I needed to start the year right. I needed to work. I needed to do personal work. I stopped answering calls from the exterior (phone and email) and started answering calls from the interior. I went into my studio. I closed one door and opened another. I photographed.
Typically, when I work I immerse myself in a natural environment. This time I brought the outside in. I prepared my space and lit incense.
Smoke. It makes breath visible. It’s linked with the spirit world. It’s used in sacred ceremonies: meditation, supplication, divination, cremation, etc. It’s used to cleanse. It’s used to communicate. It’s a sign of danger. Fire precedes it. It’s pollution. It stops breath. Smoke is a powerful symbol.
I've both photographed and rendered smoke for many years now.
I knew I needed to return to and develop one image into a series - Suffusion.
I had also planned to do a series of simple, direct, “unaltered” images of elements that would have an integrity of their own but which I would also use in my highly altered imagery. Fumo is the first suite of images conceived as a complete series in its own right and as a set of fragments for another series.
While I worked, I watched myself watching.
This work is about perception and change. It’s about how change intensifies and defies perception and how perception elicits change simultaneously in the observer, the subject, and their environment.
It took heightened awareness and stillness to make these images.
Never the same twice, the subject changed extremely fast. If you take your eyes from the subject for a moment, you’ll miss something. Every moment is unique.
It was sensitive to its own state, producing change within itself. The subject influences the event.
It was sensitive to outside influences. This includes motion or breath. The observer influences the event.
Many elements had to be brought into a specific relationship with one another to reveal these images (background, light, smoke, angle of view, viewers relationship to light). The observer influences the event by changing his or her environment.
Much of what is seen here was almost invisible. If the light struck the subject it reveals. If the light struck the viewer it conceals. The viewing medium both reveals and conceals. The observer influences the event by changing his or her own state.
The angle the subject was viewed from was important. Though rendered two-dimensionally, the subject was three-dimensional. It twists and turns and folds in on itself. One angle of view reveals only one aspect of the phenomenon. While multiple perspectives yield a fuller perspective, the viewer can only bear witness to his or her own experience.
It took two light sources to reveal the subject. It took tungsten light to see the subject. Even then, the strobe light that followed revealed more. The medium of perception influences the event.
The photographs showed more than I saw at that moment. The photographs showed the subject in ways that I couldn’t see. I tested exposure and I found unexpected results. Short exposures froze motion revealing great detail. Long exposures recorded extended motion revealing a dynamic field of activity, it’s limits, and concentrations within it. Combinations of short bursts of intense light with extended immersion in weaker light yielded both in register with one another. Duration and type of attention influences what is seen.
None of the artifacts looked exactly like the images produced by the naked eye. All of them were revealing. Artifacts created from dynamic processes produce the illusion of stability and permanence. From one perspective this is useful. From another, it is misleading. The product of perception is not the same as the process of perception, the medium of perception, the perceiver, the perceived or their environment. The production of the artifact and the artifact itself introduce new activities and new entities into a dynamic event.
During the process, I realized my focus was on the unstable effect (smoke), rather than the comparatively stable source (incense), or what made it visible (light). Perception of the exterior leads to perception of the interior.
I looked in a focused way, seeing specific details in one area without grasping the full composition. I looked in a defocused way, seeing the entire composition without the same specificity. It took a great deal of concentration to look in both ways simultaneously. The viewer can take an active hand in the process, the product, and the effects they have.
The subject was hypnotic. It was interesting to watch my mind drift at the same time that I watched the smoke drift. Both were fascinating. The room was filled with silence. I was not. It took time to become still. I reviewed many significant events in my life and my reactions to them both past and present. Many loved ones lost. Many more soon to be lost. My inevitable future. Many hopes for the future before then. Each stick of incense had a season. Each thought had a season. I looked deeply into the world and found myself and my connection with a world that was far richer than I could imagine. It’s illuminating and energizing to work.
At the end of the day, I was filled with the subject. I smelled it and smelled of it; I tasted it and tasted of it; I felt it and it was felt on me. I carried it with me literally and figuratively for days. Perhaps longer. Perhaps much longer.
I answered the call. And doing the work has changed me. I see differently now.