embracing the dream

I started doing something ‘serious’ with photography about forty five years ago. I was dedicated, technically proficient, but aimless, and never got any further than scraping the surface of the art, which was symptomatic of my own emotional desert at the time. Then, in the bitterly cold early spring of 1984, I quit my job, gave up on my hopeless love life, and started on a long hiking trip – mostly through France – which wouldn’t end before late fall and the onset of winter. Traveling light I didn’t take a camera along because I thought I had lost all interest in photography. Judging now by my still vivid memories of the trip, however, I must have been making mental pictures, or at least daydreaming about them.

Some 15 years went by during which I didn’t touch a camera anymore but got heavily involved with all kinds of spiritual teaching, notably Zen meditation, Advaita Vedanta, and A Course in Miracles. Apparently I needed first to consciously land on this earth, however imaginary, before I could begin making sense of it. Anyway, the final outcome of all spiritual endeavors seems to be that by trusting our absolute reality we can freely embrace the dream we are living here. A tender embrace is totally different from clinging. It provides the loving space for art to thrive.

That’s why I’m training myself to take some quiet time, or at the very least not to rush, when I arrive at a location, even when it’s one of my favorite spots. Instead of frantically looking around for photographic subjects I’d better first practice letting go and allow beautiful mind[1] to take over. Any images I would seek in front of the lens are already abundantly present in the mind, but without some peaceful awareness I won’t see them. All the richness of vision that I would like to put into a photograph will be provided for without my interference. Therefore it’s probably not blasphemy for a photographer to say quietly to himself: I am the camera and the light of the world.

No matter what it may sound like to others, this helps me to get real about things. I need only a reminder to snap out of the regular neurotic thought system.

[Contemporary man] is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by “powers” that are beyond his control. His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food – and, above all, a large array of neuroses. (Jung, C.G., et al. (1964). Man and his Symbols, page 82).

Having demolished my darkroom and sold my equipment, I didn’t pick up casual snap shooting before photography had finally turned digital, fulfilling her promise already made in the early eighties. I gradually got sucked in again, still a novice in many ways, but one with forty years of experience being so, I suppose.

The only thing in which I have been actually thorough has been in being thoroughly unprepared. (Alfred Stieglitz as quoted in Geoff Dyer, The ongoing Moment)


[1] See also: stuff I couldn’t do without: //stanschaap.com/stuff-i-couldnt-do-without/