Order

 

In nature and in the world of man-made objects, geometric order evidences the interrelatedness of all things. Using the above image as a model, humanity may be said to consist of a single string within the spacetime continuum. Rather than forming a straight line—the way we experience time—the process of human evolution has been an ever unfolding and ordering spiral. For the most part we have not yet realized or accepted that order, novelty, expansion and complexity are ultimately unifying forces. But even conflicts over diversity can be seen as drivers, urging us to realize and accommodate to the reality that we are one, interrelated and interdependent species.

In the above image, if one of the segments of string represents a lifetime, we can see how it overlaps and aligns with many others. With a little consideration we can see the process of ordering at work. And we can see that an individual life is just a small segment of an unfathomably long string, one that’s shaped by an enfolded and fundamental order—the core—characterized by infinite potential, patterning and exquisite beauty. Notice how the mind’s eye sees a star in one place and then another. As in certain geometries considered “sacred,” the pattern in this ball of string is dynamic. It seems to move.

Socially we find examples of this dynamic in the messy domains of business and politics, where over time, conflicting perspectives, goals and methods eventually produce more ordered systems and solutions. A crowning example of this is the founding of the United States of America. Because the founders—and we today—differ in perception, values, goals and desires, there was and will always be conflict, argumentation and debate. In the messy process of sorting things out, an order emerges that overcomes psychic entropy—negative thoughts, ideas and ideologies that, if held long enough by a system’s members, leads to dis-integration and eventually the system’s demise. Order then, along with information, is negentropic. It overcomes entropy, at least temporarily.

As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes, “Psychic negentropy refers to an ordered state of energy or knowledge, a state in which work can be carried out with the least waste and effort. A negentropic system, whether physical, informational, or mental, is one in which the parts function together in synergy, with minimal friction or disorder.” In his book, Being Adolescent: Conflict and Growth in the Teenage Years, co-authored with Reed Larson, Mihali identifies the specific traits that carry the highest negentropic potential. These include positive feelings toward self and others, happiness, friendliness, joy, meaning, a sense of energy, competence and intrinsic motivation to be involved with people moving toward constructive goals. Projected to adults, I can easily see how these would be the forces, among others, that are urging us toward alignment and synergistic engagement. In this way, on each turn of the evolutionary spiral, the invisible hand of Nature winds the string around a core, albeit one that imposes a design that is in process. And one that we are not yet privileged to see.

Writing about traumatic events experienced by adults—such as occur in family life as well as in business and politics—Csikszentmihalyi goes further to say in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, that the ability to draw order from disorder is what transforms negative experience into meaningful challenges. Paul Cézanne famously said it was the artist’s task to become “concentric” with nature, to align with it. I see that happening in this image. I also see how the center—the core of an object or idea—determines the pattern that will emerge as time goes on. For instance, if the string here pictured were wound around a cube or a triangle a very different pattern would result. The same with an idea or ideology. The core of a belief system shapes thinking, which produces patterns of behavior. It’s the reason for the biblical injunction “By their fruit you shall recognize them.” (Matthew 7:16). Others know us by what we do.

In the above photograph, the winding of a string around a round core results in a star pattern with concentric circles. Standing back, it resembles an eye. Computer scientist, Christopher Langton and others in the field of artificial life observe that the essence of living systems is in their organization, not the involved molecules. It couldn’t be otherwise, because at the atomic level it’s the organization of atoms that determines and discriminates one element from another.

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

It is the natural tendency of life to organize — to seek greater levels of complexity and diversity.

Margaret Wheatley

When driven into far-from-equilibrium conditions, systems do not just break down, they generate new structures that pull higher forms of order out of the surrounding chaos. It is as if nature reaches into herself and draws forth structures that reflect the inherent potential of the system for higher orders of self-organization.

Duane Elgin

About This Image

Title: Ball Of String

I came upon this ball of string at the Cincinnati Zoo. About the size of a grapefruit, it sat on a table with a number of other items. I had a macro lens on the camera, but without a tripod and no direct sunlight I had to increase the ISO setting to 2000 so I could use a fast shutter speed to minimize the blur from camera movement. I was pleasantly surprised that the image was sharp and there was little detectable noise from the increase in sensitivity.

Trust

Seen from a distance, the colors of Autumn evidence the seasonal transition. The leaves turning brown, yellow or red and then falling from the trees at once signify death and the cyclical nature of life. Up close however, as this image reveals, it is also the time for the deposition of seeds, the first act in replacing the life that came before—and through mutation enhancing the species.

Observing the image of this mature grass with its “finger” of seeds, I think about its forebears, all of whom experienced and survived the vagaries of dramatic changes in soil and climate. Beyond the beauty of this blade of grass, enhanced by the backlight of late sun, the camera has captured the moment in its lifecycle when it’s about to disperse its seeds. I marvel at how this living system, constituted of billions of individual cells, each of which is continually making decisions in its own best interest, knows when and how to manufacture seeds in the first place and then disperse them. I could be wrong, but I don’t imagine there’s much intercellular competition or squabbling going on at that level. In my readings on the life of cells I notice that there isn’t the divisiveness caused by leaders and followers, haves and have nots, liberals and conservatives. The primary differentiating factor for individual cells has everything to do with the choice of function and location. There’s no question that the priority and driving force is the construction of a viable whole system, one that can sustain in order to reproduce.

This particular plant’s existence alone is evidence that its member cells have responded appropriately to both internal and external changes, allowing the whole system to survive, grow and reproduce. Every living cell contains the plan (DNA) for constructing a whole system. And through electrochemical processes, each cell chooses to play a specific role to contribute to the fulfillment of the plan. This is true of all healthy cells. At the level of the human individual, we have brain-nervous systems that function as the stimulus-responding mechanism to monitor and adjust the body to internal and external changes. What plants have that we lack is a plan for securing the health and well-being of the higher order bodies—the social and global bodies. Human beings are not naturally endowed with a drive to collaborate with other members of the species to construct a society—or world—that can survive, grow and evolve as a unit, a functioning whole system. As a species that is both conscious and social, humanity struggles to coordinate, largely through trial and error. Looked at over just several generations, barely a blip on the evolutionary timeline, it can appear that we are taking two steps forward and one step back. Civilizations, like all living systems, have lifecysles. Should we expect otherwise? The plant kingdom has had the advantage of 140 million years of evolution, compared to our mere 200,000 years.

Whether or not it’s appropriate to parallel our species with the plant kingdom, the fact that both are on  growth trajectories, cycling through internal and external changes is for me reason to trust that nature knows what she’s doing, that the life that’s living us is purposeful and patterned for complexity, expansion and increased consciousness—constructing who know what? As Buckminster Fuller often said, “We can’t learn less, we can only learn more.”  For the moment and from the perspective of evolving life, there’s every reason to trust that, although we as individuals and nations have much to learn about social, political and planetary management, progress is being made. Despite  personal ups and downs, trials and tribulations, all is well and on course. Through the  past winter and summer months—actually and metaphorically—we’ve been busy creating the seeds of our future—the values we hold dear. Now, it’s time to release them so the world can bring forth the next best thing.

I trust in nature for the stable laws of beauty and utility. Spring shall plant and autumn garner to the end of time.

Robert Browning

About This Image

Title: A Finger Of Grass

Ordinarily I would walk or drive past a patch of weeds and grass and not give them a thought. But by stalking that same patch with a camera I’m on heightened alert, looking for something that stands out—a pattern or a quality of light that enhances form and texture. Whatever the attraction, I’m compelled to compose the elements in the viewfinder. If it doesn’t work there I move on. If it does I enjoy the sound of the shutter and come away hopeful.

I was photographing in a local park two years ago and came across this blade of grass. What attracted me was the backlight, how against the dark background of forest it created a bright rim around the finger of seeds. Using a macro lens, I critically focused on the finger and opened the aperture wide enough so the background would be out of focus.

Stop! Pay Attention

Whenever I bring up this image it reminds me to pay attention to the commonplace items and situations that tend not to be seen or are easily passed over. It may be the act of seeing beyond looking, more than anything else, that enriches the present moment. Brief acts of perceiving are the visual equivalent of contemplation. One of the benefits of conscious photography is that it requires us to stop and spend an unusual amount of time pondering, perhaps just soaking in, the beauty of the subject’s form and texture, how it’s situated and lit.

I sometimes recommended a little exercise to my students: when they’re in waiting situations—an airport terminal, doctor’s office, business meeting or just at home with the electronics turned off—to pick a subject, put an imaginary frame around it and forget any words or functions associated with it. As a blind person seeing clearly for the first time, enjoy the subject’s attributes. Notice how it’s lit, and how the light accentuates certain features while diminishing others in deep shadows. It’s a practice that not only cultivates aesthetic perception, it accomplishes the Buddhist practice of mindfulness—accomplished by being aware in the moment, of the moment. Being present with what is, no matter what it is or where we are. Indeed, paying attention to singular being—like a towel, push pin, wrench or chair—can evoke appreciation for all being.

I thought of titling this post “Perception,” but the point that I most need to remember is to STOP NOW! PAY ATTENTION. Just sit or stand still with no distractions and appreciate what’s in front of me, what I normally take for granted. Even the computer display, the keyboard, the picture on the wall and the tissue box. As I look at these without naming, the question arises, What did it take for this to exist? Right here, right now. How many people were involved in bringing this into being?  It’s part of the Great Mystery—that we and everything else exist and are present as witnesses. One of the teachings in Zen is “unitive perception,” the experience of being able to see the temporal and eternal simultaneously, the sacred and the profane in the same object. By stopping and paying attention to the little things, that can happen. And afterward, through the act of deep awareness there comes a feeling of exhilleration from having tapped into essence, the Reality beyond the personal reality.

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

Tom Robbins

About This Image

Title: Hand Towel

My producer and I spent two days in a fire station waiting for an ambulance run where we would film a traumatic situation for a program on paramedics for a prime time series called A Matter Of Life. For hours and hours, we sat with batteries charged, the camera and it’s attached light ready to go at a moments notice. This towel was hanging on the bathroom wall. Fortunately, I had a still camera with me. Ever since, the photograph reminds me to stop and pay attention whenever a form, texture or ray of light attracts my attention.

To finish the story, on the second day a call came in—a man having a heart attack. Due to the paramedic’s quick and competent action, he survived and we got an hour’s worth of footage showing the process from the sirens screaming out the door to the patient resting comfortably in a hospital bed. As dramatic as that was, the towell is the more poignent memory.

Presentation

 

Many years before I was introduced to the Ancient Maya, a little book by Erving Goffman entitled, The Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life,” set me on the path of becoming an armchair anthropologist. Actually, it may have been his insights that sparked my later interest in the Maya, in part because their kings and artisans developed an astonishing and unique capacity for expressing their world view and myths through costuming, gestures, dance and poetic speech.

One of the principle tenants in the anthropology of visual communication is that “everyone notices everything.” Paying attention, especially to people, has always had survival value. We notice what people wear and don’t wear, how they walk and talk, adorn themselves, tend to their fingernails and hold their forks. Body language helps us trust or not trust what people say. Kenetics, formalized as the study of motion, helps us maintain social versus personal space, even make judgments about how people move. Dr. Goffman’s thesis is that we’re actors in everyday life, performing on various “stages”—as parent, child, spouse, artist, professional, priest or politician. We dress the part and present ourselves on these stages in ways that we think or hope will gain us admittance, acceptance, an advantage or convey an impression. How we present ourselves is our unique expression. And it shapes other people’s perception of us.

My master’s thesis demonstrated that observers walking through homes of people they didn’t know—and who were absent—could make accurate judgments about their values based on a standardized test taken by both parties. In addition to family relationships, marital and economic status, lifestyle choices and interests, the evaluators picked up on personal matters—creative expression, ethnic and political orientation, worldview, philosophy of life and religion. The homeowner’s choices, their books, magazines, CD’s and DVD, even the size and placement of the television set(s) were revelatory.

We don’t just notice presentations, we make judgments based on them because they reflect choices—about clothing, shoes, makeup, hairstyle, tattoos, jewelry, cars, food, schools, sports teams, etc.—and these represent values. Aside from these material clues, what we say and how we say it is noticed and judged as well.  Judgments made by reading our  presentations may be accurate or wrong, but either way they largely determine how others choose to see and relate to us.

So personal presentation matters greatly. It is a matter of life and death for the peacock—his ability to reproduce and maintain the species. So too for the  12-year-old who was shot for wielding a toy a gun in front of a police officer. More commonly it determines ones acceptance, advancement and fulfillment—in every aspect of personal and social life. These terms may fall flat on the page, but the everyday realities of depression, suicide, murder, crime and domestic abuse attest to what can happen when individuals are not accepted, are blocked from realizing their potentials or chronically dissatisfied with life and living.

Particularly troublesome for parents are the presentations of film and television celebrities. In part, boys notice that aggression, violence, crude language and ignorance are considered “cool,” signs of strength, the best way to fit in and get what they want. Girls notice that to get what they want—or “should” want—they have to be aggressive or slutty. Ideally both. My daughter, Jennifer, is a regular contributor to NBC on a variety of parenting issues. Around Halloween a few years ago, they interviewed her on the subject of over-sexualized costumes being marketed to young girls and teens. It’s a hot topic again this year this year because parents are  objecting to these costumes—and finding support.

As we observe each other, we also observe society and how people are—around the world. One of the complaints I have about popular culture is that it’s entirely manufactured, a created reality based on presentations designed to stimulate commerce and consumption. Nonetheless, I also see it as an appropriate and necessary phase, an evolutionary driver of sorts, that will bring about a shift toward more authentic and respectable presentations of self in everyday life. In life, as in politics, we often need to learn what doesn’t work in order to discover what does. As always, I realize that change begins with me.

Choose your self-presentations carefully, for what starts out as a mask may become your face.

Erving Goffman

About This Image

Title: Peacock

We were walking around the Cincinnati Zoo and I came upon this peacock and a crowd of people standing around watching his display. Not to frighten him by approaching too quickly, I sat on the grass with my camera and slowly inched my way forward. Apparently he was as curious about me as I was about him because he stopped and stared at the camera, giving me enough time to wait until there was near perfect symmetry on both sides of his head before snapping the shutter. Thank you Mr. Peacock for such a lovely display—and image.

The City

 

Dictionaries tend to define a “city” as an inhabited place of greater size, population or importance than a town or village. While size is a factor, social scientists emphasize that a city represents the collective consciousness—beliefs, values, aspirations and visions—of the people who live and work in a center of commerce and culture. Reflecting on this image of the Cincinnati skyline, I see the city upside-down and observe that it evolved from the Ohio River up, so to speak.

Since the mid-forties I have witnessed both top-down and bottom-up development—wealthy individuals initiating major projects and major progress being made by small group initiatives. Across time and diverse cultures, monumental structures came into being as a result of charismatic and wealthy visionaries—pharaohs, kings and queens, religious leaders, captains of industry, philanthropists and business executives. Those at the top of the proverbial pyramid provided livelihood incentive and opportunities for those below. And they in turn, sufficiently motivated, realized their visions.

City skyscrapers may be monuments to commerce that reflect the dreams and aspirations of those at the top, but those buildings and the city streets below would be empty and would crumble were it not for the simpler and more fundamental values, aspirations and visions of the everyday workers who sustain them. We can recite the names of corporations, philanthropists and business people associated with grand structures, but it’s important to remember that without the legions of laborers, craftsperson, artisans and professionals who struggled to feed their families and advance through education and hard work, they would never have been built.

When I see the downtown areas of cities in crisis—abandoned office towers and stores, dilapidated housing, broken sidewalks and trashed neighborhoods—I have to remind myself that cities are dynamic living systems, that people congregate and care about a place when they catch the spirit of something appealing that’s happening there. When that spirit is gone, the buildings become empty shells. Revitalization initiatives often fail or fall short because the substantive challenge—beyond window dressing, attracting businesses and government loans—is the more difficult task of generating and vitalizing a new spirit for the place, one that gives people a reason to care and to be there.

The world around, ancient indigenous peoples vitalized a place by ensouling it with guardian spirits in many cases, and by continuously enacting rituals that brought people together. Respectful attention is how “sacred sites” came into being and were sustained. I’m reminded of an early morning photograph I took of a man sweeping the dirt in front of his little shop in Taxco, Mexico. This small act is a demonstration of respect for himself, his family store and those who  would come to browse. It makes me wonder what American town centers and neighborhoods would be like if more people and businesses cared for the property they own, manage or rent. Continuous and respectful attention to a place keeps its spirit alive. As a photographer, I observe that the slightest tasks such as cleaning a lens, editing images, signing prints, cutting mattes and entering metadata are acts of respect. They demonstrate caring for the whole by attending to each of the subsystems—like the Mexican man’s sidewalk—that constitute and determine the quality of the experience and its output.

Systemically, by attending to the integrity of the parts, the functionality of the whole is maintained and the dark shadow of entropy is averted. At least for a time. Conversely, the way to obliterate something, to hand it over to the forces of entropic dissipation and decay, is simply to deprive it of attention. “Give it no energy,” as the saying goes—neither positive nor negative thoughts or deeds. From this perspective the reflected Cincinnati skyline prompts me to see the city’s populous, our interaction and commerce as a consequence of collective, enduring and respectful attention payed to specific values, dreams and aspirations. And the help to define us. Personally, it encourages me to pay attention and offer respect to the aspects of city life—the people, places, institutions and events—that I find uplifting, educational, inspiring and empowering.

The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.

Lyndon B. Johnson

About This Image

Title: Cincinnati Skyline Reflection

I’d purchased a new, wide-angle lens for my view camera and went to the Kentucky side of the Ohio River to try it out. Windows and signs in the distance were especially good for testing the lens’s resolving power and area of coverage. I’d made the black & white exposures, and because the sky was clear and the river calm I got out the digital camera and took some color shots. This was one of them.

Individuality

 

The image of this drop of water on a stem reminds me of a common metaphor used to describe the nature of the human-divine relationship. While each drop of water is singular, unique, separate and ever changing no matter its shape or location, in essence it is water. Human beings are like individual drops of water in the ocean of the divine.

Considering the mass shootings that are occurring so often, one of the predominant patterns being reported indicates that the perpetrators were disenfranchised individuals, people who for various reasons “fell through the cracks” within their social systems—family, school, church, workplace or other. Even those involved in hate crimes or terrorist activities are often individuals who were abandoned, abused or otherwise marginalized in their youth. Whether an individual is mentally ill or has a troubled background, feelings of anger and resentment escalate when a person is disregarded or discarded. I’m not a psychologist, but common sense suggests that these individuals need the right kind of attention, whether it be love, support, encouragement, empowerment or regular medical care. When they don’t get it, when they feel disconnected and hopeless they may want to strike back.

Linda tells about the nuns in high school who encouraged their students to never let anyone feel excluded. Her group in particular took it to heart by inviting a particularly shy and quiet girl to sit with them at lunch. Years later she sat with them at their fiftieth reunion. Another example of this was my mother who, on “Fun Night” at her retirement center always invited people on the sidelines to dance. Several of these widely diverse people—who said they didn’t dance, but did for her—became her best friends and helpmates. Of course there’s no way to know how those lives might have been otherwise, but engaging people who tend to be shy, alone or even preferring to be alone, whatever the reason, is something that everyday people in everyday situations can take notice of and make a difference in someone’s life.

Anthropologist Ashley Montagu observed that “Persons… come into being only through social interactions. The interacting person finds the meaning of his life in his relations with other persons and their thoughts and activities.” Without interaction, an individual feels—is—adrift. Social psychologist Erich Fromm articulated the consequences of feeling alone, disrespected or ostracized. “Unless a person feels that he belongs somewhere, unless his life has some meaning and direction, he would feel like a particle of dust and be overcome by his individual insignificance. He would not be able to relate himself to any system which would give meaning and direction to his life, he would be filled with doubt and this doubt eventually would paralyze his ability to act—that is, to live.” The statistics on teen suicide are additional evidence of this, and a call for those who see something to say or do something.

In this drop of water I also see an individual filled with potential. Although the details within it may be obscure, they can come into focus through engagement with other drops. Together, they can constitute an ocean.

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a Clod be washed away by he Sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a Promontory were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne

About This Image

Title: Raindrop

There’s a condition under which I can almost always make images that evoke a Wow! in me. It’s after a hard rain- or snowfall when the earth is still and the sun shines brightly. Conditions like that urge me to get out in the garden or walk the neighborhood with a camera, a closeup lens and a tripod—necessary to do fine compositional and depth-of-field adjustments to increase or decrease the sharpness of the background. I mention this because this happens occasionally—at home.

This particular image however, was made at Longwood Garden in Kennett, Pennsylvania. I wandered their magnificent conservatory with a closeup lens and tripod, and came into a section where the plants had just been watered. By opening the camera’s aperture as wide as possible, the struts in the window behind the plant blurred out completely, but you can still see them in the drop. Notice also the slight blur in the vine due to movement caused by the air handling system. The sharpness of the drop could not have been made without the tripod.

Dialogue

 

The Free Dictionary defines dialogue as “An exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue, especially with a view to reaching an amicable agreement.” In the image of these spheres—diverse in size, tonality and texture—I can imagine the exchange of electrochemical information that resulted in harmonious interaction within this dynamic system where drops of oil sought to maintain their integrity within a vessel of water.

The order and pattern of the spheres provide evidence that, although the water and oil molecules are diametrically opposed to one another, they continuously strived for, and in this instant, reached an “amicable agreement” where the whole system, enhanced by diversity, contains more information and complexity. Aesthetically speaking, there’s balance and harmony among opposites. It’s a picture of individual elements engaging each other in the context of a common purpose within a shared environment—”culture” we might say. Individual integrity (read dignity as well) is maintained, and from our point of view the system displays stability and organization. The molecules of oil didn’t ask to be deposited in the vessel of water, but once there the interaction and exchange of information within the system became more a dance than a battle. Accommodation rather than destruction. Indeed, true dialogue is a kind of discursive dance.

And it’s unique. It involves discussion, but “discussion” just an exchange that tries to sort things out. The emphasis is on back-and-forth inquiry and analysis where there may be many points of view. Discussions can be amicable or heated. Either way, participants generally aim to win an argument, score points or have their opinion prevail. “Debate” is another kind of discourse. Here, the individuals do battle with one another by offering proofs and counter arguments so their point of view will prevail. The context is purposefully polarized so there is a winner and a loser. Having been on a college debate team I can attest to the occasional glory of winning and the frequent agony of defeat.

“Dialogue,” on the other hand, is a process that flows from a base of commonalities and allows conflicting views to court each other so a fuller perspective can emerge from spirited but respectful interaction. It occurs when the participants follow their hearts and souls, when they are allowed to have their full say, are heard and taken seriously—within an atmosphere of trust and discovery—where there is open mindedness, respect and a mutual desire for achieving a common goal. Simply put, dialogue is how we think things through together so we can individually learn and make sound judgements on behalf of a whole system.

Whether in a small informal group or a large formal setting, the practice of dialogue is not easy. First, it requires a clear and commonly held picture of the whole system, its purpose and goal—what it needs in order to grow and evolve. With a goal agreed upon, points of agreement need to be identified before differences in perspectives and approach are specified and argued. Throughout, broader truths, those relating to the well-being and development of the whole system, must be allowed to emerge. According to Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action, the goal of dialogue is to allow us “To comprehend each other well enough so that common goals and understanding is possible.” True dialogue builds and maintains good relations among the participants as it builds consensus among them regarding what’s best for the whole system.

Psychologists observe that, as individuals, we tend to think we know what’s best for ourselves and the larger systems within which we participate. We believe our perspectives are not only right, they’re the best. Others just don’t know what we know. And so there’s a strong tendency to champion our perspectives and methods above all. But where there’s an openness to discover what is actually best for the system, that tendency can be tempered by structuring interaction as a formal (true) dialogue, and making sure that everyone knows the Multicultural Ground Rules For Dialogue before hand.

I have observed evidence of dialogue happening in families, special interest groups, religious organizations, universities, corporations and non-profit organizations. That we humans have evolved the capacity to rationally and respectfully think through and transcend our differences while safeguarding our relationships and seeking the common good is reason to hope. It will likely remain the great legacy of Senator John McCain.

Dialogue is the art of thinking together. It involves listening and thinking beyond my position for something that goes beyond you and me.

William Isaacs

None of us knows the truth, but together we can come closer to it.

Anonymous

Intelligence requires that you don’t defend an assumption. The proper structure of an assumption or of an opinion is that it is open to evidence that it may not be right.

David Bohm

About This Image

Spheres

File #: CDC 882

I positioned a 4×5 camera over a light table, filled a tall one-quart photographic graduate with filtered water and set it on the table. Using an eyedropper, I deposited drops of vegetable oil on the surface to form a two-inch “cell.” After some experimentation with lighting, I cut a hole in a sheet of black paper so it was a little larger than the circumference of the graduate and set it on the light table with the graduate in the middle. This created the contrast between the bright center and dark bands.

To gain control over the composition and dust on the surface of the water, I substituted an electronic flash for the incandescent bulbs in the light box. Still there was dust, and it was visible on the surface because that was the point of critical focus. The fix was to work quickly, to cover the graduate with a piece of clear glass between exposures. With the cable release in hand and the shutter cocked, I stirred the water and watched the interaction. When the moment was right I removed the glass, made the exposure and quickly covered the graduate to prepare for the next shot. The more vigorously I stirred the water the more the bigger cells divided into smaller ones.

A full description of this process and more spherical images can be found in LensWork Magazine #39 February-March, 2002. For readers who approach photography as a medium of aesthetic expression, I highly recommend LensWork Magazine and it’s many initiatives. I consider it to be the Rolls Royce of photography magazines.

The Railroad Yard

(More images follow the text)

I’ve been photographing in and around railroad yards since I first picked up a camera. The forms are primarily linear and round and there’s an abundance of raw material. Steel objects and metal surfaces are particularly appealing because they are highly reflective—resulting in contrast, texture and deep shadows. And these are ideal for maximizing the full tonal range of black and white film. Images on a computer screen can only approximate the “silvery” quality that’s evident in photographic prints. When photographs with this quality are lit well, as they are in many museums, there’s nothing like it.

Be like a train; go in the rain, go in the sun, go in the storm, go in the dark tunnels! Be like a train; concentrate on your road and go with no hesitation!

Mehmet Murat Ildan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda’s Garden

 

(More images below)

Everything about a flower is meant to attract—its odor, color, shape, line, texture and geometry. These are its aesthetic dimensions. Flowers are the quintessential demonstration of how beauty ties to function and propagation in the natural world. My long-standing attraction to them as photographic subject matter has mostly to do with their color, texture, and geometry, features that combine to evoke the nature and sensibility of all living things, particularly process and change. Flowers may not last long, but the contribution they make to the environment and the human spirit is immense. I find that a flower’s aesthetic qualities are amplified when the camera is close up and the light is coming from behind to emphasize form, or from the side to reveal texture. Color is a given.

I’ve learned from watching Linda that maintaining and nurturing a flower garden is an integrating and humbling activity. The challenges require planning, creativity, knowledge of the subject, patience, management skills, discipline, and hard work, even knowing where and when to get the best quality items at the best price. And there’s a healthy dose of allowing due to fluctuations in the weather and invasions by unwanted pests and weeds to name a few. While I couldn’t do what Linda does, I’m so grateful that I get to share in the end result. Year round I have subject matter to photograph. More importantly, we’re surrounded by beauty every day. All of these photographs were made in her garden.

Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas.

Elizabeth Murray

 

 

 

 

 

Tulips: Diana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graphic Images

 

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The word “graphic” comes from the Greek graphikós, “to draw.” Photographs that  contain only solid black and pure white values with little or no mid-tones are regarded as graphic because of their resemblance to drawing. Strong black lines and shapes help the eye to focus on the linear essences of a subject, their form and geometry. Curiously, there can still be a sense of depth, even when the background has been dropped out.

As with sculpture where stone is chipped away to reveal the subject within, graphic images strip away information—units of visual change—in order to create impact. In the Buddhist tradition, aspirants are encouraged to eliminate identification with their body and mind in order to realize their true nature. Likewise, the transformation of a continuous tone photograph into a graphic image involves the elimination of  elements that don’t contribute to the subject’s identification. It reveals form as essences.

I find it interesting and beautiful that the arc of life moves from simplicity to complexity and back to simplicity again—building, amassing, and complexifying reaches a point where the tendency reverses toward reducing, eliminating, and simplifying.

Graphical excellence is that which gives to the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest space.

Edward R. Tufte

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

 

Zebra

Cattails

 


 

 

About These Images

These images were all made by contact printing an original negative with a piece of Kodalith film. That produced a positive image, which was then exposed in contact with another sheet of Kodalith film to make a negative that could be printed. This film, manufactured by Eastman Kodak Co., is no longer available—in part because the same effect can be achieved digitally with much less time, effort and money.