The Flowering Of Our Humanity

Red Hibiscus

 

Color texture and geometry combine here to elicit an immediate visceral response—a Wow!— whether from a potential pollinator or a human observer. It’s the energy of attraction. But from where does it originate? From the flower itself? From the image of the flower? From the colors and the arrangement of elements? Likely all of these, but my mind wants to dig a little deeper. As I write this sentence, I feel like there is something more going on here, but I don’t know what it might be. What is it exactly, that attracts? Exploring, unfolding the implicate order of possibilities, is one of the joys of contemplation, each a spontaneous experience. So I proceed.

First things first: Flowers, more specifically “blossoms,” evolved their appearances and fragrances as a way to reproduce. For human beings the combination of color, form and odor exerts a pull. We want to come closer. Attraction to flowers is basic and obvious.

Then there’s the image of the flower—which is not the flower—yet it too, perhaps even more so for some, exerts a pull. In this instance, a two-dimensional substrate such as paper or a computer screen represents the subject, not as it is but as someone chooses to see it according to and enhancing the qualities that appeal to that person’s aesthetic sensibilities.

The quality of image reproduction is so good these days, the mind tends to believe that the image of an object is an accurate, one-to-one representation of it. It’s not. Never is. For instance, the above image does not very well represent the hibiscus blossom that I saw when I photographed it. According to my preferences, I manipulated the image by intensifying the color saturation and sharpness, darkening the outer petals and cropping it overall so the pistil would occupy the center of the frame. The photographer’s consciousness has entered in, manipulating the subject in order to increase the appeal. I used to tell my television production students, “No matter the format, everything you see on the screen is a reflection of the consciousness of those who produced it.”

In thinking about the influence of color, form and geometry I’m reminded that when we look at a flower, it’s the complex of wavelengths, lines, edges, contrasts, textures and other parameters that stimulate the retinas, which in turn generate electrical impulses that travel to the brain. There, they are combined and compared to past experiences of objects with similar qualities, and the result is the experience of a blossom. It’s the brain that sees, not the eyes. And there is no image inside the brain.

This is too simplistic, of course, but the general outline suggests that the aesthetic dimensions of wavelength, line, texture and so on trigger something more than the word or experience of a blossom. They combine to elicit the subjective experience of such things as radiant being, beauty, peace and vitality—qualities that touch and feed the soul. We can and do make more of what is actually there in front of us.

What then are the qualities of a person, their being and expression, that elicit these kinds of qualities—beyond window dressing and personality? What are the authentic and subjective qualities that have long-term survival value for human beings? Might they include radiant being, beauty, peace and tranquility? Of course, responses to these questions will be different for everyone.

I look at the images of flowers in my collection and observe that they are the result of billions of years of evolution, and that flowers provide both a model and a direction for our own evolution—personally, socially and globally. Radiance. Beauty. Peace. Vitality. Just a few of the qualities that contribute to health and have long-term survival value.

One way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that.

Joseph Campbell

About This Image

Red Hibiscus

Theme: The Flowering Of Our Humanity

File: DC 6413

 

I’ve been photographing in greenhouses since the mid-70’, when Linda became interested in gardening. Once I secure permission from the manager, I go in with a digital camera, a macro lens and a tripod with a head that allows smooth and accurate movement of the camera.

One of the wonderful things about greenhouses is the quality of light. On a sunny day, the white-washed glass serves as diffusion, providing soft and bright, well textured highlights. On overcast days, not so much.

One of the advantages of shooting on a tripod is the ability to stop the aperture (f-stop) down in order to maximize depth of field—so the elements beyond and in front of the point of critical focus are tack sharp. Also, it allows the use a little remote control device to activate the shutter, thereby avoiding camera movement that can happen when the button on the camera is pressed.

Deciding which of the elements in a closeup should be the point of critical focus is a key decision. As noted, increased sharpness is gained by stopping down. But the closer the lens gets to the subject, the greater the chance of missing the sweet spot. So a conscious decision about critical focus is important. And I only use two fingers to turn the focus ring. When I think the focus perfect, I let the camera settle and sneak up on the viewfinder, checking it again without touching the camera. Only then, do I take the shot.

Consistently, one of the things I have to adjust in editing extreme closeups is the composition. On location I may think the framing works, but the image on the monitor tells the truth—according to my aesthetic preferences. More often than not, I make a different decision. That’s why, when shooting, I tend to back the camera up from the subject a bit more than what initially looks good. It never ceases to amaze me how severely a digital image can be cropped and still retain sharpness without producing unwanted “noise.” Closeup photography can take a lot of time, but the result is almost always worth it.

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