Context And Order



I was thinking about the complexity represented in this image when I noticed that it’s also rich in context, providing both time and space perspectives. The nighttime and elevated point of view displays pattern, while the time-exposure reveals motion. Combined, the image speaks to me of complexity, interaction, order, flow and intersection. My contemplation could have gone in any of these directions—and perhaps will another time—but for now I’m drawn to considerations of context and order.

Information theorists consider “data” to be the objective and meaningless elements presented to mind: the letters that form these words, pixels on a computer screen, notes on a music score, tonalities of light and dark in a photograph. One of my favorite quotes regarding a step up from data comes from visual anthropologist, Gregory Bateson, who observed that “Information is a difference that makes a difference.” Alone, locked between pages or in a file, a gathering of words, pixels, notes or tonalities is meaningless data. But when a mind examines that data and finds that it makes or would make a difference, it becomes “information.”

For example, the above image is loaded with information for me. A traffic engineer would derive more and different information, as would a police officer or legislator. Each would notice things the others don’t see. And that takes us to context, considerations of time, place and perspective including the recording individual’s motivation, purpose and intent. Frames (context) such as location and time enable the formation of personal meaning, which becomes the springboard for judgement and decision making. Frames themselves—all frames—communicate. The one doing the framing or providing context says, “Focus on this, not that. Pay attention to what’s being framed. There’s significance here. You may find it meaningful as well.”

As part of our quest for meaning, we’ll sometimes place our everyday, ordinary perceptions of people, places, experiences and objects in larger frames. Broader contexts enhance meaning by providing more information potential. We’re standing on the curb waiting for the light to change, shifting our gaze from a car to a child and then to an ad on the side of a truck. And suddenly, for no apparent reason, our field of view goes from close-up to wide angle, like our consciousness has changed lenses. Awareness expands. And instead of thinking about the ad or the next appointment, we’re watching the unfolding life of the city, a sense of humanity as a whole rather than a collection of busy individuals. Context, framing does that. It happens with any dramatic shift in perspective. It’s how filmmakers manipulate attention. “Look here! Now there!” Wide to extreme closeup.

For some, the above image might provide insight or trigger a memory of a particular time or place. The photograph documents. It stores data so information can be had and meaning created. For others, it might express the orderly flow of traffic in a busy city. Still others might zoom in to the signs and lines on the sidewalk, the traffic lights, benches, newspaper boxes and streetlights, which could lead to an awareness of city highways, infrastructure and the individuals responsible for them. Point of view (POV) applies to the viewer as well as the photographer, particularly when the intent it to make images that are evocative.

For me, the linearity, coherence and convergence of the lights in this image evokes the flow of unique individuals, each with their unique perceptions, concerns, experiences, ideas, potentials, desires and pursuits—and in the blending lines, their convergence. Within this frame—a hotel window around the corner from Lincoln Center in New York City—I see the myriad of diverse backgrounds and thoughts ordered and blending, a demonstration that beneath the dynamic complexity and chaos of a city, there are organizing principles at work, guiding our actions and the ascent of life. The human project.

At the heart of the most random or chaotic event lies order, pattern, and causality, if only we can learn to see it in large enough context.

                                                                                                       Corinne McLaughlin


About This Image

New York Intersection

Theme: Context & Order

Negative: 585-C4

Lincoln Center, New York, NY

July, 1981

I was in New York City for a conference and by chance my room overlooked the intersection in front of Lincoln Center. I didn’t have a tripod with me, so I soaked a towel with water to make it heavy (and wrung it out so it wouldn’t drip) and used it as a camera support. I opened the window slightly and, with the camera strap around my neck—to prevent it from falling out the window—I pressed the camera into the towel to secure it as if it were a bean-bag.

I stopped the aperture down to around f16 to reduce flare from the brightest lights and I guessed at the duration. It was probably in the area of twenty or thirty seconds, however long it took for the lights to change so the traffic would be moving in all directions.

The next time you’re out with your camera, consider a point of view that’s broader—or closer— than “normal.” Pay attention to the visual elements. Know your objective: Information? Documentation? Evocation? Expression? And then eliminate from the frame anything that doesn’t contribute to it.

Everyday Beauty Shots


In the above title, the word “shots” refers both to photographs and to the little jolts of joy that occur when we experience beauty and respond with an “Oo,” “Ahh,” or “Wow!” This happens frequently for me because Linda, being an avid gardener, often brings flowers into the house. When I see something this beautiful, I have to get my camera out. This arrangement and its placement in the kitchen window with dramatic backlight evoked such a dramatic “Wow!” in me, it stayed with me for several days, prompting me to reflect on it here. I particularly wanted to understand the factors that contributed to my reaction.

First and foremost is the subject matter, the presence of flowers—in the house rather than the garden. I’d seen these flowers growing, but they didn’t prompt me to photograph them. Growing up, we didn’t have flowers in the house. But since Linda started bringing them in—early in our marriage—it has been wonderful to enter a room or turn a corner and get a little shot of their beauty. And it’s amazing to see how the same flower or arrangement will change as the light and blossoms change.

I notice that what is chosen and how it’s displayed contribute greatly to the experience of beauty, particularly when putting together everyday objects. I’m not an interior designer, but I’ve come to understand the features that, when combined, are beautiful. For one, no matter the object, it has to do with being set apart. Special. I’ll pass by and barely notice five forks laying on the counter, but if I see one of those forks placed with the tines down on a white saucer under a living-room lamp, it catches my attention. For me, considering the same subject, if there would be a tiny pink blossom floating on water beneath the fork, it would likely deliver a shot of beauty.

More complex objects, perceived as visual “elements,” can shift the commonplace from low to high gear in terms of beauty simply by arranging them. For instance, if I were to bring home a modest bundle of flowers from the grocery store my tendency would be to put them in a vase and that would be that. Beautiful? Somewhat. Linda, on the other hand, will purchases two or three small bundles so she can combine and arrange the colors and textures, and then assemble them into several vases, thereby magnifying the beauty and spreading it out. Rather than accept the store’s arrangement, which is usually predicated on bundling types of flowers together for easy recognition, she engages her aesthetic preferences and arranges them accordingly. And often, a single flower—again, an individual set apart from the group—will show up on my desk, usually in a vase that matches the color of the blossom. Always, it prompts a “Wow!”

To isolate an object is to set it apart as unique and special. And by arranging several visual elements, be they flowers, pictures or collectibles, a relationship is created and the beauty of the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Bottom line: everyday objects that we select and purposefully place around the home or office can generate sparks of pleasure each time we see them. And these shots of beauty carry us through the day.

A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search for truth and perfection, is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.

Lewis Mumford

No thing is beautiful. But all things await the sensitive and imaginative mind that may be aroused to pleasurable emotion at the sight of them. This is beauty.

Robert Henri (Author, The Art Spirit)


Title: Flowers on the Windowsill 

This is just one of Linda’s many creations.

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

Get Togethers


Memorial Day, a time to appreciate veterans, serves also as a calendar marker that sort of gives us official permission to begin celebrating outdoors with cookouts, backyard barbecues and parties of all sorts, occasions where we sit around tables like the one above, catching up on family and friends. On a recent walk into two national-chain hardware stores, it became obvious to me how serious we are about getting together outdoors by the amount of entryway floorspace given over to a multitude of propane grills and smokers, patio furniture, pergola canopies, fireplaces, lawn mowers, beverage carts and bars including accessories for all of the above.

It’s my preference to celebrate my birthday each year with a family cookout at my daughter’s house. I appreciate that we Americans have the luxury, not only of the food and equipment, but also the freedom to come together in such a casual manner. For a variety of reasons, it doesn’t happen in many parts of the world.

At a recent family gathering someone asked how my parents met. I didn’t know. They’d talked about it, but I couldn’t remember the situation or the location. And there was no one left whom I could ask. It got me thinking about memory and the structure of our social gatherings. For one thing, I don’t think I ever met anyone who said “I love cocktail parties.” The structure itself is uncomfortable. Standing around with a drink in hand exchanging work-talk, gossip or trivia puts  these gatherings in the category of necessary rather than desirable for many of usWhile interesting or exciting conversations can occur at cocktail parties, more often the volume of multiple conversations trying to compete with loud music in a space with hard walls acts as a deterrent. Except for up-scale restaurants, dining out can present the same challenge to conversation. Also at parties, there’s a strong tendency to only talk to the people we know. Not so at sit-down, outdoor venues because everyone can be heard.

Even in these situations we tend to exchange current and surface information about what’s going on in people’s lives. Rarely do we share the more substantive information that deepens our appreciation and understanding of those participating. For instance, I delight when I learn something new, interesting or remarkable about family members, neighbors and friends I’d known for a long time. We think we know the people closest to us, but it can be surprising how much we don’t know.

Recently I learned that a dear friend and colleague of twenty years had passed away. Wanting to use his background as a model for one of the characters in the story I’m writing, I realized that the only thing I knew about his past was the university he attended. I knew his lifestyle and philosophy of life, but I didn’t know the experiences that shaped them. It helped me realize that this was the case with many of the people who, on occasion, sat across the table from me. It’s understandable, of course. The opportunity to share personal historical information rarely presents itself. Strangers get to see our resumes and curriculum vitas. Why not at least talk about the information they contain in gatherings of family and friends? The answer is that it would seem immodest. But in an appropriate context, such as backyard get togethers, the sharing of stories about a person’s family, education, employment, travels, significant others, awards and formative events can promote understanding and deepen appreciation, perhaps even provide life lessons for those who listen. To avoid the “Do you want to talk about me or should I?” conundrum, the host or someone else can suggest that, “Going around the table, lets have everyone tell their life story—one person at a time. Questions are fine, but no going off on tangents or someone else’s story.”

Whatever the context, the sharing of personal histories within the family is especially important for young people. It helps to shape their identity, ties them to the past and provides lessons for the future. Besides, in my experience, it stimulates a lot of fascination and laughter. When those we care about are gone, we won’t wish we knew more about them.

Telling our personal story constitutes an act of consciousness that defines the ethical lining of a person’s constitution. Recounting personal stories promotes personal growth, spurs the performance of selfless deeds, and in doing so enhances the ability of the equitable eye of humanity to scroll rearward and forward. Every person must become familiar with our communal history of struggle, loss, redemption, and meaningfully contemplate the meaning behind our personal existence in order to draft a proper and prosperous future for succeeding generations. Accordingly, every person is responsible for sharing their story using the language of thought that best expresses their sanguine reminiscences. Without a record of pastimes, we will never know what we were, what we now are, or what we might become by steadfastly and honorably struggling with mortal chores.

Kilroy J. Oldster (Author, Dead Toad Scrolls)

Title: Patio Table & Chairs 

File: 626-A3

I was visiting friends in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This was their patio furniture. What moved me to photograph it was seeing the sun reflected in the glass. It’s like the people who sat there got up and the illumination they shared remained.

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



I recently encountered a metaphor relating to reality. I passed over it quickly so I’m not able to reference the source, but the image stuck with me—perhaps because it aligned with Plato’s notion that the reality we experience is akin to shadows projected onto the wall of a cave. In my reading, the author created the image of a rowboat floating on a lake. The author observed that we couldn’t see the boat, only its reflection. The boat itself represented ultimate reality and its reflection our experience of that reality. Similar to Plato’s observation, the point being made was that the reflection is not the boat; the physical universe is a reflection of  ultimate reality, the obvious example being how we are blind to the quantum dimension that constitutes and sustains the world of matter.

That was nice. But what kept me thinking about the metaphor was the author’s comment that the clarity of a boat’s reflection, our perception of it, is determined by the state of the water. When the lake is still, the reality is more perfectly reflected and there’s more of a one-to-one relationship. As the water becomes more agitated the reflection becomes distorted. The more the agitation, the more the distortion.

On a recent photography expedition to the Everglades, I went farther south to photograph some turquoise water. In Key Largo, gateway to the Keys, I asked at the Visitor’s Center where I could find the closest access to clear water. I was surprised when the lady indicated that the best place was Key West. I didn’t want to drive 100 miles, so I asked if there was any place closer. “Not really,” she said. “It’s private property all the way down.” And it was. On both sides of the divided highway it was wall-to-wall shops and trees and signs, no water to be seen. After driving about forty miles I finally pulled into a restaurant that advertised “Waterfront Dining.” Indeed, after cruising the parking lot until a spot opened, I was shown to a picnic bench where, beyond the piers of a three-story deck where people sat at a bar I could see the water—and a small beach boarded by fences with no access, no place to walk along the water. As it happened, the “music” was so loud I had to leave. After two more such places I realized that, while the Keys had plenty of entertainment venues, they were not conducive to appreciating or photographing nature. I turned around and headed north.

Reflecting on that experience, I think about the juxtaposition of the beautiful and calm, clear water and the disturbed reality just thirty or forty feet from the beach. What I learned is that, along with travel comes the turbulences of traffic congestion, noise, rushing, frustrated waiting, the anxiety of making connections on time and spoiled environments. One of the reasons why, after traveling, we say “it’s good to be home” is that it’s the place where the “waters” are calm and the reflections are clear.

You can’t see wisdom, but you can see its reflection. Its reflection is happiness, fearlessness, and kindness.

Silvia Boorstein


Title: Reflection of Sailboat Masts 

File: S 343

Location: Sausalito, California

On a day when the wind was slight I was walking along the piers of a marina and came upon these reflections.

For more of my photographs I invite you to visit David L Smit Photography


Part—Whole Relationship


Do you see the jetliner? Remove any one of the pixels in the above image and there would be a hole in the whole (photograph). It wouldn’t be complete. It wouldn’t be the same photograph. Some might say it has a flaw.

The universe presents itself to us as a system composed of parts-within-wholes, of systems within systems, organized through time and evolution as interdependent levels of complexity. Each part, including you and me, is integral to the whole; and, in some holographic sense, each part is a microcosm of the greater macrocosm. Each part contains within itself the seed or template of the whole.

Christian de Quincey

Each and every individual pixel within a digital image is a necessary part of the whole picture—if it’s to be complete. Because pixels have unique characteristics such as size, color, luminance and value they are also individuals by virtue of their boundaries, each bearing a strong relationship to those in close proximity, less so for those farther away. Even the myriad of individual pixels so distant they appear to be unrelated are present and contributing to the whole picture. Had the above scene been photographed on film, the parts would have consisted of grains of silver halide which are “fixed” entities. They cannot be changed. On the other hand, because digital pixels are “virtual,” consisting of  units of electron excitations, they can quite easily be manipulated—for instance, made lighter or darker. Whether the image substrate happens to be paper or a computer screen, photographic images are mechanical systems, constituted of parts that can be manipulated—in the developing and printing processes or using software applications such as Photoshop in the case of digital images.

Not so with living systems, which are composed of other living systems each of whom continuously makes choices regarding their function and relationships. At every level, a living system is referred to as a “holon” because the uniqueness and integrity of the whole depends upon the integrity of its parts. And because each individual holon—cell, organism or person—makes decisions for itself relative to its condition, purpose, function, environment and host of dynamic considerations, they are said to be constituted of “members” rather than parts. When parts are interchanged in a mechanical system it returns to its functional design. But when members are replaced in a living system it is newly constituted. At every level then, as change occurs—within a living system or it enviornment—the holons change. They become new by adapting, or they die. Thus the expression, “Grow or die.”

Scientists refer to the decision-making capability of a holon as autopoiesis or “self-making.” By our choices we constantly make ourselves, not just our experience of life. My dear friend and philosopher of science, Beatrice Bruteau, writes that “In all living systems it’s the interactive union of the parts, the sharing of their beings, their energies, that constitutes the new whole.” The sharing of their beings. Atoms unite to make molecules, moleculres unite to make cells, that unite to make organisms, that unite to make organs, that unite to make… You get the picture.

Systemically speaking, whether we share, what we share and how we share our being, beyond but including what we do to make a living, makes a profound difference. This is especially so for those within our circle. But it’s also the case, by extension and facilitated by the electronic media, for those beyond it, the larger holons within which we are members—family, community, church, business, industry, nation, humanity. As members of church, community and political systems, we remake them by our everyday choices.

In the above image I’m reminded that every individual, regardless of circumstances, is an integral part of the  emerging picture of the human family. Every day, the quality and manner of our character, choosing and relating contributes to the making of  this picture.

What happens in and to one of the system’s parts also happens in and to all its other parts, and hence it happens in and to the system as a whole.

Ervin Laszlo


This image displays a greatly enlarged section from the lower right corner of the sky image to demonstrate how individuals (holons) contribute to and constitute the larger image. To see the jet aircraft more clearly, step back from your screen about fifteen or twenty feet.

About These Images

Title: Jetliner

Theme: Part-Whole Relationship

File #: DC 4153

It was the rainbow-like ring around the sun that prompted me to point my camera up. Looking through the viewfinder and recognizing the speck as an airplane, my first inclination was to crop it out. But seeing that the size relationship was evocative, I decided to keep it in.

After downloading the image to the computer, I zoomed in to see if the airplane was sharp. It was. And that’s when I discovered that, by zooming in as far as Photoshop would allow, there was a clean distinction between the airplane pixels and those of the blue sky. Equally fascinating visually was seeing how the sky was constituted of many colors and values beyond medium blue.

The juxtaposition of the sunburst and the jetliner, an object we consider large and carrying many people, prompted me to contemplate the nature of whole systems, part-whole relationship in particular.


Bruteau, Beatrice, 1997. God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World. Crossroad Publishing Company. New York, NY.

Land, George, 1997. Grow Or Die: The Unifying Principle Of Transformation. Leadership 2000 Inc.. Carlsbad, CA.

(This image and contemplation was originally posted February, 2014)

I invite you to visit my portfolio site at

History And Perception


Considering this  wrench, what was its history? How did it come to be? My reflection begins with the observation that someone, likely a man with dirty hands, placed the wrench on an oil drum inside a mushroom farm in Loveland, Ohio. Where was the wrench before that? Might it have been used in a factory, a gas station or railroad yard? Did it hang on a pegboard above someone’s basement workbench? Was it cherished? Was it even used? Had it sat in a metal or wooden drawer filled with other wrenches? Had it been dropped in the dirt and rained upon? Not this wrench. There’s no of sign of rust. With each of these possibilities I imagine the environment, what the users would be wearing, the grease on their hands, dirt under their fingernails—the calendars on the walls, the smell of oil and gasoline, the sound of a baseball announcer in the background coming from an cheap plastic radio and the voices of workmen talking, perhaps yelling, sounds absorbed and held in this object’s metallic memory cells. Yes, these are stereotypical images. But elements of imagination, like pieces of a puzzle, contribute to the picture of the human project, the strengths and vulnerabilities that spark appreciation and evoke compassion.

My imagination shifts to when the wrench was new, when it looked its best, gleaming bright steel with the manufacturer’s name engraved on it. Was it on display in a window? Or was it one of the many that were wrapped in brown paper and put in a box with a drawing or photo on top, specifications and serial numbers on the side? There are no right or wrong imaginings in contemplation. Each and every reflection contributes to the unfolding development of self and reality. Imagining is at the heart of contemplation. As well as enabling the exploration of times, places, events and abstractions that we could not otherwise experience physically, it sidestepping everyday thinking, inspires creativity and fuels our appreciation of what is, as it is.

Back to the wrench. I think of the manufacturing process. I see the minerals being scooped from the ground by giant, loud and smoke-belching diggers. The boulders are crushed and then dumped into a molten crucible where rock transforms into liquid. Sparks fly. Gloved men with black goggles handle the controls in a dark factory with a dirt floor. The cars parked outside are vintage 1930’s. Men in the office wear double-breasted, three button suits, starched collars and ties with finger-length clips to hold them in place. Their office managers and secretaries wear shirt waist blouses and nylons with seams down the back.

Further back in time I see a gray haired man sitting at a drafting table wearing spectacles. He also wears a tie, but his sleeves are rolled up and he smokes unfiltered cigarettes. With fine-pointed pencil in hand he transposes a sketch of the wrench with notes on dimension and weight onto a blueprint that will be used to create the model and mold.

Much farther back is the visionary (or visionaries) who met the challenge of a connection problem. How does a mechanic connect two pieces of metal in a way that they will almost never come apart without purposefully being separated? Trial and error. After many attempts and failures someone (innovation more often begins with an individual rather than a group) imagines a threaded bolt with flat sides and a tool with a handle that would turn it. Tighten. Untighten. Brilliant!

Descending the historical ladder even further, where did the iron ore for this particular wrench come from? China most likely. Other possibilities include Australia, Brazil, India, Russia, South Africa, Minnesota and Michigan. And who was the first to have the idea of the making of a molten soup consisting of iron oxide, magnetite, hematite, goethite, limonite and siderite, particularly when these minerals are scattered around the world? I think about motivation as well, the need for a material harder than any rock, the desire to build things that would last—and win wars.

I can see this wrench new, old or ancient. I can see it whole or as a conglomerate of parts. I can think about it as a solid or liquid, even as fields within fields of quanta. Perception is a choice we make, and unusual ones, particularly in contemplation can evoke wonder and appreciation. For me then, the question becomes: What is gained by different perceptions? I think it has more to do than the notion of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

There is nothing in all the world that is not God’s manifest glory and essence.


About This Image


Theme: History And Perception

Negative #: 516-C2

Fred’s Mushroom Farm, Lebanon, Ohio

I was riding country backroads looking for something to photograph when I saw a sign that read Fred’s Mushroom Farm. The place intrigued me, so I went in and told the manager I was a photographer. Would he mind if I photographed his facility?. Not only did he grant permission, he gave me a tour and described the process of growing mushrooms. He introduced me to his employees and displayed great patience while I photographed anything that caught my eye.

I shot about six rolls of 120 film in that facility, all by available light. In passing from one room to another, I saw this wrench sitting on an oil drum. I composed the shot and made one hand-held exposure. The light level was very low, so I was not surprised when the slow shutter-speed resulted in an image with shortened depth of field and slight blur. I didn’t print the negative. Years later I was paging through my contact sheets and decided that, because of the simplicity and graded light, the image might have possibilities. Now, it peaks my imagination ever time I see it.

Besides being exhibited and published, I used this among other images in my Visual Communication classes to illustrate a comment made to a reporter when he asked one of the masters of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson, the secret of his success. His response: “Be there and f8.”

This image and contemplation were originally posted February, 2014

I invite you to visit my newly revised portfolio site at

Vision And Realization

Construction Workers

The relationship between the workers seen here and their towering creation took me to that place of amazement over what and how fast we build. Prior to these steel structures being set in place, beams that would eventually support the bleacher seats in a football stadium, there were innumerable people involved—those with the vision and desire: geologists, engineers, architects, attorneys, politicians, bankers, investors and city planers. I think of the tonnage of paper documents, the multiple terabytes of information and images, the specification and sourcing of raw materials, contracts and the scheduling of contractors, all needing to be coordinated before the golden shovels could even break ground.

Consistently I’m puzzled by how so few men can erect such enormous structures involving so many parts and heavy materials in such a short amount of time. How do they know where to move the dirt? I see conduits and all manner of PVC pipes sticking out of the mud without any indication where the walls will go—a testament to precise planning and measurement. How do builders determine structural stresses in advance? And how do they manage every aspect of the process so the structure will be plumb and sound? Another wonder is how supervisors manage  to maintain teamwork, keeping multiple contractors on the same page, coordinating their activities in proper order? It seems to me that the building trades have arrived at, or are quickly moving toward, the realization that filmmakers enjoy, that is, whatever they can imagine, they can build.

Pondering the notion of vision and realization, I think of the causal relationship between mind and matter, thought and form. I think about the great engineering feats: the Giza pyramids, the Great Wall of China, Teotihuacan in Mexico, the Panama Canal, the Manhattan Project, the Apollo missions, the Palm Islands in Dubai, the International Space Station. They all began with a vision—honor the gods, solve a problem, end a war, explore the cosmos, build a nation or fill a need like the U.S. Interstate Highway system does. It’s easy to acknowledge that mind has accomplished great things. On the other hand, is the vision of something possible reason enough to create it? Just because we can envision a weapon, drug or deadly virus, should we produce it? As technologies advance the ethical questions compound exponentially. Excitement over discoveries can overshadow the consideration of consequences.

Indeed, we tend to create what we can imagine, personally and socially. I look around my room. I can’t identify even one object that was not first a thought or influenced by thought. Look out your window. Is there anything there that was not first a thought or influenced by thought? The only thing that comes to mind for me are clouds. Not the garden. Not the trees that were planted, moved or modified in some way. Not even the rain drops that left acid stains on my car. Wait. Not the clouds either. In addition to water vapor, they’re composed of a myriad of man-made compounds, aerosols and particulate matter, all the residue of thought-produced products and processes.

Is there anything anywhere on the planet that was not first a thought or influenced by thought? What about insects, birds and animals? Consider how human beings have influenced their evolution and migrations. The moon bears our imprint, as does the bottom of the ocean. Might the deep ice at the poles, magma and the worms growing around oceanic hydrothermal vents be exceptions? What about the planet itself? The solar system? The Milky Way galaxy?

I personally believe that consciousness does indeed permeate the universe, that the universe proceeds intelligently in its evolution and must therefore be conscious… Consciousness is inherent in every level of the universal holarchy by logical argument. 

                                        Elisabet Sahtouris

About This Image

Title: Stadium Struts

Theme: Vision And Realization

Negative # 800-B1

Paul Brown Football Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio

I’m always on the lookout for construction sites. Small or large, they’re a ready source of aesthetic elements—exquisite light, geometries, textures, surfaces, tonalities and evidence of human activity. Although permissions are necessary in many instances, it’s worth asking. Recently I was shooting through a fence when a man wearing a hardhat drove up in a golf cart. I  explained how I was just shooting for my own creative purposes and asked who I needed to talk to for permission to go beyond the fence. Turned out he was the lead contractor on this enormous site and he invited me to hop in his cart. He gave me a hat and drove me all around the site, an hour-long tour of what was to become a twenty-story office tower and retail mall.

Regarding this particular image, I drove downtown without anything in particular in mind. I just wanted to shoot some black & white film. The camera I use for hand-held, spontaneous shooting is a 2 1/4 square Bronica. I’d been out a while, shooting mostly the contours of expressway ramps under construction. I was about to quit when I realized that I would be getting into rushhour traffic, so I decided to stay.

A new football stadium was being built on the riverfront, so I made a turn and went down a dirt road behind a truck heading in that direction. The road wasn’t open to the public, so when I passed through the gates my intention was to ask permission when I got closer. Having arrived near or after quitting time, there wasn’t anyone to ask. So I drove alongside the steep walls of the stadium looking for a shot. Neither the steel beams nor anything else called out to me, so I turned around and was well down the road when I heard a loud noise. In the rear-view mirror I saw the  truck dumping a heap of dirt at the base of the structure and dust was billowing way up, causing shafts of sunlight to pierce through it.

Seeing that there were no cars on the roadway, I grabbed the camera and got out of the car leaving the door wide open and the engine running. As I approached the structure I saw the sun flare, so I moved around to maximize its brightness and position it between the struts. The dust was settling fast, so I clicked off exposures as I went. Amazingly,  gratefully, some workers appeared atop the structure at just the right moment.

(Originally posted March, 2014)

I invite you to visit my Portfollio Site: David L Smith Photography

The Evolutionary Spiral

Oil Tank Stairway #1


The metal stairway in this image evokes in me considerations of the evolutionary spiral, the universe’s operating system, which we know to “favor” increased novelty, diversity, adaptation, complexity and higher levels of organization and awareness. Along the bottom steps of the oil tank, I see the significant ordering that has already occurred. In the steps above and combined with the railing, the lighted way indicates that the direction is onward and upward. Finally, conveying purpose to this ascending pathway is the mass and structure of the tank—the universe.

Extending the metaphor, I would place the current generation of humanity in the area of transition, where light and order are emerging from the darkness (wherein dwells ignorance, short-sightedness, intolerance and the illusion of separation). I imagine the transition toward the light being fueled physically by health and well-being, safety and security, strong economies, innovations in every domain and the pursuit of excellence and what works for everyone. And because consciousness gives rise to form, I imagine that love, compassion, tolerance, collaboration, empowerment, ethical behavior and the like are the energies of the leading edge.

To some this may sound saccharine or unrealistic, particularly in light of recent political divisions and how we’re portraying ourselves in the mass media and entertainment venues. But evolution is a universal, unbounded and dynamic process that has operated, and will continue to do so, with or without human beings. What’s different in our time is that we understand this and we’ve gained some knowledge about the patterns that support living systems. Historian, Arnold Toynbee, found that a civilization’s  prospects for survival were greatly enhanced by the movement of information and resources from the top of a society to the bottom. Those that accomplished this feat of uplifting citizens at the bottom, survived the longest.

Addressing the challenge of accomplishing this, systems scientist Dr. Janis Roze, advises “We must now give equal time and focus, equal or even greater energy to those human qualities that are constructive, growth enhancing, confidence and trust inspiring, so that the power of these qualities can be consciously developed and applied both to individual lives and to the directing of societal and world affairs.”

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi connected the dots, tying the individual to evolutionary process by observing “What evolves is not the self trapped in our physical body, which will dissolve after death. Rather, what will survive and grow is the pattern of information that we have shaped through our existence: the acts of love, the beliefs, the knowledge, the skills, the insights that we have had and that have affected the course of events around us. No matter how smart, wise, or altruistic a person might be, he or she is not going to contribute to evolution except by leaving traces of complexity in the culture, by serving as an example to others, by changing customs, belief or knowledge in such a way that they can be passed down to future generations.”

As far back as we’ve been able to see, human evolution favors the passing on—physically, mentally and socially—of characteristics, qualities and thinking that promote survival. In the image of the oil tank, light isn’t emerging from the darkness. It dispels and gives form to it, creating well-ordered shadows. I observe further that the light shines from a particular direction. The direction toward a better life, individually and collectively, is in alignment with the patterns in the evolutionary process—novelty, diversity, adaptation, complexity and higher levels of organization and awareness. Knowing what we know, it makes no sense to just stand on the steps or climb down.

We live on a different planet now, where not biology but symbolic consciousness is the determining factor for evolution. Cultural selection has overwhelmed natural selection. That is, the survival of species and of entire ecosystems now depends primarily on human activities.

              Brian Swimme


About This Image

Oil Tank Stairway

Theme: The Evolutionary Spiral

Negative #: 801-B4

River Road, Cincinnati, Ohio

Photographing around industrial sites can be complicated—getting close enough, obtaining permission and dealing with security guards. As sometimes happens, the light in this situation was so exquisite I had to act quickly. There wasn’t time to ask for permission. Besides, it was a  Sunday and the place was deserted.

Prepared with identification in case someone should come to inquire, I went ahead and set up my tripod on a weed-covered bank. There was a fence and railroad cars between me and the oil tank, so I was fortunate that the telephoto lens on my 2 1/4 camera was long enough to fill the frame with the tank and eliminate the distracting elements.

After shooting several frames I went looking for someone to notify in case they had a video camera trained on me. I couldn’t find anyone, but at least I made the attempt. Usually, when I set up a tripod on or even near commercial properties, guards or police will come out. This is why, in addition to my ID, I also keep a copy of one of my publications in the car—to prove that my intent is creative rather than commercial.

Because of the distance (about forty yards) I used a spot-meter to determine the exposure. Using the Zone System, I metered the scene and processed the film to maximize the full scale of shadows and highlights and extend the range of the graded tones.

(Originally posted March, 2014)

I invite you to visit my Portfolio Site: David L Smith Photography








Reflecting upon these raindrops, I’m drawn more to their  journey than to my usual inclination to trace subject matter back to its beginnings—perhaps because the first appearance of water on Earth is not yet fully understood. It is known however, that gravity keeps it contained. None of it escapes into space. According to the United States Geological Survey: “If the total amount of water vapor fell as precipitation all at once, the Earth would be covered with only about one inch of water.” But “If all the world’s water was poured on the contiguous United States, it would cover the land to a depth of about 107 miles.”

Getting back to the image, each of these drops and droplets began to take shape as invisible molecules of water vapor high in the atmosphere by attaching themselves to a nearly invisible dust particle. As more and more molecules attached—coalesced—and their weight increased, gravity pulled them down through the atmosphere causing even more coalescence. When a gazillions of these infant droplets grouped together, attracted by their electrical charges, their size increased even more to form a cloud where more attraction and more coalescence resulted in drops that literally, well, drop. The coalescence continues even when the drops splatter and run.

Notice, the drops in this image did not land on the leaf and line up this way for the picture. Their sizes and alignments are a product of their travels, conditioned by the physical forces and electrical fields they encountered along the way. Already, they are changing state, evaporating into the atmosphere. In the liquid state drops of water assume a rounded shape because a sphere requires the least amount of energy to form and has the least possible area for the volume it encloses. That makes it the most economical, energy-efficient way of enclosing and separating two volumes of space—water and surface. Aside from the physics, I love the aesthetics—how the drops are transparent and reflect the sky. Earth and sky integrated.

Another feature that comes to mind when contemplating this image is the water cycle, the change of state: liquid—vapor—solid (ice). It’s a perfect metaphor for transformation because water is constantly changing. Like the universe and all it contains, there is rising and falling. Birth and death. Breathing in, breathing out. Lub dub, lub dub. Drip. Drip.

In preparing this post, I was delighted to find Ken Wilber’s quote in my database. It beautifully conveys the transcendent perspective, connecting being with perception. Having enjoyed a career as a visual communicator, I appreciate the significance of perception and the opportunity to expand it. We become more by seeing ourselves as more. Indeed, looking deeply generates appreciation. And that can take us to the place where we are the sun, the rain and the earth.

You in the very immediateness of your present awareness, are in fact the entire world, in all its frost and fever, in all its glories and its grace, in all its triumphs and its tears. You do not see the sun, you are the sun; you do not hear the rain, you are the rain; you do not feel the earth, you are the earth.

Ken Wilber

About This Image

Raindrops On A Leaf

Theme: Coalescence

File #: DC 3448

It was late evening and after a hard rain, Linda’s garden was dripping wet. I took a rubber gardener’s mat to kneel on, and set my digital camera on a tripod with a macro lens. I did nothing to alter either the leaves or the drops. They were as you see them. The mode on the camera was set on “automatic.” In Photoshop I darkened the background shadows to eliminate some distracting elements.

I invite you to visit my updated portfolio site at:

(This theme was previously posted in March, 2014)


What’s a citizen to believe? With all the buzz about “false” and “fake” news, foreign influence in elections, intelligence leakers, inflammatory talk shows and social media manipulators how can we know the truth of anything that’s being reported? We can’t. Given any situation that’s reported, we weren’t present to see for ourselves what happened. The news is almost always a second-hand account. And even if we had witnessed an event, our perception of it would differ from that of other observers. Because we’re emotional beings living in constructed personal realities, information sharing will always be subjective. Consistent with the purpose of this blog, my primary intent is to appreciate, in this case, journalism. I’ll also recommend five aids to discernment as antidotes to deception.

First, I want to acknowledge journalism trade organizations and corporations that have formulated codes of ethics, including the journalists who adhere to them. I tip my hat to all who are practicing socially responsible journalism. Although one can earn a degree in journalism, it’s not required in order to be a journalist. It’s a “field,” not a profession where one must have a license to practice. Anyone, even a nine-year-old or a sociopath can claim to be a journalist and publish material. What makes one a “professional” is employment by a company in the news business. And one of the benefits of the professional label is that it accords the journalist respectability because their employers adhere to and enforce a code of ethics. In many companies, across all media, violation of the code can be grounds for dismissal.

In decades past, self-regulation through these codes combined with policies of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) created an atmosphere of public trust. We could generally be confident that we were not being deceived or manipulated. Today, however, largely because deregulation opened the gates to anyone with a microphone or computer who wants to report the news, that trust is being eroded. This is particularly due to certain tabloid, radio, television and internet entities that, despite claims to the contrary, have consistently demonstrated bias and deceptive practices. Even these can profess a code of ethics, but there’s a huge discrepancy when it comes to motivation and intent. It’s the difference between promoting an ideology and, in contrast, reporting information that’s true and accurate while preserving, protecting and strengthening the bond of trust between American journalism and the American people.

Our best protection against entities that would confuse, weaken or threaten this relationship through false news, misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories and so on is the individual’s capacity to discern truth from falsehood. Wikipedia defines “discernment” as—

The ability to obtain sharp perceptions or to judge well… It involves going past the mere perception of something and making nuanced judgments about its properties or qualities. Considered as a virtue, a discerning individual is considered to possess wisdom, and be of good judgment; especially so with regard to subject matter often overlooked by others.

*The first aid to discernment is to observe the media provider’s motivation and intention. Is it to persuade, influence, arouse audiences or attract advertisers? Do they blur the lines between news and entertainment or news and opinion to maximize audience share? Are they a pack of hounds pursuing a quarry or ideologues seeking power or converts? Do they exaggerate or hype a story in order to support a social, economic or political agenda? Are they trying to become the moral arbiters of society? Or are they honest brokers of truth? Do they strive to provide relevant, useful evidence-based facts in context to inform, promote understanding and empower citizens to make appropriate—healthy and wise—adjustments to change? My litmus with respect to motivation and intent is “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves…A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit…by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20). In the vernacular: If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

The second aid to discernment is to trust your gut. We can’t entirely trust the mind when it comes to discernment because of the tendency to rationalize or spin information to suit our point of view. Studies show that it’s the unconscious, nonverbal cues like body language, that tell us if we can trust what someone is saying. A study by psychologist Albert Mehrabian found that, with respect to credibility and trust, words contributed 7% of the message, tone of voice 38% and body language 55%. Intuition or gut impressions are important. Can we trust a reporter or presenter when their manner is boisterous? I notice that when an anchorperson, reporter or interviewer is a showboat or makes the story about him or herself, the needle on my trust meter goes way down. It goes down even further when the presenter is aggressive, antagonistic, blaming or boiling over with determination—especially when he intimates that his opinion is the only correct one.

The third aid to discernment has to do with the world-view of a company or reporter. Or both. Their view of the world and human beings is revealed in the pattern of the content they choose to present. It reflects their mentality and values. When we’re watching a newscast, we’re largely standing in the presence of the news director’s consciousness, which represents the corporation’s values. They show us what they deem important and present it in ways consistent with their perception of the audience. On the one hand I knew a news director who at times used language that betrayed his perception of the audience as being stupid, gullible or ignorant. In another situation at a different station, the news director assigned a reporter to exclusively cover “good news in the city.”

If the preponderance of a company’s news stories is consistently negative, it may indicate that those in control of the operation either have a negative worldview or believe that tragedy and mayhem are what their audience wants to see or hear. Balance requires giving substantial time to the alternative—stories that encourage, inspire or empower. A common example of imbalance is when a local television newscast consistently and predominantly covers vehicular accidents, fires, abuses, crime, and corruption. Because these are out-of-the-ordinary events they are newsworthy, but the reason for reporting them is not just to say what happened, it’s also to increase awareness of tragic events so viewers and city planners can take preventative measures. Also, positive events and inspirational stories need to be told because they paint a more complete and balanced picture of the humanity.

The corporation that’s reported to have adopted a policy of maternity leave for both parents and equal pay for women demonstrates that it’s possible, perhaps even more profitable, for a powerful institution to value its employees as much as profit. The story about a church that collects and delivers tons of food and clothing to countries where people are starving encourages us to contribute our time and energy to support them or similar initiatives. It lifts our spirit when we learn that a commercial fisherman released 30 tons of Mackerel in order to save dolphins trapped in his net. When we see Israelis and Palestinians collaborating together successfully our belief that peace is possible is enhanced. The San Francisco woman who turned decommissioned city buses into shower stations for the homeless provided an example of what one person can do to make an enormous contribution to social well-being. And the story of a young Goodwill volunteer who turned over to her manager an envelop containing $10,500. that she found renews our faith in humanity—that people can and will do the right thing. These kinds of stories show the best in us to the rest of us, build trust in our neighbors and confidence in our leaders. In many instances they provide models that can be replicated. Socially responsible journalism functions to educate and empower, not just inform or entertain. Otherwise, the public gets a one-sided, incomplete picture of humanity and society, one that results in passivity and feelings of helplessness, fear, worry and depression.

*The fourth aid to discernment is to listen to our conscience. Philosopher Immanuel Kant, who wrote extensively about ethics and ethical decision-making, considered the human conscience as the ultimate source for informing us of right and wrong. Practically, his “categorical imperative” advised that we “Act on that maxim which you will to become a universal law.” “Categorical” mean unconditional. So the Kantian test in the context of a news presentation asks the question: Would I want the whole world to feel what I’m feeling as a result of this presentation of the news?

*The fifth aid to discernment is to consider the consequences.

Similarly, English philosopher John Stuart Mills proposed the Principle of Utility, recommending that we “Seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” In our context this applies equally to journalists and their viewers and readers to determine what’s right or wrong by considering what news or information would yield the best consequences for the welfare of the society. In Mills’ terms, “The morally right alternative produces the greatest balance of good over evil.” Expressed in personal terms, what in me does a particular news program or reporter encourage? Bonding or fragmentation? Caring or indifference? Tolerance or intolerance? Love or fear? Conflict or collaboration? Action or passivity? Our role as citizen requires that we act in the best interest of both ourselves and society, and responsible journalists help us to do that.

We have to remember, as journalists, that we may be observers but we are not totally disinterested observers. We are not social engineers, but each one of us has a stake in the health of this democracy. Democracy and the social contract that makes it work are held together by a delicate web of trust, and all of us in journalism hold edges of the web. We are not just amused bystanders, watching the idiots screw it up.

Robert MacNeil (Of The MacNeil/Lehrer Report on PBS)

While I’m not proposing a change in anyone else’s media diet, my hope is that these aids to discernment will serve as a nudge to observe the media with eyes wide open, so we’re not duped by “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” What we ingest through the media can diminish or enhance our world-view and life experience. It’s a choice we can—and do—make every day.

Journalism is one of the more important arts of democracy, and its ultimate purpose is not to make news, or reputations, or headlines, but simply to make democracy work.

Davis (Buzz) Merritt (Editor and Co-Founder of Public Journalism)

About This Image

Title: Student On The Grass With A Computer

File #: DC 2182

Location: Ohio State University

*Special thanks to my colleague, Dr. Clifford Christians, Emeritus Research Professor of Media Studies and Journalism at the University of Illinois. These “aids to discernment” were extrapolated from the Second Edition (1986) of his textbook Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning. That book is no longer available, but the Ninth Edition (link provide in the title) is an excellent examination of ethics in the modern world.

(I invite you to visit my revised Portfolio Site: David L Smith Photography)


A Selected List of Codes Of Ethics In Journalism

There are hundreds of national and international media organizations that have codes of ethics, all of them too detailed to be presented here. I encourage you to review at least one. Their values and articulation gives us hope.

National Public Radio “Our journalism is as accurate, fair and complete as possible. Our journalists conduct their work with honesty and respect, and they strive to be both independent and impartial in their efforts. Our methods are transparent and we will be accountable for all we do.” Principles include: Accuracy / Fairness / Completeness / Honesty / Independence / Impartiality / Transparency / Accountability / Respect

Poynter Publishing The Poynter Institute is a school for journalists that also practices journalism. The guidelines describe the values, standards, and practices they pursue.  Their core values include accuracy, independence, interdependence, fairness, transparency, professional responsibility, and helpfulness.

Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) RTDNA is the world’s largest professional organization devoted exclusively to electronic journalism. RTDNA members include local and network news executives, news directors, producers, reporters, photographers, editors, multimedia journalists and digital news professionals in broadcasting, cable, and digital media, as well as journalism educators and students.

American Society of News Editors (ASNE) The ASNE “focuses on leadership development and journalism-related issues. It promotes fair, principled journalism, defends and protects First Amendment rights, and fights for freedom of information and open government among its members. It’s principles include: Responsibility / Freedom of the Press / Independence / Truth and Accuracy / Impartiality / Fair Play.

Associated Press Media Editors Their principles are a model against which news and editorial staff members can measure their performance. “They have been formulated in the belief that news media and the people who produce news content should adhere to the highest standards of ethical and professional conduct.” They include: Responsibility / Accuracy / Integrity / Independence.

Gannett Newspaper Division “We are committed to seeking and reporting the truth in a truthful way / Serving the public interest / Exercising fair play / Maintaining independence / Being accountable / Acting with integrity. Editors have a responsibility to communicate these Principles to newsroom staff members and to the public.”

Society Of Professional Journalists “Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity. The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.” Seek Truth and Report It / Minimize Harm / Act Independently / Be Accountable and Transparent.

Journalism Codes of Ethics From Around the World A listing of U.S. and International Ethics Codes

This site provides a clickable list of organizations that publish their codes of ethics.