On Significance-a rambling
Samsung Galaxy S8+
ISO 40, 1/1100s @ f1.7
I will admit the header image for this post isn’t much of a picture, however sometimes it is the dry ones, the ones that are so dehydrated it is like eating Weetbix without sugar and milk, which get you to thinking. Sometimes the OMG pictures say it all in one glorious flourish, one surging crescendo of sound and light, then grind to an abrupt halt with nothing more to add. There. I am mixing my metaphors again.
Each morning I like to go outside, preferably in the half-light before dawn, feel the energy of the land, and set my intentions for the day. A kind of instant meditation, if you will. I will feel the air and allow my self to roam along its currents, looking for stories I may have missed. Is there something of which I need to be aware? Where am I at? What needs to be done? Things like that.
Of late I have stayed with friends when I have been in town. My room opens onto a small wooden deck, where I can have privacy and space to just…be. I need that time and space. Directly in front of me and slightly to my right is a tall tree. I do not know what it is called, because it is winter, and the tree has dropped its leaves, so I can only guess what name to pin on it. All that remains before my eyes is the essence of Tree. It does however allow my visioning to roam along, around and among its branches, following first the one then another, visually hopping along its skeletal outline. I dance from branch to twig to branch and back again, looking for patterns in its fractal form. And get nowhere and everywhere.
Let me take a sidestep.
Lately I have been thinking about what I see, and the nature of my Seeing, staying in close to my Self and observing my observing, not falling into the trap of trying to extrapolate and generalise, but to consider what I do see. Actually, I have thinking about that a lot of late, as new works unfold on my screen and then eventually translate into print.
I have a theory. Of sorts. It goes something like this:
We have all grown up learning to see. That is, we have been taught to see. We are taught about labels and, as we expand our language, we learn to pin labels to things. The raw data comes in our eyes and proceeds to our brain and thence our mind, where it is decoded into meaning at mind level. Meaning is, of course, derived from a vast array of influences, not the least of which are emotions, memory and experiences. The labels we are taught to pin to what our eyes detect are expanded over time. However, they are rarely our own labels, rather those we are taught to use. And teaching involves both authority and authoritee. The one has the “right” term, the other is taught that it is ‘right’. Eventually the authoritee attains the status of authority, and the cycle begins again. Language acquisition has a fair degree of right and hence wrong. Therefore, it is a form of social engineering, which both ranks and confers relative status. An example: we both enter a greengrocer and stop in front of a rack of shiny red fruit. I point to it and say, look at those nice magenta cabbages. You look, and your dictionary says red tomatoes. This presents you with a problem. What I have said and what you have heard in no way match what is in your dictionary. What are you to do? You scroll through a series of reasons and responses:
- I have been at the recreational pharmaceuticals again. It might be wise to leave quickly before the police are called.
- I am making fun of you/taking the piss. You reference the nature and status of our relationship, looking for clues to a suitable response, and react accordingly.
- If I am a small child, it is likely that you will correct me and “teach” me the “correct” terms (note right and wrong implied and directed here). I am too young to know better and I am therefore to be corrected. Status/relationship.
- I am seeing something that you are not.
Whichever option is chosen, an easy familiarity and relationship has been disturbed. Assumption, the oil which greases social interaction, has been removed, and there are questions to be addressed.[why not try it? Go on. I dare you.]
Labels are a series of agreed conventions, whose nature is rarely questioned. What happens then, when we begin to unpick those labels that find common agreement and to challenge their nature?
If we assume that the labels exist on the surface and that all of us are constantly working to support/reinforce them, then what happens when we begin to use our own descriptors? Or even to look at the nature and PROCESS of our own Seeing, the points at which new understandings are added, and to work in and from that place? What happens if we acknowledge the importance of intuition or the impact of our soul on the perception of meaning, to admit its part in the process and to begin there?
What if we are looking for Significance in all we observe?
What if Significance is the coin of our visual currency?
Each year in New Zealand, photographers come together for a gathering, to analyse and judge each other’s work. Comment is made, judgement is passed, honours are awarded, recognition is paid. Black ties are in abundance, wine flows and heartfelt thanks are given. Comradeship, Acknowledgement and Reinforcement. There are no red tomatoes masquerading as green cabbages here. A commonality of shared view is cemented in for another year. Status, Mana. Approval. All is well with the world.
But what if polishing a commonly-held label is not enough?
Back to my bare branches and Weetbix picture.
I began to ask myself what I was really seeing. The surface/agreed label was branch. A branch is a tree writ small, and a twig is a branch writ small. Fractal progression. So far so good.
But what was I really seeing?
What if everything I looked at was a lesson, an indicator of and/or pointer to a larger lesson or pattern?
What does it mean? What is its Significance?
As I looked at the branches in the half-light, I began to see disparate threads of existence and relationship. Each branch/twig was following its own journey, like the others and yet not the same. It found its own way, affected by and yet not part of all the others. It continued growing, expanding until it didn’t. But others were following a similar purpose. Until they didn’t. The arrangement of bare branches appeared chaotic and yet a part of me suspected it was not, that there was a careful order here, just one I didn’t understand. Maybe the Significance of the branches, the metaphor which they were, lay not in their layout, but in the spaces between them. Perhaps Meaning could be found in the holes between them, or indeed in the angle from which I viewed them. Or, perhaps, all the above.
What if everything I was looking at was not what I had been taught it was? What if there was a meaning in all I observed which had eluded me because I simply wasn’t aware of it and how to look for and at it?
And, in the half-light, while I was contemplating Meaning and Significance and Metaphor and Reality, three blackbirds flew up and landed on the branches.
Simply because they could.