10 September 2017
So how do I cut though in the medium of photography? How do great photographs cut through? One way is examine it a little further. If a photograph is closest to memory, with memory comes the past, and time, away from and out of the present moment. A photograph is a reminder of the passing of time. To me there is some inherent sadness in this, as it means, in time, the passing of ‘me’. It is a loss. I will be someone else’s memory one day, someone else’s photograph looked at 100 years from now. Yet this sadness is the sadness of ego, of the personality, that thing is us that wants to be eternal, but is a complex fiction. (Remember, the ego loves the security of the known, and creativity is facing the unknown. Funny how the two are intimately linked).
Looked at it another way, memory can also be traced from the past, to the present. Memory recedes into mist and myth, back before ‘history’, back to what we call ancient times. This looking back mirrors traces of vanished civilisations over the eons and it mirrors traces inside me, for who was I before my history? This thread of time can also be traced from the deep past to now, which generates in me a fascination: what remains as timeless? To me it is the ageless wisdom of awareness that the eternal now is all there is, the present moment, and it is the clarity of awareness that cuts through time and space, from wisdom learned in ancient times and wisdom that arises in different people now. Awareness also cuts through the illusion of the ego, which loves to busy itself in the business (busy-ness) of problems and worry and what ifs.
So if a photograph is looking at the past, why are some photographs timeless (those that are most often considered great photographs)? What is this timeless aspect of photography? Great photographs show me a way of seeing that are different to mine. A great photograph says “look at this” (Roland Barthes again), but not in a way that I would look at it. A great photographer is showing me their way of seeing. "Do you see what I see?” It is outside my habitual way of seeing and perceiving. Awareness in me is awakened or expanded in some way, even momentarily And this expansion allows an inner silence and space, and I am transcended. I am taken beyond the limited me. I am alive, unencumbered by thoughts and memories and time. I am aware. I am awareness itself, nothing more. The burden of 'self' and living is transcended. The complex fiction that is me has been cut through.
This means, in essence, a great photograph to me is a window to awareness. It takes me out of my everyday mind, out of my ego, into timeless silence. This timeless aspect of photography has always drawn me in. If this is what I value in great photography, then this is what I need to express in mine. Great photographs cut through. Millions and millions of photographs don’t. To find my own particular way of seeing and showing is not easy. But this is the direction and compass I must follow.
Darren J Harris
(Copyright 2017 Darren J Harris)