This post concludes a series of Thought Pieces largely focused upon images of a lone Silver Birch Tree. It also forms the second part of my reflections on Speculative Realism and the extension of Graham Harman’s (and Heidegger’s) thinking of Being as not only a singular concept but one that is deeply plural in nature. I have called this Paradoxical Realism which reveals a deeply entangled reality. These thoughts on my practice during my PhD are formative at this stage.
Two events during my PhD, which I recount in more depth in Chapter 2 of my thesis, opened my awareness to the lone tree and water lilies in their paradoxical reality. This was my confrontation with death both in the heartbreak of the destruction of the forest and in that of my companionship with my dog Henry.
Both events brought home the force of Heidegger’s ‘fracture’ in his influential ‘analysis of the hammer’ and in Derrida’s own focus on finitude and death as the antithesis of Being. It became, through both those episodes, that Being only has meaning through death, the thesis and the antithesis carry a trace of the other, and in death, we catch a glimpse of the paradoxical reality of life. Ontological entanglement survives until it is broken, coherence becomes decoherence, and in the decoherence of death, the reality of what is lost becomes painfully vivid. It is not simply the forest, or a dog that dies, all the entanglements, rich and vivid in their variety and vitality, are shattered and in their breaking Dasein is open to the loss and grief, the existential experience of what is lost.
Absorbed in the lone tree in autumn, the approaching winter appears as the shadow of finitude in the tree’s annual cycle.
The leaves are dying as the canopy passes from life into death. The verdant greenness of Summer, drawing new growth from the sun and the earth, through the ontological entanglement of its shared reality, lays bare the true causation of Being where change is not mediated through the touch of senses but through the plurality of reality. The Real Object that is the lone tree is not an object in its singularity but is an object where its reality is shared through the flux of its entanglement with the life of the world – an entanglement that if fractured through the denial of light and nourishment will certainly deny life to the tree and lead to its death.
So within the image of the canopy of the tree we are brought, by allusion, to a recognition of the significance of the death that winter brings. The autumn colours are a Sensory Quality emergent from the tree as a Sensory Object responding, as it does, year by year to the changing seasons. By experience of the Sensory Object, the Eidos opens through allusion to the entangled nature of the Real Object and its Real Qualities. We feel, with regret the privations of the approaching season, the camera’s gift through the double exposure, is awareness of winter. Colour is absent, as it is in all shadows. The shadow is behind hinting at the approaching loss of light and the advancing cold and, in the suggestion of the death of the canopy, Dasein feels the grief of the loss of life, the warmth and growth of summer and senses, with foreboding, the cold emptiness of the tomb.
For me in the zonal moment conscious intention is attenuated – the camera will do what it will. Pressing the shutter in the single shot will lead to the camera recording what it sees and to a greater or lesser extent what I intended it should see. As a photographer I make the choices about what it sees and how the image is framed. However, in the single shot the camera does what I cannot in my intentional agency. The camera transcends time and in so doing uncouples Harman’s tension between the Real Object and its Sensory Qualities. The still camera, in the blink of the shutter, fractures the sensory from the real and in that fracture has the power to surprise and to reveal that which is hidden. For example, the images of the water lilies below taken after my trusty companion Henry died reveal an inability to escape from the reality of death. My path to move on is momentarily closed by the press of the shutter.
Photography, no matter what layers of human intentionality are imposed, is always able to surprise and in that lies its subversive power to undermine consciousness – “Consciousness disrupts Being” (Ryan and Price, 2022, p133).
As consciousness is attenuated through entry into the zone of Being, intentionality fades with it and the atemporal, non-locality of Being emerges in my non-conscious awareness. This non-conscious awareness is transcendent and ephemeral in that only when I exit the state do I appreciate its passing. Its impact can be swift, colours and sound are suddenly more vivid as my senses emerge from deep rest but, if I am unlucky, I maybe cursed with a raging headache! However, in the zone, I am not aware that I have fired the camera’s shutter, and I am not aware of it in separation from me. The camera along with the subject is part of my extended self, and in the moment, my Being experiences its own entanglement with the extended reality of my experience. In that existential moment, on entering the zone, I open Dasein – my Being in the world and not of the world. Dasein is Being extended beyond the bounds of the physical and lies within the totality of the world, rather than in isolation to it. This I believe was Heidegger’s error, locked into the individuation and singularity of Aristotlean metaphysics that was central to his early and formative academic practice, he was unable to separate Being as a sole property of the human (Dasein) from Being as a paradoxical reality that is shared, indivisible and transcendent. The reality of the photographer, as with all Being is that it is both immanent and transcendent and this is the inescapable Paradox of Being.
Harman, G. (2018). Object-Oriented Ontology – A New Theory of Everything. Milton Keynes, Pelican Books.
Heidegger, M. (1953). Being and Time. New York, State University of New York Press.
Ortega y Gasset, J. (1914). An Essay in Esthetics by Way of Preface: 144.