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Collecting My Thoughts In My 80th Year

If not now, when?

I had two careers before becoming a photographer. The first was as an acoustical and electronic engineer for Bose Corporsation and then as a product, marketing and advertising manager for home audio. When I left engineering I was 33 years old and my personal life was also hanging (divorce, the death of my father) and for a multitude of reasons and for no reason I began photographing. In my travels from Alaska to Switzerland and through many parts of the United States with my 4" x 5" view camera, eventually exposing 20,000 sheets of 4" x 5" transparency film. Dr. Bose had been my mentor at MIT and I became just the 5th employee of Bose Corporation. Sometime during my childhood, but more likely in my early teens I began reading astronomy books, and I remember stumbling over a name in an encyclopedia and thinking that understanding the topic was what was important and not the name. This seems trivial but it was a sign of my interest in why things were as they were, and that as preposterous as it may seem is what I am trying to do know, replacing or supplanting the mythology of religion.

Then, I think while still younger I had a recurring fantasy, that every child born, no matter into what family or culture a child would begin life on a level playing field, the same field as every other child. Now I know how much of humanity works to be sure this doesn’t happen. As if to confirm this I just finished an article in The New Yorker about a family from Ecuador struggling to establish a life in America. I never knew such resilience and determination was possible and necessary, and how much America threw in their way, which brings to mind a host of scientific knowledge about humanity that I never hear during news about other cultures, but especially about white supremacy. So what is the news?

Genetics has come a very long way during my lifetime and as much as this will arouse anger and disbelief among many, we now know we are all Africans, all descended from migrations 50,000 or so years ago from central Africa, north through the Levant, east through Asia and eventually to the tip of South America. But most significant was where our skin color changed. Well, it is pretty straightforward: we need vitamin D and that requires sunlight and too much color in our skin prevents that. So north means less melanin and that is the sole meaning of white “supremacy.”

I continued my interest in “why” with readings in cosmology and biology, especially Wilson and Crick’s The Double Helix and more recently Jim Holt’s book with the sub-title “Why is there something rather than nothing?” and Paul Davis’s The Goldilocks Enigma about how the universe had to be “just right” for us to exist.

And so I come to this morning nearing the end of Bob Iger’s enthralling autobiography as president of Disney and the complex nature of business and creativity. But I think that threw me on my head was William Neil’s post in Facebook that my photography had inspired him, a stunning talent that I had admired for years and put in a category along side all the greats in landscape photography. And this came at a time of total isolation, trying to prepare my work for an archive yet to be identified and wondering if my photographs were worth preserving and sinking into deeper than usual bipolar depressions. It was only a few short years ago that my wife, Susan, had convinced me I was a good photographer while I wrestled with forgetting my training as an engineer and forgetting that I was mostly self-taught in photography.

Bill had posted kind comments before on Facebook but this time in response to my admiration of some recent photographs he had taken he stated plainly that I had inspired him. I nearly fell off the recliner I sleep. His words brought on numbers of friend requests and admiring comments. So the thought of collecting my thoughts popped into my head about 5:30 this morning, and so this long intro to my preface.


Singularity: Arkansas, 1994



When I first began looking for places to photograph, I took advantage of Bose business trips (and a Bose representative in Salt Lake City who would loan me his van). I traveled the length of Utah and to Brice Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park and later to Sedona, Arizona, then still later to the Grand Canyonn. With an occasional esception I found that no matter how spectacular the scene, you had to live there because the best expressions only happened very occasionally. Then back home I found that only in a few places, mostly nearby and overlooked did I find my images, and that it often took 10 years or so to capture the essence of the place.

Above is an exception. I was on assignment for the International Paper Company photographing their forest management from clear-cuts to mature forests. Along some out of the way place in Arkansas I came upon the grasses above and I began thinking what it was about a particular photograph that spoke to me and I thought about resonances. So what was resonating? It seems that if something is causing butterflies in my tummy, that what I am looking at is a metaphor for something inside me although identifying precisely what may not be obvious. So above, that little clump of grass at the bottom that rises above the others and faces a bramble of grasses above. Did I think of this as I was shooting? No way. All I knew was butterflys. but I will go way out on a limb and say the universe is speaking to me. Perhaps I am crazy, but that is how I feel. Moreover it fits with my ideas about cosmology. Good grief! I must be kidding. No. Most seriously, I am not. Why?

You must take in a very large picture, in fact the largest there can be. I put into the gallery “singularities” particularly the milkweeds.

The beginning of the universe was a singularity, which means it was the smallest time and smallest space there could be, far smaller than a proton which is far smaller than an atom. It then proceeded to expand inexorably over 10.78 billion years. I say inexorably because the singularity gave birth to the laws of physics and those laws govern everything that has happened since, including us. Yes, you and me. It is a very long and complex story but it leads to photographs because it leads to the most important thing after the singularity and that is sentience: our consciousness, our ability to see and hear what we are looking at and this creates an experience. How?

Science can trace how seeing and hearing work up to a point, and that point is how electrical signals in our brain, after stunning amounts of processing, recreate all that is around us as an experience of sound and light and touch and smell. How? As far as I know the question is that no one knows.

So we have gone from the smallest thing there can be through an incredibly large universe to another very small thing with the whole universe in between.

And then comes quantum physics and Schrodinger’s cat. Does the cat exist before we open the box?

It leads me to ask, if we were not here to sense the presence of the universe, would it exist. Well, the question leads to a conundrum. It is, in fact a meaningless question. The universe “exists” because we can see it, measure it, analyze it. Without us there is no one (that we know of) to ask about the existence of anything, and so the question is moot. Meaningless. And so my photograph, if it did not resonate with something in me, or rather if nothing existed to see it, it would be without meaning. So I searched for places that could speak to me, that would be metaphors for something inside me.

Is that the end of the story? No, and I really don’t know the end but there are right now a thousand puzzles about what is happening on this planet and another puzzle. Why do so many insist on not seeing or hearing what is there, but rather creating their own reality.

Humanity does not know what stunning gifts it has been given by the creation of the universe, and so it fights and kills, and declares white supremacy and so much more exestential destruction because it is not paying attention.

I think the last bit of natural attention was hunter-gatherer tribes. The latest from Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens postulates that agriculture was the worst thing that ever happened to humanity. I think he has a point for all the males with hunter genes were suddenly unemployed. There has not been peace in the world since then and as we learned through science some of what is behind our behavior we have not taught it, and so a human disaster can beccome head of state. But oddly it is more important that higher education slices up what we know so the more advanced your education, the more narrow it is, and so we never figure things out. We do not know that beauty and joy are there for the taking, but rather that anger and jealosy and a need for priority and recognition are what constitute life so humanity may create its own destruction in the preseence of an infinite capacity for beauty and joy. The universe is rigged. It is testing itself and we are the test. So far? Well there is extremeism and there is Beethoven, both standing in symbolically as representing two opposing infinities.

My job, it seems has been to find the metaphors that I can and perhaps to write about them.

Below: Water-shields and rain drops near Walden Pond; and then a detail.

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