summer months, an enormous Morning Glory plant climbs a wooden lattice in our back yard. One clear and sunny day I saw its leaves backlit and exclaimed, “Wow!” I had a choice photographically: get my camera and shoot the leaves outside, or take a leaf inside and shoot it under more controlled conditions.

I’ve been consciously looking for and photographing examples of branching for many years. So when I saw this example, particularly with the white lines being so prominent, I decided. To maximize the branching pattern, and minimize both the surface and texture, I set the leaf on a light-table and weighted it down with a piece of glass to smooth out the wrinkles. With a macro lens on a digital camera I composed and took the shot using only the backlight. This particular leaf was magnificent, about ten inches wide. To enhance the white lines, I increased the overall contrast and boosted the highlights in Adobe Lightroom.

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


Vibration, Resonance And Synergy

Vesica Piscis


Take the full range of individual piano tuning forks and stand up them in a row. Take another one, unmarked, and strike it with a mallet. Of the many forks, the one that sounds will matche the unmarked fork—and identify it. For instance, f-sharp only sounds when it “hears,” or resonates with, the f-sharp frequency. All the others frequencies remain silent. Like attracts like. And like responds to like. I originally made this photograph to see if I could visually convey the sensibility of vibration. Now, it points me to considerations of resonance and synergy as well.

Two discoveries in quantum physics come to mind. One is the observation that all sub-atomic “particles”—electrons, photons, quarks and so on—are actually interacting and vibrating “fields” within fields. Not solids. None of them, nowhere. The other is the more recent discovery of the Higgs boson, the sub-atomic field scientists believe gives matter its mass. Combining these, Dr. Donald Lincoln, a particle physicist who divides his time between Fermilab and CERN in Switzerland says, “Everything—and I mean everything—is just a consequence of many infinitely-large fields vibrating. The entire universe is made of fields playing a vast, subatomic symphony.”

The description of vibrating fields calls to mind an experience I had where the “vibes” were so resonant they induced synergy, a circumstance where the whole (outcome) was greater than the sum of its parts (participants). In this instance, an astute television producer together with a multi-talented actor who had a vision, assembled a team of like-minded, skilled and creative people to produce a weekly children’s television series that would encourage parents to watch with their children and discuss its themes. Long story short, the thirty-nine episodes of “Max B. Nimble” accomplished its goals, had a long play and won national awards. In many ways, it exceeded expectations.

It wasn’t until much later that I appreciated how this producer, call him Oscar, created a resonant team capable of synergy. Reflecting on his methods, I began to see that they reflect the way nature works. All of nature vibrates and interacts in ways that contribute to cohesion. In a social or business context, it’s the quality of interaction, the personal expressions—fields within fields—that contributes to coherence. To clarify, I offer Oscar’s methodology.

He identified and brought on board the most talented people he knew. In our first meeting, rather than have us introduce ourselves, he went around the table, presented our resumes and made glowing remarks about each one of us. Feeling like we were in the company of giants, we had to live up to his descriptions, which set the bar high and established the collective vibration. His articulation of our objectives were clear and inspirational. To insure that we all understood the nature of the communication challenge, he included a scholar who helped us put theory into practice. I for one, wondered if we could pull it off.

From day one, the process of writing and producing was intensive and exhilarating. We pushed ourselves and each other to perform at our highest levels. Every day. And we loved doing what each of us did best. The entire team met for daily script readings. We had weekly meetings where every detail was discussed—down to the sandbags that secured the light stands so people wouldn’t trip over them. No detail was too small for consideration—and elaborate discussion. Every day we were eager to get to work. And at the end of the day we convened to review what happened and especially, screen what we produced.

With each presentation there was praise, applause, and toasts when things went right. When they didn’t, rather than blame or criticize, the energy went into finding solutions. In this way we could see our progress and how each of us was contributing, thereby fueling our creative fervor even more. Oscar championed the best—advisors, talent, crew, resources and technologies—and he convinced each one of us that what we were doing was both meaningful and significant. As a result, we took ownership of the vision and responsibility for our part in realizing it. Every day for nearly two years, we went to “play” with our colleagues, many of whom became long-term friends.

Rupert Sheldrake, who developed the theory of morphic resonance (The theory that memory is inherent in nature) wrote that “Energetic resonance occurs when an alternating force acting on a system coincides with its natural frequency of vibration.” Applied to a small group with a goal, people in resonance, in love with a vision and engaged in its collaborative realization, naturally become synergistic. As a vibration, love and being appreciated makes us capable of transcending individual limitations. Besides the bonding that results, participating together in joyful enterprise heightens our faculties and encourages us to realize our fuller potentials.

High performance techniques and processes, including the “Six-Sigma” techniques used in business to identify and remove the causes of defects and breakdowns within an operating system, result in outcomes where one plus one equals a qualitative two. Clean and neat; outstanding accomplishment when it happens. But rigorously speaking, synergy isn’t about high-performance, it’s about transcendence through coherence and resonant engagement. And when that happens, one plus one equals five. That’s its signature.

Here’s the formulation in a nutshell:

Everything vibrates.

Like vibrations produce resonance.

Resonance activated and directed to a common goal can produce synergy.

Synergy, through coherence, is capable of transcendent outcomes.


Synergy requires a circle of equals in resonance.

Carolyn Anderson

About This Image

Title: Vesica Piscis

File #: 453

One of the fundamental shapes in nature and therefore a component of “sacred geometry,” is the vesica piscis (Latin for “Bladder of a fish”). It’s the space between two equal, intersecting circles. We see it when two ripples in a pond intersect. Historically, it was a symbol with a multitude of meanings in many cultures and was used extensively in church and civic architecture. We see it in jewelry and crop circles. You might even have it in your wallet—the MasterCard logo.

Wanting to make this shape in a way that would convey the sensibility of vibration, I took a heavy gauge steel guitar string and secured it at both ends with heavy-duty clamps. With the string centered in the frame, I positioned a light and “flagged” off the background so it wouldn’t record. I critically focused the camera, set the shutter speed to “T” for time exposure and made the room totally dark. Then, using a cable release, I opened the shutter and gave the guitar string a good tug.

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

Models And Modeling

Boy Watches Man In Doorway

Joseph Chilton Pearce, a respected author on the subject of brain development, wrote that a child’s capacity to operate in the world is determined entirely by the models he experiences in everyday life. He observed that all human intelligences—music, math, art, logic, mechanics, even emotions and intuition—are built into us genetically at birth. As potentials. “Their awakening,” he says, even for adults, “requires stimulus from the external world, from someone who has developed that intelligence to a functional level.”

This was certainly true for me. For you as well? Had I been able to interact with a practicing fine art photographer or motion picture director early on, I could have begun to awaken my visual potentials—and careers—that much sooner. Instead, in my youth, I resorted to the only resources at hand—books and magazines, which were highly inadequate. Learning theory says we learn best from having behavior modeled and reinforced, by seeing someone do what we want to do. And, it cultivates the confidence-building attitude, “If she can do it, so can I.”

Having taught at the university level and managed a television production facility for twenty-six years, one of the most important lessons I learned about teaching was to acknowledge and celebrate a student’s potential when it shows up, and then feed it by providing face-to-face, first-hand experiences in that area. I can’t overestimate the extent to which so many of my students benefitted from visits to television stations, commercial and corporate video and audio production facilities and post-production houses—and the professionals who came to class to speak. In addition to subjecting students to working professionals, “real” world models and environments, I encouraged them to introduce themselves and build relationships with these people, and many students gained internships and jobs that way, even developed careers in the field as a result.

The child in the above image, observing the behavior and possibly hearing the conversation between the adults has momentarily diverted his attention away from the toy car. It’s just a moment. But the triangle of attention speaks to me of the significance of modeling, particularly for children. It raises the social question: What are we exposing our children to? And it challenges me to address personal questions: Who and where are my models? Where do get my inspiration? What social and media experiences empower me to live more authentically? What are my potentials? Which of them do I want to nurture? Am I appropriately prioritizing them? What am I modeling for those with whom I interact? This kind of questioning has undoubtedly helped me discriminate between distraction and purpose.

In part, I choose this image and theme because of the domestic and ideological violence being reported in the news lately. In all these instances I watch and think about the children being exposed to models of dysfunction, young minds whose potentials are being radicalized, neglected or suppressed. I’m reminded of Buckminster Fuller who, after I’d produced a program featuring him, took my hands and said, “Keep on doing what you’re doing, young man. We need more of this kind of (constructive) programming.” It was he who wrote that, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Indeed, create a new, more functional model.

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. 

James Baldwin


About This Image

Title: Boy In Doorway

File #: 012-A5

On lunch hours when I worked for Brand Studios as a technician in their color lab, I often drove the extensive and old German neighborhood known as Over The Rhine in downtown Cincinnati. No matter the weather, I would keep the car windows down so when I saw a potential shot I could stop and shoot without the interference of glass. For two years, I “cruised” the area looking for interesting faces and situations, shooting with a telephoto lens on a 35mm camera. If someone saw me or scowled, I just put the camera down and drove on.

I didn’t have to worry about copyright infringement because I wasn’t shooting for profit or publication, not even for exhibition. Besides, a release form is only needed when the photographer directs the subject in some way.

I remember this particular circumstance like it happened yesterday. I’d stopped at a red light, observed the situation through the passenger-side window and took the shot. The light changed to green, but seeing that there were no cars in back of me I exposed a few more frames. As it happened, the first frame was the best.

Whenever I think about street photography, I’m reminded of Henri Cartier-Bresson who was asked: What’s the secret of your success as a street photographer? He replied, “Be there and f8.” So true, especially when photographing people. You have to BE THERE, with a camera, in order to capture “the precious moment.”

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: DavidLSmithPhotography.

Everyday Beauty



When I hear “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” I take it to mean that some people find beauty where others do not. An artist friend who designs and sells jewelry once remarked that he made it a practice to experience beauty every day. I thought that was wonderful. But between work and family life, the only time I found available to search for beauty was when I was out with a camera looking for it.

Searching for opportunities to compose elements within a frame in ways that fed my aesthetic hunger, I frequented scrap yards, construction sites, abandoned buildings, tractor-trailer grave yards, empty fairgrounds and musty antique shops. As a consequence of creating order out of visual chaos, I was experiencing beauty in unconventional places and subjects. I first noticed this when I realized that I didn’t need to go to the beaches, national parks or anywhere else to experience beauty. It was at hand. To transform an ugly or ordinary object into a beautiful one, all I had to do was to decide to see it that way—with or without a camera.

My interest in “beauty” as a subject has been an evolution. As a child, I thought certain people, places and things were intrinsically beautiful and others were not. Through readings and formal education I learned that beauty is subjective and it varies widely between individuals. Camerawork taught me that beauty can be manufactured, as when we light or arrange objects in a more pleasing way. And that by deliberate choice, an ordinary object can be transformed into something beautiful. Actually, that was my job as a producer-cinematographer for television stations, often challenged by advertisers to make their everyday products—like sheets and pillow cases, watches and toys—look beautiful.

Of course, beauty is such a subjective experience it cannot be defined. Nonetheless, each of us can, with contemplation, find some language that will help us better understanding its place in our lives. For me currently, the experience of beauty presents me with feelings of joy and harmony, sometimes awe. I think it comes, mostly at a subconscious level, from attunement to nature’s design principles.

The above image reminds me that beauty can be found everywhere we look—even the kitchen sink. And I can predispose myself to experience it by choosing to see it in everyday places and objects. Beauty is not only something to be found, it’s something to be receptive to—and make.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

Henry David Thoreau

About This Image

Title: Kitchen Highlights

File: DC10

Each spring, the sun comes through our kitchen window and sprays these highlights onto the backsplash above our sink. All I did was turn the faucet a little to maximize the width of the “spray.”

Whenever I see something and the thought comes to mind that it would make a great shot, I try to get a camera and photograph it. Doing so enhances the experience and makes it last. Moments of beauty, no matter how subtle, are precious.

Linda is a master in this regard. Regularly, she’ll place a shell, a blossom or a stone that she picked up and place it in a bowl to be displayed on our kitchen table. I can’t count the number of times I photographed these little gems. As I write, there’s a red maple leaf gracing our table in a saucer of black china.

Nature’s Design Principles

Winged Red Maple Seed


Over time, a species of tree that evolved into the maple did so in part because it succeeded in finding a way to disburse numerous seeds over a greater distance. As kids we called them “pinwheels” or “helicopter seeds.” Hedging no bets in the area of reproduction, between 12,000 and 90,000 of these seeds can fall from a single tree in one season.

In this image I see a delivery system, a “package” perfectly designed to accomplish its mission. The heavier bulb containing the seed responds to gravity, pointing downward so it can penetrate the ground, while the aerodynamic “wing” system takes advantage of the wind to disperse the seed beyond the tree’s roots where it can germinate in fresh soil with the added advantage of increased sunlight. The design alone increased the odds of successful reproduction.

Because creation begins with imagination, when I think of seeds, I think of ideas. Of the number of ideas I’ve had, relatively few passed beyond germination. Fewer yet reached maturity. With time and experience we become more selective in our wanting, but how is it that some goals, even when pursued with passion and persistence, do not come to fruition? Two examples, one from business the other from teaching, come to mind for me, both of which—in hindsight—provided the same simple but profound lesson: Apple trees don’t grow from peach seeds. They are both fruit trees, but their inherent designs, growth needs and strategies are very different.

If I were king of the world, students would be exposed to nature’s design principles and strategies before they graduate from high school. Like many of us with vivid imaginations, I generated many ideas about what I could do and what I wanted to do. Had I known, even metaphorically, that ideas and initiatives grow organically from the ground up (not the top down), from seeds (ideas) planted in soils rich in nutrients (money and resources) with lots of sunlight (intelligence and wisdom) and caring hands (a collaboration of peers), the ideas mentioned above would likely have blossomed. Instead, they now reside in folders in my “Uncompleted Projects” file drawer.

On the other hand, perspective: had those ideas manifested, I would not be the person I am today. And although those ideas still tug at my heartstrings, I consider myself better off for having learned what doesn’t work. Certainly, had either idea matured my lifestyle would have been chaotic. I needed to learn some very important lessons by missing the brass ring. And that’s perfect. Still, had I understood something of nature’s design principles and strategies, I might have directed my attention differently.

In our consciousness, there are many negative seeds and also many positive seeds. The practice is to avoid watering the negative seeds, and to identify and water the positive seeds every day.

Thich Nhat Hanh

About This Image

Title: Winged Maple Seed

Theme: Nature’s Design Principles

File #: 732-C2

There are many times when an object of interest can best be photographed under controlled conditions of lighting and background. So one of the best tools a serious photographer can have is what used to be called a “copy stand.” Basically, it’s a device where a camera can be fixed to an adjustable arm that moves up and down so it can be positioned closer or farther away from the subject. The option of bringing objects home to photograph expands the possibilities of subject matter.

For this image, I put the seed on a piece of glass with white paper beneath it and positioned photoflood lights on both sides to light the paper evenly. With a macro (close-up) lens on my camera I was able to come within inches of the seed and fill the frame.


Times Square


“Makin’ your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got…”

Cheers (Theme song)

Messages coming from others—

You could…                                                    Distraction

You need to…                                                 Distraction

You’re so good at…                                       Distraction

Why don’t you…                                            Distraction

Let’s go to…                                                    Distraction

Save! Buy now…                                            Distraction

If only you would…                                       Distraction

If you want to make me happy…                Distraction

You’d be better off…                                      Distraction

You should go to…                                         Distraction

More people would notice you if…             Distraction

You never…                                                      Distraction

You don’t have what it takes.                       Distraction

Messages coming from within—

I could… (do anything)                                  Distraction

If only…                                                             Distraction

I need to…                                                         Distraction

If I work harder…                                            Distraction

How can I get him or her to…?                     Distraction

The easy way would be to…                           Distraction

He or she does or does not like me.             Distraction

If I had…                                                            Distraction

I should go to…                                                 Distraction

I can get it done…                                             Distraction

I can’t…                                                               Distraction

More. Better. Faster.                                        Distraction

I could be cool.                                                   Distraction

What will they think?                                       Distraction

Distraction from what?                          Purpose

Not knowing it, I am adrift.

Knowing it, I have both an engine and a rudder.


Find out who you are. And do it on purpose.

Dolly Parton


About This Image

Times Square

Theme: Purpose

File: DF 4099

I had a meeting in Manhattan and decided to stay an extra day to photograph. I walked around with a camera and happened to be in Times Square around four-thirty in the evening. Walking in from a side street, the sea of people, the traffic and the colorful building-sized signs made me laugh out loud. To get out of the way, I squeezed between a pole and a waste can and made several shots. Leaving, I stopped at a light and this is what I saw.

I selected this image because it diverges significantly from my usual preference, which is simplicity. In a section of my Visual Communication classes, I spoke about the strategies of “Image Simplicity vs. Image Complexity,” the former best applied when the objective is to express a feeling or convey a sensibility, the latter serving the purpose of conveying information. Take any image and count the visual elements. The fewer the elements, the simpler the image and the greater the emotional impact. The greater the number of elements within an image, the more information that can be derived from it. Sometimes, an image comes along that accomplishes both.



Red Light Bulb


In the summer of ’76, the year Linda and I were married, we went to the Cayo district in Belize so I could better appreciate where and how she’d lived for a year, teaching English to high school students under the auspices of the Papal Volunteer’s—the Catholic church’s version of the Peace Corps. We hired a taxi at the Chetumal, Mexico airstrip to drive us a hundred miles into the jungle. For hours, the only lights we saw were the taxi headlights on the deeply pitted dirt road and occasional kerosene lamps flickering through the trees.

Linda’s dear friends were excited to reunite with her and they welcomed us to stay with them. That same night, a roach as big as my forefinger was on the sheet when Linda pulled back the blanket. And the fluttering I heard as I brushed my teeth in a basin, turned out to be a bat. I said I wanted to leave in the morning. But she informed me that there weren’t any taxies in town, there was no bus that day and the only telephone line had been destroyed by the Maya burning their fields for planting. So I resigned myself to stay one more day. The next morning I stepped outside and into a jungle with dripping leaves, parrots, glistening lime trees and sparkling bright sunlight. I ran and got my camera. I was in photography heaven.

So what’s that got to do with a lightbulb? Appreciation—for the gift of electric power and the lack of it. At that time, San Ignacio had neither televisions nor electric refrigerators. Most energy came from kerosene, which was very limited, and the town’s electric generator shut down at ten o’clock after three hours of use. So as darkness approached our hosts, friends and Linda and I sat around a 60 watt bare bulb that hung from the ceiling on a wire—and we talked. As I remember it, these were less like conversations and more like family reports on who did what, who went where, when certain animals would be slaughtered for market, who said what to whom and what politicians were doing. When the generator shut down the talk continued for another hour, by the light of a kerosene lamp.

The light bulb in this image evokes memories of that challenging and wonderful week, in particular an appreciation for the luxuries—and necessities—that electric power affords. I understand now, how the light bulb became the symbol for the word “idea.” Now, instead of sharing the news and gossip of the day with family, friends and neighbors, electric power allows us to converse, interact, read and watch movies at night, and in the comfort of our well-lit and air-conditioned homes. It’s staggering to consider how much has been gained because of access to consistent, affordable and abundant electricity. Don’t we notice, whenever it goes down, for whatever reason, our appreciation awakens and grows with every passing hour.

But something has also been lost. We no longer sit together, face-to-face in the evenings, sharing the close-in happenings of the day with family members, friends and neighbors. It’s not that I miss what’s been lost. I don’t. But the light of that 60-watt bulb in San Ignacio, Cayo gave me a fresh appreciation for how people—and our not-to-distant ancestors—managed and thrived without electric power. The light of that little bulb created a context, a call to gather without distraction. And share.

We forget just how painfully dim the world was before electricity. A candle, a good candle, provides barely a hundredth of the illumination of a single 100 watt light bulb.

Bill Bryson

About This Image

Title: Red Light Bulb

Theme: Electricity

File #: T13

This photograph was made as part of an assignment at R.I.T. The bulb was about 12 inches tall. Someone had discarded it and I wanted to see if it worked. Not having a proper socket to screw it into, I stripped the end of a lamp cord and taped the wires to the terminals. When I plugged it in, the filament glowed yellow.

The setup was simple. I unrolled a length of red seamless paper, punched a little hole for the wire that ran under the paper, and used modeling clay to stand the bulb upright. I critically focused on the filament and set the camera’s aperture to wide open so the taped base of the bulb and the clay would not show. After setting two flood lights to evenly light the paper, I found that there were distracting reflections on the glass. So I darkened the room and moved the lights to minimize the reflections. I plugged in the bulb, did a last minute check of focus with the filament burning and made two exposures on Kodak 4×5 Ektachrome film.

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


Leaf In The Surf


One among many leaves that float on the surface of life, I ride the waves.

The calm—

meaningful conversations,

helping where help is needed,

Linda’s cooking; Graeter’s ice cream; Skyline chili,

researching and writing novels of the ancient Maya; visiting sites,

Scott Hamilton’s tenor saxophone; Barry Manilow; Andrea Bocelli

traveling backroads to photograph; making prints in the darkroom,

orange tabby cats,

The West Wing; Northern Exposure; Morgan Freeman’s Through The Wormhole,

The Life of Pi; Avatar; Singin’ In The Rain.

And the turbulent—

war; man’s inhumanity to man; intolerance

cruelty to animals,

not being able to help when help is needed,

health challenges,

loud music in malls; discordant jazz in bookstores,

loud talkers in restaurants; busers clearing gravy-stained plates near the table,

littering; line jumping; horn honking; cursing; telemarketing interruptions,

television ID’s in the corner of the screen; hype and destructive commercials

apocalyptic movies

On the surface I come to know who I am and where I fit.

Beneath the surface, I become aware of the depths; expanse, and it draws me.

Further down, there is stillness, the prospect of peace of mind.

Deeper yet, ironically, in darkness comes greater illumination.

Descending through the abismal plane, the adopted surface-self diminishes.

With no place to look and nothing to see, authentic self emerges.

At Tranquility Base, where not knowing is embraced, being takes precedence over doing.

There, aware of how much more there is—and how much more there is to me,

I rise to the surface with fresh insight: Though I am still a leaf, I am more the water.


You can’ t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.

Henry Louis Mencken

About This Image

Title: Leaf In The Surf

File #: 463-C4

Indian Rocks Beach, Florida

Although it has been many years since I made this photograph, I remember being reluctant to take my 2 1/4 Bronica to the beach. Even though you can’t see the sand in the air—it’s there. So on this occasion I kept the camera in a sealable plastic bag until the last minute when I saw a shot. The plastic enclosure emboldened me to get in the water with it.

So I was up to my knees in the surf around sunset when I saw this leaf bobbing up and down in the waves. I adjusted the settings while the camera was still in the bag, got into position, removed the camera and took the shot. The camera doesn’t have a built in exposure meter, so I made the best compromise I could between a shutter speed fast enough to “freeze” the leaf, and an aperture small enough to keep the background highlights sharp. Fortunately, it was a good guess. In my printing notes I identified it as “numinous,” an image that fed my soul. It still does.