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The Hidden World of the Nearby

The Hidden Worlds


Out Of Which Life Is Made

artist’s introduction

Truth. Love. Beauty. Joy

I hear of truth and sometimes love. I do not hear beauty and joy.

I read of free health care, equality, housing, anti-racism, but I don’t hear of joy which is the reason for everything.

Time. More than minimal housing. Safety. And then gatherings, music, learning, creating...These are not options for a great country. A great country is one that makes them essentials.

A great country does not have a conveyor belt that moves money from the poor to the rich. A great country does not have the mission of its powerful institutions to make the rich richer.

I do believe caregivers experience a quiet relief and satisfaction, but I want to hear about beauty and joy.

In a life of science and art I have come to view humanity’s understanding of itself as very inadequate. Learning, even among the learned is not as deep and broad as it must be. Science has in fact replaced and enlightened and yet is almost unknown and from my perspective it is science that directs us toward art, beauty and joy.

This is what I believe I have learned in my nearly eighty years from science, music, the visual arts, but especially on beginning my thinking with the origin of the universe and ending it with my observations on what life is now.

This leads to this website being a bit more that the presentation of my visual art. It relies to a great degree on my experience in music and science augmented by seven years of study at MIT and continuous involvement in various ways with music since the age of eight.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, yet I do not know of a serious photographer hoping to produce fine art who ever mentions making his viewers “happy.”

I have not heard public figures even mention happiness, beauty or joy, yet it seems to me that Lincoln’s words about a government of, by and for the people imply a sense of well-being and a life with opportunities for joy. I might add satisfaction and peace.

Why should a photographer of the landscape (plus a few other things) begin a presentation of his work with words that seem to be of politics.

I feel irrelevant. It seems that the world has lost touch with beauty and my job had been to create images that express connections to the best part of existence.

An example is the image to the right. It is of a milkweed in the process of recreating itself by dying, and yet from it I get a sense of exuberance.

Saying goodby and casting the most precious part of itself to the four winds is an expression of joy while dying and living are together an expression of life.

What makes me “happy” is the satisfaction that an image expresses something worth expressing and that it does it well and that a viewer stops long enough to look. It is too much to ask, it seems, for a comment “that’s beautiful.” I am content for a look of more than a few seconds and, if I can see it, a hint of a smile. That makes me relevant for I have made a connection, but I am astonished how often a viewer will pass by without so much as a glance.

If I am satisfied with the image and I think the viewer is satisfied then I am happy. It is the link that counts.

Then it is on to the next one. If I can keep the process going, of always having the possibility of a lasting glance, then I am at the very least, pleased. And if I sense joy in the viewer and above all “I love that. It is really beautiful,” then I am full of joy for nothing is better than to have created joy in another person.

Milkweed

This milkweed was photographed in 1977 with a view camera. It was a six month project to get the lighting right and on the last shot a strobe light was a bit too warm and there was a ball of fire. In one second the milkweed was gone. But I had the shots of exuberant death and life that I wanted.

The exuberant spring to the left was shot in 2020, 43 years later.

This was a time of visiting only on the porch. One afternoon I looked out the back window and saw a sky that would make this blue look pale. The depth, intensity and purity of the blue sky was beyond anything I had ever seen, and surely beyond the range of my printer.

The incredible blue sky was the backdrop for our two magnificent oaks that arch over our porch and back yard. I grabbed my new digital camera and shot, with shaking hands, 188 frames, two of which made this image. But it is the exuberance that matters, for now in the spring the oaks seem to be saying “lets get on with it, I have another show next spring and some CO2 to churn through this summer.” And so they did.

That Halloween the same trees added color to an early snowfall, marking the changing of the seasons.

Looking back I wonder what made me shoot the 20,000 transparencies that constitute this body of work. I think if someone had asked was I happy at finding some raindrops etched on a thousand water-shields near Walden Pond, I would not have known what to say. It would have been like asking if I were glad to be breathing. But if someone had said “it‘s beautiful, isn’t it?” I might have commented about the variety of colors, and the definition added by the menisci and the joy that helps me fulfill my mission.

It‘s an old saw that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think there is another dimension. I think that beauty is a medley of metaphors, between those things we cannot put into words but that give us joy and the mysteries inside us that make up our souls. If the medleys harmonize with another soul, we have a connection. Who could ask for anything more. I could.

When I was in the ER dealing with the consequences of 20 or or more years on valium that should have been limited to thirty days I had illusions of floating in a dark void with stars far off in the distance and experiencing the worst terror imaginable, for valium while suppressing anxiety, eventually destroys the brains ability to do the suppressing. It could only be stopped by a three year taper of the valium and as I floated through this void, I imagined an eternity of terror and I asked myself “is this a kind universe?” I have no way of knowing except for my experiences here. So far the jury is out.

Hidden Worlds


So close we don’t see them

Hidden worlds are everywhere. In our minds, in our souls, beside the roadside, within images and everyplace we don’t look. They are also in front of you and me where we are looking at this very moment.

The biggest obstacle is seeing before looking, having an expectation and so insisting something is there when it is not, be it an image or an idea. It is blind spots no matter where we look and sometimes even if we know about blind spots.

The single most colossal blind spot in the universe fits the concept perfectly. We think what we see is just there and we see it. But that is not the case. The brain, by some process called sentience is to me miraculous because it gives us the experience of all that is within sight. No one, and I really mean no one, understands the concept of sentience. It is an utterly stupendous gift to see all that is within range and to hear all that is within range. Yet I have yet to meet someone as taken with this as I am.

Let us think a moment. If in the entire universe there were not sentient beings, that we lived in some parallel universe that blocked the view of this one. The existence of the first universe is then meaningless. With no one to experience it, its existence is meaningless. Yet the facilities we have for seeing and hearing are too close, too ordinary, for use to marvel. Worse, I think is that scientists simply attribute the creation of these facilities to evolution and that is that. Or they ignore the problem altogether.

One needs to study the insane complexity of experiencing and the biological developments that make it possible. My contention is simple (and unprovable) that there is imbedded in nature of the universe a propensity to form functional miracles such as that shown in the diagram of the ear below. This could be built by evolution but the physics of the process must in some unknown way, oversee it just enough to make it work. To an engineer it is an utterly stunning marvel. And it is simple compared to the double helix, reproduction, comprehension, invention, expression and doing things with our hands and feet that bring joy to those paying attention.

If you wish you may attribute it to god, but I see no blueprints in the bible, nor instructions handed down to builders.

There are marvels everywhere but enough for now. Examples are in the Coda, the extent to which we use, exploit, explore the experience of living.

When I look at a photograph for the first time, there is the danger of it not having turned out as I expected, and so I skip over it. Years later I may look at it again having forgotten my original expectation and find that I like it after all for what it really is.

When I make a print, perhaps on a matte paper rather than a glossy one, I toss it aside because it is missing brilliance. Side by side the brilliant one stands out for its brilliance. So I have learned to leave prints lying around, or attached to my magnetic viewing board without something to compare it to. Then after a few days I let it surprise me and see it for what it is. Sometimes it is more beautiful than the brilliant print. Sometimes we need to fool ourselves so we can see what is really there. It has turned out that “hidden“ and “nearby” can apply to many different situations.

A reviewer once commented on my images that they were too perfect. Sometimes backing away reveals more than looking closely. It’s a complicated business.

And this same reviewer commented a performance by Art Tatum or Vladimir Horowitz was too perfect to listen to more than once. Perhaps he should have consulted the hit record charts. A friend recently commented that the music of Mahler was so chopped up switching moods again and again and that this did not please him. Somehow the BSO seems to sell out their Mahler concerts.

I search for texture and detail because I love coming up close and finding more. But the image must look good from across the room.

ft there is anything to leave you with it is to pay attention to how you are viewing (or thinking) about something. There may be another way to see and hear more.

Diagram of ear


The “expectation of the dawn.”


Henry David Thoreau

I have often wondered what made me expose 20,000 sheets of film over 28 years. There was much travel (fifteen states, although mostly New England) and during the best time in the year to photograph (shooting season) it meant dawn, when mists and fogs and frost had not yet succumbed to the warmth of the sun.

I think it was very much, in Henry David Thoreau’s words, the “expectation of the dawn,” the feeling each morning that there was a picture out there, and that I must take it. Every so often the dawn and rising sun were magical, never more so than this world, hidden in a ravine beside a major highway, hidden, but nearby. I call it simply “Spring Sunrise.” In the original transparency the Massachusetts Turnpike, I-90, whose other end is in Seattle, is visible in the upper left-hand corner. Many such images gave me the title of my body of work: “The Hidden World of the Nearby” which has become to me a metaphor for life itself.

Spring Sunrise, 1983 Millbury, Massachusetts

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