Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Help yourself to a free portfolio sampler

Sudden Stillness - Portfolio Sampler by Andy Ilachinski 

For those of you interested, and for this month only, I've made the iPad version of my current "portfolio sampler" completely free. If you have an iPhone or iPad, please feel free to download, enjoy (I hope), and pass on this "freebie" to anyone you think might be interested. It contains 16 portfolios in all (with shorter previews of a few others). Since photography is ultimately about sharing (one's aesthetic, travelogues, perhaps even a philosophy of life), my "epiphany" on the way home from work tonight, was simply, "So, why not share?"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Photography, Elemental Forms, Narrative, and Music

"If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.... I get most joy in life out of music" - Albert Einstein

In my "Long belated return to blogging..." blog entry a few weeks ago, I alluded to finding a new reverie in the "music" of Kauai's tonal forms and rhythms - something I'm becoming more and more drawn to in general (far transcending what my "eye" saw during my family's trip to Kauai in July, and something I am becoming more and more sensitive to in my photography); but I did not, in that ealier entry, elaborate on what I meant by "music."

Historically, the connection between photography and music goes back at least as far as the oft-told story of how, in his youth, the great Ansel Adams needed a few years to choose between pursuing one or the other. Having obviously chosen photography, Ansel's passion for - and ability to make - music never waned throughout the remaining years of his life. Indeed, it both informed and inspired his art. Some of his best known aphorisms are couched in music-speak; e.g., "Photographers are in a sense composers," he once said, "and the negatives are their scores." The list of accomplished photographers who are also gifted in music (and vice versa) is long (Graham Nash, Ralph Gibson, Milt Hinton, Bryan Adams, and Kenny Rogers, to name just a few); perhaps as long as the one that includes mathematicians and scientists as well (e.g., Bruce Barnbaum, Larry Blackwood, Norman Koren, Charles Johnson, and - of course - one of the co-inventors of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot).

"Even though fixed in time, a photograph evokes as much feeling as that which comes from music or dance. Whatever the mode – from the snapshot to the decisive moment to multi-media montage – the intent and purpose of photography is to render in visual terms feelings and experiences that often elude the ability of words to describe. In any case, the eyes have it, and the imagination will always soar farther than was expected." - Ralph Gibson

But the sense in which I find myself applying "music" to photography nowadays has little to do with this simplest of associations; for I mean it quite literally: images perceived as music! Perhaps spurred by subconscious machinations about my multi-year experiments with "Synesthetic Landscapes,"  I am tending to hear the tonal and elemental forms and structures of images, as though my visual and aural circuits have crossed (which, not coincidentally, is the essence of synesthesia). But whereas my "Synesthetic Landscape" series is admittedly an artificial construct, deliberately crafted to evoke a sense of synesthesia in the viewer (and whose physical appearance actually owes nothing to synesthesia, per se, since it is an almost wholly "cognitive" experiment), inexplicably, my aesthetic "eye" is being drawn more and more to compositions that - synesthestically - evoke real music within me. I hear the images that my camera's viewfinder shows me, and the ones that I seem to keep and decide to print are those whose melodies I enjoy the most. My current favorite "reason" (that I give to those who ask) why a specific image, say, continues to adorn my office wall, when others - even those I have liked in the past - come and go with regularity, is that the keepers simply sing.  But what do I mean by this?

After some deliberation (and with the understanding that these thoughts are still closer to stream-of-conscious ruminations than coherent worldviews), I'd like to offer a hypothesis of why certain images just seem to "sing" - and others do not - and what this may have to say about the general aesthetic appreciation of images on a fundamental level (at least one that I have not previously encountered in academic discussions). I propose that the images with which we most strongly resonate - those that give the most aesthetic "pleasure" - are those whose innate harmonies are entwined on two levels: (1) spatial, in which an otherwise complex morass of visual details and textures may be distilled into a much simpler set of elemental forms and structures; and (2) temporal, in which the relationships among the elemental spatial forms are, in our mind's eyes and ears, experienced as a narrative that unfolds in time. It is when an image harbors an especially acute harmony in both its spatial and temporal dimensions that our gaze tends to linger just a bit longer; and to which we can only say, if asked, "Why do you keep looking at it?" that it simply sings.

"Music creates order out of chaos." - Yehudi Menuhin

The "image" at the top of this entry depicts a 10-frame "narrative" that includes the elemental forms I've deconstructed out of one of my favorite "Kauai music" images (that also appeared in my earlier post). Here is the spatial deconstruction itself:

Each frame of the "narrative" contains just the elemental forms that - at a given slice in time - draw most attention (for me; your narrative will, of course, be different). I first look at the dominant root at near center, as it swoops to the upper right of the composition (frame 1). My eye next goes over to the top left to take in the gentle rhythm of the leaves (frame 2), then moving downward to gaze at the smaller root and the decaying bamboo sheath to its right (frame 3); and so on. The narrative encodes my experience in time of the elemental forms that make up the otherwise static image. The spatial forms are not only pleasant to look at (at least, for me) because they evoke a "harmony of fixed structures" (i.e., the "parts" that make up the distillation at the far right in the triptych above), but also strongly evoke a music-like "harmony of dynamic structures" that are best appreciated as an aesthetic narrative that unfolds in an inner, experiential time. It is as though the innate harmony of inherent forms is so strong that it lifts the otherwise two dimensional image into a higher dimension; one that is best "seen" by having its innate melody heard, and as its elemental notes gently play out, and linger, in our mind's ears. Photographic aesthetics as an experiential union of space and time.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Kauai Bamboo

“A monk asked Ts'ui-wei about the meaning of Buddhism.  Ts'ui-wei answered: "Wait until there is no one around, and I will tell you."  Some time later the monk approached Ts'ui-wei again, saying, 'There is nobody here now.  Please answer me.'  Ts'ui-wei led him out into the garden and went over to the bamboo grove, saying nothing.  Still the monk did not understand, so at last Ts'ui-wei said, 'Here is a tall bamboo; there is a short one!'” Zen Parable

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A long belated return to blogging...with some thoughts on the "music" of Kauai's tonal forms and rhythms

I can look at a fine art photograph and sometimes I can hear music. - Ansel Adams

Having been absent from blogging for a little over a year (!) - due mostly to ill-timed but persistent "day job" responsibilities (as always) - this entry marks a long overdue, though happy, return to musing on this forum. Though long absent from public view on this blog, my photo-related work has not actually suffered much in the intervening time. I have continued "experimenting" with color abstractions, played with a number of promising (and not so promising) new portfolios, and have a number of stories to share relating to photography; I have also continued posting new work on facebook throughout the time I was "AWOL" on my own blog ;-) 

First in queue is a short muse on viewing an old subject with new eyes. The "old subject" in this case being Kauai, the so-called "Garden Isle" of Hawaii, and about which I posted a few entries in 2006 (and which was the last time, before this summer, that I had the great privilege of experiencing this extraordinary land). By way of context, Hawaii, generally - and Kauai, specifically - holds a special place in my heart. It is the "far away land" I have most frequently visited in my life (8 times, including the trip my whole family and I took this past summer), and is the place my soul-mate/wife and I dream of retiring to one day. 

I have "seen" this magic place with eyes attached to a brain that had barely yet learned even the basics of photography, but were eager to "record" each and every "beautiful" sight the Hawaiian islands had to offer (back in 1982); with eyes attached to a brain that was just beginning to "see" that images are best thought of as the words and grammar of a powerful new visual language, but whose "rules" remained mostly mysterious (in trips between 1985-1988); with eyes attached to a brain that finally understood that it is not things the lens is meant to capture, but the effect that things have on the soul behind the brain (in trips during 1996 and 2006); and, this past July, with (somewhat older, and perhaps just a smidgen even more introspective) eyes attached to a soul that now relishes - above all else - finding music in Kauai's transcendent forms and tonal rhythms.

It is a cliche, of course, that we never "see" an old place as before, and that we, ourselves, like a Heraclitian river, are never the same twice. But the deeper meaning of this abused aphorism is that the essence of who we are is not confined to a single time and place, but is spread throughout a lifetime of journeys and learning. I am much less the being that is typing these words, than an infinitely thin snapshot (right now) of a consciousness that was born some 54 years ago and has continued journeying in some fantastically high dimensional "experiential space." Our store of photographs - and/or, just as validly, any other impermanent artifacts that our essential being has "created" along its journey (including, in my case, equations, computer code, technical reports and papers, and even books) - accrued over a lifetime of "seeing," are intertwined, nonlinearly nested visual palimpsests of an ever-evolving / never-complete document of our being; of who we really are. As such, they serve as potent probes, in hindsight - and only after careful reflection - of who we were, at some past time; and offer valuable clues and insights into how (sometimes even why) our essential being has evolved into its current state. More rarely, and with deeper contemplation, these emergent palimpsests can help us better understand and appreciate the forms and rhythms of the journey itself.

So what does my palimpsest say about my ongoing journey, from the perspective of hindsight provided by 32 years of traveling to - and "seeing" - Kauai? Simply that, as a photographer, right now, my deepest yearning has nothing at all to do with finding the next "pretty shot," and is all consumed with "tuning my eyes" to hear some new "tonal rhythm" or form (i.e., to hear a bit of Ansel's "music"); and the discovery of a universal rhythm - that, though it may appear, for example, in some image taken in Kauai (or elsewhere), is not about Kauai, per se (or any other place), but reveals still deeper layers of a feeling of place - makes me the happiest. Perhaps because I have taken hundreds, if not thousands, of images of Kauai during all my past visits, and countless numbers of "I have been here" point-and-shoot documentaries of being in place, that this time my eye and soul were both finally free to focus on Kauai's subtler gifts. While I am not immune to Kauai's majestic Wagnerian vistas...

...it is Kauai's preternaturally sublime quiet music - the kind of visual song that stills one's soul - that now draws most of my attention. What will my soul's eye "see" in another 10 years time I wonder...?

"The voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new horizons,
but in seeing with new eyes." - Marcel Proust