About My Work
For me, the essence of photography is in the pure pleasure of seeing: the experience of opening a more intuitive, patient, contemplative eye to the world. It is about exploring the strange synergy between quiet receptivity and probing curiosity. Photography helps me to intuit the “suchness” of things, and also to feel their complex resonances within personal consciousness - paying homage to the perceived object itself, as well as to the process of perception itself, with all its subtleties and nuances.
Photography thus encourages the cultivation of a deeper seeing, and through deeper seeing, heightened awareness and emotion. It creates an openness of eye and mind that allows for wonder, an ability to be forever surprised and delighted by the “ten thousand things” (as the Taoists say) of the world. It is both a contemplative discipline and a hedonistic surrender to the senses. A sensitive, patient eye learns how to luxuriate in the exquisite visual pleasures of form, shape, line and texture, as well as the infinite permutations and modulations of light itself.
Though photography can be—due to the inherent mechanics of the process—a fairly literal medium for recording surface “facts,” I try to use the camera as a tool for exploring and questioning the concept of objective reality. Perception becomes a form of play. Apprehending the manifest world as constructed and conditional, the world becomes endlessly malleable, a fairyland for the playful imagination. Moving about the world with a camera opens my eyes and mind to the beauty, strangeness, and mystery of it all, while crafting images in the darkroom provides a means for communicating my vision.
My subjects are various—whatever seduces the eye—but tend most strongly toward portraiture (broadly defined), the nude, and images of the natural world. Regarding portraiture, I have an abiding faith in the camera's ability to reach below surface appearance - or, perhaps more accurately, of disclosing psychic depths etched subtly on observable surfaces. Rather than outer packaging concealing inner being, the human face reveals clues to essential character, inner states. All this applies, of course, to photographing the unclothed body, an even larger and more varied surface revealing unseen depths. My work in portraiture and the nude are thus guided by a sense of the inner mystery of human beings and a desire to probe and touch that mystery.
Concerning the landscape, nature, and organic form, I suppose I'm a Romantic or Transcendentalist who believes (nay, feels!) that behind or within the outer appearances of the natural world lie Spirit, Ultimate Being, the Fruitful Void. Not in the sense that trees and rocks and clouds are mere outer symbols of deeper realities—a code to decipher—but rather are themselves the expressive language of Spirit, the very being of the Sacred.
Besides images of people and nature, I have also enjoyed photographing dancers, for the simple reason that bodies in motion are both wonderfully expressive and visually compelling. While a still image of a dance performance seems to violate the very premise of dance—the poetry of movement—a momentary image snatched from the blurred flow of movement can itself become a crystalline, iconic moment of human expressiveness.
Other areas of my work include architectural subjects, found objects and abstractions, and urban/public life.
In viewing photographs, the real pleasure is in the direct, unmediated experience of the image itself. The photographic image is a singular, autonomous reality - the product of a unique, idiosyncratic vision/ imagination. It requires neither context nor commentary, and is best viewed on its own terms. To do that requires something akin to tunnel vision - not in the sense of reduced or constricted vision, but rather concentrated and deepened attention, the kind of attention that brings the fullest possible immersion and absorption in the image. Attention of that quality can lead, sometimes, to a kind of aesthetic ecstasy, an intense pleasure in the very act of seeing with ones whole being - a capacity to be seduced, enchanted and enthralled by some small manifestation of Beauty or the Sublime. If that sounds a bit mystical, it is only because we barely know how to look and see a thing without being distracted by a multitude of other things (including our own mental noise and programming).
In other words, I hope you, the viewer, will absorb these images one at a time, unhurried, and whenever a particular image catches your attention, stay with it for a short while. Clear the mental decks and really look at it with undivided attention. Don't just look at it - allow yourself to feel it. Then, if you're so inclined, pose this question to yourself: "What is it, exactly, about this particular image that drew my attention or sparked a reaction?" The mere asking can stimulate self-awareness, because discovering which images have the power to reach our depths can be quite revelatory, may even open a small portal to the subconscious. Over time I've learned to ask that question instinctively at all stages of the process, while photographing, printing, and contemplating the completed image. Looking meditatively at images can be a potent eye-opener. May you enjoy the experience!
Many (perhaps most) photographers appear to think in terms of grouping together related images, either to create a “narrative” or to comprise a unified aesthetic “statement.” I find that I rarely think or work in terms of multiples. I am instinctively tuned to the singular image, the fully self-contained composition, an image that stands alone as an autonomous work of art without needing to lean on or lead to other images in order to complete an impression. Because of that, I find it difficult (others find it easier) to group or sequence images in a cohesive manner, beyond the standard broad aesthetic categories of landscape, portrait, the nude, and so on. The one exception is when I create a book of images centered on one particular model (The Book of Syrah is one example, with more planned). For me, each image is to be taken in, one at a time, as if entering a spacious room, or a hidden grotto.
I love images because they bypass the cerebral fidgeting we call “thinking” and appeal directly to our living senses and emotions. Images are, in that sense, more primal and powerful than are thought and language - which are, after all, second-hand activities: that of stepping back from direct, immediate, in-the-moment experience into a separate and secondary realm of abstract thought and word manipulation. In that light, words are little more than a translation of a translation, an echo of an echo, a shadow of a shadow. First, there is the experience itself (looking/seeing), then there is thinking about that experience, and finally talking about that thinking. To state it differently, the eyes absorb something in the visual field. Then, virtually simultaneously, the mind jumps in wanting to get a handle on what just happened in the realm of vision - to make “sense” of the raw visual impression. The mind thinks the eyes are terribly unsophisticated, too impressionable, too literal, and therefore in urgent need of authoritative guidance to understand the meaning of their experience. The mind thus feels compelled to construct “context,” “meaning,” “significance”: “Who painted this picture? Is it Impressionist or Post-Impressionist? What were the artist’s influences? What is he trying to say? What techniques did she use? Is there a name for that shade of blue? Do I like this kind of art? I wonder what it’s worth. Is that a chicken next to that tree? What does the chicken symbolize? Hey, is it time for lunch? Where’s the cafeteria?”
Over lunch, the mind attempts to articulate its findings to the mind which is sitting across the table. It gathers together its now fading bits of recent memory, consults its inner dictionary/thesaurus to search for approximate thought-word matches, and verbal explanation proceeds. At the end of this process we are left with little more than a dim, scattered reflection of the original visual experience: a primal perception reduced to conceptual thought, reduced in turn to a limited range of linguistic symbols. To put it another way, the map is not the territory. Words can never do full justice to felt experience (though in skilled hands they can put on a pretty good show!).
I am essentially a writer and a photographer, a lover of both language and image. In the end, I am a seeker of Beauty - principally visual beauty. We say “visual beauty,” but the act of seeing involves more than the eye, because whatever enters our field of vision immediately reverberates within deeper levels of consciousness. In a simple sense, we “feel” what we see: seeing is feeling. I have come to love feeling through my eyes, and delight when that feeling reaches my inner depths. As one who has been fortunate in this life to have experienced much beauty—with both outer and inner eye—I have become accustomed to looking for it everywhere. The attentive, unhurried eye notices things that the perpetually distracted eye misses. It notices how things actually look and feel. It doesn’t instinctively slap a word or category on everything so as to preempt direct, unfiltered, existential encounter. The liberated eye does not wish to be “tamed” by and harnessed to speculative thought and interpretive language. The wakeful eye waits and watches, waits until the curtain rises and the object (flower, person, rusty nail, whatever) reveals itself both literally (as a physical presence) and symbolically (as an expression of something beyond its physicality). Any humble object—what to speak of a ravishing tree or an incendiary night sky—can act as a portal to deeper realities. Anything and everything has the innate power to enchant, and perhaps even transform, the consciousness beholding it. Anything can reflect divinity and speak directly to the heart and soul. If I may repeat myself: seeing is feeling.
As much as I honor and appreciate (and try to incorporate) the wisdom of Buddhism, the prospect of Emptiness (even the “fruitful” kind) does not please as much as the experience of fullness, particularly aesthetic fullness: a transformative communion with primal Beauty. A proper Buddhist (also Hindu) might suggest that immersion in aesthetic experience may simply be another - more subtle - form of material attachment - that an artist, in the end, is doing little more than watching the passing parade, attending to bits of color and light as they fly by in endless procession - that I am, in fact, using "aesthetic bliss" as an excuse to avoid the more important task of gaining wisdom and detachment. Then again, perhaps I’ve just set up a straw Buddha, a puritanical one, and the real guy has no problem with my savoring a bit of honey collected on the precipice of the Abyss. Who knows? In any case, I’m not too troubled by the matter (as I once might have been).
[Technical matters] I shoot both 35mm (Canon EOS) and medium format (Mamiya 7). I work exclusively in black & white, my favored materials being Kodak T-Max films (along with Kodak infrared film, before it was sadly discontinued), and Ilford photographic papers. I print all my own work in a home darkroom using traditional B&W printing procedures (contrast control, “burning and dodging,” chemical toning, and occasional diffusion). I make no absolute value judgments regarding “straight” vs. “manipulated” images (whether digital or analog), but I do find satisfaction in the “purer,” more traditional forms of photographic imaging, which give free play to personal vision without replacing the shared visible world with an invented one. I scan my prints and gently massage them in Photoshop for further tonal refinement. No matter how sophisticated digital imaging becomes, there is a certain indefinable beauty, richness and dimensionality in original darkroom (“silver-gelatin”) prints - or at least some of us continue to believe so! The connoisseur or collector of fine art photography is encouraged, when possible, to view the original prints, represented here in digital form. Some of my work is represented (non-exclusively) by Robert Tat Gallery in San Francisco.
[For further personal reflections on my work, look here]