Vibration And Form


Energy is vibration. It’s largely invisible, but when energy takes a form it’s always geometrical, prescribed by the fundamental laws of physics including gravity and the three Laws of Thermodynamics:

1. Conservation of Energy: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, just changed.

2. Entropy: Matter dissipates; disintegrates. Entropy either stays the same or gets bigger.

3. Heat: As temperature approaches absolute zero, the value of entropy approaches a minimum.

What creates vibration in the first place? The current theory, gaining traction among physicists, is consciousness. (See my posting: “Potential” 9/24/17 for details)

Recently I’ve been making images that combine a nature-made subject with something that is man-made. The above is an example. Here, on the one hand, I’m intrigued by the visual contrast between the living blossom and the rusting metal, and on the other by the differences in these forms. Their “vibrations” and shapes are distinctly different—they are in contrast to one another, but share the same destiny; they’re also equally under the influence of entropy.

Because it is a living system, the visually more vibrant flower disintegrated in just a few days. In contrast, the fence will take decades more to succumb to entropy, even if the structure that supports it is demolished. Eventually, both will revert back to pure energy, the ground state of the universe where nothing is added or lost. And from that ground, vibrations in similar form will once again emerge.

What is anything but spirit taking form?

Alex Gray (Artist)

This continuity of forms, in all their diversity, human or otherwise, reflect the consciousness of the universe. They are said to be “expressions.” And once established, evolution “plays” variations on the form, from sea shells and dinosaurs to automobiles and skyscrapers. Acknowledgement of the fact that forms reoccur is evidenced in sayings such as, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” and “Everything that can be photographed has been photographed.” Insects, automobiles, skyscrapers and human beings are variations on the same universal themes—creatures that crawl, vehicles that transport human beings, buildings that rise to the sky and beings who are self-aware.

Another observation: The “recycling” of forms is much more dynamic in living forms, than in non-living forms: their lifespan is shorter. In the case of human beings however, where form and consciousness are intrinsic, the former is subject to entropy but the latter is not. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin S.J. said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we a spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Each time a geometrical form is produced, an expression of the universal oneness is made; it is at once unique in time and place and also timeless and transcendent, representing the particular and the universal.

Nigel Pennick (British author)

About This Image

Title: Daisy In Fence

File#: DC11521

I was returning from a shoot in a local scrap yard where I placed an assortment of flowers on different metal surfaces. At a “Stop” sign I glanced over and noticed an abandoned elementary school where weeds were growing through a rusted grate. With the “Nature-Made/Man-Made” theme still percolating in my head, I went over to take a look with my camera. The weeds didn’t work, but I liked the pattern in the rusted grate so I went back to the car and pulled out the daisy because the yellow center would “pick up” the sensibility of the rust. Straight shot. Hand held.

The Individual

The individual is an expression of a whole. Depending who’s looking and how, a singularity can appear as a fractal, a hologram or simply an object. The blossom above and the stone below, seen in isolation, reflect the “wholes” of which they are a part—a geranium plant and a mountain respectively. If someone were to hold out these objects for us to examine, our inclination would be to name them—the name of the plant and the kind of stone it is. Well and good. But those are just symbols we use to talk about them. They don’t represent their referents very well. But by isolating and photographing an object, it becomes special as well as representative of the whole.

As a whole, the plant and the mountain are visually complex, perhaps even commonplace. They’re beautiful, we stand in awe of them—or pass them by. By isolating the individual representatives, the beauty is retained. The magnitude and presence of the whole is missing certainly, but what’s added through it’s stark presence is the sensibility of its “beingness.”

We might say, “Wow!” to the plant or mountain; they can be dramatic experiences. Here, the isolation and simple framing of blossom and stone makes them feel precious and deserving of deeper consideration. For instance, although they represent their respective wholes, they are unique expressions of them. No two blossoms on the plant are identical; neither are any of the other stones on the mountain. Individuals are identical in substance, different in expression.

I think of other whole systems in this regard—cell to human being, person to corporation and nation—and cosmos. Because lower order beings unite to form higher order beings—atoms join together to form molecules, molecules unite to form cells, cells unite to form… there is natural, “inherited” relationship all the way up the line. The blossom is the tree individuated. The stone is the mountain individuated. Perhaps one of the core challenges of our era is to see the individual as an expression of the whole.

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



About These Images

One of my favorite ways to isolate subject matter is to put it on a plate or in a bowl. I use all kinds of ceramics, usually black or white, and in these situations I prefer soft and even light so the shadows are less prominent. I have the advantage of a copy stand where the camera can be adjusted higher or lower as it looks down on the subject, but the same effect can be achieved outdoors by putting the plate or bowl on a piece of plain white or black paper.
















Do you see the beautiful woman bathing at the foot of a waterfall? This isn’t a trick. It’s there. Do you see the elephant? There’s also the Empire State Building, a giant anaconda, the art collection at the Louvrè, my entire photographic collection and that of the Library of Congress. While it’s not a trick, it’s a perceptual challenge because they exist within the frame as potential. In fact, what the interior of this frame carries is potentially a depository of all the visual images ever produced in any form—drawings, paintings, X-rays, photographs, television programs, movies. They’re all there. So also, potentially, are the images that have never been seen, including those not yet imagined or produced. Like outer space which appears to be empty, the content of this frame is not. As with the atom, it’s full of invisible, vibrating fields and forces.

As a blog intended to model how photographs can be used as vehicles for contemplation, this edition is intended as an appreciation of the minds of scholars and researchers who are investigating the “unification” or “nondual” paradigm that’s gaining traction in the sciences. As I consider the areas that peak my sense of wonder and appreciation, I’ll let the professionals speak for themselves.

If you keep zooming in on the image above you’ll eventually see pixels. Each one is a hologram of the whole, pure potential individuated. It can be turned on or off, emit bright light, no light at all or the inconceivable combination of luminance values and colors in between. When a cluster of pixels are black, as above, or a blank television, computer, smart phone or movie screen, they are in the “ground state” of pure potential. Whether real or imagined, an infinite number and variety of images can be projected onto them. Okay, so what’s the big deal?

It’s that this simple insight is changing the way scientists are regarding the universe and the nature of Reality. It’s going to affect everyone and everything dramatically. It already has. The proliferation of electronic technologies in the last half-century was made possible by the conscious application of quantum mechanics, the knowledge of which has, in part, led to this shift in understanding. Up until recently the wildly held assumption among scientists has been that matter is fundamental to the universe and that eons of evolutionary process has resulted in a complex brain that produces consciousness. Without a brain there’s no thought. But that turns out to not be true.

Thousands of well-conducted experiments and case studies insist there is an aspect of consciousness that is not physiologically based, and is not limited by spacetime. More than that they propose consciousness itself is the foundation of all that is. Journals in fields as disparate as physics, biology, and medicine published papers of this research. There are so many that each discipline has its own literature. Everything we talk about, everything we regard as existing, postulates consciousness. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.

Stephan Schwartz (Science journalist)

I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.

Max Planck (Developer of quantum theory)

I am inclined to the idealistic theory that consciousness is fundamental, and that the material universe is derivative from consciousness, not consciousness from the material universe. The universe seems to me to be nearer to a great thought than a great machine. It may well be that each individual consciousness ought to be compared to a brain-cell in a universal mind.

Sir James Jeans (British mathematician and astronomer)

It is not only possible but fairly probable, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing. 

Carl Jung (Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst)

The universe is not conscious; consciousness is the universe.

Rupert Spira (International teacher of the Advaita Vedanta and an English studio potter)

That consciousness is fundamental is an ancient observation, articulated in most if not all of the ancient religions, East, West and indigenous, spoken of variously as “God,” “The Ground Of All Being,” “Ultimate Reality,” “spirit,” “soul,” “ether,” “akasha” and so on. In the 16th century, the Roman Church affected a separation between the emerging discipline of science and faith. Matter became the domain of science, and consciousness (spirit) was the business of the religion. One of the consequences of this was the separation of the individual self—the body perceived as a container for the soul, the brain a container for mind. Today, high school classes and university departments continue to divide science (objective analysis) and religion (subjective experience). Now, the emerging perception that our bodies, minds and spirits are different vibrations of one Reality—consciousness—has resulted in “integral” studies in science, art and business, and significantly, the blossoming field of “consciousness studies,” where rigorous research is underway.

The fundamental reality is not matter but energy, and the laws of nature are not rules of mechanistic interaction but the ‘instructions’ or ‘algorithms’ coding patterns of energy.

Ervin Laszlo (Hungarian philosopher of science, systems theorist, integral theorist and classical pianist)

Contemplating the above image and how it contains pure potential for every image ever produced—or will be produced—consider the screen you’re looking at right now. What you are seeing is the “collapse” or manifestation of my thoughts, represented in image and words, accessed from the Ground Of All Being. According to my readings, each individuated consciousness, as a derivative, participates in and draws from universal consciousness—that Ground. We experience it as imagination and inspiration, or simply “thought.” And we draw from it according to individual perception, needs and desires. An analogy often used to help us understand The Ground, is a computer or television screen turned off. Relative to the images projected onto them, the screen itself is stable, enduring, unlimited pure potential. It can display—actualize—the totality of visual information that exists in the universe. In this way, from unified nothingness, comes the potential for actualizing everything real or imagined.

Its ground state, the cosmos, is a coherent sea of vibration; pure potential. The waves that emerge in its excited state are the actualization of this potential, and they convey the vibration of the ground state. Consequently the clusters that constitute the manifest entities of the universe are in-formed by the vibration of the cosmic ground state. Object-like patterns and clusters of patterns in the high-frequency band are in-formed by the constraints and degrees of freedom that constitutes the laws of nature; and mind-like patterns in the low-frequency band reflect and resonate with the intelligence that permeates the wave field of the excited state cosmos.

Ervin Laszlo

The reason we all seem to share the same world is not that there is one world ‘out there’ known by innumerable separate minds, but rather that each of our minds is precipitated within, informed by, and a modulation of the same infinite consciousness. There is indeed one world that each of the shares, but that world is not made of matter; it is a vibration of mind, and all there is to mind is infinite, indivisible consciousness.

Rupert Spira

To illustrate the process of actualization, read the following descriptions and fix the image in your mind with your eyes closed. Take your time.

  • A blade of grass—make it green, then brown.
  • A bowl—make it wooden, then ceramic.
  • Put an elephant in the bowl—then a flower.

The words triggered your mind to tune into and download aspects of consciousness from The Ground—akasha, spirit, God—whatever name we want to give it. Instantly. And appreciate: images don’t exist anywhere in the brain. Their component energies—size, shape, softness, hardness, color, etc.—are energy stimulations, vibrations “collapsed” from the Ground, creating a composite “mentation,” a mental image  and a representative experience of an object.

Imagine your senses completely turned off. You can’t see, hear, taste, touch or smell. You have no reference for where you are or what is supporting you, because you can’t sense gravity. This is the Ground state, and the only thing that can be said about it is that it is. It exists. Personally, it’s the state of “I am”—a singularity, an individuated Ground actualized from the One, Ground Of All Being. Again, from my readings, evidence comes from the fact that every human being who ever lived and ever will live claims the same name in referring to him or herself—I.

In religious language, the feeling of love is God’s footprint in the heart. It is the experience of our shared being. Likewise, the thought ‘I am’ is God’s signature in my mind. The knowledge ‘I am’ is the shared light of infinite, indivisible consciousness refracted into an apparent multiplicity and diversity of selves or minds.

Rupert Spira

There’s a lot to contemplate here. As individual “grounds” of the Universal Ground—holograms of a sort—might each of us, and humanity as a whole, have unlimited potentials to create? Already we create our personal, professional and collective realities. And what’s the dynamic here? We can only experience the world in duality, in subject-object relationship, so how do we relate to the deep reality of nonduality?

Consciousness has to divide itself—into a subject that knows and an object that is known—in order to manifest creation. It has to sacrifice the unity of its own infinite, and indivisible being and seem to become a separate-self world, which now appears, as a result, to acquire its own independent existence. Thus, the inside self and the outside world are the inevitable duality that constitutes manifestation. They are two sides of the same coin: the apparent veiling of reality.

Rupert Spira

Everything already is. All we have to do is pull it out and make it be.

Linda Smith (My wife and editor)

Okay, given these perspectives, what would be an appropriate response? Science recommends the study and investigation of the material universe. Faith traditions—spirituality—advise prayer and meditation. Seems to me their integration makes sense. Study activates and focuses the mind; prayer and meditation stills it, takes it to Ground.

Below is an image that came into being when I reached out to The  Ground and “asked”—through wondering, imagining and playing—how I could combine something nature-made with something man-made.


Laszlo, Ervin. The Connectivity Hypotheses: Foundations of an Integral Science of Quantum, Cosmos, Life, and Consciousness. 2003.

Whole systems orientation.

Laszlo, Ervin. What Is Reality? The New Map of Cosmos and Consciousness. 2016

Scientific orientation.

Spira, Rupert. The Nature of Consciousness: Essays on the Unity of Mind and Matter. 2017.

Spiritual orientation.

Wilber, Ken. The Eye Of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad. 2001.

Integral, human development orientation.



The Flowering Of Our Humanity

Red Hibiscus


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Campbell

About This Image

Red Hibiscus

Theme: The Flowering Of Our Humanity

File: DC 6413


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

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

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

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

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

Bounty And Beauty


Amish Hay Shocks

Two words come to mind when I look at this field: bounty and beauty. Even more than the wheat shocks, the cultivated ground on which they stand evokes in me a sense of the skin of the earth—how thin it is and how marvelous that, year after year, seeds dropped into it rise in such a short period of time to provide the nutrients we need to survive. It seems like a miracle—until I remember that it’s part of the chain of interconnections that evolved to make life sustainable and more abundant.

Images like this also remind me to appreciate that we in the technologically developed nations of the world enjoy regular and bountiful harvests. It’s not something to take for granted when, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly 870 million people (of the 7.1 billion people in the world—one in eight) suffered from chronic undernourishment between 2010 and 2011. More recently that number dropped to 843 million, but it’s still a sobering reality.

I made this photograph in Amish country with a 4×5 view camera. As I was standing close to the roadside with my head under a dark cloth to adjust the composition on the ground glass, I heard a horse and buggy approaching. Not wanting to get my tripod bumped or frighten the horse, I stepped aside and waved to the driver. Surprisingly, he stopped. “You like that field do you?” said the long-bearded farmer wearing a wide-rimmed black hat.

“I do,” I replied. “These fields are amazing. May I ask what those stacks are called?”

“Shocks,” he said. “Wheat shocks. Do you know why we arrange them like that?” I shook my head. “It’s a lot more work to do it that way, and it takes longer than rolling. Either way, the bulk of the hay stays dry. But we do it because it’s beautiful.”

That little but precious comment took root in my soul that day as both an inspiration and an injunction to, as much as possible, make beauty an essential component of all my creations. I don’t always succeed, but the intention is firmly planted.

Beauty is finally our surest indication of whether what we do is in the most creative direction for nature as a whole. 

Fredrick Turner

About This Image

Title: Wheat Shocks

Theme: Bounty And Beauty

File #: 602

Sugarcreek, OH

In the middle of Ohio there are miles and miles of rolling hills inhabited by the Amish. I photograph there often and in every kind of weather. The fields change so much from season to season. The same spot where I set up my tripod years before, always has something new to show me. Also, the houses, barns and schoolhouses provide exceptional forms and textures, particularly at “magic hour.”

While I never photograph the Amish themselves without asking permission, I often have them in the frame, rendering them simply as “people” from a distance too far away to recognize their faces. And what a treat it is to photograph where there are far fewer fences and wires.

Initially, this field caught my attention because the long row of shocks looked so much like a row of Ewoks (Star War characters) marching in procession. By increasing the print contrast and brightening the highlights, I began to also see them as hooded monks. And that contributed to a more contemplative sensibility. A large print of this image has hung in our living room for many years now. And I never tire of it’s subtle but profound reminders—to appreciate the bounty we have and to make beauty an integral part of everyday living.


Birds On Wires


I always enjoy seeing how birds space themselves along a wire. How do they know when close is too close? I’ve watched them land in a space that seems wide enough to maintain a proper distance between them and their neighbors, but if it isn’t enough they’ll adjust. And then there’s the individual, seen here, who prefers to be alone. Or is he just waiting for a spot?

In this image, the additional elements of sky and jet trail evoke in me a sense of how the earth is filling up. Is there space enough for everyone? Will there be in the future, considering the trend in population growth? We’re definitely crowding out wildlife. “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” Considering the increasing loss of habitat, where can the birds and animals go? Where can we go to avoid traffic, street noise, apocalyptic movies and television hype?

Some folks say the planet is finite and fear that, if we keep multiplying, the quality of life for everyone will deteriorate until the earth becomes uninhabitable. My preferred perspective has two parts: that expansion is the norm at all levels, from atoms to universe, and life makes more of itself while matter transforms to accommodate increasing complexity. As we know from the tumultuous geologic past and the history of civilizations, evolution does not favor individuals. Rather, it favors expansion—now most noticeably from a human perspective in the form of increased complexity and consciousness. So I tend to view the increasing human use of space on earth and everything that’s expanding within it, as life’s way of providing the pressure we need in order to learn effective and responsible planetary management. Stewardship. It can be uncomfortable and chaotic, even tragic, but sometimes that’s how we learn.

Like those birds on the wire, we are all watching and seeking in our own way, relating and adjusting to life as it becomes more complex. Intolerance, the clash of ideologies, environmental irresponsibility and climate change are some of the predominant and long-term forces that are providing the impetus for humanity to learn and implement appropriate and responsible management systems and processes that are life affirming and sustainable—at every level and in the long term. Evolution favors the big picture. It brought forth life and intelligence. Now it’s up to us to care of its parts, the members that have the capacity to envision and co-create. As the song goes, “We have the whole world in our hands.” Is there enough space for everyone? Will the apocalyptic movies and television programs contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy? Or will we build a world that works for everyone, in harmony with nature? No doubt, one way for some of us to learn, is to see what we don’t want.

From a whole-systems evolutionary perspective, individual integrity and species survival have less to do with fitness, wealth, governance or who has the most or “badder” weapons of mass destruction. It has far more to do with how we perceive and think about ourselves, each other and the world. Breakdowns such as war, crime, corruption and even domestic violence and incivility are telling us current modes of thinking are not working. They’re leading us down a more divisive and destructive path.

Viewed constructively, the established paradigms of separation and fear are forces that are pressuring us to adopt a shift toward unity and love., from “subdue the earth; me first, last and always,” to “respect the earth; we will prosper together or perish together.” Beyond sentimentality and wishful thinking, love, compassion and collaboration are the practical and realistic forces that encourage us to respond more appropriately to change. They transcend narrow and limited, short term, winners and loosers thinking. Crisis precedes transformation, it doesn’t block it. The pressures we’re experiencing may be nature’s way of showing us how we’ve been creating, prompting us to change course so we can build a world that works for everyone including the lions and tigers and bears. And birds. Oh yes!

Stewardship is the willingness to be accountable for the well-being of a larger organization by operating in service, rather than in control, of those around us.

Peter Block

About This Image

Birds On A Wire

File: DC 5994

Bloomington Rd. Champaign, IL

I’d been traveling the county roads of mid-state Illinois, photographing fields of corn and cottony clouds. Toward evening I stopped to photograph the reflection of cattails in a small corporate pond. The water was still and with the sun going down, the reflections were dark and pristine. As often happens, I walked back to the car and saw another opportunity—the birds on wires.

My first thought was to wait until the jet trail passed before taking the shot, but then I was in place and the ISO setting on the digital camera was proper for the darkening sky, so I made some exposures with and without the jet trail.

When I viewed the images on the computer, the jet trail was barely visible and the sky was brighter than expected. Using the adjustment tools in Lightroom, I was able to darken the sky at the top—enough for the jet trail to show—and increase the saturation of the magenta sky so there was some blended separation from the blue clouds.

All the while I was photographing, the birds kept changing position—and the dynamic of the shot. Fortunately, this one had all the elements aligned. And that’s what separated it from the other exposures, making it evocative for me. The little guy on the wire all by himself was a gift. With him out of the picture, my contemplation would likely have been very different. It’s a tiny difference that made a big difference.


Rust Running From Stairway


Because the rust is so prominent in this image, giving the appearance of a “bleeding” or disintegrating stairway, I see it as an excellent illustration of entropy—matter in the process of dissipation, reverting back to heat energy. Everything disintegrates. Dust to dust.

Iron rusts, computers fail, bones break, noise disrupts communication, relationships fail, businesses reach the end of their lifecycle and civilizations fall. Without exception, all forms of matter eventually return to their component elements and energies. I observed to my video production students, “The natural tendency is for cameras and production crews not to work. Parts, relationships and communication break down. So if you want things to work, every element needs attention—maintenance. Constantly. Periodically. Metal needs to be oiled. Connections need to be maintained. People need to be on the same page,  fairly compensated and encouraged.” From a human perspective, the forces of entropy are staved off (negative entropy, or syntropy) by caring, maintenance and increased information.

This stairway would not have been bleeding had it been properly cared for, perhaps with periodic painting—or a retardant at the first sign of rust. Without maintenance, entropy results in increased disintegration. The steps break and need to be replaced. One of life’s principle lessons for me is that in every domain, maintenance (syntropy) is better in the long run than the consequences of entropy.

In this image I find it metaphorically suggestive that “steps” are disintegrating. In the course of our lives we take the steps we believe are necessary to reach our goals. We start out feeling secure because the steps have a proven track record of success for other people. But with experience we sometimes find those steps to be unreliable in our situation. Even when we feel we’re on the right stairway, we may not care enough or give proper attention to certain steps and we falter. Minimally, security and trust are at risk, particularly when someone else’s course of action doesn’t resonate with our temperament, values or beliefs. Worse is continuing to follow a path that has already been shown to be entropic. Instead of bemoaning breakdowns, the more appropriate response is to analyze the situation objectively, pay close attention to the details, and if warranted, take the appropriate action to retard the forces of disintegration.

I won’t elaborate here, but consider this in terms of a social system that’s experiencing breakdowns. Where are the points of disintegration? Where is entropy in evidence? What can I do about it—personally, within the context of my family, friends and colleagues? Syntropic acts can be as simple as a smile. Then too, it could take some time, effort and possibly some expense to keep our personal and professional “steps” from bleeding. Entropy is a dragon that cannot be tamed. But it can effectively be managed.

Entropy is the occasion less for cosmic pessimism than for hope that the universe is always open to new creation.

John Haught

About This Image

Bleeding Stairway

File: DF 916

River Rd. Cincinnati, OH

I frequent industrial sites, looking for possible images. Fortunately, I was able to get close enough to a series of interconnected oil tanks that were badly in need of paint or whatever is used to keep the rust from happening. There was plenty of light, so I hand held the digital camera.

When on location, scanning the environment for images that are evocative, ripe for contemplation, I’m especially looking for three key elements: light, geometry and simplicity. My aesthetic nerve is especially stimulated when these converge. I can be satisfied when just one or two of these properties are evident within a space, but when they all come together, the resultant image is more likely to be numinous. By far, the more difficult element to find or create is simplicity. Yet it’s this that contributes most to a composition that has impact.

Specific to this image, the light raking across the surface of the tank gives it texture and the stairway contributes  geometry through the repeating pattern. Simplicity was achieved by keeping the shot tight, eliminating all but the essential elements. Simplicity was also served here by there only being two predominant colors—white and orange.

Using Photoshop I transformed the image into black and white to see what it would look like. In this instance, the color not only contributes aesthetic appeal, it carries the weight of the “message.” This was an instance where I was glad I was shooting in color. The black and white image had the qualities of light and geometry, but without the stark and rich colors of the rust, it would not have evoked the above considerations.


Presence And The Present Moment

Footprints & Tire Tracks in Sand


In this image I observe and celebrate the aesthetic of the present moment, happenings and combinations of elements that once existed and are gone. In this instance, the patterns and textures lasted perhaps a day at most before being lost to the incoming tide. It’s the story of impermanence, of risings and fallings, comings and goings, syntropy and entropy, processes that urge us to appreciate what is given as it’s given.

As a document, there’s an abundance of information here. It tells a story of two-footed creatures who’ve evolved sufficiently to create a highly patterned, well organized mechanism capable of making a linear imprint in sand. Geologists could derive information about the planet and the time the photograph was made, just from the material and shadows. We can only imagine the significance of a robot that would capture a similar image on the surface of another planet.

Aesthetically, the elements of patterned light and shadow evoke in me a sense of beingness. A person walked or stood there long enough to make an impression in the sand. And a vehicle came along, leaving its imprint as well. Although this is obvious, it’s not the information that moved me to make the photograph. It was an attraction to the quality of light that interrupted my walk on the beach—how it was creating textures and illuminating the pattern of the tire. It was only later, when I spent time thinking about the image, that I began to catch the sensibility of being— the wonder of presence and the fleeting precious moment.

By letting go of our conceptual beliefs and judgments, by letting go of rules and just being present in the moment, we perhaps gain our true humanity. We see.

George DeWolfe

About This Image

Title: Footprints In The Sand

File: DF 215

Indian Rocks Beach, Florida

I was walking on the beach about an hour before sunset when I came upon these imprints in the sand. Because I primarily photograph light and what it’s doing, I only tangentially think about the subject. Especially I try not to name or describe it. Neither do I say anything about it. Instead, I regard the subject as a complex of visual elements, forms and textures illuminated in such a way that gradation and contrast become predominant. Beyond looking and identifying what we see, whether in reality or an image of reality, the aesthetic quest calls us to perceive as if through new eyes.

I think it’s this that largely distinguishes the documentary approach from expressive photography. Both are creative acts and both have value. Documentation represents the subject. Expression represents how we feel about it, the impression it makes on us or what it evokes in us. I do both, depending on circumstances.

In this instance I moved around the imprints in the sand while looking through the viewfinder, trying to find the relationship between the forms, textures and variations in light that maximized my aesthetic sensibilities and best expressed my impression of the subject. You may notice: It’s next to impossible for a person to stand in a position to leave these impressions. I haven’t been able to figure it out.

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



Order And Coherence

Sphere 754


Initially, this image evoked in me an appreciation of the organizing principles that underlie manifested reality, from sub-atomic particles to the universe. The consistent spherical shapes, irrespective of size, and the way the light raked across them suggesting mass and texture and that led to considerations of order. Upon further reflection, my appreciation widened to include the forces of coherence that are displayed between and among the spheres.

I tend to think of ordering as the arrangement of parts within a system, and coherence the adhering property of those parts. Combined, the result is a balanced dynamic, a whole system that functions according to its design. Here, I observe subtle forces, a dance of pushing and pulling that maintains the shape and integrity of each sphere of oil as it seeks a comfortable place on the surface of a hostile environment—a graduate filled with water. This still image capturea a moment of adaptation in a turbulent situation. In a sense, the cells (oil drops) are “learning” about their identity and place, how to “live” in relation to the other cells given the reality of the environment.

Coherence in us means health: the optimum functioning of the body. When the body is coherent, its immune system is strong and resistant to disease. Everything we do either promotes or counters coherence and thus our and our environment’s evolution and development; it is either healthy or unhealthy, and is either constructive or destructive.

Ervin Laszlo

Perhaps because the larger sphere in the center of the image contains texture, I’m reminded of the processes of ordering and coherence that took place when the Earth was forming, trying to  take shape and establish coherence at a time in the planet’s history so violent we can barely imagine it. I marvel at the improbability of that happening. And yet, out of the chaos came order and coherence, the combination allowing the development of higher organisms and intelligent life.

The probability of life evolving through random genetic variation is about the same as the probability of a hurricane blowing through a scrap yard assembling a working airplane.

  Fred Hoyle


For atoms to bounce together haphazardly to form a single molecule of amino acid would require more time than has existed since the beginning, even a hundred times more than 13.7 billion years.

Mary Coelho


The chance that a livable universe like ours would be created is less than the chance of randomly picking a particular single atom out of all the atoms in the universe.

Bruce Rosenblum & Fred Kuttner

About This Image

Sphere 754

I positioned a 4×5 camera over a light table, filled a tall, one-quart graduate with filtered water and set it on the table. Using an eyedropper, I deposited drops of vegetable oil on the surface to form a two-inch “cell.” After some experimentation with lighting, I cut a hole in a sheet of black paper so it was a little larger than the circumference of the graduate and placed it under it. This created the contrast between the light and dark bands.

The out-of-focus edge of the cardboard—due to short depth of field—resulted in the gradations, giving a sense of depth to the spheres. With a little manipulation of the cardboard, and by adding more drops of oil, the image took on an organic as well as cosmic sensibility. But there were problems. The oil cells kept drifting to the side of the graduate and out of the camera frame. Worse, dust particles kept settling on the surface. I dismantled the setup and started again from scratch after creating nearly clean-room conditions—including working in my underwear.

To gain control over the composition and the dust I substituted an electronic flash for the incandescent bulbs in the light box. Still there was dust, and it was visible on the surface because that was the point of critical focus. The solution was to quickly cover the graduate with a piece of clear glass between exposures. With a cable release in hand and the shutter cocked, I removed the glass, made the exposure and quickly covered the graduate to prepare for the next shot.

After several exposures, I experimented with a variety of substances to see how they would interact with the large pool of oil in the middle of the frame. I dumped the water and reconstituted the oil drops maybe fifty times to get it right. In the end, it was a single drop of lighter fluid deposited in the center of the oil cell that created the texture. And it was dramatic! Within the sphere there was a highly active cauldron of swirling lines and craters. Whereas oil and water do not mix, oil and lighter fluid actually do battle with each other to establish coherence. Eventually, the oil won because lighter fluid evaporates.

I shot over 100 sheets of 4×5 film to get about 40 very different images—by using different vessels, types of oil and lighting setups. I did this in two, week-long sessions separated by about four months, the second one taking advantage of what was learned in the first. What prompted this project was my insatiable desire to make images that exhibit varying degrees of gradation.

A full description of this process and more of the spherical images can be found in LensWork Magazine #39 February-March, 2002. For readers who approach photography as a medium of creative expression, I can’t say enough about LensWork Magazine and its many initiatives. I consider it to be the Rolls Royce of photography magazines. It deals with technique a bit, equipment not at all. Instead, the focus is on the creative process. The magazine is only available in select bookstores, so I recommend a subscription.


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






Lecture Hall


In this image I see the next generation of professionals being exposed to the knowledge of both present and past learners. I also see the learning process accelerating, facilitated by the rapid and global flow of information involving many more people making more connections than ever before.

Going forward from the industrial revolution, we acquired knowledge about how the human senses, particularly sight and sound can be expanded, improved upon and extended far into the cosmos through the use of microwave and radio telescopes. Intricate surgeries are being successfully performed by robots acting under the control of surgeons at a distance. Animals are being cloned. Technology growth is advancing exponentially. And individuals by the millions are communicating globally and simultaneously. I look at this image and wonder if considerations of more and faster are also producing better results. Does more knowledge, better tools and increased capacities result in higher quality—more competent, ethical, responsible and caring human beings? More secure, economically sound and vital societies? In some cases “yes,” in other instances “no.” When it comes to tools of any kind, what matters is how we use them.

Certainly it’s easier, faster and more financially profitable to direct the flow of information and knowledge toward external changes, more so than addressing internal changes, those relating to the qualities of consciousness and character, which are neither sexy nor profitable. Reflecting on these qualities in relation to learning, I wonder what we’re educating for—at every level. And toward what ends should we be applying what we’re learning?

Constructive jobs and the professions are part of it. Wisdom born of hard experience is another part, necessary for intelligence and creativity to be channeled into understanding, improvements, health and well-being. And then there’s knowledge that contributes to personal growth and social development. Might there be less crime and corruption, perhaps even less political polarization, if more people understood the many ways in which all of life is interconnected and interdependent? And that all choices have consequences—for the whole as well as the individual.

I was a students in this very lecture hall. Back then, we took notes with pad and pen. And the focus was more on the teacher than projected images. Beyond the name of the teacher and the course, I have only a vague memory of the lessons that were taught in that hall. I do, however, vividly remember the teacher and his passion for the subject. He captured our attention, not only because he had expertise and experience in the field we aspired to; he lived it. We listened and watched because he provided the model for what we could expect at the executive level in the broadcast industry. And it proved to be an accurate assessment.

Years later, as a university professor myself, I learned that education is only partly about the conveyance of knowledge and information. Students can get that on their own. And they will pursue certain subjects when they’re sufficiently motivated to do so. What’s more difficult for them to acquire are the qualities of character that contribute to a life well lived with meaningful contributions, qualities that are best demonstrated rather than talked about.

Technologies in the classroom are essential resources, particularly for learning the externals—how the world works and how to enter into it. Equally, I think attention to the internals, the qualities of consciousness and character, is essential. And for that we need positive role models—parents, teachers, professionals and leaders in every domain.

The process of creating intelligence is not merely a question of access to information. Would that learning were as easy as diving into a swimming pool of information or sitting down at a great banquet table for an info-feast. Rather, education, which comes from the Latin educaré, meaning to raise and nurture, is more a matter of imparting values and critical faculties than inputting raw data. Education is about enlightenment, not just access. 

David Shenk

About This Image

Title: Lecture Hall

File #DC 4090

Zimmer Auditorium, University Of Cincinnati

Whenever I expect to be photographing interiors with available light, I much prefer shooting with a digital rather than a film camera. The ISO number (sensitivity to light) can be adjusted higher than film without significant degradation to the image. This same image photographed on film would have been very grainy and I would have needed a tripod for the long exposure.

My camera is usually set on “Daylight” color balance. Seeing how yellow the light was in the hall, I changed the setting to “Tungsten,” which produced the better looking image on the viewing screen. Next, I set the camera on “A” for aperture mode in order to maximize the depth of field so objects both near and far would be in focus. And then, because I was hand-holding the camera, I set the shutter speed at 1/500th of a second to minimize movement. Combining these factors, the camera indicated that I needed an ISO of 1500.

As usual, I bracketed the exposure by shooting several frames: normal, over and under the camera’s recommendation. Using Adobe Lightroom software, I increased the exposure to bring out more detail on the projection screens and reduced the overall contrast by boosting the shadows.

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