We listened, and watched. The whale came up fast out of the ocean. She opened her mouth. Gulp!
"It's lunchtime. I'm hungry," said the whale. The whale looked over.
"Don't get too close, you'll scare the fish," said the whale, slowly.
She vanished. Silence.
Gulls flew over the water. Not another sound. So, we listened more.
Suddenly, there was a burst of white foam on the ocean. Many, many tiny silver fish jumped up all in a row.
The whale! She rose up to gulp down the fish. She loves her favorite shrimp, for lunch.
We pointed our boat away from her to be quiet.
She rested on top of the ocean. Then the whale went down for awhile but soon rose up for another mouthful.
"Yum," said the Whale. Then, slowly, she went back down to her friends.
The moral of the story, said the Whale, is "Listen. My ocean can show you many magical things."
As we see and experience an event, we make a picture. After time passes, we may rediscover the picture as we bring it up on our screen, but think: "When and where was that taken?" We might even have no memory of taking it. It is easy to take a picture, and easy to forget it, but why do we clean forget our pictures as time passes?
When I was given the anesthetic Versed for a medical procedure, I went "under." I "woke up" 45 minutes afterward. I regained consciousness, but had no memory of either getting dressed after surgery or answering questions from several people. Retrograde amnesia is a common Versed side effect. It is typical for people to be unaware that their memory is impaired by the chemistry of anesthesia.
Anesthesiologists have a tough time telling what they are measuring when they try to measure when someone "loses" consciousness. Brain research might suggest that thalamus-cortex connections may be involved in the anesthetic induced changes in consciousness, and problems with movement arise from cerebellar-thalamus systems. Even from a scientific viewpoint, many questions remain about the mystery of consciousness and memory. Memories are suspended in our experiences of a specific time, a certain place, weather conditions, the light quality and our entire perceptual field. Human perception is far more complex than any camera can capture; we tend to remember those experiences that are vivid, emotional and involve all our senses. Taking a picture does not demand our full experience or emotional attention. Picture taking is an easy act. Unless we pay attention to the entire scene and study its details in depth, we may not recall the image later on.
Anesthesia puts us "under." The metaphor has an up-down orientation. It is ontological because it refers to anesthesia as a thing that a person can be underneath. In general, things that are "up" are good. Health and life are up. Down things like death and sickness are bad. Somewhere in the middle, anesthesia suspends us between life and death. This is the nature of photographs as well. They suspend us in time.
My Versed-induced loss of memory reminds me of photographs I've taken and forgotten. Looking back at them, I pause. I have no memory of making the picture, or the event's meaning. Unlike a vivid memory, a photograph does not sustain meaning. Meaning takes time and experience; photos have only the symbolic appearance of time. Still photographs preserve instant appearance as the camera sees, so a photograph of an event is as biased as our memory of it.
Perhaps images anesthetize us in unique ways. In a literary, metaphorical sense, are we using our cameras as IV delivery tubes for anesthesia to numb our pain?
We see pictures of war every day. War photography in particular, as writer and critic Susan Sontag noted in On Photography, numbs us to the suffering of others. Although we see the pain and the horror, it is in the past. The war may be far away and, if we have not been to the front lines, its personal context and meaning are missing.
There are at least two people in every photograph. The photographer has a context for the event that viewers do not share. Unless a viewer has prior awareness in her mind of the event photographed, she will not have a moral response or empathetic feeling for those suffering from the event.
RITUAL REQUIRES MEMORY
Photography used to be a ritual. It was expensive, slow and time consuming in the 19th century. With smaller formats, faster films, and mobile cameras, photography became a reflex. it became pocketable, airborne and reflexive. The rituals of photography that took time was displaced by quick, surface scans of events that are quickly forgotten. Memory is the key to bringing the ritual back into the craft. And perhaps, contemplation and reflection are partly the keys to memory.
Because the camera only takes a sliver of time, removes an instant from the flow, and fixes appearance, it has a complex relationship to nature. Cameras use equations and algorithms to transform light into a picture. We perceive nature, and we see pictures, but they are not the same. There is the thing, and there is the photograph of the thing, forever separate. A photograph lives through appearances. Human visual perception lives in being. My photograph, on its own, may often have little relationship to your experience.
Photo journalism adds text that personalizes pictures. Words and pictures are more powerful than either alone. Slice a war photograph out of context and we may see it on our screen without time, place or event references. Include the text that this mother is holding her infant child killed in a bombing by a US-Saudi war plane, and the context lets us more fully experience the authenticity of the photograph. Media itself can not do this. Taking a picture with a film camera does not make a picture more "authentic", for example. Only the viewer who invests emotion and meaning into a photograph will .
We respond more to photographs that show events we remember from the news and those that came about while we were alive. We react differently to photographs that have music playing with them. We feel the pain of a photograph when we know and experience its personal context. How many times has someone told you "I have a picture just like that" when in fact it is nothing like your picture? Our seeing corner of perception and experience even gives us a politics for interpreting photographs. Susan Sontag wrote: “Without a politics, photographs of the slaughter-bench of history will most likely be experienced as unreal or as a demoralizing emotional blow.”
Without a framework and personal context, we can become numb to photographs. In this way, a series of pictures of violence can anesthetize us to the suffering of those depicted.
John Berger, the noted art critic, said "the camera records in order to forget." So, what is the solution?
Sati is the Sanskrit word, centuries old, for bringing the past into the present. Remindfulness is the distant past, plus the recent past, that comes or is brought into the present as a corrective method to aide action and decision. Remindfulness preserves meaning through looking way back in our personal time. Being remindful of the recent past, we can bring it into the present. The practice gives a hopeful aspect to our photography and a framework for positive change. For instance, thinking back on a photography workshop reminds us of good work we did there, useful techniques we learned, and warm feelings of intimacy with the other participants.. A photograph does not preserve meaning.
How can we restore meaning to a photograph? Invest time in it. Make a print for your wall. Then go a bit deeper. Understand that memory has an enormous number of associations. It is a three dimensional web of associations, into which thought, hearing, smell, taste, touch, sense of balance, the sense of internal organs, the sense of the passage of time, and human proprioception are all woven. Know that vision is limited to a very thin slice of electromagnetic radiation. Not just the time we invest, but the more vivid our experience, and the more we reflect upon it, the more we will benefit from bringing it back, remindfully.
Remindful photography is when the living take the past into themselves. The past becomes part of the soul, and all photographs can acquire a living context within the span of one's life. The key is to share them so they are woven into social, political, everyday, economic and personal context.
Keywords: remindfulness, photography, awareness, senses, three-dimensional remindfulness, remindful, storytelling, media, communication, John Berger, Susan Sontag, photo critic, critique, vision, meaning of photography, context of photography, About Looking, on photography, seeing, deeper seeing, mindfulness, remindful, association in photography.
On Photography https://www.amazon.com/Photography-Susan-Sontag/dp/0312420099
Uses of Photography. https://sites.uni.edu/fabos/seminar/readings/berger.pdf
On January 25, 2017, noted art critic John Berger passed away. His book About Looking, is a collection of essays that I use in all my field experiences with students of photography.
Hashtags add dimension and context. Without text or hastags, this picture is a room in a building. Add these, and the context becomes three dimensional, a radial array of associations and meaning: #National #Historic #Landmark #America #Library of Congress #Thomas Jefferson #Jefferson Library #Thomas Jefferson Building #Beaux Arts #Washington DC #PaulPeltz #architecture #interior #Busts of Presidents #paintings #sculpture #library #American history
A Passion for Provincetown
My passion for Provincetown is a deep appreciation for the simple pleasures that arise in this Cape Cod town. I was married in Provincetown on August 30, 2013. Also, I cherish the people I've met here, the times we've had, the portraits of them that have developed.
Not everyone shares my feeling. The week after my husband Bentley and I were married by Rev. Kate Wilkinson, I met two old friends from my childhood. Arriving by ferry, they brought their 13-year-old son to Commercial Street, and stayed in town for a day. After swapping memories from our past time together on a bench near the Wired Puppy, they mentioned they were leaving that day, had disliked Provincetown, and added they probably would not be back to visit. Talking about his experience of Commercial Street, the father added: "It's too much like a Mall."
I was curious how they formed their strong opinion, so I asked them a few things:
Did you walk the East End or West End of town?
Did you take in a show or listen to music in a club or on the street?
Did you go out on the water or swim the harbor, or even sit gazing at water and waves? Did you bike out among the Dunes?
>We tried, but...
In contrast to my friends' impression, my experience of Provincetown is immense, a kind of web of fine threads of relationships suspended in my consciousness. Provincetown experiences have been vibrant, vital, diverse and wildly energetic. Walking the shore, the grassy lanes, or the back streets to photograph is a meditation, an invitation to slow the pace, gather pictures, and enjoy flânerie.
The timeless spirit of Provincetown is larger than any single person's vision, but I offer a few pictures made over the years. some of these pictures are in the installation, Women By Sea, in the Provincetown library. Thank you, passionate Provincetown.
About the Author: Sailor, basinji dog lover, folk guitarist and first mate on Salty Paws, Austin has published a fine art photography eZineAustin called SHIZEN, ( pronounced She-Zen), a FREE, no-ad, one click .PDF for any device, all are welcome to download here.
Setting out over the roads of the Isle of Skye, we went in search of the Neist lighthouse. Built in 1909, for over a century it has withstood the forceful winds of the Minch, a strait in northwest Scotland.
The day before, we'd taken a wrong turn. It took us awhile to find our bed and breakfast, the Ballachulish House Bothy, but this delay worked in our favor. When we finally found the correct driveway off the main road, the rain tapered off, and a rainbow burst out overhead as we drove uphill past a roaring stream. Winds rocked the trees.
We parked. The owner greeted us. We moved our dry luggage into the Ballachulish guest house, a slate roof, rectangular, 19th-century stone-built abode, described as a self-catering bed-and-breakfast. On the mantle above its fireplace, hardbound between red leather covers, was a complete set of Robert Louis Stevenson's novels (First American Editions, Scribner's sons). This lot of books measured three feet from end to end. Stevenson's novel Kidnapped was in the middle of the stack, about halfway in-between The Hair Trunk and Saint Ives. While the wind howled around the walls that night, mental pages turned in my mind, and I realized that the author Robert Louis Stevenson was part of the same family as the Stevenson clan who built almost 100 Scottish lighthouses.
Our guesthouse, built in 1640, was famous for its connection to the Appin Murder, known in Scotland for its howling miscarriage of justice. Colin Campbell of Glenure, the Red Fox, was shot in the back in the Wood of Lettermore near Appin, Scotland. He was a government employee. He managed three estates under the government control of King George II, the 5th Great Grandfather of Elizabeth II. King George's men took land from Jacobite clans and Jacobite men sought revenge. Thus, the shooting.
This particular shooting of Campbell outraged the British establishment, even more so as it came on the heels of the Battle of Culloden, in which Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobites were defeated in battle by the British army. James Stewart, a Jacobite known as “James of the Glen”, was hanged for the Appin murder despite his solid alibi. The psalm that James of the Glen spoke before he was led to the noose, the 35th psalm, is known in the highlands at the Psalm of James of the Glen: Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me; Let their way be dark and slippery. The murder and hanging inspired fictional events in Robert Louis Stevenson's aforementioned novel Kidnapped.
The next day, in the windy, chilly, moist air of the coast, we hiked atop the cliff to the Neist Lighthouse. The 1909 lighthouse is perched on a promontory overlooking the turbulent, ever-changing waters between the Outer and Inner Hebrides. Its purpose is to warn ships away from the rocks at Neist Point. Striding over the wet heather and muddy grass along the cliffs, with a steady 35-knot wind cutting through our bones, we could see gannets gliding over the water at the base of the cliff. We took care to avoid the drizzle-awakened slippery rocks near the deathly drop offs, lest a wind gust propel us over the side.
To photograph the lighthouse, we took the cliff trail instead of the steep, single track downward. Looking out over the promontory, made of Giant's Causeway gneiss rock, it was clear how Neist Point got its name (pronounced Neiss). Given the scale of this remote rock promontory, it seemed improbable that anyone would build there, yet the engineer David Alan Stevenson― a member of the Stevenson family of lighthouse builders in Scotland― had planned well. David Stevenson designed and built 26 lighthouses with his brother and uncle, including the Neist project. Neist has three unique features. First, its memorable setting on the most westerly point of Skye, projecting into the Minch. And, there is an aerial cableway for getting supplies down and out to the lighthouse building. Finally, a garage was converted into a tea and coffee shop, a feature appreciated by wind-chilled slow photographers.
After downloading pictures from our cameras back inside the guesthouse, its cozy touches―fireplace, hot tea, the pages of Stevenson's book, shelter from the wind―came together to make for a blissful Isle of Skye evening.
www.Jimages.com Kidnapped in Scotland
Cowbells clang. Drums boom. Fancy dancers whirl. Costumed dancers gyrate with coordinated, frenetic energy.
Five junkanoo groups from Eleuthera that rushed Governor's harbor were assembling their floats and costumes. The Savannah Sound Lucayans, Harbour Island's Barracks Hill Warriors, New Vision from Rock Sound, The Unity Builders, and the Harbour Boys from Governor's Harbor. Junkanoo is quintessentially Bahamian.
Travel is ephemeral and filled with singular experiences. I may only turn around this corner, at this time, in this place, just once. These inimitable moments are a singular combination of many alignments, perhaps like a number series that unlocks a safe. In these best moments, the "who, what, where, when and why" all come together in sync to open into a photograph.
ENGAGE WITH EMOTIVE EMPATHY
But here is the thing: we can Engage with Empathy. When we are open and confident, we greet other passersby. When we joyfully engage with another person, in that unique moment, making a photographic portrait seems a natural conclusion to our interaction. Nat. Geo. photographer Greg Kahn asked us to explore something unfamiliar, when "spontaneous adventures often lead to unexpected images." I believe we might go a bit deeper than exploring. We might practice emotive empathy.
What is Emotive Empathy? Simply, it's our abilities to recognize, share in, and guess our subject's emotional state. At a more complex level, we begin to guess what another person is thinking, how they feel about us taking their picture. We do this amazing feat, it seems, without thinking. Not so. There is lightning fast thinking going on, we are just not aware if it.
While, we are often sympathetic about someone's viewpoint, or believe we know the way they feel ("I feel you" "I know what you mean"), emotive empathy tries to go deeper. While it takes focus to maintain, emotive empathy is a worthwhile practice.
What does this mean for travel photography? It means, when we meet others at a Bahamian festival, or elsewhere, to attempt to share the emotions of another person by listening, smiling, being open and not judging, and perhaps reflecting back how I believe someone might feel before I frame and make their portrait. These are just a few of the roots of engaged emotional empathy.
What does engaging mean? It means being charismatic, and open to the unfamiliar. On the street at a chaotic event like Junkanoo, it means staying loose, smiling first at someone even if they don't look approachable, and making first contact to reach out. When I do these gestures, others see me as safer and more approachable, most of the time. As a result, the photography begins conversationally instead of in the way we often see the press aggressively photographing a notable person.
Photographing, I chose 50 and 20 mm lenses. The wide angle lens make me get closer. When the drums were a full volume, I gestured and smiled before moving in with a DSLR. Only one subject, a boy of 8 dressed in costume, refused to allow a portrait. I praised him to his uncle, saying that his saying "No" was good because it said he was the boss. The festival continued on into the Eleutheran night.
The dog sees with fresh eyes. Walking with her in the morning, three days after the winter solstice, the hues of Grand Bahama are softly ablaze. Green grass is under bare feet, and nearby a tiled swimming pool reflects teal-tinged clouds.
The texture of a conch shell, a hermit crab on the grass, small star-shaped flowers. . . these appear as I pass by, not seeking for things.
Pausing to breathe and gawk, each stride takes time, for short pauses between the steps call forth, occasionally, a photograph. Framing these images is a question, in mind for months now: "how can I see with fresh eyes?" A camera will not answer this, but becomes a transient, tiny window to explore in wonderment.
Walking around one side of house, wings flutter. Bird song floats by and the lack of any human made sounds conveys an inner experience of living "wild in the wild." Images flow.