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 actual scene or situation before us 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 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 recognize these benefits are occurring, however subtle or profound, when the experience or observation produces an inhale, a deep “breath of fresh air.” It’s an indication that we’ve made a connection and all is well. A bit of life force has been assimilated.

And beyond assimilation, there’s more to be gained by contemplating an image. For instance, here, 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? At first, my mind went to the nature and source of color, how it’s a mental construct based on a complex of wavelengths, surface characteristics and other parameters. Then I thought about diversity, how the different species of trees blend together to create an exquisite “symphony” of harmonizing colors, forms and textures. But I wanted to go deeper. 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 (memory metaphorically) is not a detailed or even accurate representation of the forest above (reality). Nonetheless, it is complimentary. And it has it’s own aesthetic experience. For instance, when I put my hand up to the screen and crop out the trees, the “message” is still “forest,” but the experience is one of blending, of merging 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 light. The sky. In the “below” reality, the thoughts are blending, shimmering and dissolving into the light. Extending the metaphor, I observe that the forest and its reflection, like a sliver of rainbow, reside in the light.


As above, so below.

Hermes Trismegistus

About This Image

Title: Autumn Pond

Theme: As Above, So Below

Location: Shelby, Michigan

File: DC 6844

I missed last week’s edition of this blog because I took an extended trip to photograph in western Michigan. 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.

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 damaging the cameras I drove at a crawl and just appreciated what was there.


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