Pages from the Book of Light

“Pages from the Book of Light” was a one-day exhibition of photography hosted at the Confederation Centre of the Arts as part of the Unity of Humanity Arts Festival in October 2019. The festival in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, was one of many events commemorating the bicentenary of the birth of the Báb, one of the central figures of the Bahá’í Faith. http://www.bahai.org

Numen inest

When I was younger, I converted a room in the basement in to a darkroom. I covered the windows and curtained the door so as to make the room light-tight, and then I installed the necessary collection of photographic equipment. Here I took my first roll of exposed film out of a camera, immersed it into the chemistry of magic. By following a step-by-step procedure, I later watched under the reddish glow of the safelight the emergence of an image as it floated in a tray of developer. Something was coming forth out of the darkness in to the visible world. The print was a revelation.

Taking the word back to its Greek roots–φωτός (phōtos) andγραφή (graphé), photography means “to write with light”. Metaphorically, the great teachers and prophets are spiritual photographers writing with the light of truth. Each is a manifestation of the Sun of Reality, the Dayspring of Eternity, the Dawning Place of His Beauty. Each describes our spiritual reality, and through our efforts to put into practice their teachings, we set our hearts on personal and social transformation. Collectively, we are the image in the developer; we are the image that is emerging. 

O SON OF MAN!

Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty… 

O SON OF MAN! Write all that We have revealed unto thee with the ink of light upon the tablet of thy spirit. 

from the Bahá’í sacred writings
The Barle at Cornham Brake
Simmonsbath Dawn 8

There are a few images that I revisit from time to time. The Barle at Cornham Brake (Simonsbath, Somerset, UK) is one of them. I am attracted by its beauty and entrapped by its challenge. Processing the image, I never seem to get it right. Sometimes I get closer to the truth I experienced; sometimes I have hopes that justice will be done by my efforts. As yet, I’m not satisfied. I’m limited of course; there’s little chance I’ll get the chance to shoot this scene again, and I don’t have much raw material to work with. The original image is small, captured as a jpeg more than ten years ago with a camera of less resolution than what is probably on your cellphone. 

The exercise of photography, like that of the other arts (and sciences), is a search for truth—a repetitive effort through which we strive to attain a nearer approach to the inner vision and find a voice that resonates with greater honesty.  

I process the image and I’m not satisfied. I let it sleep for a year or two until it calls out again. In the meantime, my vision becomes more refined, I learn more about the art of seeing, my skills advance, as does the technology. I make another attempt. And yet … 

Praised be Thou, O Lord my God! Every time I attempt to make mention of Thee, I am hindered by the sublimity of Thy station and the overpowering greatness of Thy might. For were I to praise Thee throughout the length of Thy dominion and the duration of Thy sovereignty, I would find that my praise of Thee can befit only such as are like unto me, who are themselves Thy creatures, and who have been generated through the power of Thy decree and been fashioned through the potency of Thy will.

from the Bahá’í sacred writings

Buninyong

I know of no other master printer on the Island as accomplished as the late Lionel F. Stevenson (1939—2017), a commercial and fine arts photographer who trained under the tutelage of another master printer, Berenice Abbott (1898—1991). I regret not taking the time to have learned more from Lionel. During our last conversation, he said something to the effect that, “you try again and again; you print and you print again. And when you can make a print that satisfies—one that mirrors what you truly see—one that mirrors the vision you had at the time—when you can do that, you have mastered the print and you know that you can do it again.” 

“And how long might that take?” I asked. 

“About 20 years,” he said. Now the veracity of that statement may have been betrayed by the twinkle in his eye.
 

The steed of this Valley [of Search] is patience; without patience the wayfarer on this journey will reach nowhere and attain no goal. Nor should he ever be downhearted; if he strive for a hundred thousand years and yet fail to behold the beauty of the Friend, he should not falter. For those who seek the Ka‘bih [the most sacred site] of “for Us” rejoice in the tidings: “In Our ways will We guide them.”

from the Bahá’í sacred writings
Housatonic Dawn

Want to know the secret to great landscape photography? Get up and get out before dawn. [Note to self: Heed your own advice more often.]

Photographers know that short time of soft, diffused and warm light, when the sun breaks a fresh morning horizon, as the golden hour. This is a most hopeful time of the day, a time with the most promise. Is it the quality of light that tells us so? 

Landscapes are bathed in a similar quality of light when the sun declines, and is again within 10-12 degrees of the horizon. While the life of the day is nearing to an end, there’s little sadness in the light, but rather qualities of celebration and gratitude. 

The golden hour is also called the magic hour. These are times of the day when we become intoxicated by the light.

When my mother was living in Connecticut, my wife and I would drive down to spend time with her. Being an early riser, I would leave them sleeping and go to a bend in the river in nearby Ashley Falls, Massachusetts. A special place, this is where my father grew up, where he took me as a child, where he put his boat in and where we fished. It’s where I awaited the dawn and photographed. The first image, “Numen inest,” was taken within metres of this location, although 3 years earlier.

Consider the sun. How feeble its rays the moment it appeareth above the horizon. How gradually its warmth and potency increase as it approacheth its zenith, enabling meanwhile all created things to adapt themselves to the growing intensity of its light. How steadily it declineth until it reacheth its setting point. Were it, all of a sudden, to manifest the energies latent within it, it would, no doubt, cause injury to all created things…. In like manner, if the Sun of Truth were suddenly to reveal, at the earliest stages of its manifestation, the full measure of the potencies which the providence of the Almighty hath bestowed upon it, the earth of human understanding would waste away and be consumed; for men’s hearts would neither sustain the intensity of its revelation, nor be able to mirror forth the radiance of its light. Dismayed and overpowered, they would cease to exist.   

from the Bahá’í sacred writings
Barn on Route 2

Artists listen to two voices. One voice, the more credible one, tells us that there is no magic, only labour. The other voice temps us with quick-fix offers and snake-oil promises. The voice of materialism calls out to photographers saying, “You can produce great images when you have a 100 megapixel camera and a supersharp 10-800 mm 1.4 lens, and attend the $5000 two-day workshop in Nuevo Utopio. You can produce great, truly meaningful art immediately if only…” 

We’re susceptible to the lure of advertising–gear lust. And yet, deep down we know that the greatest return on investment is for our time and effort. Ironically, with time and effort, vision grows and we begin to see that something magical happens. Two voices, but the truth isn’t so either-or, black-and-white. I don’t carry a 100 megapixel camera with a 10-800 1.4 lens. Nor do I use a pin-hole camera I made from a Weetabix box.   

The true seeker hunteth naught but the object of his quest, and the lover hath no desire save union with his beloved. Nor shall the seeker reach his goal unless he sacrifice all things. That is, whatever he hath seen, and heard, and understood, all must he set at naught, that he may enter the realm of the spirit, which is the City of God. Labor is needed, if we are to seek Him; ardor is needed, if we are to drink of the honey of reunion with Him; and if we taste of this cup, we shall cast away the world.  

from the Bahá’í sacred writings
Home for the Holidays
Chill Morning in Wellington