Feather In Rock



What do we leave behind? Does it matter? These are questions that comes to mind as I contemplate this image. Without any pretense or intention, a bird left behind not only a feather, but also the potential for a human being’s aesthetic enjoyment and growth—and in the context of this blog, contemplation. My being in this place with a camera and finding the feather attractive actualized that potential and as a consequence extended the bird’s “contribution” to the world by many years. It’s a kind of redemption. Posting the image here as an electronic image extends it even longer in time and much further in geography. So time and distance are part of the bird’s legacy, its contribution.

Another factor relates to the material left behind and how, over time, it transforms. For instance, this feather could have been picked up, added to a collection, used on clothing or for decoration, or made into a writing instrument. Physicality is the initial condition of material, be it natural or man-made. When that material disintegrates, if a human being remembers or finds beauty in it, the locus of contribution becomes mental. Aspects of the initial condition then reside in consciousness. Relative to this image then, the question becomes, What does the image of this feather contribute to consciousness?

Certainly, for me there’s an aesthetic contribution. The feather is beautiful in form, gradation, contrast and texture, particularly as it lies enshrined within the hard and jagged rock. Another contribution for me is the evocation or consideration of source. I imagine the bird that this feather belonged to, consider its lifespan and environment, the species and rekindle an appreciation of the evolution of birds in the period of  the dinosaurs.

Applying this to human beings, physically speaking, we leave behind our stuff, our belongings, the objects we made and acquired. What to do with it when we’re gone is a serious issue for collectors and producers. In my case, it’s photographs. So I asked myself—since everything under the sun, including the sun, has been photographed, even considering my unique motivations and point of view, does the world really need another photograph of a mountain range, flower, street scene, or cocktail glass? Short term—perhaps. Long term—no. Everything, even images and words projected as electrons on screens, has a limited lifetime. Eventually, all matter succumbs to the law of entropy.

Years ago as I considered the issue of legacy I played a mind game, imagining a very long chart where, along the x-axis there were increments of one hundred years stretching from 40,000 years ago when Homo Sapiens first appeared in Europe, to 40,000 years into the future. Then, I put one thing at a time on that chart, assigning it a line that extended from first appearance to last, marking along that line in red the duration of its maximum vitality—it’s period of contribution to the world. I began by looking at the lifespans of some of the acknowledged grand contributors—philosophers, mystics, prophets, artists, scientists, engineers, warriors and inventors. Their physical lives were short, but their contributions and names still enjoy some vitality—largely through modern education. When I assigned lines to ancient civilizations, I observed that their beginnings were gradual and their endings relatively abrupt. Established religions and nations were too recent to imagine much more than their beginnings, although some primitive religions and early nations have died and their vitalities have waned. Were these lines to be animated, each would fade in and fade out. With the x-axis representing time and the y-axis representing contribution to consciousness, it was easy to pinpoint spikes, for instance with the appearance of Confucius, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Pythagoras, Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi and so on.

Then, I imagined myself and my collection of archival photographs on that scale. I will be gone in less than the space of one increment. And stored under ideal conditions, my photographs will have disintegrated within one or two more increments at best. It was a sobering thought. And it generated some really good questions about how best to invest my time and energy. What matters? What is worth doing? Should I stop photographing and conserve the materials? Should I destroy my collection of prints rather than burden those who come after me with it? Does it even matter that I leave something behind? If so, what would it be?

I pondered these questions for quite some time. Then I had a realization. Indeed, the world does not need and can well do without another photograph by me. So with respecst to my being here, what does the world need? What of a person survives in the world? What moves the species forward and upward? My answer is the quality of thought and the integrity to live responsibly as individuals with unique potential. What the world does need are human beings who are growing and contributing to the quality and expansion of their own and the collective consciousness. Both. Specifically, human evolution is advanced as individuals progress along the lines of their higher potentials—the consciousness of love, compassion, wisdom, ethics, tolerance, cooperation, altruism, empathy and the like, living these qualities into the world. This, because human evolution is less about physical change, and more about the refinement and development of consciousness as we become planetary citizens, ideally stewards of the Earth. Any activity that contributes in this way matters greatly relative to the development and long-term success of the species.

Typically, insight generates more questions. What is the substance of what we contribute? Is it positive? And what are we contributing to? Am I just making someone else wealthy? Am I serving an agenda or values I do not respect? Is the workplace contributing to well-being of the planet as well as my growth? Is it helping to expand my consciousness and deepen my appreciation of others and the world? What we do to earn a living is an enormous and significant part of our contribution. So also are the contributions of time and energy devoted to helping others. But consciousness alone is the contribution that both matters and endures. Even more significant than work and enrichment in this regard are personal relationships. They may be the most challenging at times, but they can also be the most productive in terms of raising the consciousness of self and others.

Referencing the evolutionary timeline again, I do not wish to minimize the contributions of those who amass the most “toys,” money, achievements, fame, knowledge or friends. Rather, I just observe that such contributions have a relatively short lifespan on the x-axis and tend to actually diminish or distract from progress on the  y-axis. Why? Because of a simple axiom: As we think so we act. As we act so we become. As we become so we model. And as we model so we contribute to consciousness—personal, social and universal.

If Carl Jung is right about the “collective unconscious.” If Teilhard de Chardin is right about the “noosphere,” the thinking envelop that surrounds the Earth like an atmosphere. If Irvin Laszlo and the Theosophists are right about the “akashic field,” where every thought is recorded and can be accessed, then every thought, word and deed is a contribution that endures. Nothing is ever lost. So rather than being saddened by the reality of physical impermanence, these observations  encouraged me to engage more in the activities and relationships that optimize my potentials and expand my consciousness. And what does that? Whatever brings joy. Not excitement or happiness. Joy is much bigger. It’s the sense of satisfaction and rightness that comes from being in the moment and in the flow. It’s when the soul is being fed. It’s feedback that tells us we are progressing on the y-axis.

We must become the change we want to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

Every piece of the universe, even the tiniest little snow crystal, matters somehow. I have a place in the pattern, and so do you.

T.A. Barron

About This Image

Title: Feather On Rock

File #: 675-C2

Point Lobos is a little park on the Pacific coast near Carmel, California where photographer Edward Weston spent years creating some exquisite black and white photographs. What makes the place extraordinary are rock formations that abut the ocean with tide pools rich in marine life. Also, because the wind is strong there, the trees have taken on unusual shapes.

I happened on this feather, sitting in the little crevice just as you see it, so there was no manipulation on my part. All I did in Photoshop was to reduce the contrast so the highlights in the rock displayed some texture.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography



When I first printed this image, I thought it was quite a nice expression of childhood exuberance. Now, because I see the figure representing humanity standing in relation to the vastness of earth and cosmos it evokes the spirit of joy in me—and how that is our proper response to life. Given how our bodies evolved from the earth, I like how the figure seems to rise from the ground and reach for the sky. It speaks of our place in the universe, grounded and seeking.

I’m reminded of the Buddhist admonition of  “right perspective,” expressed in the Noble Eightfold Path. Images coming from the Hubble, radio and microwave telescopes are revealing the unfathomable scale, beauty and variety of cosmic manifestations—and that can be humbling. The human body is smaller than an atom in relation to the universal body, yet there is an immensity within, hinted at by Ralph Waldo Emerson when he wrote “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” More specifically, in our inner circle and outer observations, if we look for them, we can find demonstrations of the immensity within—our capacities for love, compassion, altruism, courage, humility, creativity, empathy, sharing, helping, growth and exploration to name a few. The evolution of matter has led to and resulted in, even accelerated, the evolution of reflexive consciousness. We know that we know. And as we catch glimpses of the universe story, we’re struggling to understand our place and the purpose of our power; to create, integrate and coordinate on the way toward a definition of humanity that is as much “we” as “I.”

Shakespeare’s despondent Prince Hamlet, contemplating suicide, wonders whether it is nobler “To be or not to be.” A variety of life experiences can raise this question in us, sometimes in circumstances where the joy has gone out, where we’ve lost the perspective of who we truly are, why we are here and what each of us has to contribute. Right perspective is knowing that, although minuscule and vulnerable in form compared to the immensity of the universe, we are each a vital and functioning part of the Source. To be is to enjoy membership in it, to be one with it, an expression of it. And there is no greater privilege. The operative word here is “enjoy,” to be in the state of joy as a result of this perspective.

Philosophers from Socrates on, regarding happiness as the ultimate good, debated its nature and how to achieve it. Today, formulas abound in books, on television and on speaking platforms to help us find or choose happiness. But joy is not the same as happiness. While joy can deliver happiness, in essence, it is a felt quality of alignment with purpose and connection to the greater life. For me, it comes in moments of gratitude, appreciation, increased awareness or insight. It’s a feeling of deep satisfaction that comes from focus and immersion, being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing. When we’re aligned and in the flow, time stands still.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a leader in the field of positive psychology, defines “flow” as “a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work.” In his talks he says flow is the secret to happiness. Indeed, but in my worldview, happiness stands on the shoulders of joy. As I see it, happiness is a positive emotion that ripples like waves on the surface of the ocean. Joy is more fundamental, a emanation of soul from the depth of the cosmic ocean, a subtle confirmation or message that says our current thinking or activity is both aligned with purpose and in harmony with the advance of life.

To clarify with an example, it can be said of Adolf Hitler that he was in the flow, a visionary and a man of “integrity.” He was focused to the point of obsession. And he acted with integrity to his vision. But what we deplore is both the vision and his means of achieving it. We can imagine that he experienced feelings of happiness when things were going his way. But did it give him joy? We cannot know, but his boisterous, strident and dictatorial manner and speech—as revealed in film footage—are characteristics that dampen rather than attune to the subtle qualities that affirm life and the expression of the higher capacities cited above. Soul emanations are subtle. They thrive in calm and tend to rise to the surface when the emotions are still.

I like to think the soul uses joy to keep us on the path to fulfillment. An airplane pilot approaching a landing strip flying blind in a snowstorm pays close attention to the instruments that tell her when she is on or veering off course. When she’s on course, the trajectory lights are green and her confidence is maintained. If she can hold to it and correct for when the lights turn red, she will arrive safely at her destination. Likewise, subtle jolts of joy are an indication that I’m aligned with my purpose and connected to the larger system that affirms life and keeps me on course. Essentially, joy is positive feedback. May you have lots of it, and may it bring happiness along with it!

With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.

William Wordsworth

About This Image

Title: Child Of Light

File #: 554-A3

I was visiting a local park with my family. I wanted to photograph the clouds over the hill but it needed a subject, so I asked Jennifer, who was about ten years-old at the time, to go up the hill. I had no preconceived notion of what I wanted her to do, so I just asked her to stand in a certain place and then raise her arms. The exuberance with which she did it was perfect, so I took the shot. It’s a simple images but it speaks.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography




On another day this image could evoke a contemplation on birth, fertility or gestation. Today, because I’m seeing this chicken egg as the potential for an individual, it draws me into considerations of identity. It prompts me to ask, “Who am I?”

I once heard a story about a prince who was asked this question by his sage tutor. The prince gave his name and the sage shook his head. “That is what they call you. I want to know who are.” The prince answers again with his title. “Are you not more than your title?” asks the wise man. “Who are you?” “I am the son of a king,” the youth says. Again, his teacher shook his head. “Who are you?” This went on and on until the prince could answer no more. “If I am not what I am called, if I am not where I come from or the family or kingdom I was born to, if I am neither my body nor what I say or do or think—because thoughts are fleeting—who am I?” The sage looked the prince in the eyes and said, “To know who you are, remove everything about you that can be named. What is left is who you are.” The prince frowned. “But that would be the same for everyone.” The sage patted his pupil on the hand. “Now, do you see? We are one in being, many in becoming.”

The story suggests that identity is a verb, not a noun. We are entities in process, lives under construction within the context of “interdependent co-arising,” a Buddhist phrase signifying that everything is contingent upon everything else, and that everything in the universe is emerging as a unified whole at every moment. But there’s more to it. Being precedes becoming. I have to be, in order to become. So our deeper identity is even more fundamental. And that takes me to another story. This one is true. Ishi was a Native American who survived the genocide of the Yahi Indians of California by living in a cave for many years. Anthropologists Alfred Kroeber and T.T. Waterman were excited to find someone who spoke the nearly extinct language. Fortunately, they found a speaker of Yana, a related language, and this man understood a little of what Ishi was saying. With the tape recorder turned on, the first question they asked was “Who are you?” Ishi responded by telling a story that lasted two and a quarter hours. And he refused to stop until the story was fully told. Eventually the linguists discovered that he’d told part of a creation story called “How Wood Duck Wooed His Bride.” To explain who he was, Ishi told about the archetypal characters from whose wise and foolish acts he learned his strategies for living. He saw himself as one who enacts, re-creates or brings into the world through his living, the wisdom and behaviors of the creators. Such enactments of creation are at the heart of indigenous ritual around the world.

In both these stories, individual identity equates with the whole, however that is perceived. Our labels, skin color, cultural affiliations, family and other relationships, status, occupations, resumes, beliefs, values and other attributes do not define us. All of these distinctions can be shared by others. It’s just that the more distinctions there are, the easier it is for an outsider to separate one individual from another. So this is what we do. And it’s what those in the identity business attempt to do by associating us with ID numbers, passwords, fingerprints, iris scans and pin numbers. By increasing the number of distinctions, incidental identity can be narrowed to a single individual.

What about DNA? That’s unique to each individual. Am I my DNA? Not even physically. A DNA sequence is just the blueprint for a particular body. It doesn’t define us as a person. Being self-aware, I know that I am more than my body. Am I then the amalgam of a uniquely integrated body, mind and spirit system? That doesn’t work either. Heraclitus famously noted that we can’t step into the same river twice. Just so, this body, mind and spirit—person—is not who I was yesterday.

A mind game provides some insight. Imagine that you are the only person on the planet. You know this to be a fact. Everything is intact, as it is today, except you have complete access to all the riches and resources of the world. No locked doors, everything is open and available. On the one hand you have the world all to yourself—unlimited and healthy food, the grandest living quarters, access to the great libraries, museums, technologies, access to great art and recorded music, including the Internet. On the other hand, it’s lonely. You can’t ride a roller coaster because there’s no one to stop and start it. Studies have shown that isolated human beings don’t survive for very long.

Now, add another person of the same sex. When you were alone there was no distinction. Now there is. His skin is white and yours is black. He is short; you are tall. You like art and music; he prefers fast cars and hunting. Add another person of the same sex and there are more distinctions. This third individual asks, “Who are you?” And you say “I’m the tall black guy who likes art and plays a guitar. This is not who I am, but the descriptors distinguish me from the other two individuals. As people are added, distinctions become more and diverse. And as the numbers increase, each person becomes more unique and his or her bundle of differences can be used to identify him or her—incidentally. Again, substantially, the differences do not define them. In the previous stories, the perception was that I am who I am as a consequence of the whole. Said another way, my being is grounded in the beingness that we share. The more of us there are and the more diverse we are, the more unique each individual becomes. Dr. Beatrice Bruteau expressed this succinctly when she wrote that “Distinction and union arise together.” Teilhard de Chardin S.J observed that “Union differentiates and personalizes.”

So in this image of an individual egg, I appreciate that its fundamental identity as a potential bird, rests neither in the attributes that will distinguish if from other chickens, nor in its function as a producer of more eggs and chickens, but in the fullness of its “chickenness.” So one chicken asks another, “Who are you?” The philosopher chicken answers, “I am the substance of chicken.” Extrapolating, when asked about our own identity, an answer that is more accurate—but far too cumbersome and pretentious to articulate—is that we are the substance of humanity seeking to understand what that means in the context of an interdependent and emerging universe.

Among the definitions of the Indian greeting, “Namastè,” there’s one that comes fairly close to acknowledging this. “Namastè: I honor that place in you where, when you are in that place and I am in that place, we are one.”

Birth is bringing what is inside out. Ecstasy is bringing what is inside out. The whole natural order, the cosmogenesis, is a cosmogestation. It is growing as an embryo grows, organizing itself, and progressing from stage to stage, ‘fulfilling itself,’ so to speak, becoming what it is.

Beatrice Bruteau

About This Image

Title: Egg

File #: S382

I wanted to capture the texture of an egg in a high key context, so I set up a 4×5 camera and extended the bellows so the egg, sitting on a curved piece of plexiglass, would fill the frame. Not wanting much depth of field, I kept the lens fairly wide open, perhaps at an aperture of f4 or f5.6. So as not to create a dark shadow, I bounced the light off a white sheet of foam-core placed overhead and adjusted it so the shadow would grade in the middle of the egg. That helped to accentuate the texture as well. White egg, white background, one light, shot on color negative film. In Photoshop I gave it a slight tint. Otherwise, it would have appeared to be black and white.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography




The image of this railroad worker reminds me to appreciate being able to choose work that’s in alignment with what gives me joy and a sense of fulfillment. My parents didn’t have that luxury. Many people love manual labor and don’t want to be sitting at a desk or computer. They deserve our respect and appreciation. I think of the difficulties people had in finding any kind of work during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl era, including the immigrants who came to this country without two nickels to rub together. And I think of the billions of souls worldwide who, under the thumb of kings and dictators had no choice but to spend their days toiling in the fields and fighting on battlefields. Subsistence and staying alive throughout most of human history was “job one.” If the ability to choose work that’s growthful and enjoyable isn’t one of the attributes of civilization, it ought to be. It’s a major privilege.

Every year, when I asked my students what was more important to them in considering a career, money or the opportunity to be creative, the vast majority chose the latter. That was not surprising because they were majoring in a creative field—filmmaking, visual communication and television production. Had I put that question to accounting or business majors, the answer would likely have been different. One of the benefits of education beyond high school is that students have both the freedom and opportunity to choose a field of interest that can lead to either work or a job. For me, a “job” is a contract involving the exchange of time and energy for money. The reward is solely extrinsic. That’s not to demean it, not at all. I’m reminded of the many people holding jobs as a stepping-stone toward reaching a goal, and those who love their jobs and, as a consequence, perform them well. “Work” on the other hand involves an occupation that provides intrinsic rewards as well as financial compensation. Such benefits can include personal growth, adventure, education, the joy of meeting a challenge, service to others, the healing and helping professions, advancing science or research, opportunities to be creative, teach or contribute in other ways.

I further distinguish between work and “vocation,” the motivation of which has less to do with personal reward and more to do with dedication to a calling, the need to serve others.  It’s the kind of work one is compelled to do, regardless of compensation. It’s in this vein that Kahlil Gibran wrote that “Work is love made manifest.” I put great artists in this category. And then there’s the notion of work on behalf of the human project. Thomas Berry wrote that “The great work before us is reverence and restoration”—reverence for all living things and restoration of the planet, the work of responsible stewardship. In this regard, Matthew Fox asks, “Are we making products that are useful and necessary or are we exploiting the earth and degrading our planet for future generations? How does our work relieve the suffering of other beings on the planet?”

This image, combined with these perspectives prompt several considerations for further contemplation. Why am I doing what I do? What are the intrinsic rewards? Is my work commensurate with my purpose? How is my work a contribution—to what or to whom? Is it contributing to my field or the human project in some way?

Once we recognize that we are interdependent, it only makes sense to work together. It does not make sense to try to beat out the other guy, because there is no such thing, in the ultimate calculus, as “I win, you lose.” I can only win when we all win.

Willis Harman

About This Image

Title: Railroad Worker

File #: 058-A3

With written permission and an ID to photograph in the railroad yard in the Union Terminal in Cincinnati, I spent the day shooting everything that attracted my attention. When this man saw me with a camera he shut off the welding equipment and raised his goggles to ask what I was doing. I showed him my ID and asked if I could take his picture. He consented and went back to work.

I had to get some distance from the welding sparks, so the original negative includes a lot of distracting sky above and on the left side of the boxcar. To eliminate it and to strengthen the vector between the man’s goggles and the hot spot, I cropped rather severely. The camera was hand-held, so the shutter speed had to be fast enough to maintain sharpness yet slow enough to blur the sparks.

You are invited to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography

Light And Shadow

There’s an intrinsic satisfaction, an aesthetic pleasure, that comes from the experience of light when it plays a prominent, sometimes dominant, role in a photograph or painting. The works of masters such as Vermeer, Rembrandt, Turner, and Hooper are largely characterized and revered for the qualities of light they emanate. Light and shadow are so pervasive in everyday living, we tend not to regard them, but they can be key to an appreciation of the day in addition to artistic contexts.

I have sort of a meditative hypothesis about those moments when we become aware of light and shadow when we allow ourselves to enjoy and appreciate the forms, contrasts, and gradations they delineate in objects like this cocktail glass. Just as sports provides an abundance of metaphors for life and living, I think images, where light is prominent do this as well, particularly still images where there’s time to explore the elements and relationships within the frame.

In life, we experience “bright” ideas, “illumination” and “flares of insight.” There’s “light” at the end of the tunnel, the “light” and “dark” or “shadow” side of ourselves. We have “contrasts” in personality, lifestyle preferences and beliefs. We speak of “color” and “values,” which are properties of light. “Transitions” are equivalent to gradation. “Tone” relates to music and variations in emotional intensity. And “patterns,” both in life and imagery, display the qualities of order and repetition. Of course, we don’t consciously make these associations when we speak of these qualities, not even when we look at a photograph or painting. But I think the subconscious makes these kinds of associations as part of our quest for meaning and significance. Conversely, the role of the conscious mind when confronted with an image is to seek recognition on the way toward analysis and assessment. What is this? Do I like/not like it? Does it move me? Is it curious or provocative? Evocative? Repulsive? Or am I indifferent to it? The objective mind wants to know if something has value or meaning that is positive or negative. And the subjective mind wants to know how it feels.

Lighting for motion pictures requires the Director of Photography (DP) to begin a lighting design by identifying the scene’s real or studio-replicated environment, including the source of both primary and secondary light sources. Having practiced and taught this procedure, images where light plays an important role call me to “consider the source” of light, what and where it would naturally be.  It’s a phrase my students used when analyzing and designing images, both still and moving because it results in more potent and true representations. For instance, From what direction is the “key” (predominant) light coming from? The answer is found by looking at or imagining the shadows. From their placement, one should be able to point to the light source—or where it should be given the situation. What kind of light was used? Shadows with sharp edges are produced by specular, point-sources like the sun on a clear day or bare bulbs. Images with no shadows or soft edges indicate a source that was diffused in some way. Paying attention to these and other qualities of light in an image is more than a technical exercise. It’s an attunement that heightens perception, deepens appreciation for the great mystery of light, and teaches us how to manage it more effectively at home and in the workplace. Whether we’re aware of it or not, every image is about what the light is doing.

Regarding the mystery of light, physicist Arthur M. Young wrote in The Reflexive Universe: Evolution Of Consciousness, “Light, itself without mass, can create protons and electrons which have mass. Light has no charge, yet the particles it creates do. Since light is without mass, it is nonphysical, of a different nature than physical particles. In fact, for the photon, a pulse of light, time does not exist: clocks stop at the speed of light. Thus mass and hence energy, as well as time, are born from the photon, from light, which is, therefore, the first kingdom, the first stage of the process that engenders the universe.”

What’s more, increased awareness of the source, qualities, and functions of light—in our lived spaces as well as in photographic or painted images—deepens our appreciation for the capacity of sight. Had evolution not provided the combination of eyes to collect lightwaves and brains to interpret them, we would only be feeling the radiation coming from the sun—and every other source.

Light created the eye as an organ with which to appreciate itself.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Light is energy and it’s also information, content, form, and structure. It’s the potential of everything.

David Bohm

About This Image

Title: Cocktail Glass

File #: DC1898

I made this image at a time when I was trying to create gradations using only one light. Linda knew this and she purchased this glass as a surprise. The background was a piece of white plexiglass, chosen for its lack of texture. Under it was a piece of white paper. To make the shadows sharp and the highlights specular the source was a bare 500-watt quartz bulb.

With the glass laying on its side, I moved the bulb around to maximize the shadow and flare patterns. Exposures using different aperture settings resulted in a series of images where every element was tack sharp, but the one I preferred—as you see—located critical focus along the line of gradation in the glass’s stem. Glass is one of my favorite objects to photograph in the studio because it affords the opportunity to feature light over subject matter. This glass was particularly wonderful to play with because it had everything going for it—specular highlights, gradations, color, striations, and form without any signs of manufacture.

You’re invited to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography



Urinal Handle


If this object happened to be found by future archaeologists, isolated and with nothing to compare it to, it would signify the existence of a complex and highly advanced civilization—even if its function was not known. The evidence: chromed metal, parts that function together as a whole, intricate design, meticulous manufacturing, a “system” to convey the flow of water complete with fittings, seals and regulators to control that flow—all without leaking. Although such an item could well be exhibited as an object of ancient art, the clear indication is that it was functional and mass produced.

Civilization. It’s what can happen when people, oriented toward a common goal, come together to collaborate, not to serve or support a powerful individual or committee, but to build a social structure that works for everyone. Bottom to top. For me, at this stage of human evolution, one of the indicators of an advanced society is the extent to which people work together to create and maintain an infrastructure, particularly, but not solely, systems that satisfy basic human needs including abundant and healthy food, clean water, sanitary and safe living conditions, efficient and effective means for managing waste, safe and efficient transportation modalities and widely distributed electric power.

Social collaboration is difficult and slow to evolve, in part because of the prerequisites. People have to have a common objective, come together, and agree. They have to be willing and able to pay taxes. There has to be a trustworthy management team that has both know-how and access to resources. And all of this needs to be coordinated within a structure where, again, the intention is to build a workable and sustainable society—for everyone.

What prompted my selection of this image for contemplation is that it stands as a symbol of collaboration, in contrast to symbols of dysfunction, such as war, poverty, and crime. Other signs include the felt need to own guns and other weapons for protection, buildings that lack plumbing, contaminated water, open sewer trenches, shanties and so on. Without becoming maudlin or political, I observe that in many places age-old rivalries, greed, and power-grabs are preventing the possibility of collaboration, thereby sustaining conflict and violence in a vicious cycle of pain and retribution. I don’t have a solution. But I do have faith. In the final analysis, human beings want to have the freedom to be more, do more, have more, know more, contribute and experience life more fully. Those who interfere with that, cannot long endure.

It’s going to take collaboration of the whole planet to save the planet.

Joseph Firmage

 About This Image

Title: Water Control Valve

File #: DF 1094

Something wonderful happens when you take up a camera and start looking for subject matter. You find it! Just as a hunter becomes more sensitive to movement in the forest and a cook discovers the nuances of flavors, the search for images sharpens the eye, enhances perception and activates the aesthetic “muscle.” This is why some people carry a camera with them wherever they go, a circumstance made easy by smartphones. But just having a camera available is not the same as looking for images that communicate or express.

I went to our local conservatory with the intention of photographing flowers on a day when the temperature was in the single digits. The men’s room is located between the entrance, which is glass and cold, and the interior of this tropical greenhouse, which is warm, so there was a great deal of condensation on this valve. What you see is how I found it. I took the shot and didn’t think much of it, beyond the curiosity of it being attached to a urinal. Until now.

It’s not a great photograph by any stretch of the imagination, but when I gave it more than a cursory glance, it struck me as a symbol of infrastructure, and that led to a contemplation of both appreciation for what we have and insight into its significance considering what had to happen for it to exist and function. Vision, collective will, and collaboration.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography


Bearers Of Light


Late evening. Men hauling pipe on a busy New York street. I see shadows, light, pedestrians and aging cement. More deeply, I see manual workers playing their part to deliver materials to others who will use them to fix a problem, maintain a system or realize a dream. Although I can’t tell much about these individuals beyond their forms and a hint of clothing, they speak to me of the masses of people who provide the goods and services that keep the society running—the everyday people whose hauling, building, cleaning, repairing, collecting, moving and monitoring activities are essential yet not glamorous.

I’m reminded of a luncheon I attended at the headquarters of a multinational corporation. Waiting in the lobby for my host, I read their impressive statement of mission and values. I was introduced to the CEO and other officers. Professional dress at every level. Personable and professional interactions. Luxurious facilities. The details of the meeting are lost to me now—except for one that I will never forget.

After lunch, my host, a relatively new department manager, led me to a place where we dropped off our food trays. Behind the open window, an older woman wearing a hairnet and apron busily took the trays as we slid them to her so she could move them onto a conveyor belt headed for people who separated the items on their way to the dishwasher. My host and I were talking but she stopped. “Excuse me, David,” she said. She turned and set her tray down, but held onto it so the woman couldn’t take it. “Hello!” she said, looking her in the eye. “I just want you to know how much I appreciate what you do here.” She said something else, but I didn’t hear it. A line was forming behind me. Moving on, I asked my host if she knew this woman. She didn’t. “I think it’s really important to acknowledge people for what they do,” she said. I asked if everyone there did that and she answered, “Probably not. But I have to.”

Indeed. Acknowledgement. She probably made that woman’s day. Certainly, she made my day. And the best part, it left such an impression that I have ever since wanted to emulate her simple words of kindness. And so this image calls me to acknowledge and appreciate the hard working and largely unnoticed individuals—particularly those I encounter—who keep everything running. They constitute the foundation of the social pyramid. And without them, it could not stand.

We’re a country that acknowledges only those who stand on the victory podium, but some of my heros come in last.

Bud Greenspan

About This Image

Title: Bearers Of Light

File #: 600-A4

Walking down the street with a friend, we came upon these men rolling a cart of metal pipes. The highlights caught my eye, so I excused myself and walked behind the cart, stopping the lens down to allow for the bright highlights—and thereby increasing the depth of field. I critically focused on the pipe in the foreground and kept pace with the cart to maintain the proper distance, all the while angling the camera so the highlights would fall in the middle of the cart.

The negative has much more detail in the shadows, but I chose to render them dark so the image is less about identifying faces and more of a universal statement celebrating all who attend to and bear the non-glamorous burdens of society.


I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography


Lincoln Memorial


This image brings to mind history, not as a subject to be studied but as a lived experience. The posture of the woman seems to say she is exhilarated, feeling the power of the place in that moment. As well, her juxtaposition with the columns and the sculpture provides a symbol of humanity standing on the threshold, looking to the future from a background of struggle and achievement—triumph over adversity and a shift in social consciousness.

The way I was taught, history amounted to a series of wars and power struggles, accounts of people who led notorious lives in the context of making or engaging in tragedies and atrocities, always from the perspective of Western civilization. Nothing before it. And barely acknowledging that cultures in Africa, Polynesia, Australia and New Zealand, Central and South America, China and the rest of Asia even existed. Japan was an exception because of World War II.

Much later, graduate courses in anthropology introduced me to Native American Studies, Primitive Religion, ethnology and the tools of archaeology, paleontology and art history. Wars and conflicts were part of it, but there was so much more! Exposure to the values, customs and belief systems of a much expanded list of cultures opened my eyes to the validity of and underlying reasons for differences in perceived realities and how people responded to them. I discovered that, irrespective of time, place, religious beliefs or social conditions, even genetics, we human beings have more in common than we do in difference. And that we have been motivated by the same quests since the discovery of fire—survival, health and happiness, comfort, affection and affiliation, creative expression and the making of meaning to name some of the more obvious.

From this broader perspective, history is less about “Who did what to whom, when, why and how,” and much more about identity and perception. Who were these people? What was their primary motivation? What did they aspire to? How did they use their capabilities and technologies, to what end, and what was the outcome? In our time, the mass media provides ample demonstrations of humanity struggling to coordinate, to resolve and integrate differences in perception. How do we view God, the cosmos, the world and our place in it? And what is our proper relation to those who do not share our perception? In answering these questions through action rather than words, a culture constructs their identity. While our souls may be perfect in being, we are as yet imperfect in becoming. So how do we, given what we say of ourselves and how we see the world, manage our individual and collective responses to change? I like to think it’s by attending to our own “house” rather than tearing down anyone else’s.

The image above leads me to consider the office of President of the United States, which, in large part is about defining who we are as a people—what we believe, value, and our view of the world—in order to play our role on the world stage and respond to change appropriately, that is, to secure the health and well-being of the nation and world, including the Earth. The primary guideline, of course, is the United States Constitution and its amendments in support of “We the people.” Beyond but including Abraham Lincoln’s many accomplishments, his vision and integrity, I appreciate with gratitude the shift that he affected in the way we perceived ourselves—a nation united, a people undivided, “With liberty and justice for all.” From the perspective of human evolution, it was a contribution of the highest order, an increase in consciousness as the world became more complex.

For me, the Lincoln Memorial is not just a reminder of the man and his legacy. It’s one among many monuments around the world that celebrate the struggle and quest to discover what it means to be more fully human. On the surface it may appear that History is about struggle and power. It’s actually about human identity and perception, their triumphs and failures as the species evolves.

In our time, what is at issue is the very nature of humankind, the image we have of our limits and possibilities. History is not yet done with its exploration… of what it means to be human. 

C.Wright Mills

About This Image

Title: Lincoln Memorial

File #: 057-C3

After a long day of deliberation, a group of friends and I were high with excitement about a project we were working on. Someone suggested we visit “Mr. Lincoln.” So around midnight, we climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I’m tempted to say that someone inside was “playing” his flute, but that’s not accurate. He was sounding it, sending pulses of tone like puffs of smoke into the chamber, letting them diminish into silence before making another sound. Note after note, and an occasional flourish or trill, filled the chamber with reverberating sound. It sent chills up my spine like never before. The prickling  became so intense I clasped my hands over the top of my head to contain it. Besides the flute-layer and a guard, we were the only ones there. Six of us stood in silence for about a half hour, just listening, wandering and watching—like the woman in this photograph. At times, the sounds were so exhilarating they seemed to lift me off the floor.

We spoke with the flutist afterward and I arranged to return the next night with a video camera to interview him and record his magnificent, reverberating sounds. He wasn’t there. Unlike the guard who’d ignored us the previous night, the guard that night said the park service didn’t allow musical instruments inside the chamber. So while I didn’t do any taping, I made photographs with a 35mm camera. Fortunately, I had a telephoto lens with me. I had a heavy tripod for the video camera, but the bolt was too big for the still camera, so I just set the camera on top of the tripod head to steady it. The long exposure made the image a little soft but I was able to sharpen it a bit in Photoshop.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography




In considering this image for contemplation, the theme that first came to mind was “immensity.” However, in keeping with my propensity to trace subject matter back to its origins, I observed that every human being and before that, critters with eyes who ever lived, has seen skies like this. Curious to know when an atmosphere developed on the early Earth, I turned to my science database and found that it occurred about three billion years ago. While there, I came across a statement by cosmologist Brian Swimme that made me decide instead to reflect on the theme of  “emergence.” He wrote—

The universe is not a place, it’s a story or an irreversible sequence of emergent events.

It’s an ongoing creative event.

The universe as a whole, and each being within it, is permeated with the power of emergence. 

                                                                                                                                          Brian Swimme

As a consequence of this perspective, he said the challenge for each of us is to find our personal story within the great “epic of being—the universe story.” This struck a cord because one of the dominant reminders of the past year has been the realization that our personal realities are a construct, that we are the authors of our experience, particularly in how we respond to what’s happening around us, and also in the choices we make in terms of exposure to the realities of others. The first couple of months in the new year are an especially appropriate time to reconstruct and recognize what’s authentic and core to our being, and then to re-write the story that emerges from it.

Within the image of the clouds, on the left-hand side, a tiny jet-trail brings to mind an image of the Earth and its biosphere as an incubator wherein each life that emerges creates and contributes an individual story to the greater stories of community, nation, species, planet, and universe. I highly recommend  The Universe Story, which Brian Swimme coauthored with one of the great ecological minds of our time, Fr. Thomas Berry.

If the individual stories of human beings going back 40,000 years ago were represented by blips of light, and the intensity of each was determined by its contribution to the whole, an animated video of this process would begin with dim flickers in Africa that accelerate, spread, and burst into a globe of bright, pulsating light. From an evolutionary perspective, the individual human lifespan is so short as to appear insignificant. But from a personal perspective it’s quite the opposite. That every individual is unique and precious, urges me to consider the significance of story and storytelling. In truth, we live and breathe in an atmosphere of stories. And each, like the dust and water particles that form clouds, contributes to the quality and movement of that atmosphere. Sometimes it’s calm, other times turbulent. Always, it’s vibrant and alive.

In whole-systems science and positive-change theory, innovators are sometimes referred to as “emergents.” These individuals literally emerge from within the status quo but are not satisfied with it. Having experienced the dysfunction of no longer workable ideas, emergents dream of better ways to live and work. And as soon as possible they adopt them. They write a new story for themselves because they want their presence and actions to matter beyond a paycheck, status, or notoriety. They are their own people, authentic to the core, the modern-day equivalents of the “rugged individuals” who settled the American West. Among them today are innovators, and social engineers—agents of positive change and social development. In business and industry they’re working on alternatives to carbon-based fuels, sustainable ecology, responsible forest management, animal and watershed conservation, health promotion, nutrition, applications of nanotechnology, energy-efficient transportation, and the exploration and commercialization of space. These and others like them are the visionaries, authors, life-coaches, globally-consciousness, motivational speakers, and teachers who champion improvements in every field. They are easy to identify because they live principled lives and walk their talk. Integrity trumps financial gain.

Less dramatic but equally deserving of the label emergent, are family members and neighbors, everyday people who are quietly living moral and ethical lives, people actively looking for ways to work more creatively, smarter, and kinder with consideration for all. They do a good job and take pride in it, no matter how menial the work may seem to others. They have opted out of the popular culture, preferring the more quiet and substantive values of personal enrichment, fulfillment, and service.

Because the contributions of emergents have survival value for the planet and all its inhabitants, I see them as paving the way toward a positive and more sustainable future. For this reason alone, they deserve to be acknowledged, encouraged, and supported—by all of us, including the mass media. Many are subscribers to this blog.

Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.

Jean Houston

About This Image

Title: Cloud Mass

File #: CDC5012

Location: Blunt, South Dakota

I’d been photographing an ocean of corn fields all day. Walking back to the car I looked up and took this shot of the clouds. Only weeks later, when I zoomed in on the image to eliminate some dust spots on the lens, did I notice the little jet trail. This is an instance where the image wasn’t what I would consider a “stand out,” but as I was reviewing my files, looking for something suitable for contemplation, it caught my eye.

It’s becoming clear to me that to be evocative, an image doesn’t always need to be a photographic Wow! What makes it so, has more to do with where the subject and presentation take me when I give it some serious attention.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography


Geese In Flight


As these geese take flight, returning to the places they were born to find food and mates, my thoughts turn to the place we call “home.” For some, it’s where we were born, the house we lived in the longest or where we live now. If “Home is where the heart is,” it could simply consist of thoughts or memories of people living together. What is it that makes a home? Is it the place? The house? The people who live there? All these things? Something else? Something more?

I notice that as our location changes we make new homes. And I wonder about those who have several houses. Are they all considered home? Or is there one place that has priority? And do different members of the family consider the same place home? Sometimes I hear people talk about “Home-home” and “Home away from home.” So what constitutes home? Is it where the heart is? I think for most of us, it’s the household where we felt or now feel most connected and comfortable, the place where we can most be ourselves and live authentically.

The image of these geese, particularly their reflections on the water, causes me to reflect on what it means to “return home.” Many of us go home for the holidays, perhaps to reconnect with our roots, relatives, and friends. Whether or not this involves travel, we return to the places where we found or currently find comfort, hopefully, acceptance and the opportunity to be ourselves with other people.

I also recognize that there’s an inner home, the place where the deepest truth of myself is known. Returning there, reconnecting with my true Self, I am inspired to live as I ought, not just as I want. Yasuhiko Kimura, a mystic and author who integrates spiritual philosophy and science, defines authenticity as “The clarity of being in which there is no self-deceit.” Putting this into practice, living authentically is the expression of thought, word, and deed with integrity to purpose rather than social norms, circumstances, or the expectations of others.

Going home in this sense is reconnecting and recommitting to a life of focused purpose. One of the ways I do this is by getting out and reading through my Meditation Workbook—abinder containing my own and other’s inspirational thoughts, poems, prayers, meditations, contemplations, essays, and information—writings that have been important to me. As with photographs, these items reflect back to me certain qualities of identity and aspiration. By reconnecting with my  “family” of beliefs and values in those pages, I can better act deliberately in ways that reinforce them—always with an open mind and a willingness to modify them as consciousness evolves. As a source of inspiration, these materials always re-energizes me and call me to center.

What a blessing it is to have comfortable and enriching homes, both in the world and in consciousness. The temptation is to think that these are due to circumstances. But just as a house is not automatically a home, both domains require continuous work—physically, mentally, and spiritually. Like migrating geese, to get there we have to go there.

The light that shines farthest shines brightest at home.

Rhoda and Homer Slabaugh (Amish)

About This Image

Title: Geese In Flight

File #: DC360

Location: Logan, OH

I got up around 4:00 a.m. so I leave the motel and could reach Lake Logan by sunrise. This photograph was made around the same time as the masthead for this blog. Walking the shoreline, a flock of geese flew over the water. Quickly, I raised the camera and clicked off about five shots. Because I was using a zoom lens that had been set on “wide-angle,” by the time I zoomed-in and focused, the moment had gone. Previewing the shots showed they were all out of focus and the birds were blurred.

Figuring (hoping) that another flock might come, I zoomed the lens to “telephoto,” set a faster shutter speed, and focused on the water—about where the geese had been. I didn’t have to wait long before another flock of birds came along. As the saying goes, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” And camera.

I invite you to visit my portfolio of images: David L. Smith Photography