I began my PhD practice as I had completed my MA (Photography), searching for the ephemeral hiddenness of Skye – seeking to capture the essence of an Island that most people never see, the Skye behind the super-saturated landscape images that others strive to take. I aimed to use speculative realism as a basis for my search for the being in an object and to become a being able to be aware of being. This, for me, could only be done by finding a route into and beyond the veil of presence and perception. What strategies might I deploy to enable me to recognise and for the camera to capture that ephemeral moment, when the essence and being is revealed, or unconcealed in Heidegger’s terms?
My early inspiration and intent were derived from a quotation from the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida about difference as a tool to:
“designate the crevice through which the yet unnameable glimmer beyond the closure can be glimpsed.”
For me, Derrida was talking about the means by which being is accessed, and so I went in search of finding the crevice and the unnameable glimmer in a very literal way and was engaged in the conscious activity of active seeing. I looked for shafts of light, reflections on the surface of the loch, the scene beyond and through trees and reeds. I experimented with multiple exposures and intentional camera movement, using blur and the natural movements of nature to produce an ethereal image with depth and luminosity, hinting at what lay beyond. The outcomes had a painterly aesthetic and a dream-like quality.
However, this process seemed contrived and a deeply conscious activity, both technically and visually. I felt sure that the way into being aware of being was through an awareness or sense, rather than through hunting down signifiers of that which lay beyond. I needed to break the cycle of intent and experience. Ryan (2019) referred to two routes to subvert intentionality: forcing the brain to focus and attend to another sensory input such as music, or to induce something akin to a meditative state.
On many occasions, and when I have produced some of my best images, I have entered a zone, become less aware of the camera and the technical requirements, and unaware of the outside world. Some might consider it to be flow, but for me, it is something more, a meditative state induced by the natural environment, a sense of reverie or day-dreaming. The key to accessing being, in my view, is to improve my ability to reclaim and even induce these meditative moments and to enable my sub-conscious to recognise the moment and press the shutter.
Patricia Townsend in Creative States of Mind: Psychoanalysis and the Artist’s Process (2019), derived from her PhD, discussed with practising artists various stages of the creative process – one of these was the artist’s state of mind during periods of creative practice. The sculptor George Meyrick spoke about the state as follows:
“You’re buried in what you’re doing. The outside world doesn’t intrude. It just makes a big difference that you are not disturbed by other thoughts coming through . . . It’s very intense and concentrated.” (Meyrick in Townsend 2019 p49).
The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1996), coined the term flow, where an individual is narrowly focused and engaged in a particular activity. Townsends explains flow as follows:
“In this state, the person is immersed in the present moment, loses reflective self-consciousness, has a sense of personal agency or control over the activity they are engaged in, experiences the activity as intrinsically rewarding and has an altered experience of time (Townsend 2019 p50).
As I review my images over the next few weeks, I need to identify those where I believe there is a sense of what Graham Harman refers to as an object being more than a sum of its parts. Where the image reveals the essence of the real object. Moving forward, I also need to be more aware of my conscious or sub-conscious state, either at the point of capture or at least after it has happened and record the feeling in my journal. I need to correlate the images I believe might reveal essence, with whether my journal entry has recorded a sub-conscious reverie or day-dream.
I will continue to record these reflections over the next few weeks, with the intention of drafting an academic piece of writing about my photographic practice to date, during my PhD.
Csikszentmihayi, M. (1996). Creativity. London, Harper Collins.
Townsend, P. (2019). Creative States of Mind – Psychoanlysis and the Artist’s Process. Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge.