Zen and the Art of Photography IV - The Song of Jeweled Mirror Samadhi

August 05, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Song of Jeweled Mirror Samadhi

By Ch'an Master Tung-shan Liang-chieh

Depiction of the the mutuality of Light and Dark as restricting each other

and at the same time being fused in each other 

 

Tung-shan Liang-chieh (Tõzan Ryõkai,  “Cave Mountain Good Servant” ;  807-869) is the founder of the Ts'ao-tung (Sõtõ) School of Zen Buddhism. He was a contemporary of Lin-chi I-hsüan (Rinzai Gigen, d.866 臨済義玄). Tung-shan's poem, which was composed when he saw his reflection in the stream which he was crossing at the time, may give us some glimpse into his inner experience of the Prajñâpâramitâ:

 

           Beware of seeking [the Truth]  by others,

            Further and further he retreats from you;

            Alone I go now all by myself,

            And I meet  him everywhere I turn.

            He is no other than myself,

            And yet I am not he.

            When thus understood,

            I am face to face with  Tathatâ."

            (Essays in Zen Buddhism – Third Series 238)

 

            Long seeking it through others,

           I was far from reaching it.

            Now I go by myself;

            I meet it everywhere.

           It is just I myself,

            And I am not itself.

           Understanding this way,

            I can be as I am.

            (Two Zen  Classics 267)

 

           Do not seek from another,

            Or you will be estranged from self.

            I now go  on alone,

            Finding I meet It everywhere.

            It now is I,

            I now am not It.

            One should  understand in this way

            To merge with suchness  as is.

            (Transmission of Light 38)

 

            Don't seek from others,

            Or you'll be estranged from yourself.

            I now go on alone—

            Everywhere I encounter It.

            It now is me, I now am not It.

            One must understand in this way

            To merge with being as is.

            (Transmission of Light 167)

 

Lotus of the heartLotus of the heart

 

While scholars of the Avatamsaka School were making use of the intuitions of Zen in their own way, the Zen masters were drawn towards the philosophy of Indentity and Interpenetration advocated by the Avatamsaka, and attempted to incorporate it into their own discourses.

For instance, Shih-t'ou in his 'Ode on Identity'  depicts the mutuality of Light and Dark as restricting each other and at the same time being fused in each other ; Tung-shan in his metrical composition called 'Sacred Mirror Samadhi' discourses on the mutuality of P'ien, 'one-sided', and Chêng1, 'correct', much to the same effect as Shih-t'ou in his Ode, for both Shih-t'ou and Tung-shan belong to the school of Hsing-szu known as the Ts'ao-tung11 branch of Zen Buddhism. This idea of Mutuality and Indentity is no doubt derived from Avatamsaka philosophy, so ably formulated by Fa-tsang. I have illustrated the mutuality beow in this Chiaroscuro portrait with accompanying silhouette of a singer.

 

Chiarascuro - Mutuality of Light and shade

The Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi consists of 94 lines of 4 characters each (376 characters total) (arranged into 47 couplets here). It is a song in which the end of each couplet rhymes with all the others. The jewel is one's true entity; the mirror, the objective spheres reflecting the parts of one's own life. The samadhi is the unity, the Buddha's wisdom that Guatama himself proclaimed at the moment of his enlightenment: "How miraculously wondrous! All beings have the Tathagata's wisdom and virtue." The intimacy is simply realizing that your true nature and the phenomenal world are meeting right here, now, as your life. (from the preface to Two Arrows Meeting Mid-Air: The Zen Koan) . I have endeavoured to depict the Jewel and the path to the jewel as a mirrored golden spiral staircase:

Finally, here is the song of the jeweled mirror samadhi  in it's entirety. both in English and Chinese. In a future article, I will discuss at length the artistic and geometric symmetries within the Chinese characters, demonstrating the supreme skills of the poet. This connection between poetry and art was taken to a high level by the chinese who would juxtapose calligraphy and the relevant image. Ultimately, Shu Shi would call writing, imageless poems.

 

如是之法 佛祖密附   The teaching of suchness, is given directly, through all buddha ancestors,

汝今得之 宜能保護   Now that it's yours, keep it well.

銀碗盛雪 明月藏鷺   A serving of snow in a silver bowl, or herons concealed in the glare of the moon

類而不斉 混則知處   Apart, they seem similar, together, they're different.

意不在言 來機亦赴   Meaning cannot rest in words, it adapts itself to that which arises.

動成臼 差落顧佇   Tremble and you're lost in a trap, miss and there's always regrets.

背觸共非 如大火聚   Neither reject nor cling to words, both are wrong; like a ball of fire,

但形文彩 即屬染汚   Useful but dangerous. Merely expressed in fine language, the mirror will tarnish.

夜半正明 天曉不露   At midnight truly it's most bright, by daylight it cannot still be seen.

爲物作則 用抜諸苦   It is the principle that regulates all, relieving every suffering.

雖非有爲 不是無語   Though it doesn't act it is not without words.

如臨寶鏡 形影相覩    In the most precious mirror form meets reflection:

汝是非渠 渠正是汝   You are not It, but It is all you.

如世嬰児 五相完具   Just as a baby, five senses complete,

不去不來 不起不住   Neither going or coming, nor arising or staying,

婆婆和和 有句無句   Babbles and coos: speech without meaning,

終不得物 語未正故   No understanding, unclearly expressed.

重離六爻 偏正回互   Six lines make the double li trigram, where principle and appearances interact.

疊而成三 變盡爲五   Lines stacked in three pairs yet transform in five ways.

如茎草味 如金剛杵   Like the five flavors of the hyssop plant or the five branches of the diamond scepter,

正中妙挾 敲唱雙舉   Reality harmonizes subtly just as melody and rhythm, together make music.

通宗通途 挾帯挾路   Penetrate the root and you fathom the branches, grasping connections, one then finds the road.

錯然則吉 不可犯忤   To be wrong is auspicious, there's no contradiction.

天眞而妙 不屬迷悟   Naturally pure and profoundly subtle, it touches neither delusion nor awakening,

因縁時節 寂然昭著   At each time and condition it quietly shines.

細入無間 大絶方所   So fine it penetrates no space at all, so large its bounds can never be measured.

毫忽之差 不應律呂   But if you're off by a hair's breadth all harmony's lost in discord.

今有頓漸 縁立宗趣   Now there are sudden and gradual schools with principles, approaches so standards arise.

宗趣分矣 即是規矩    Penetrating the principle,

宗通趣極 眞常流注   Mastering the approach, the genuine constant continues outflowing.

外寂内搖 繋駒伏鼠   A tethered horse, a mouse frozen in fear, outwardly still but inwardly whirling:

先聖悲之 爲法檀度   Compassionate sages freed them with teaching.

隨其顛倒 以緇爲素   In upside  down ways folks take black for white.

顛倒想滅 肯心自許   When inverted thinking falls away they realize mind without even trying.

要合古轍 請觀前古   If  you want to follow the ancient path then consider the ancients:

佛道垂成 十劫觀樹   The Buddha, completing the path, still sat for ten eons.

如虎之缺 如馬之     Like a tiger leaving a trace of the prey, like a horse missing the left hind shoe,

以有下劣 寶几珍御   For those whose ability  is under the mark, a jeweled footrest and brocaded robe.

以有驚異 狸奴白     For others who still can manifest wonder there's a house cat and cow.

藝以巧力 射中百歩   Yi the archer shot nine of ten suns from the sky, saving parched crops, another bowman hit targets at hundreds of paces:

箭鋒相値 巧力何預   These skills are small to compare with that in which two arrow points meet head on in mid air.

木人方歌 石女起舞   The wooden man breaks into song, a stone maiden leaps up to dance,

非情識到 寧容思慮   They can't be known by mere thought or feelings, so how can they be analyzed?

臣奉於君 子順於父   The minister still serves his lord, the child obeys his parent.

不順不孝 不奉非輔   Not obeying is unfilial, not serving is a useless waste.

潛行密用 如愚如魯   Practicing inwardly, functioning in secret, playing the fool, seemingly stupid,

只能相續 名主中主   If you can only persist in this way, you will see the lord within the lord.

 

 

 

 

References

1. The Development of Chinese Zen After the Sixth Patriarch. Heinrich Dumoulin. SMC Publishing, Inc. Taipei, n.d..

 

2. The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion. Ingrid Fischer-Schreiber, et al. Shambhala Publications. New York, 1994.

 

3. Essays in Zen Buddhism, 3 vols. Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki. Rider and Company. London, 1949-53.

 

4. Two Zen Classics. Katsuki Sekida. Weatherhill. New York, 1995.

 

5. Zen Essence: The Science of Freedom. Ed. and trans. by Thomas Cleary. Shambhala Publications. New York, 1989.

 


Zen, Dhyana and Art III : Mountains and plum blossom in meditation

June 27, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Scafell Sunburst IScafell Sunburst - Enlightenment on a mountain

Sunburst viewed from Scafell Pike © ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016

 

Zen  is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word (dʑjen; pinyinChán), which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna( ध्यान ), which can be approximately translated as "absorption" or "meditative state"

It is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that was taken from India by Bodhidharma across the Himalayas and developed in China during the Tang dynasty as Chan Buddhism. Bodhidharma and other Buddhists advocated the sutras, chants immersed with deep meaning, which had been developed in India for centuries such as the Lankavatara Sutra; Zen master Hogen advocated the Avatamsaka Sutra.

Mahayana was strongly influenced by Taoism, and developed as a distinguished school of Chinese Buddhism. From China, Chan Buddhism spread south to Vietnam, northeast to Korea and east to Japan, where it became known as Japanese Zen.

Zen emphasizes rigorous meditation practice, insight into Buddha-nature, and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others. As such, it de-emphasizes mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine and favours direct understanding through seated meditation (zazen; 座禅) and interaction (Dokusan; 独参) with an accomplished teacher (Roshi) .

The teachings of Zen include various sources of Mahayana thought, especially Yogachara, the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras and the Huayan school, with their emphasis on Buddha-nature, totality, and the Bodhisattva-ideal.[8][9] ThePrajñāpāramitā literature and, to a lesser extent, Madhyamaka have also been influential in the shaping of the "paradoxical language" of the Zen-tradition.

The three traditional schools of Zen in contemporary Japan in decreasing size order are the Sōtō (曹洞), Rinzai (臨済), and Ōbaku (黃檗) schools respectively. Nanpo Shōmyō (南浦紹明 (1235–1308)  studied Linji teachings in China before founding the Japanese Otokan lineage, the most influential and only surviving lineage of Rinzai in Japan. In 1215, Dōgen, a younger contemporary of Eisai's, also journeyed to China, where he became a disciple of the Caodong master Tiantong Rujing. After his return, Dōgen established the Sōtō school, the Japanese branch of Caodong.

 

In the Soto school of Zen, meditation with no objects, anchors, or content, is the primary form of practice. The meditator strives to be aware of the stream of thoughts, allowing them to arise and pass away without interference. Considerable textual, philosophical, and phenomenological justification of this practice can be found throughout Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō, as for example in the "Principles of Zazen" and the "Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen". In the Japanese language, this practice is called Shikantaza.

 

The Koan – Paradoxical stories which illuminate

Particularly in the Rinzai school, zazen is usually associated with the study of koans A kōan, literally "public case", is a paradoxical story or dialogue, describing an interaction between a Zen master and a student. These anecdotes give a demonstration of the master's insight. Koans emphasize the non-conceptional insight that the Buddhist teachings are pointing to. Koans can be used to provoke the "great doubt", and test a student's progress in Zen practice and assist in enlightenment.

Kōan-inquiry may be practiced during zazen (sitting meditation), kinhin (walking meditation), and throughout all the activities of daily life. 

 

Zafu and ZabutonIn Zen temples and monasteries, practitioners traditionally sit zazen as a group in a meditation hall, usually referred to as the <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zendo" target="_blank">zendo</a></em>. The practitioner sits on a cushion called a <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zafu" target="_blank">zafu</a></em>, which itself is usually placed on top of a low, flat mat called a <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zabuton" target="_blank">zabuton</a></em>.<br/> Before taking one's seat, and after rising at the end of the period of zazen, a Zen practitioner performs a <em>gassho</em> bow to their seat, and a second bow to fellow practitioners.<br/> The beginning of a period of zazen is traditionally announced by ringing a bell three times (<em>shijosho</em>), and the end of a round by ringing the bell either once or twice (<em>hozensho</em>).<br/> Long periods of zazen may alternate with periods of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinhin" target="_blank">kinhin</a> (walking meditation)<br/> The posture of zazen is seated, with folded legs and hands, and an erect but settled spine. The hands are folded together into a simple <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mudra" target="_blank">mudra</a> over the belly. In many practices, the practitioner breathes from the <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dantian" target="_blank">hara</a></em> (the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Center_of_gravity" target="_blank">center of gravity</a> in the belly) and the eyelids are half-lowered, the eyes being neither fully open nor shut so that the practitioner is neither distracted by, nor turning away from, external stimuli.<br/> The legs are folded in one of the standard sitting styles:<br/> <ul> <li><em>Kekkafuza</em> (full-<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_position" target="_blank">lotus</a>)</li> <li><em>Hankafuza</em> (half-lotus)</li> <li><em>Burmese</em> (a cross-legged posture in which the ankles are placed together in front of the sitter)</li> <li><em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seiza" target="_blank">Seiza</a></em> (a kneeling posture using a bench or <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zafu" target="_blank">zafu</a>)</li> </ul> <br/> In addition, it is not uncommon for modern practitioners to practice zazen in a chair, often with a wedge or cushion on top of it so that one is sitting on an incline, or by placing a wedge behind the lower back to help maintain the natural curve of the spine. One can sit comfortably, but not too comfortably, so as to avoid falling asleep. While each of these styles is commonly taught today, Master <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogen" target="_blank">Dogen</a> recommended only <em>Kekkafuza</em> and <em>Hankafuza</em>.

Zafu and Zabuton inside Zendo © ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016

 

Zazen in the mountains : the significance of Plum Blossom (Baika)

Bodhidharma crossed the Himalayas to take Buddhism from India to China. He recited this poem:

 

 “ From the first, I came to this land to Transmit the

Dharma

That I might rescue deluded beings,

And when the Single Blossom opened Its five petals,

The fruit thereof naturally came about of itself  “

The significance of the five petals is a reference to the Gautama Buddha’s five eyes:  two physical eyes, which are the non-worldly eyes of someone who is in meditation, plus the Eye of wise discernment, the Eye of the Dharma, and the Eye of a Buddha.

Similarly, the famous Antaiji temple in northern Kyoto was re-located away from the encroaching city to a remote mountain location in northern Hyugo prefecturein 1976. It was inspired by the very simple, yet deep style of zazen taught by reformer “Homeless Kodo” Sawaki Roshi (1880-1965). Antaiji was very popular with the most serious zazen practitioners from all over Japan and from abroad in the 1960s and 1970s, during which time it was led by Roshi Kosho Uchiyama (d.1996).

 

More recently,  the Plum mountain monastery in Washington State, in the North Western USA is where John Daido Loorie, the photographer,  was Abbot ( see my article “ Zen and Photography I “) . The plum blossom ( Baika) is beloved by Buddhists as it arrives early, in the winter and is therefore considered a harbinger of Spring. It is thus a metaphor for Shakyamuni Buddha, who was considered the first to bring forth the blossoming of the Dharma.

Master Tendō, an Old Buddha, was the thirtieth Abbot and a most venerable monk of Keitoku-ji Temple on the renowned Mount Tendō in the Keigen district of Great Sung China. Once when speaking to the assembly he said, “Here at Tendō in midwinter have come forth the first lines of a verse.” He then recited the following poem of his:

“ The thorn-like, spike-branched Old Plum Tree

Suddenly bursts forth, first with one or two blossoms,

Then with three, four, five, and finally blossoms beyond

count.

No perfume to take pride in, no fragrance to boast of.

In scattering, they evoke a springtime scene as they are

blown over grass and trees.

The patch-robed monks, to a one, have no sooner shaved

their heads

Than, suddenly, the weather shifts with howling winds

and squalling skies,

Until the whole earth is wrapped in swirling snow.

The Old Plum Tree’s silhouette is barely to be seen,

As the freezing cold seizes their noses and rubs them raw.”

 

Similarly, another poem alluding to the allegory of blossoming as enlightenment and the whole universe :

“ When Gautama finally lost His deceiving eyes,

There appeared in the snow a single blossom on one

bough of the Old Plum Tree.

What has now arrived is the growing of thorn-like spurs,

So that all the more I laugh at the spring winds which

send all things flying in disarray. “

 

Similarly another poem on enlightenment linked to Plum Blossoming that is recited:

 

“ On this first day of the year I wish you happiness.

All the myriad things arising are fresh and new.

Upon reflection, my great assembly, I submit to you,

The Plum Tree has blossomed early this spring”

 

Again the allegory of new sprouting as the novitiates and the blossom as enlightenment is within this poem:

 

“ If a single word accords with the Truth,

It will not change, though myriad generations pass:

Thus, eye-shaped willow buds sprout forth from new

branches,

Whereas plum blossoms fill up the older boughs.”

 

Another poem:

“ Everything is so bright and clear,

No need to seek some phantom in the Flowering Plum,

Spontaneously creating rain and raising clouds in past

and present.

Past and present are rare enough, and what ending will

they have? “

 

The Meditation Master Hōen once said in verse:

 

“ The snow-laden north wind sets the valley trees to

swaying.

Everything is buried deep within, with little complaint,

While on the mountain peak, the bright-spirited plum

stands alone.

Even before the twelfth month’s heavy snows spew forth, I

have the feeling of the yearly ‘greater cold’. “

 

The senior monk Taigen Fu also expressed his awakening in verse. He had originally been an academic lecturer, focussing on learning only of the ego mind. One day he had been shaken by the chief cook at Mount Kassan. Fu became enlightened and recited :

 

“ I remember from the days before I had awakened

Whenever I heard the wail of the painted horn, it was like

a cry of grief.

Now, when upon my pillow, I have no idle dreams

And just trust to whatever the Plum Blossom may blow

my way, large or small. “

 

 

Koans of mountains

While teaching the Buddha would often refer to the white cow of Snow mountain. On the mountain there were many varieties of grass that would lead to nourishing milk which makes those who drink it thrive better. Similarly the Buddhadharma nourishes the wisdom of those that accept it. Many koans are centred around a mountain journey.

Sunburst from Skiddaw on to Buttermere © ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016

 

OLD MONK TO YOUNG MONK

On the terrace of a small temple high in the mountains, an old Zen Buddhist monk stood next to his much younger disciple while they both contemplated the great Void of misty space out yonder. Referring to the Void, the old monk at one point gently declared: "Ah, my son, one day all of this will be yours."

 

 

 

SAME - DIFFERENT

Yunmen sang:

" The cloud and the moon, both the same.

Valleys and mountains, each different.

Are they one, or are they two?

Wonderful! Splendid! "

 

Finally, let us contemplate this poem by the Chan hermit Shiwu (1272-1352), also known as Chinghong :

 

" My hut isn’t quite six feet across

surrounded by pines bamboos and mountains

an old monk hardly has room for himself

much less for a visiting cloud 

 

Standing outside my pointed-roof hut

who’d guess how spacious it is inside

a galaxy of worlds is there

with room to spare for a zazen cushion

 

My mind outshines the autumn moon

not that the autumn moon isn’t bright

but once full it fades

no match for my mind

always full and bright

as to what the mind is like

why don’t you tell me? "

 

 

© ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016

 

REFERENCES

  1. Lankavatara Sutra, chapter LXXXII, p.192 Suzuki-translation, p.223/224 in brackets http://lirs.ru/do/lanka_eng/lanka-nondiacritical.htm

  

  1. Heine (ed.), Steven; Wright (ed.), Dale S. (2007). Zen Ritual : Studies of Zen Buddhist Theory in Practice: Studies of Zen Buddhist Theory in Practice. Oxford University Press. p. 223. ISBN 9780198041467.
  2. Maezumi, Hakuyu Taizan; Glassman, Bernie (2002). On Zen Practice: Body, Breath, Mind. Wisdom Publications. pp. 48–49. ISBN 086171315X.
  3. Suzuki, Shunryū (2011). Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Shambhala Publications. p. 8. ISBN 978-159030849-3.
  4. Steven Heine, Shifting Shape, Shaping Text: Philosophy and Folklore in the Fox Kōan (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1999), 41.
  5.  Steven Heine, Dōgen and the Kōan Tradition: A Tale of Two Shōbōgenzō Texts (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 125.

Arizona Avante Garde, Merz,and Surrealism

June 13, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

" Old Market off the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul "  © ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016 

Fifteen members attended the RPS NE contemporary group on the 21st May in York, convened by Patricia Ruddle ARPS, who had received a further five apologies for absence; members had travelled from as far afield as Derby and Middlesborough. The meeting followed on from a well-attended and received RPS morning café session organised by Yorkshire Regional organiser Mary Crowther ARPS and Treasurer Bob Helliwell ARPS. Patricia reiterated her call for a successor to her as group convenor; this was to be the last meeting in York for the foreseeable future; Nigel Tooby FRPS has kindly agreed to host the next meeting on Saturday September 17th – further details will be circulated to the group.

David Edge from Derby, Yorkshire Region webmaster, discussed the RPS Contemporary Group webmaster, Sean Goodheart’s call for images for the RPS website ( email: http://www.rps.org/special-interest-groups/contemporary) and the preference for images that may be cropped to a letterbox 3:1 crop for display ; instructions are at http://www.rps.org/regions-and-chapters/regions/yorkshire/about/pictures-wanted. David also mentioned that plans were underway for a RPS Midlands contemporary subgroup.

Peter Bartlett LRPS presented three photobooks. “Empty Premises “ (2013) , published via the BLURB platform ( www.blurb.co.uk) shows empty shops and retail premises and captured a consequence of the recent economic recession. The front cover shows a photograph of a dilapidated building called Patricia’s hairdressers. Peter saw the building when visiting his mother, who lived nearby. The shop had been kept in the same condition by Patricia’s widower as a poignant memorial to her.

The second book, “Sixteen Facades Near Plunkett Road ” again shows retail premises, this time in Dandenong, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia with a high level of migrant settlement and consequent cultural diversity. Notably all the images were taken in a period of only 50 minutes. The third photobook was “ Main Street “ (2016; ISBN 978-1-36- 431763-8). Again showing buildings , this time in Gembrook, another suburb of Melbourne, where Bartlett’s sister-in-law and brother-in-law reside; the book is dedicated to “Hazel and Brian “.

These books books are reminiscent of and/or inspired by the work of Edward Ruscha IV ( 1937 - ), the American artist associated with Pop Art, who published “ Twentysix Gasoline stations “ (1963, National Excelsior Press); all the images are of stations on route 66 between Ruscha’s home in Culver City, California and his parents in Oklahoma.

Both Peter Bartlett’s and Edward Ruscha’s works are deadpan depictions of subjects that are not generally thought of as having aesthetic qualities ( unlike my photograph below of the Shambles in York, voted Britain's favourite street), mainly devoid of human presence, emphasizing the essential form of the structure and its placement within the built environment. I have endeavoured to do the same with the Istanbul image above. Many, including Ruscha, have attributed a spiritual subtext to his book by analogy to the fourteen stations of the Cross between Pilate’s condemnation of Christ to his crucifixion at Calvary. It is notable that Bartlett’s planned next works include a photobook of 26 facial expressions (as well as projects on covered vehicles and Port Arthur in Tasmania).

  The Shambles, York

" The Shambles, York "  © ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016

Peter Bartlett candidly expressed dissatisfaction of the sequence of photographs in Main Street. A discussion on sequencing of images then ensued examining the techniques of Paul Hill MBE and Brian Steptoe FRPS, who both teach on the subject. Variables including form, seasons, time, place and subject matter were covered. A future meeting on creation of a photobook was floated, building on Steptoe’s RPS video on the subject (http://www.rps.org/special-interest-groups/contemporary/blogs/2014/may/brian-steptoe-frps-talks-about-the-selection-criteria-for-photobooks ).

Celine Alexander-Brown of the Annexe Photography Group, Middlesborough, showed photographs of everyday Delhi street life.

Celine’s charming and humorous images are in sharp contrast to those in the recent “ InVisible “ project of photographs of Indian Women by artist Ann-Christine Woehrl, funded by the German cultural foundation Stiftung Kulturwerk / VG Bild‐Kunst. These latter images show reconstructive surgery for (mainly female) burns victims, including acid attacks, who must confront more than just a changed face in the mirror and are often ostracised from their communities and families, and unable to continue working at their old jobs. http://www.ann-christine-woehrl.com/en/

Lyn Newton, also of the Annexe Photography Group showed images of the street processions during Holy Week in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Costaleros, men in Brotherhood groups, carry pasos, heavy silvered and gilded wooden structures depicting the virgin Mary and scenes of the passion of Christ respectively.

Patricia commented that Lyn’s Catholic religious photography may be compared with that of Salvo Alibrio ARPS who captured Sicilian festivals in “ La Sicilia sacra “, published in the RPS journal Contemporary Photography (2013, vol 53) which she edited and in the National Geographic magazine. Similarly, I have captured the Hindu celebration of " Ganesh Visarjan " whereby the statue of Ganesh is held aloft :

Ganesh Visarjan © ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016

Close inspection of Lyn’s second image of the hooded costaleros, shows him to be slightly blurred; a discussion on the subjective nature of composition and the pre-requisite necessity of sharp focus throughout an image required by RPS distinction panels ensued, with marked variances of opinion. Unsurprisingly, Cartier Bresson’s maxim “ Sharpness is a bourgeois concept” was quoted; It is said that the 96 year old Cartier Bresson had said this to Helmut Newton when he had taken a fuzzy portrait of Newton for Vanity Fair magazine in 2004.

Similarly, Nigel Tooby made reference to “ On Being a Photographer: a Practical Guide” by another Magnum Photographer, David Hurn and Bill Jay; this book gives advice on subject selection and creating a photo essay.

Mick Nolan explained his personal journey of artistic photography. It started with Landscape photography of the North York Moors emphasising ploughed ridge lines (a) which led to the production of composite photographs with photographs of ruffled cloth (b). Then by using coloured gels, photographs of chiffon led to images of a series of sinuous horizontal lines (c). Mick was somewhat concerned that he was going out on a limb; however these lines are reminiscent of the “ Lines of Time “ project of Ann Christopher RA who depicts her experience of the landscape around Albi in Southern France and of the ‘ ever changing effects of the climate and light on the landscape ‘ using coloured straight lines. http://www.annchristopher.co.uk/Ann-Christopher-News.html Mick then made a montage of this with a photograph of a tree to produce a proto landscape image (d).

Mick’s use of montages of photographs and art is reminiscent of the Arizona Avant-Garde work of Frederick Sommer (1905-1999) http://www.fredericksommer.org/ who made a unique contribution to 20th-century photography and whose work is exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Mentored by Alfred Sieglitz, Edward Weston and Max Ernst, Sommer situated his photography within a wider artistic practice that included poetry, drawing and painting, and engaging with the ideas and practice of surrealism, he pushed the boundaries of photography's subject matter. He moved from finding things to photograph to creating things for the camera using techniques such as frottage (rubbing), producing images sometimes devoid of perspective and almost Cubist in appearance, a method that has great resonance with contemporary photography.

After a break , three speakers then discussed various aspects of creating and curating a photographic exhibition.

David Edge presented two sets of images. The first work, ‘Spaces’ , examines the visual interaction of people and architectural spaces.The second project was “Abandoned Bulgarian Psychiatric Hospitals” (photographed in Great Malvern) has moved on to an individual psychological examination called “Waking up in an institution”. The title may refer to a marriage or an organisation, not just a hospital. David expressed nervousness at including the image below, and its emotional sequelae in a public exhibition. 

David also shared five hard lessons he had learnt for a proposed solo exhibition featuring his ‘spaces’ and ‘waking up’ work plus some environmental portraits, which was subsequently abandoned.

Firstly, not all galleries show work behind glass, so photography may catch them out. Poor lighting from windows may destroy the finest work. David had decided to opt for borderless mounting on Foamex with relatively flat Hahnemule papers (matt or lustre) without glass. If glass is used , polarised anti-reflection glass is reasonably effective, but expensive.

Secondly, find out as early as possible the gallery’s policy on fixings. They may like mirror plates and not self-adhesive fixatives that they later have to remove. Split battens are an interesting option - see below.

Thirdly, paper selection was an interesting and rewarding part of the process; David had experimented with the full Hahnemule range including heavily textured fine art papers, printing a representative quarter of an A2 image on to A4. As part of this trial, David learned that there’s no white ink cartridge in a printer, so unlike an electronic display the ‘white’ reproduced on a print is governed by the paper used which may be warm, cool or in one case a rather malevolent cyan. He also recommended seeking advice from certified printmakers for advice choosing a paper.

Fourthly, despite having various prints to exhibit, it is important to reprint them to get a consistency of mood and tone on the wall. Further, with David’s vision of frameless, borderless prints ‘floating’ on a white wall any vignetting on prints may have to be eliminated or even reversed.

Finally, David explored potential layouts, understanding that layout altered the sequence viewed, perception and resultant thought patterns of the audience. The first was a traditional linear ‘railway carriage’ (top panel), the second and third a ‘cloud’ pattern with (middle panel) and without (lower panel) visible battens.

Avijit Datta discussed a recent exhibition in York of my images on spirituality on the twin themes of “colour and joy”. Images of white and Asian people joyously enjoying a festival of colour (Holi) together gave a positive image of multiculturalism to counter some recent negative parochial and possibly xenophobic media media messages. The A2 prints were displayed on a white wall at eye level in two rows of a ‘railway carriage‘ arrangement in wooden frames behind glass with no visible battens. These frames would be re-used for future exhibitions, reducing the standing cost of curating exhibitions. I discussed a planned future exhibition as part of the celebrations in Hull for the City of Culture celebrations official “Roots and Routes“ theme, depicting the development of migrants to Hull and the patchwork of peoples with their own unique spirit, character and distinctly international flavour, showing new partnerships and collaborations as communities unite in a grass roots celebration of arts and culture as a model for multiculturalism in any city of the world.

Holi Besties

" Holi Besties "  © ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016

Neil Wittman

In preparing for four pictures to be exhibited at the RPS photobook opening at the Espacio Gallery, Neil Wittman also considered printing, framing and transportation issues. He had seen large aluminium prints and found a specialist printer online (White Wall) and uploaded three .jpg files for printing, two 3” square and a small landscape format picture. Neil chose three different finishes; brushed aluminium direct onto the medium, a matte finish -bonded print with protective coating and a glossy finish on ‘metal’. He ultimately decided to have his four works produced on aluminium di-bond matte finish to about 40cm square, roughly the size of Neil’s usual framed prints. The aluminium prints come with their own wall mounts that give a ‘float’ off the wall look for exhibition. This simplicity makes for a lightweight durable picture with a contemporary look.

   " Paracelsus " by Frederick Sommer - courtesu of V& A museum, London 

" La Ville; Electricité " Photogravure by Man Ray, courtesy of V & A Museum, London

Merz 8--Die Kathedrale Kurt SchwittersMerz 8--Die Kathedrale Kurt Schwitters

Merz 8--Die Kathedrale " by Kurt Schwitters,

courtesy of  V& A Museum, London

The collage images Neil presented also had spiritual themes; they showed the same hooded figure in a dystopian often derelict environment in each composite image. . The first is Transcendental meditation, the second seeking direction, and the third, The Traveller. Again, this work is reminiscent of Frederick Sommer’s work, discussed above or the later collages of the surrealist and dada artists Man Ray (1890-1976) and Kurt Schwitters (1887 – 1948) - see for example his " Das Unbild" at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart; Schwitters coined the concept ‘ Merz ‘ as ‘the combination, for artistic purposes of all conceivable materials’ http://www.moma.org/collection/artists/5293

The meeting ended with a discussion on producing a joint RPS North East contemporary photobook. Various themes were proposed and six potential contributors volunteered. This project is to be pursued at subsequent meetings.

 © ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016

A version of this article will appear in the Royal Photographic Society's magazine " Concept "

 


Zen and the Art of Photography II

May 14, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Take a running jump I

" Take a running jump I " © ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016

The German philosopher Eugen Herrigel (1884-1955) taught philosophy in Tohoku Imperial University, Sendai , Japan between 1924-1929; at the same time he studied Kyudo – zen archery under Master Awa Kenzo (1880 - 1939). He returned to Germany to take up the chair of philosophy at Erlangen. Seven years later he published later he published  "Die Ritterliche Kunst des Bogenschiessens" (The Knightly Art of Archery). This formed the basis of his seminal book Zen in the Art of Archery: Training the Mind and Body to Become One. This short book was influential in introducing Zen to Western audiences in the late 1940s and beyond. 

On a simplistic level, it is a guide to the mental and physical exercises to perfect the motor learning required for archery; on a deeper level it is an honest account of one man’s journey to complete abandonment of ‘the self’ and the ego principles that we use to define ourselves. For example, Herrigel describes how he was baffled by paradoxes of being taught that art must become artless, at being taught to aim at himself. Herrigel made copious notes on Zen. After his death, they were edited by his widow, Gusty, and Herman Tausen and published as Der Zen- Weg. They were translated into english, revised by the English philosopher, Buddhist and Episcopal priest, Alan Watts ( 1915- 1973) and published as " The way of Zen" . Watts went to school next to Canterbury Cathedral but trained in Zen in New York ( his mother in law , Ruth Everett Fuller, was married to Zen Master Roshi Sokei-an Sasaki, who acted as his mentor); later he moved to San Fransisco and studied Hindu Vedanta as well as chinese calligraphy. In the revision of " The Way of Zen" , Watts drew on the Indian and Chinese underpinnings of Zen, general semantics ( from the works of Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950; and cybernetics from the early work of Norbert Wiener (1894 - 1964).

The connection between Herrigel's book on Archery and Art and Photography starts with the Fauvist and Cubist painter George Braque (1882 – 1963). Braque’s earliest work was impressionistic but soon became heavily influenced by Henri Matisse, Alain Derain, Raoul Dufy and the other beasts (Fauves); as such he employed colour to depict emotion. Influenced by Paul Cezanne’s work on multiple perspective, Braque’s own work incorporated an interest in the effects of light, geometry and simultaneous persective – the basis of Analytical Cubism. At the age of 26, Braque started a collaboration with Picasso in co-founding Cubism; Picasso had also been influenced by Cezanne. Braque’s still life paintings patterns express an essence of the objects viewed rather than direct representations. A decisive development in Cubism occurred in the Pyrenees in 1911 where Braque painted side by side with Pablo Picasso – they each produced paintings which appear indistinguishable from the other’s.

Braque gave the French humanist photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908- 2004) Herrigel’s book on Zen and archery. Cartier Bresson had studied art and literature at the University of Cambridge (1928-1929). He went to India in 1947, on behalf of Magnum Photos, the agency he cofounded with the war photographer, Robert Capa. the year before the publication of Herrigel’s book on Zen Buddhism and Archery. Cartier Bresson photographed Mahatma Gandhi fasting for peace, leaving Meherauli, a Moslem shrine and on Jan 30th 1948; one hour later Gandhi had been assassinated. Cartier Bresson went on to capture the weeping crowds around Gandhi, Prime Minister Pandit Nehru announcing Gandhi’s death and Gandhi’s cremation on the banks of the Sumna river in Dehli.

Gandhi once said that Shakyamuni Buddha was the greatest teacher of the Hindu concept of ahimsa (non-violence) and that he "taught us to defy appearances and trust in the final triumph of Truth and Love." Not killing is also the first of the five Zen Buddhist precepts. Cartier Bresson took almost half a million photographs; they distilled the chaos of existence into a studied geometry so rich and vigorous that it seemed to foreground simple truths. Clearly  Hindu /  Buddhist ideas influenced Cartier Bresson; he recommended and referenced Herrigel’s book frequently in relationship to how he saw photography. However, Cartier Bresson would have received Herrigel's book from Braque after his interaction with Gandhi - it is tempting to postulate that reflection on Gandhian teaching had already influenced Cartier Bresson. The “inner child” or in Zen the “beginner’s mind” are all exercises designed to return a person to a more supple state of flow. In his book, " The Mind's Eye ", Cartier Bresson wrote about  being able to " sniff the final image" and " To photograph is to hold one's breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It's at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy ".

Similarly, just as discipline serves an unexpected purpose for Kyudo, freeing archers from the endless choices that are common place in modern life, the same applies to the master photographer/ artist. Thus, every action is predetermined, except one, the moment they release the arrow. The analogy with photography is obvious, the arrow release is replaced by the camera shutter; Cartier Bresson coined the phrase " The decisive moment ". Zen Archers are all trained to do exactly the same sequences, the same steps, and the same techniques.  What divides each moment is the shot.  It is the record of these small shifts, that translates to a different outcome, for the archer a different score, for the photographer a different image and message.

The image I have shown accompanying this article is entitled “ Take a running jump I “. It shows two boys simultaneously jumping into a lake with great determination. That they have performed this action before and learnt the motor action is shown by how close they are above the water and the synchronous position of their limbs. The water is so still that the reflection of the boys’ legs is clearly seen. A single point in time is frozen; the boys appear to float above the water moments before they are immersed.

At the culmination of this discourse on history, philosophy, politics, neuroscience and art, grounded in ego thought, I respectfully return you, the reader, to the Heart Sutra:

The Great Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, practising deep Prajna Paramita, 
clearly saw that all five skandhas are empty, 
transforming all suffering and distress. 
Shariputra, form is no other than emptiness, 
emptiness no other than form; 
form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form; 
sensation, perception, mental reaction, consciousness are also like this. 
Shariputra, all things are essentially empty - 
not born, not destroyed; not stained, not pure; without loss, without gain. 
Therefore in emptiness there is no form, no sensation, perception, mental reaction, consciousness; 
no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind, 
no colour, sound, smell, taste, touch, object of thought; 
no seeing and so on to no thinking; 
no ignorance and also no ending of ignorance, 
and so on to no old age and death 
and also no ending of old age and death; 
no suffering, cause of suffering, cessation, path; 
no wisdom and no attainment. Since there is nothing to attain, 
the Bodhisattva lives by Prajna Paramita
with no hindrance in the mind; no hindrance and therefore no fear; 
far beyond delusive thinking right here is Nirvana. 
All Buddhas of past, present, and future live by Prajna Paramita, 
attaining Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi
Therefore know that Prajna Paramita is 
the great mantra, the vivid mantra, 
the unsurpassed mantra, the supreme mantra, 
which completely removes all suffering. 
This is truth, not mere formality. 
Therefore set forth the Prajna Paramita mantra, 
set forth this mantra and proclaim: 
Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate 
Bodhi Svaha

REFERENCES

1. Eugen Herrigel (1948) Zen in the Art of Archery: Training the Mind and Body to Become One (Arkana,1948)

2. Eugen Herrigel  (1936 ) The Knightly Art of Archery (Die Ritterliche Kunst des Bogenschiessens) Zeitschrift fur Japanologie (pp.193-212)

http://www.aumphotos.com/zenarchery.pdf

3. Alan Watts (1960 ) The way of Zen"  Vintage, Pantheon Books  ISBN 0-375-70510-4.

4. Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950; Manhood Of Humanity  The Science and Art of Human Engineering (1921, EP Dutton);  

5. Alfred Korzybski Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics ( 5th edition 1994, Institute of General Semantics)

6.. Norbert Wiener  Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (1948, MIT Press)

7. Henri Cartier Bresson (1999) The Mind's Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers. Aperture ISBN: 9780893818753

 

© ॐ www.aumphotos.com 2016

 

 

 

 


Siempre en mi cabeza - always in my head: Truth in documentary photography

March 06, 2016  •  1 Comment

siempre en mi cabezasiempre en mi cabezaSiempre en mi cabeza - always in my head; they are humans too

The image of a young refugee from the Syrian holocaust sitting in a street with her child on her lap made me think of the words below published by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Please click on the blue  links:

Photography has often been perceived as an objective, and therefore unbiased ,medium for capturing and preserving historical moments. Yet the choices made by a  photographer—including how the image is composed composed, what is left in or out of the shot, and how it may be manipulated after it is taken—necessarily impacts how we perceive the image. It also raises critical questions about how willingly we accept any one photograph photograph as the definitive truth.

Photographs can bear witness to a definitive moment in history or even serve as a catalyst for change. They can foster sympathy and awareness or, alternatively, offer critical commentary on an historical figure or event. The photographers discussed here aim to wordlessly capture the essence of events they witnessed—though the question of accuracy is always up for debate.

http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL53ZMYN

http://www.anseladams.com/ansel-adams-photography/yosemite-special-edition-photographs/

http://www.billbrandt.com/

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