Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yucatecan Still Lifes: Flow of Images

Training and working as a photographer teaches your eye to look at the world in a certain way. An experienced photographer observes things differently than most other people. It has been many, many years since I created images for a living, but the habits of looking and visualizing, of seeing the world as a series of compositions and qualities of light reflecting off of surfaces, persist.

I don't do much photography anymore. When I do decide to pick up the camera it's usually for fun, for recording events and places for myself, and to share with others.

I also pick up the camera occasisonally because the act of creating images sometimes puts me in a place that few other activities can. Psychologists call it flow. Flow happens when a person is so immersed in an activity that the outside world and the passage of time hardly seem to exist. The activity is so engaging that it seems to fill all the available processing space in one's brain, and a sense of extreme contentment, intensity of purpose and serenity ensues. In this state, you don't start wondering if you are going to be late for an appointment. You don't feel tired, hungry, thirsty, or check your watch. Your inner dialog (that little voice in your head that just asked you "what inner dialog?") has no room to operate. It's peaceful, you have purpose, and you feel pleasure.

Athletes, artists, musicians, artisans -- or anyone who does something that makes them feel energized focus, full involvement and at which they achieve success -- can experience flow. I have a friend who experiences flow when working with plants in the garden. For me it usually happens when I notice something visually interesting and decide to get out the camera. As I focus on that object or composition, I notice details I never knew existed. I intensely sense light, shadow and color. One observation leads to another. After awhile perhaps I notice something else interesting close by. As I spiral into intense focus, my problems, my body, the weather, in fact the rest of the world, disappears for a little while. It becomes a meditation. This only happens when I am alone, and involves observations in a very small space. If I have to get up and move around much, talk with people, or if my attention is divided, there's no flow.

I am not presenting these pictures as examples of high-level photography. They are simply products of observations I have made while in this intensely focused state. Although good images sometimes emerge from this process, it is the process and not the photos that is the point. The greatest payback for me is the concentration, minute observation and that feeling of intense involvement I experience as I make them.

With the exception of one, which I made on an earlier occasion, these photos were made this morning over a short time period in and around my Mérida house.

Top: A Jaguar mask I bought in Michoacan years ago sits on the edge of my desk.

Upper middle: Bright sunlight shining through (transilluminating) a leaf creates soft images of raindrops on its surface, viewed from underneath.

Lower middle: A ripe Nopal cactus fruit, tuna in Spanish, has fallen and speared itself on a hennequen cactus leaf.

Bottom: A wildflower blooms in the shade of an orange tree.


  1. Another thought provoking treasure. It has been so long since I had an experience like you've described, I was half way through this before I thought "Yeah, I used to do that..."

    Before 2000, I was exquisitely attuned to the light, but I've since lost it. "I intensely sense light, shadow and color. One observation leads to another. After awhile perhaps I notice something else interesting close by." I remember that experience. I remember being lost in my garden, in meditation, but it's been so long.

    So much has been lost in the busy-ness of life, of making a living. I'm reminded of Trotsky, whose hope-filled view of societal change included a vision of everyone working 5-6 hours a day, then spending the remainder in artistic pursuits, in reading, in community activities.

    I am as far from Trotsky's idyllic vision as it's possible to be, and from your experience of intense focus. I sound like a broken record these days: "when I move, then..."

    Nevertheless, when I move? Surely I'll be able to stop, to be still at last, to concentrate on the moments of my life that are rushing by unnoticed.

  2. This post, and your pictures, remind me why painting for the sake of recreating something found in nature is really pointless today.


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