Either this world, my mother, is a monster, or I myself am a freak. ~ Annie Dillard
I have given up on the idea that I can comprehend all this. Branching organisms spring from the ground below my feet and tower above the very ground where insects, these tiny six-legged engines, forage for crumbs. This planet, a thing I have only half seen in other people’s photographs, is, they tell me, spinning like a wheel and that wheel is spinning in an arc so vast that I would have to look to the ant for a reference to scale. Apparently I breathe. Air. The same invisible stuff buoys the birds and sustains the towering trees. I can feel it now as I tap the plastic keys, little squares encoded with symbols that, when assembled in certain sequences, allow my mind to communicate with yours. The breeze. I can’t see it but it’s cooling my legs, a force my skin can feel. Music is playing in the background. A voice in the ether wails. Some other human whose face I’ve never seen conveys a melody by modulating air within the unseen confines of a throat and mouth. You don’t have to fall down a rabbit hole to find a surreal world filled with creatures that don’t make any sense.
Pelicans dive from great heights and plunge into the sea. The sea is far too vast to comprehend. I don’t even try. From where I stand, at any given moment, a billion living organisms swirl beneath the opaque waves. That I stand here at all doesn’t make any sense. And when I think about that, sense itself makes no sense. I have spent more than forty years collating sense details and observations so as to try and understand what I am and why I’m here. And that has been a futile exercise. What I am does not relate to what I see or feel with my body; which I have now come to understand has nothing to do with who I am.
The world is a place whose purpose is to be a home where those who claim they do not know themselves can come to question what it is they are.*
The world is not a monster and I am not a freak. Only my previous conceptual versions of each conform to those judgments. The body’s eyes are convinced that what they see is truth. And I have relied on them exclusively for far too long. What I see is, at best, only a small part of a truth which cannot be known through my body’s senses. My mind and my eyes have made a liar of me before.
I take photographs. Now read that sentence again. I take them. Or so I thought. It turns out that the photographs take me. The aborigines of the world had it backwards. The photographer does not steal the soul of his subject. It’s the other way around. I’ve been giving away little pieces of who I think I am to every tree, stone, dead bird and human face I’ve ever paused to ponder through a lens. I slough myself off like dried skin. When I see something that seems to move me, I seek to capture it. And what I am saying is: ‘Here, take me. Join with me.’ I think that I have recognized, all this time, that I am part of everything, and that everything is part of me. I kept looking at boundaries – geometry, shadow, line, edges, texture, skins, light, dark – as if they were lines on a geo-political map, as if they represented the definitions of things outside myself. I think I can label a thing and know it, and thus know myself. I think I can capture light. I think I can create something that wasn’t apparent to myself or anyone else before I came along to sanctify it as art. The arrogance of that. The hubris. I could almost smash my camera and walk away from it all like Rimbaud vanishing into the deserts of Africa, never to write a single line of poetry again.
Two years ago a began a blog for the sole purpose of doing something with all these photographs I’ve taken. My first attempt, a blog I called Giphantia, was an abject failure. I thought I could reach other people but it turned out to be a masturbatory exercise. It turns out I was trying to reach myself. I posted more than a hundred images there and wrote essays about each one in hopes that I would come to understand what it all means. I am no closer now than I was then. A year ago I started a new blog, one in which I decided I’d dedicate only to myself. I didn’t want followers. I didn’t want to think about them. About you. I wrote as if I was the only person reading and that’s when a strange thing happened. For reasons I still cannot understand people started to follow me. Why? Whoever you are, reader, I thank you for getting this far into this post. But why are you here? If you’re following me, why?
I am no longer trying to figure out who I am or why I’m here. I’m no longer trying to figure out what a photograph means. I no longer care why I take pictures or write. That’s like trying to figure out the sea. I am the sea, as Roger Daltry once bellowed. You are the sea. What if there’s only one of us, and we are the sea? No boundaries. No walls. Just an amorphous ocean that seems to be contained but that is itself a container for so much, what? Life?
Why the beach? Why the dead pelican? I will close with one more Annie Dillard quote and leave the conclusions to you.
“Evolution loves death more than it loves you are me. “
(From Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)
o O o
* (from A Course in Miracles)