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The Hidden World of the Nearby

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Hidden Worlds

Unexpectedly Nearby

By the time I had photographed Dreamed Brook I had already become amazed at what I found along major highways and ordinary roadsides. Then I met John Hanson Mitchell . He was writing the essay to accompany my photographs of the area around Beaver Brook in Littleton, Massachusets that was to appear in New England Monthly magazine. This area included “Scratch Flats” where John had built his own Carpenter Gothic house.

I began reading his book Ceremonial Time and came upon this passage:

“Wilderness and wildlife, history, life itself, for that matter, is something that takes place somewhere else, it seems. You must travel to witness it, you must get in your car in summer and go off to look at things which some ‘expert,’ such as the National Park Service, tells you is important or beautiful, or historic. In spite of their admitted grandeur, I find such well-documented places somewhat boring. What I prefer, and the thing that is the subject of this book, it that undiscovered country of the nearby, the secret world that lurks beyond the night windows and at the fringes of cultivated back yards.”

From this passage came the idea of “the hidden world of the nearby” which seemed to describe what I was doing and inspired this verse:

Out of the corner of my eye
in the hidden world of the nearby—
untended gardens thrive
and pass from time, unnoticed.

and so I adopted The Hidden World of the Nearby as the title for my collection of imges.

Spring Sunrise I

The image above was one of my most amazing experiences. It was taken from the entrance ramp at exit 11 of the Mass Pike. In the upper left-hand corner is the Pike. It is on the original transparency but I cropped it out of the final image.

This vantage point was one of my most visited. It was about a half-hour drive from my home in Southborough. However, this was the most special morning in my ten years of photographing the Pike. I was looking directly east into the rising sun which was giving the mist rising from a vernal pool a billowing flowing appearance. I parked under the bridge over the Pike and began the short climb to the roadway. I had already recognized what was happing as I approached my parking spot and remember thinking as I climbed “don’t screw it up.” I knew it was a once in a lifetime image. Because I was shooting into the sun (in other words the mist was back lit) and I underexposed by two stops which turned out to be just right. However, the transparency was much too dark everywhere but in the mist which was to be expected. Without digital help from Photoshop this image would have been an impossibility. It took me ten years of fine tuning before I was satisfied with the result.

I photographed for 45 minutes until the mist was gone. Two of the exposures out of more than a dozen captured the mist especially beautifully. I call the imaage simply Spring Sunrise. It is an expecially good example of something hidden in an unexpected place. It was made in May 1993 and is identified as JW 0037.

The idea of something hidden yet nearby triggered many images of things, phenomena, etc. that were nearby but unnoticed and eventually even parts of ourselves including our ability to look and to see, or consciousness itself, as profoundly mysterious.

In subsequent reading I found this to be true of much of what the mind does: we experience life, we have sentience, but no one–and I mean the best brain scientists–has a clue how it happens.

This in turn has affected deeply how I think about life, its origin and meaning and ironically, it coincided with my life-long interest in cosmology: how was the universe born and how, subsequently did we evolve in the way we did which now has led to my wondering about how humanity understands (or doesn’t understand) itself. And that in turn made me realize how much of what humanity thinks it understands but on further inspection is based on relegious thinking from centures ago.

Humanity, it seems, has not kept up with what science has learned about the universe and about the evolution of the human mind. From my perspective we are not a modern, advanced society but a civilization still with much to learn about itself to the point that it is destroying the very earth on which it lives. Then irony of ironies, as I began to notice the effects of climate change on what I was photographing, that I was documenting the calamity of our backward thinking on the very future of our civilization.

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