In the previous four Thought Pieces (35, 36 and 37 Parts I and II), I have focused on my work with a lone silver birch tree and how it informed the creation and development of my Ten Signifier Onion Diagram – the explanation or exegesis of my practice-led research for my PhD. In Thought Piece 35, I referenced the “onion’s” outer layer and the constructs of camera skill, analogous reasoning, and subject commitment and in Thought Piece 36 I referred to how my practice of creating multiple visual readings has allowed me to follow a path of revelation in my practice and a route to allure. In Parts I and II of Thought Piece 37, I explore the development of Paradoxical Realism and how this influences my practice.
The creation of the Onion Diagram at the end of Year 1 of my research did not create a structure, a finite outcome but rather a pathway that would shed light on the drivers of my practice and how they manifest in my image-making. The Onion Diagram opened up a route to allure, enabling rather than constraining, revealing rather than concealing. However, a note of caution in practice-led research and the ontology of Speculative Realism, is that allure will be destroyed by the deconstructive analysis of images – what Graham Harman refers to as undermining.
The middle layers of the Onion Diagram, which are the subject of this post, consist of interoception, exteroception, attentiveness, and spatial persistence. While my early work had allowed me to develop new skills, with a focus on reduction, metaphor and fracture and a commitment to particular subjects such as the lone tree, the forest and the reeds, as my practice developed I began to become more aware of my interior condition, my sense of Being or self-awareness, combined with a sense of extension into the world through exteroception – the extended self. These feelings were invariably informed through attentiveness within and without. My work in Broadford Forest had been significant in informing how my interiority had extended through attentiveness to the inner rhythm and heartbeat of the forest and Being aware of Being in a deeply entangled world both ontologically and physically. In Heidegger’s terms, my practice became about opening my Being, Dasein, in a deeply entangled world, to a shared reality. As I emerged from this experience with a thorough understanding of the majority of the ten-signifiers, the integration and connectedness of its constructs became a source of comparison with my extended sense of Being. These newly acquired skills and understandings led me to return to the reeds of Loch Cill Chriosd with a spring in my step, and a sense of deftness and understanding of the camera in my hands in a location where I had spent many hours, before and during my PhD. The camera intuitively became part of my extended self as did my heart with the loch, the reeds, and the waterlilies. But in an ontological sense, my practice had moved on too, and rather than seeing the world as individual objects as had been the case previously, it was their interconnections and entanglement that fascinated me and was where I realised, their reality could be revealed.
This shift in my understanding of my place in the ontological world, how deeply my Being is entangled with other objects, and how our reality is plural and shared rather than individual, is a key insight and led to a step change in my search for allure in my photographic images. It also led me to experience and understand the Onion Diagram and its signifiers as drivers connected through my practice and intuitively combined, through awareness rather than intention. Hence the Onion Diagram became the route to allure.
The image above holds for me an intense experience of how interoception can connect or influence zonal flow (one of the central signifiers) in practice. It was early morning; the loch was unusually calm and still. So still, the midges were clear to see, along with other insect life hovering above the surface of the loch. A similar sense of tranquillity flowed through my body as the potential frustrations of the day were forgotten. I could hear my heartbeat slowing and whispering rather than the gentle thud that might be apparent on a windy day at the loch. My body, and muscles were relaxed – no need to brace myself for a gust of wind nor to ensure I would be able to catch the tripod if it were to blow over! The pastel colours of early morning also cocooned me in a moment of contentedness. I settled down on a patch of grass with my legs hanging over the water. The reeds are sparse at this time of year – the way I like it. Whilst fragile and tender in early spring, the season brings optimism, vibrance and longer daylight hours not just for the reeds, but for me too, after a long, wet and relentless winter. I feel as if I am drifting into the immediate landscape, feeling at home in a familiar place and knowing and understanding its moods and moments. It is a landscape I have come to know deeply through extended sharing of its reality and Being – the water, the reeds, what’s above and below its surface. It is this knowing that I term spatial persistence. Attentiveness works with familiarity, but it is the depth of attention and awareness, that Nan Shepherd demonstrates so acutely in the Cairngorms and her book The Living Mountain. Her attention to every little part of nature, the vocabulary she uses to describe it, and the sum of years of attention, lead to a rich tapestry of what she receives from all her senses, not only what she sees.
I do not recall picking up the camera to take the image above, nor the decision to use a slow shutter speed and intentional camera movement. I do not recall reducing the ISO setting or changing the shutter speed to f22. But I do remember the first gentle sweep of the camera, starting just below the reflection of the reed and moving gently to include the top of the stem. Beyond that, I have no recollection. Time passed quickly; my photography and the moment only broke as I realised, I was hungry for breakfast. Two hours had passed, the sun had risen, the loch had remained still, and I had taken over one hundred images. I had moved along the Lochside from time to time too, with no memory of picking up my bag and camera to find my next vantage point. I had been in a heightened sense of awareness – of zonal flow. It is only after the event, when I emerge from this dream-like state, at one with my camera and the landscape that I realise the importance of the middle layer of the Onion Diagram. The constructs of Interoception, Attentiveness, Exteroception and Spatial Awareness, consolidate the foundations of the first layer and encourage awareness through attention to the internal self, the extended self into nature and the landscape and with the camera, the extent and breadth of sensory awareness and returning time after time to the same location.
Shepherd, N. (1977). The Living Mountain. Edinburgh, Canongate Books.