While writing the sections on Attentiveness and Analagous Reasoning I had cause to reconsider in one case and refine in the other. Last week I wrote about Attentiveness, one of the initial ten constructs, in the context of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974). Initially her writing encouraged me to take account of all senses, with the intention that this would lead to a greater awareness of being. Accordingly, when I decided on the constructs borne out of my practice, I included Attentiveness as a significant contributor to Object-Oriented Photography.
I had also been inspired by the words of Nan Shepherd who, through her attentiveness to the sensory world, had been able to access the being of the mountain (Shepherd 1977). However, whilst this might have been the case for Shepherd, my practice was telling me that enhancing my sensory perception was not the way to go. Indeed, exactly the opposite. Returning to the Star Diagram, and the wisdom that captures, my objective is to attenuate conscious activity – and the sensory experience that feeds it – to allow non-conscious awareness full reign.
Awareness, I began to appreciate is a different way of being and approaching it is not through conscious attention to smells, sounds, taste, and touch but through developing awareness of their meaning and significance at a different level. Through conscious attention comes satiation rather than integration of the experience into my own Being and the elevation of my awareness of the Being, which is the subject of my photography.
For this is the reason I turned my back on Nan Shepherd at the first time of reading because her approach engages with the world of sensory perception – phenomenology – rather than ontology. For writing, and other consciously mediated art forms, engaging directly with sensory experience makes sense and, indeed, this may be an important part of their route to creativity. However, the camera demands a different approach. My photographic practice was pointing to the opposite and the need to disengage at that level. However, I did come to appreciate Nan Shepherd’s writing for other reasons. But the skills I am seeking are those associated with Exteroception, a higher-order construct of the Onion Diagram, rather than attention.
As I reflected on this revelation or moment of insight, I thought more widely about the 10-Signifiers I had initially chosen to form part of the Onion Diagram. Two of the lower order constructs, Subject Commitment and Spatial Persistence undoubtedly help attenuate conscious awareness and serve to provide a sense of familiarity, comfort, and peace – a safe place to feel at one with my camera. A place, rather like when engaged in meditation, of finding an old, comfortable and well-worn leather chair in which to sit. But, at the time I conceived of the Onion Diagram and the ten constructs within it, I had chosen two conflicting modes of working.
In my practice, I use the psychology of the viewfinder and the physical presence of the camera as the gateway to entering a Zonal Flow (a higher order construct) where all sense of time and space evaporate. Being in the zone suspends all forms of sensory perception and allows awareness to become my friend. The camera becomes a tool, no longer “present at hand”, and disappears from my consciousness. The non-conscious states of Interoception and Exteroception take “control” as the camera recedes from consciousness. I am transported to a world of objects in a continual flux of revelation and withdrawal of ebb and flow. I press the shutter without conscious engagement continuing to be, momentarily at least, in a world beyond the veil of presence, beyond sensory perception.
I emerge from the zone into a place I do not recognise, the world seems a brighter and altogether more beautiful place than the world I left a few minutes or hours before. This I understand is a common meditative experience: conscious experience disappears in the moment of transcendence but on ‘resurfacing’ one realises the state that has passed and, in my case, the shutter has been pressed.
In writing a thesis section about Analagous Reasoning my reflections on the construct followed a similar route as with Attentiveness. Having determined that attentiveness is a conscious construct in the non-conscious world of Object-Oriented Photography I began to realise that “reasoning”, and all that goes with it, is also a conscious activity. While I am comfortable with “analogous” when referring to metaphor, simile, and paradox, the combined act of reasoning seemed out of place. After reflecting on my practice, I realised that the recognition of metaphor, simile and paradox is not best achieved through trawling what the conscious mind can retrieve. The conscious mind is strictly limited in what it can recall and process. Retrieval from the ‘dark web’ of the mind is a different matter altogether and the best words I can think of to express my experience in practice is ‘Analagous Retrieval’. By repeated reflection on my images and the images of others I began to see the metaphorical pointers to being and the importance of the conjunction between my lifeworld and that of my subject.
Following these reflections on my practice I have changed the Onion Diagram accordingly:
Dillard, A. (1974). Pilgrim at Tinder Creek. New York, Bantam Doubleday Dell.
Shepherd, N. (1977). The Living Mountain. Edinburgh, Canongate Books.