The November 2016 Print of the Month is available for $150 until December 1
This darkness surrounds me. I’ve moved from the brightness of my car to the dimmer light of the parking lot, and then to the starlight of the evening trail, but my eyes haven’t adapted quickly enough. So I stand in darkness - waiting. With time the landscape seems to appear, lit by the soft glow of stars in gray and black, and I know it’s merely the adjustment of my eyes that reveals the trail ahead.
I’ve come here to enjoy silence. We live in a time where silence is a luxury, whose value is recognized and enjoyed by few. Mathew Crawford in The World Beyond Your Head, remarks that “silence is now offered as a luxury-class good”. Silence is what makes spaces feel luxurious, while the lack of silence leads to environmental degradation.
Although he doesn’t explicitly say so, contextually Crawford is speaking of artificial sounds - the loud stereos on the street, youtube videos played through tinny handheld speakers in restaurants, people screaming into their cell phones, along with a multitude of other examples. But the trail ahead is silent, save for the ocean to the west, the occasional cottontail rabbit that is startled by me, and a black creature that flies by me to land on the trail ahead, which I believe to be a bat. This silence is why I’m here.
After a mile and a half on the trail I arrive at the first campground only to find several tents already in place. Rather than be disturbed, I move onward to a more remote site which I find completely abandoned. I pop my tent, slide into my sleeping bag, and drift off.
Waking in the middle of the night I walk out among the brush and come to understand something of the ancients. To the east I see a mountain range that partially encircles me and keeps me company, backlit so that it looks like the end of the world. The stars hang behind the opal black range, adding dimensionality to the scene. Explorers of the past feared that they would sail over the edge of the earth if they went too far, and this view helps me understand why: I can’t help but imagine that if I were to climb one of the mountains and slip over the summit, another plane would await me on the other side. I feel as if I’m standing on a table ringed by mountains. But I know that it’s only my perception.
There is a scene in Carlos Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan that I return to often in my mind when thinking of perception and misperception. In it, Castaneda, along with his mentor don Juan, are looking southward at what appears to Castaneda to be a curled up dog. Don Juan tells him that the object is too large, so Castaneda changes his story slightly to believe that it is a curled up animal of some sort, perhaps a dying calf judging by its movements.
Dying animals can be dangerous, and Castaneda and don Juan approach this one with caution. When it rears up Castaneda runs for his life only to be told moments later that the animal is dead. Upon returning, Castaneda realizes that the dead animal wasn’t an animal at all, but a brown and green burnt branch animated by the wind.
Journey to Ixtlan can be read as a text of perception and misperception, a book length exploration of Plato’s Simile of the Cave.
Photography, which has always been thought to be the truest or most realistic of the arts also invites this conversation of perception and truth, and has done so long before the rise of the digital camera. As the photographer's eye matures, what the she sees is a purposeful misperception (as Harold Bloom might say) of what is really there.
This image, taken near Pescadero, Ca., didn’t seem nearly as dramatic when I photographed it. In fact, I might not recognize it when I return. I entered this hidden area as the fog flowed in and out of the shore, occasionally obscuring the sun. Although it’s small, I spent quite a bit of time in this area walking up and down the rocks and trudging through the sand, and have been rewarded with several good images, including this November Image of the Month.
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