The Light From Stars
There is something that I always felt uncomfortable with in the idea of equivalence as practiced by Minor White and his acolytes. There was always an ingredient of the mystical and spiritual; a notion that something sacred was taking place. Even Paul Caponigro, who famously rebelled against Minor’s teachings still held an element of the spiritual when talking about his photographic practice:
Of all my photographs, the ones that have the most meaning for me are those I was moved to make from a certain vantage point, at a certain moment and no other, and for which I did not draw on my abilities to fabricate a picture, composition wise or otherwise. You might say that I was taken in…I have always felt after such experiences that there was more than myself involved. It is not chance. It happens often. In looking back at a particular picture and trying to recall the experience that led to it, that inexplicable element is still present. I have no other way to express what I mean, other than to say that more than myself was present. (quoted in Aperture #150, page 37)
Recently I was asked to provide a short, concise statement regarding my photographic practice in relation to the equivalent tradition for a show opening next month at Soho Photo. In part I was asked to talk about, “how you “feel” when your taking a picture that you know is IT before you even see it, because you’re so one with it all.” Even that statement “one with it all” has that aspect of the mystical. In my photography and in in my life in general I try to get away from what people term spiritual or mystical (and let’s not get into religion in general). I believe that the universe and the fabric of reality is so amazing that there is no need to evoke the “other”.
Photography involves a search to discover who you are and your place in the universe. It is a search for understanding. That is what Minor White was ultimately pursuing even though, as Paul Caponigro said, “he was always straining for a system, underpinnings for what he believed. First it was Zen, then it was…” Religion is a search for an understanding of the universe and our place in it. It takes many forms but I think what all religions do is put the individual in an artificially exalted state. When Caponigro invokes the “other” he is implying a force that is cognizant of his existence and is trying to assist in some way. Remember all those celebrity award winners (Grammys, Oscars, take your pick), “I couldn’t have done this without the help of (insert appropriate deity)… Really? I think the other that is implied is really a sudden awareness of the mass of forces that makeup the universe, their interactions, and the fact that in some minute way you are involved merely due to the fact of your existence. The Sun (a minor and insignificant star in a tiny corner of the universe) rises and shines it’s light upon you (an even more insignificant being) and warms you. As a photographer all I need is the fact that light is.
In my photography I would like to evolve away from this type of practice of the equivalent. A being of limited capacity looks through a device of limited capacity and tries to capture a single, poorly understood force of the universe, light, and with that tries to convey the wonder of existence. That for me is photography. Sacred is the act of looking up at the stars in the sky and understanding that the light from stars reaching your eyes is millions of years old, that what you are seeing no longer exists. That all that you see is ephemeral and ephemera. Photographs are like the light from stars.