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CODA PART 1


How Close Can You Get

This is a website about photographing the natural landscape. It is hard to explain how I got into it. I say my philosophy is “doing what’s next” and next always seems to be there. In retrospect next mostly turned out to be a good choice. When it wasn’t it led to a good outcome that otherwise would not have happened.

However, in the course of 28 years of photographing I began to be aware that most of my best images were made in ordinary places, those that we might pass every day unwaware of what we might see if we turned our heads, or simply looked a little more closely. Wyman’s Meadow, a few feet from Walden Pond is a wonderful example.

The “meadow” is actually a tiny pond about ten feet from the well traveled path around the Pond.

I visited for the first time on October 19, 1991. What I saw as I walked by was the image to the left above. What I saw when I finally pointed my camera down at the edge of the pool was some variation on the image above-right. I exposed every sheet of film I had. The results are in the gallery Water-shields.

On the Path to Thoreau’s Cabin
Lily Pond with Reflections Pond

Above is Wyman’s Meadow a short stone’s throw from Walden Pond. Left is what I saw when I first walked by. Right is what I saw on the ground glass of my view camera.

However, what really prompted the title The Hidden World of the Nearby had happened four years earlier on Interstate-495 in Littleton, Massachusetts while on assignment for New England Monthly Magazine. I was to photograph a small stream called Beaver Brook that ran under the highway. (The images of Beaver Brook are in the gallery Rivers and Streams.) The assignment was to accompany an essay by John Hanson Mitchell, a man who lived near Beaver Brook. The important words are from his book Ceremonial Time:

“. . .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”. . . 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 . . . is that undiscovered country of the nearby, the secret world that lurks beyond the night windows and at the fringes of cultivated backyards.”

—John Hanson Mitchell, Ceremonial Time

The idea that the closer something is the less we are aware of it developed gradually with the words of John Mitchell being the inspiration along with my discovering so many hidden photographic surprises. As I read of the science of the mind and particularly of the brain’s ability to give the experience of seeing and hearing, the more I realize that no one, scientist, philosopher or whomever, understands how it happens and few even think about it. Yet it is life. I believe that if we thought more about the gifts we have been given we would appreciate life more and act very differently.

It is a miracle that someday we may understand. And then again we may not. But I do hope that more of humanity realizes what it has been given.

Scientists call it sentience.

CODA PART 2


How Far Away Do You Need To Be To See

Since I was a quite young, I have been preoccupied with the big picture. In my teens it meant reading books on astronomy. Those were the days when our galaxy was thought to be the universe. It is in fact one of hundreds of billions of galaxies and yet, as best as we know it began as what I call the Grand Singularity (others call it the big bang) that was the smallest thing that could exist, vastly smaller than a proton which is vastly smaller than a single atom.

I try to get people to think a bit about this although it is, in a sense, unthinkable. However, most of us lead our lives unconscious of the unfathamable magnitude of which we are a part. And further I contend that we are the most important part, that the universe exists so we can exist.

This view will find some sympathy among cosmologists while driving others apolplicly mad. How could so much have started from so little only to create somthing so much larger that is so infinitesimal compared to the whole. More boggling still is that the part of us that really matters is a tiny part of ourselves. So we are a bunch of collosal scales, nearly impossible to describe and impossible to comprehend.

How do we deal with this?

Let’s right off make it clear that god is the name we assign to an explanation, but it is not an explamation. God is a holdover from the days when there was no science and so everything was assigned a spirit or some a god until science came along and began filling in some of the blank spaces. On my chart Copernicus began the learning. Newton and Einstein and thousands of others shed more light. Along the way were several ”we’ve arrived” moments only to be shattered by a new discovery. Cosmology is pretty much shattered as I write this despite fabulous progress.

We can see almost to the beginning of this universe but we do not know if there are or were or will be others, nor do we know why this one is here and flying apart at an ever accelerating speed.

But preachers still get on their soap boxes and label us as sinners or egotists or whatever that gives some comfort and employment for preachers. However, putting down religion all at once is absolutly not fair for much of what we have that is good and beautiful has been inspired by our ideas of god. Have a listen to Bach’s St. Mathew Passion or walk through Notre Dame Cathedral or seek out the beautiful parts of the writings of any religion.

To bring this to a halt sooner rather than later the engineer in me says it is an anthropomorfic universe. It was made for us. The earth is a miracle that gave us a place to evolve and form a civilization that soon disintegrated into thousands of wars while producing sublime literature, music and so many wonderful forms of human inventiveness, while the one great democracy on this planet was built by black slaves who have been nearly thrashed to death for it. So much is known by so few. And so little is known by so many.

And if this seems to be a bundle of contradictions, it is. And there is no answer to the ultimate question: Why?

If you are going to take away something from all these photographs, a little music and a whole other web site, carigfortheearth.com it should be that the one functioning religion (a free market, exceedingly cruel, ecconomy) needs much teaching and sharing. There is much more to learn, there is much suffering to alleviate, and there is great beauty to bring us joy. To do it, we need to learn the close up view and the distant view and many in between.

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