This image resulted from inspiration I received many years ago upon seeing the work of Jerry Uelsmann, a master of the multiple printing technique. His work caught my attention because he was a graduate of R.I.T. Although the word inspiration derives from inspiratio, which is latin for “divine guidance,” a modern dictionary renders it a “process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.” While I understand the secular orientation of this definition, I believe that spirit or universal consciousness is fundamental to the process, and the brain serves as a “tuner,” able to access vibrations (stimulations) proceeding from that source according to interest or desire. In this instance I wanted to see if I could make a print from multiple negatives that would produce an interesting photograph. Starting out I had no idea what, if anything, I would find—the point being that Jerry’s work generated the desire, and I was guided in the process of exploration. Although it has been many years since I made this photograph, I remember the urge as if it occurred yesterday.
A recent interview on Buddha At The Gas Pump between the host, Rick Archer, and Marianne Williamson prompted me to consider this theme because it was so inspirational. She not only put the current political crisis into global perspective, she called those of us with a spiritual orientation to task, pointing the way through and strongly urging us to get involved in the political process. “Urged” and “pointing” are the key words here because I experience inspiration as both motivation and guidance from the universe, a message that involves a push to act and a pull to move toward that which is desirable.
A friend once told me that he supported the organizations that inspired him. His comment stayed with me because, what if we all were to do that—support the organizations and institutions that inspire us—and not support those that don’t? It amounts to voting our preferences every day, and not just in the political sphere. I think this also applies to the personal domain as well. Mental health professionals recommend that we distance ourselves from people who, as a pattern, diminish our spirit, and maintain or seek relationships that lift us up. In these times I want to be the one who lifts the spirit, even in subtle, unacknowledged ways, as well as engaging with those who lift me up. And I want to keep the latter part of this in mind when selecting movies, television, radio programs and internet choices. I want the media to feed my spirit, not make me feel sad for the world. And I want to go to trusted sources of information.
Thinking about these admonitions I wondered to myself: Who, throughout my lifetime, was a source of inspiration? Over the years I have collected articles, quotes, bits and pieces from magazines and the internet that I keep in a “Meditation” binder. I’m so familiar with what it contains, I noticed that these authors and speakers, past and present, fell into certain patterns. There are the “champions of aspiration,” men and women who raised the bar in their respective fields—like John F. Kennedy calling us to put a man on the moon and return him safely. The “good souls” are individuals who model virtue, the best in human nature. The “great teachers” are those who taught me as much about life and living as the subjects they taught—whether I interacted with those people or not. The “scientists” extended my perception and caring into both the quantum and cosmic realms. And the “transcenders” are people who fed my soul and instilled confidence by connecting personal experience to ultimate reality.
Speaking of experience, the notion of inspiration being divine guidance is particularly appealing to me because that’s what it feels like. As one who has spent a lifetime engaged in a variety of creative activities, one of the consistent impressions I experience is that of being led to resources, provided ideas and techniques and guided in the creative process. And occasionally there are moments that I refer to as “numinous,” of being in the flow where time stands still. Even more rare, when the beauty of the work outstrips my known capacity to produce it, I stand infused with love and gratitude so pervasive it can bring me to tears. It happened when I made this image. And it happened last week when I saw two of my digital images—spheres—enlarged.
It is by long obedience and hard work that the artist comes to unforced spontaneity and consummate mastery. Knowing that he can never create anything on his own account, out of the top layers, so to speak, of his personal consciousness, he submits obediently to the workings of ‘inspiration’; and knowing that the medium in which he works has its own self-nature, which must not be ignored or violently overridden, he makes himself its patient servant and, in this way, achieves perfect freedom of expression.
ABOUT THIS IMAGE
Title: Celestial Roots
Date: July 1, 1979
I randomly pulled out negatives that had clear or nearly clear backgrounds, and set them on a light table. By laying them on top of one another, I was able to see some possibilities. The negative of the stained glass window was especially conducive to multiple printing because that alone was the image. Using it as sort of a “master,” I kept superimposing the window over other negatives until I found one that worked—the tree. The sky behind the tree was overcast, so to remove it I made a copy by sandwiching it with a piece of high contrast Kodalith film and exposing it under glass to keep it flat. From that positive, I made another copy onto Kodalith film, and that resulted in a negative that I could put in the enlarger.
With an ordinary piece of paper in the easel, I drew a rough outline, first of the tree and then the window. Using that to align the easel that would hold the photo paper under two different enlargers, I made several trial exposures, and along the way add the moon from another negative. Metaphorically the composite evokes the tree of life or World Tree with its roots in the divine.
Celestial Roots has been exhibited in a variety of venues, even made into a gold plaque as a prestigous award for a nonprofit organization. I’m especially proud that my daughter and her husband chose it as the visual theme for their wedding.