Contemplation: 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 so we can reflect and appreciate the subject matter—and possibly some significance it might have.

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, the act of focused attention—contemplation—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 we spend 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. Deeper still, it can serve as a metaphor for change, death, transformation and renewal?

Considering the reflection of the forest on the water, an ancient adage came to mind: “As above, so below.” Man the microcosm reflecting the macrocosm of 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. Further, the forest “reality” (consciousness) is constituted of many trees (individual thoughts). And 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, so I packed 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 the reduction of contrast, meaning the highlights don’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 I was seeing.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: