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 afterward 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 a while longer, a photograph or painting, the act of focused attention promotes an inner assimilation of the subject matter. Spending time with a beautiful image can have the same, albeit more subtle, effect of recharging our batteries and resetting our priorities, as 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 a deeper reality where all is well. A bit of the life force has been assimilated.
Beyond that, there’s more to be gained by contemplating an image. For instance in the above image the colors are beautiful and they mark a seasonal change. But what else is going on? Are there meanings to be gleaned beyond the surface appearance? For me, one consideration is the nature and source of color itself, how it’s a mental construct based on a complex of solar wavelengths, surface characteristics, sensory inputs and the brain/nervous system. I also thought about the diversity of different species of trees, how their leaves turn different colors at different time and how the trees blend together to create a “symphony” of harmonizing colors, forms and textures. And of course, autumn serves as a metaphor for change, death, transformation and renewal.
Considering the reflection of the forest on the water, an ancient adage by Hermes Trismegistus, author of sacred Greek texts, came to mind. He’s accredited with the notion, “As above, so below,” referencing man as a microcosm that mirrors the macrocosm of pure being. While I favor the idea, especially considering that it was central to the wisdom of indigenous peoples, the reflection on the water doesn’t accurately reflect the details of the forest. Nonetheless, it is complimentary. Cropped, to frame only the water, the image stands on it own as an aesthetic experience, and unlike the actual forest it evokes the sensibility of blending, merging, motion and unity.
Reflecting further, the forest as a whole represents consciousness, and the individual trees thoughts that come and go. In the “above” reality, there’s a sharp and clear distinction between thoughts. In the “below” reality, the reflection, thoughts are blending, shimmering and dissolving into one another. My appreciation here, is how an image can generate meanings beyond its surface identification—when we take the time to look and ponder. Seeing more, we become more.
About The Image
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 a 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 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 and rained all day, every day. About two hours on the last day the clouds slightly and I happened upon this privately-owned pond in Shelby, Michigan.
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 the lack of contrast can easily be compensated for in Lightroom or Photoshop.
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 camera wet, I drove at a crawl and just appreciated what was I was seeing. Sometimes it’s more rewarding to just be rather than do.
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