Mysteries are hidden everywhere around us in plain sight, in bare tree branches and simple leaves, electric wires, manhole covers, shadows on stairs, buildings and architecture, even in our own handwriting. Some of these wonders we take for granted, while others we may never have really seen. For me, abstract photography is a bridge that connects our everyday world with imaginary worlds, places that are no less real just because we can't touch them. We must be content with seeing them through the eye of abstraction.
I am drawn to images that carry a certain meditative quality. Part of this is achieved by using a sparse language of geometrical shapes, lines, and rhythms. Furthermore, I often use a narrow tonal range, so that the images are either overall dark or overall light. By abstracting away from the literal subject matter, I hope to leave behind the question "What is it?", and let our associations to come to the forefront. My goal is for the photographs to have a feeling of meditative simplicity, so they are images not from our everyday, mundane world of hustle and bustle, but instead from the more symbolic and archetypal world of our imagination. Statements are available for the following series:
This series is about being present to the true nature within ourselves, and to the world around us in the here and now. In some ways, the photographs are very simple - I get into a meditative state, and photograph my shadow against the ground. However, it's taken my whole life to be present enough to make these images, and the series explores themes like consciousness and shadow, spirit and matter, self and identity.
As I photograph the images, I work to bring everything in balance. In addition to often using symmetrical compositions, my shadow and the ground need to be balanced without one dominating the other. The background needs to pulse with energy, like Van Gogh's Starry Night. I don't carefully arrange objects on the ground, I just align myself to my surroundings, so that objects line up with key areas, like the shadow's spine or chakras. My shadow dances with the ground until they merge together, and are transformed. I feel like my body is made of dry leaves, or I am the Green Man. My surroundings, in turn, are animated by my shadow, coming to life as the vital organs of the subtle body. This union feels like forever, but I finally have to move on, and this Here and Now has past.
These photographs also involve a union of sun and shadow, representing spirit and matter, consciousness and unconsciousness, the self and what is beyond with the self. I'm fascinated by the thin boundary area in between, where light and dark mix. Unlike in traditional silhouette portraits, the boundaries of the self are not black and white - they can be blurred when we feel at one with everything.
When we're deeply connected with ourselves and with what's around us, we have a different relationship with the imperfections that are everywhere. There is exquisite beauty in fallen leaves, weedy bushes, cracked driveways, and old doormats, just as there is beauty in the human condition, and in our flaws and shadows. If we accept our flaws, we can bring light to the shadow, and claim the power that lies hidden there, like the jewels in the darkness of Presence 17.
These photographs also deal with appearances and reality. The pattern of the ground extends beyond the boundary of my shadow, though it may appear as different as night and day, depending on whether it's covered by my shadow, or exposed to the blinding light that's outside of me. Like the shadows in Plato's cave, appearances aren't the ultimate reality.Even though the shadow is empty of human features (sometimes you can't even tell if it's facing towards or away), it reveals all the rich detail of the ground that lies beneath it. In some ways, these photographs show more of our underlying nature than a million selfies would. After all, we're all made of the same basic elements as everything around us, we're all made of dust and leaves and light. And like in Presence 13, a thought is like a gently-tangled knot, which can be unwoven and let pass when I need to return fully to the here and now.
Images are printed at 40x40 and 60x60, on the highly-textured Hahnemuehle William Turner paper.
These three-dimensional photographs are about the visionary experience, and the awe, mystery, and beauty that we can feel in the world of visions, dreams, and other altered states. Carl Jung described the visionary experience as "sublime, pregnant with meaning, ...it arises from timeless depths... it can be a revelation whose heights and depths are beyond our fathoming, or a vision of beauty which we can never put into words."
In the Sufi tradition going back to the 12th century, as well as in Jungian Psychology, the visionary experience occurs in an in-between world, the mundus imaginalis or world of imagination. In Buddhism, there is Nirvana, which completely alters our experience of our world. Whether you believe that visions are real, or just products of the imagination, they are undeniably powerful experiences, and that's what this series tries to recreate. You don't have to be Moses or Teresa of Avila to see visions, or have powerful dreams, or connect deeply with the world of imagination. In addition to the theme of the physical world and the \"subtle\" world, related themes include center and periphery, symmetry and asymmetry, perfection and imperfection, the human and the divine. These pairs are beautifully combined in the word chaosmos, which James Joyce coined to describe the dual nature of things, both chaotic and cosmically ordered, the one and the many.
The images are available either as installations, or as framed prints. When done as installations, the images are printed at 60"x60" or larger, on sheets of hanging fabric. Breezes move the fabric slightly, making the images come to life. Directional speakers are placed so that you suddenly hear music when you enter the desired viewing area (the closer you get, the fuller and more immediate the experience). You can see the work from the other side, where the 3D effect is reversed. All these factors add to the feeling that this is a different kind of space and experience. Framed prints are sized at 60x60, 40x40, and 20x20, in limited editions of 5, 15, and 25 respectively. I use the highly-textured Hahnemuehle "William Turner" paper and float the prints in the frames, creating end results that resemble drawings, further blurring the line between our external and internal realities, between this world and the world of our dreams and visions.
Experiencing the works
The works are intended to immerse the viewer in an experience. Viewers are encouraged to see them both with and without 3D glasses, to experience what is gained and lost (another dimension, color perception, perhaps a different feeling of time, perhaps feelings about wearing goofy glasses). It may take time for your eyes to adjust to see the 3D effects fully, and it may help to try from different distances, or to focus on a small detail. Just as in our real world, your eyes may need to refocus from one part of the image to another. Some things can only be seen from a distance, and others can only be seen from close up. So, you may not be able to see all parts of the images at once. You may also see 'ghost' images or shadows near some of the lines. They are intentional parts of the experience, part of this different space where shadows are cast from both above and below, and deep parts of the images may look like they are under water or ice.When works are presented as art installations, viewers are encouraged to touch them. The third dimension is, teasingly, just outside our reach - no matter how we try, we can't touch the deep parts, and our fingers glide through the high parts like they're a mirage. Only the surface of the work is part of our physical world, and the rest lives somewhere else, a co-creation of the flat photograph and your amazing brain, which takes input from two eyes, and builds one model of a three-dimensional world.
To create these photographs, I start by focusing intensely on a tiny part of a tree, such as a single twig or leaf. I then do multiple exposures of that tree, all hand-held and combined together in-camera, as a sustained meditative process. For the 2D multiple-exposure image, I remain very faithful to the original composition that is done in camera, but when adding the third dimension in Photoshop I have more free rein. Using a combination of the original image, my imagination, and any inspiration that might arrive, working on this new dimension often feels like composing music or weaving, or like sculpting invisible clay.When I am photographing, slight variations creep in due to movement of the tree or of my body, or from losing track of the twig amidst the vast complexity of the whole tree. These variations are an important part of the work, because perfect symmetry (and perfection in general) is not a natural part of the human experience. Sometimes a photograph appears perfectly symmetrical, and only at the very center is the chaos and imperfection revealed. This is a sign of the chaosmos, the dual nature of chaos and cosmic unity, which is the ultimate expression of these visions.
Winter strips the trees down to their innermost, leaving the bare branches stretched out in patient acceptance. They lie in wait, as we must if we enter a difficult wintertime of the soul, so leaves can burst forth once more when the time is right. In the meantime, the trees are comforted by the memory of summers past and by visions of springs yet to come. The tiny twigs still clutch the last few precious leaves of autumn as they sift the air for tidings of their beloved.
The trees in these photographs are from places that carry many memories for me, near where I live in the Santa Cruz mountains, and near where I grew up in Connecticut. Just as memories are built up over time, forming complex webs of repetition and reinterpretation, the photographs in this series are built up from multiple exposures. Since my digital Hasselblad camera does not have the built-in ability to capture multiple exposures, I had to create my own method by leaving the shutter open for a long time and uncovering the lens for each exposure. Since I'm never sure quite what the result will be, the process is full of surprises and serendipity, just like the process of forming and finding memories.
The images themselves are varied, just like our memories. Some are light and ethereal, while others are darker and shrouded in mystery. Some are clearly recognizable as trees, while others are more abstract, further removed from the original by all the built-up layers. Overall, I seek a contemplative and mysterious feeling in these images, as if from a secret, misty forest that lies partway between this world and another. The simple geometric compositions contrast with the endless complexity of the branches receding into the distance. Various influences for this series include looping music by Steve Reich and Zoe Keating, fractal imagery, and works by Richard Diebenkorn, Cy Twombly, and Jackson Pollack.
The images are captured using a digital medium-format Hasselblad camera, and printed as archival pigment prints. I use the highly-textured Hahnemuehle William Turner paper and float the prints in the frames, creating end results that resemble drawings, blurring the line between our external and internal realities, between this world and the world of our memories.
This series of photographs has emerged from my thinking about spirituality and language, about how to express the inexpressible. As I explore my spirituality, I am struck by how difficult it is to describe the divine. How many treatises are needed to explain what the word ‘God’ means? Why do so many religious traditions use verbal gymnastics like “he is all things in everything and nothing in anything”? Having a Ph.D. in Linguistics has helped me appreciate the huge expressive power of language, but it still falls short in trying to describe the mystery of the divine. Words can point you in the right direction, but after a certain point you have to go beyond them, into the space beyond words.
The images are based on phrases that have been particularly meaningful to me in my thinking about spirituality. I write the phrases over and over again, meditating on their meaning. After filling up a number of pages with a repeated phrase, I stack the sheets on top of one another and photograph them lit from beneath, so you see layer upon layer showing through. Each layer of words adds meaning and echoes what came before, but also partially obscures the original message. In the same way, as spiritual ideas are passed down through time, layers of interpretation and reinterpretation are built up, until the result may not match the original intent.
The photographs only show small parts of the writing, so the full phrase cannot be read. Even individual letters may be difficult to make out due to the multiple layers of writing, or because some phrases are written in other languages, like Russian or German. The difficulty in reading the letters and words reflects the difficulty we have in understanding the divine, and in describing it in words. When we let go of the literal meaning, other levels of meaning have a chance to appear.
Many of the photographs are light, reflecting the airy, ethereal nature often associated with the divine. Other photographs, however, are darker, because there are other sides to our relationship with the divine, as in John Donne’s “Batter my heart, three person’d God… That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.” Or in the lyrics of the pop singer P!nk, “Ave Mary A, where did you go? How did you know to get out of a world gone mad?” Darkness is an essential part of the human condition, and of our relationship with the divine. And, darkness helps us to better understand the light.
I was fascinated to see how some of these photographs echo ones from previous bodies of work, such as my Compositions series of electric wires, or my Meditations photographs of tar painted on asphalt. Some other sources of inspiration include the painters Richard Diebenkorn, Brice Marden, and Cy Twombly, the music of John Adams, Steve Reich, and J. S. Bach, and Karen Armstrong's book The Case for God.
The images are captured using a digital medium-format Hasselblad camera, and printed as archival pigment prints. I use a textured paper and float the prints in the frames, creating end results that resemble drawings, bringing the viewer closer to the original writing, and one step closer to the divine.
The photographs in this series reflect the music that I see when I look at electric wires overhead. The wires dance in an endless variety of rhythms, movements, and moods, sometimes simple and austere while at other times lyrical, forceful, or whimsical. Reflecting these different moods, the photographs are divided into five groups or ‘movements’: Gymnopédie, Gnosis, Generation, Angles and Jutes, and Dharma at Big Sur.
I am particularly drawn to the musical connotations of the wires because of my musical background, playing the flute in orchestras for a number of years and being a passionate devotee of classical music. I see many similarities between the rhythms and movement of music and photography. In particular, the photographs in this series remind me of the solo piano music of Erik Satie, such as his Gymnopédies, and of John Adam’s concerto for electric violin, Dharma at Big Sur, each of which lend their names to a movement in my series.
In addition to the musical themes, these photographs explore the notion of intersections, the contrast between order and chaos, and the tension between apparent spontaneity and careful underlying composition. The simple white backgrounds let the range of lines and rhythms take the forefront, like a solo piano alone on the stage. The scale and spatial orientation are ambiguous, and the space is mostly two-dimensional. These photographs also have a spiritual component, exploring the sacred mysteries hidden in the mundane man-made wires.
The images are captured using a medium-format Hasselblad camera, then scanned digitally and printed as archival pigment prints. I use the highly-textured Hahnemuehle Photo Rag paper and float the prints in the frames, creating an end result that resembles pen-and-ink drawings. By blurring the distinction between photograph and drawing, the prints play with notions of internal reality (imagined and then drawn by hand) versus external reality (captured with a camera).