“Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.” Lao Tzu
I pulled into the parking lot of a huge farm stand to try to get a good photo of pumpkins. I tried different angles, apertures and focus points with both of my cameras. Suddenly a smiling Amish guy comes out and asks me if I’m with the newspaper.
I told him no and continued shooting while the light was good. A minute later he was standing right next to me. This time I decided to enlighten him to what I was doing and why. The conversation went like this:
Q. “Are you a photographer?
A. “Well I guess that’s a matter of opinion.”
Q. “Why are you taking so many pictures?”
A. “I’m trying to get one good one.
Q. “What do you do with these pictures?”
A. “I have a website (I figured saying I had a blog was too confusing).
Q. “How do you make money doing this?”
A. “I don’t, it just gives me something to do.
This went on until the clouds burned off and it was too bright. I took a chance and actually asked him if he had a computer to show him some of my stuff but of course he didn’t.
I wanted to explain to him what that great philosopher Charlie Brown once said: “If we could see the miracle of a single pumpkin stem clearly, our whole life would change,” but I thought his head might explode.
I said goodbye and got into my car and he said Beheef dich! It sounded like he was calling me an insulting name in Pennsylvania Dutch but it turns out that the phrase just means behave yourself.
“It is not possible to think outside the box. If I am thinking, I am always and only inside the box. The mind itself is the box.” Red Hawk, Self Observation
I believe it was Edward Weston who said there are no bad onions, only bad photographs of onions. So when I saw the Free Onions sign I stopped to grab some for a still life. But they were all bad and I didn’t want to stink up my car.
I took a few shots to see if I could capture their beauty even though they are basically pig food now. I’m not sure if this is a good photograph because I’m not a professional onion photographer, but it’s my best out of thirty five.
Weston also said something that I’ve always liked: “Anything that excites me for any reason, I will photograph; not searching for unusual subject matter, but making the commonplace unusual.” Now all I have to do is explain that to the Amish farmers.
“The greatest risk to man is not that he aims too high and misses, but that he aims too low and hits.” Michaelangelo
Fun Fact: Excusado is a famous photograph by Edward Weston taken with a large-format camera in 1925. For two weeks Weston photographed and studied the toilet in his house near Mexico City from different angles.
It has been on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland and The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
“In this short Life that only lasts an hour
How much – how little – is within our power”
“When you practice looking deeply, you see your true nature of no birth, no death; no being, no non-being; no coming, no going; no same, no different.
When you see this, you are free from fear. You are free from craving and free from jealousy. No fear is the ultimate joy.
When you have the insight of no fear, you are free. And like the great beings, you ride serenely on the waves of birth and death.” Thich Nhat Hanh
This is a photo of an illusion; the table and cards are reflected in an old mirror. The objects may be real, which as you will see is debatable, but the reflected image does not exist.
In an attempt to understand what is and what is not real, I give you The Eight Similes of Illusion by Patrul Rinpoche. These should be taken seriously, and with careful contemplation, you may be able to use your illusion.
“As in a dream, all the external objects perceived with the five senses are not there, but appear through delusion.” This explains all those times I couldn’t find my car.
“As in a magic show, things are made to appear by a temporary conjunction of causes, circumstances and connections.” It’s an illusion Michael; a trick is something a whore does for money.
“As in a visual aberration, things appear to be there, yet there is nothing.” I can easily observe this by looking deeply into my checking account.
“As in a mirage, things appear but are not real.” If you have an illusory royal flush you may want to bluff.
“As in an echo, things can be perceived but there is nothing there, either outside or inside.” Note to self-test for echo.
“As in a city of Gandharvas, there is neither a dwelling nor anyone to dwell.” Fun fact: while Gandharva literally means smell eater, it’s also a term for singers in Indian classical music.
“As in a reflection, things appear but have no reality of their own.” See mirror image.
“As in a city created by magic, there are all sorts of appearances but they are not really there.” This is Disneyland in a nutshell, but you don’t have to tell the kids until they get older.
The Buddha said: “We live in illusion and the appearance of things. There is a reality. We are that reality. When you understand this, you see that you are nothing, and being nothing, you are everything. That is all.”
Deal me out, I got nothing.
Eckhart Tolle wrote a book called stillness speaks, it’s about stillness (obviously), life, and in its own way it’s about still life photography. So since we’re having a blizzard today, I decided to look into his theories and see if I could discover some stillness with a still life.
My first thought was that taking a photo of a needle and thread is stupid, it’s not creative and it’s certainly not art. Then I remember E.T. saying: “All artists, whether they know it or not create from a place of inner stillness, a place of no mind.” Oh.
My second thought was that I needed to find a way to make this interesting, and I was having some problems because of thought one. But E.T. said: “Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.” So I think that meant to tighten up my tripod.
I was really trying to make this work but was getting more frustrated by the minute. To this E.T. said: “Suffering is necessary until you realize it is unnecessary.” That’s slightly confusing but probably true.
Later, I went through all the photos to see if there was one worth keeping, and I started having some crazy thoughts; the needle and the damage done, the needle and the spoon, and the fact that I’ve never been to the Space Needle in Seattle.
So once again I looked to E.T. for help, to which he said: “Here is a new spiritual practice for you: don’t take your thoughts too seriously.”
Right then, now if I can just sit still until it stops snowing I can go out and get some great winter shots. I will look at things in the most unserious way I can, maybe even shooting only JPEG, but I doubt it.
This is a photograph of my mother in her early thirties on a trip we took to Taconic State Park in 1962. She is not that person now at 86, and in a way she is.
In her dining room there is another old photo of me at age 2 and a half. I’m sitting with my favorite teddy bear, wearing a sailor suit, and look as happy as a clam, and I ask myself who that person is.
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh addressed this in his book No Death, No fear: “I have a photograph of myself when I was a boy of sixteen. Is it a photograph of me? I am not really sure. Who is this boy in the photograph? Is it the same person as me or is it another person?”
“The body of the boy in the photograph is not the same as my body, now that I am in my seventies. The feelings are different, and the perceptions are very different. It is just as if I am a completely different person from that boy, but if the boy in the photograph did not exist, then I would not exist either.”
He goes on to say: “You would not cry if you knew that by looking deeply into the rain you would still see the cloud.”
Note to self: reread this book and get a new rain jacket.