Archive for light – Page 2

Ansel’s Art


This morning I’m being naughty, and instead of diligently cleaning up the chaotic debris of my over-scheduled past, I’m watching an old American Experience program I’d taped about Ansel Adams.

As is often the case, I found I was completely unaware of the rich historical complexity that created this particular human expression. I learned that Adams was also a pianist who abandoned his musical aspirations for what was to be, as we all know, a meteorific career as a photographer. Apparently, he felt that the life of a successful musician required a more commercially minded and competitive psyche than his was inclined to be. I’ve always admired his luminous images, but watching this documentary about his life and work gave me a much deeper understanding of his personal philosophy & motivation. This is an excerpt from his 1923 journal written in early summer, long before he was famous:

"I was climbing a long ridge west of Mt. Clark. It was one of those mornings when the sunlight is burnished with a keen wind and long feathers of cloud move in the lofty sky.

The silver light turned every blade of grass and every particle of sand into a luminous metallic splendor. There was nothing however small, that did not clash in the bright wind, that did not send arrows of light through the glassy air. I was suddenly arrested, in the long crunching path of the ridge, by an exceedingly pointed awareness of the light.

The moment I paused, the full impact of the mood was upon me. I saw more clearly than I’ve ever seen before or since the minute details of the grasses, the small flotsam of the forest,  the motion of the high clouds streaming above the peaks. I dreamed that for a moment time stood quiet and the vision became but the shadow of an infinitely greater world and I had within the grasp of consciousness a transcendental experience."

Eight years later, in 1931, he was to say "Photography is really perception" describing his craft as "an austere and blazing poetry of the real".

This fellow had some painful personal knots to unravel between love and passion and loyalty and security, and his journey sent him to the dark night of the soul and back. This excerpt from a letter to his best friend Cedric Wright shares the profound conclusions he came to at the end of that journey – about love, friendship, and most powerfully – art:

"A strange thing happened to me today. I saw a big thundercloud move
down over Half Dome, and it was so big and clear and brilliant that it
made me see many things that were drifting around inside of me; things
that relate to those who are loved and those who are real friends.

the first time I know what love is; what friends are; and what art
should be. Love is a seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be
followed alone; the resonance of all spiritual and physical

Friendship is another form of love — more passive perhaps,
but full of the transmitting and acceptances of things like
thunderclouds and grass and the clean granite of reality.

Art is both
love and friendship and understanding: the desire to give. It is not
charity, which is the giving of things. It is more than kindness, which
is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the
turning out to the light of the inner folds of the awareness of the
spirit. It is a recreation on another plane of the realities of the
world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all
the interrelations of these."

To my ears, that one line is one of the most insightful statements about art I’ve ever heard; "It (Art) is both the taking and giving of beauty, the
turning out to the light of the inner folds of the awareness of the


Desert Beauty

The desert is a delicate animal at this time of year. Like a snake shedding its skin it’s fragile, vulnerable, in a state of emergence.


If I were making a list of the 100 things I want to do before I die, visiting the desert in bloom would certainly be among them. 

So when my friend Bridget mentioned that she goes to Anza Borrego every year around this time and suggested I might want to come with her and photograph the beauty, I jumped at the chance (Bridget is an exceptionally talented green architect and landscape designer and also a client of mine – look for an announcement of her site and blog at soon)!

First of all, a road trip with a girlfriend is a rare and beautiful
thing in itself, but with this particular traveling companion and this
specific destination it held the promise of being something truly
special, a gift to be embraced. Bridget not only knows the terrain and
the names of plants that live there, she loves the desert and
approaches it with the level of respect necessary to open the heart of
this potentially difficult land.


The desert is a lover that reveals herself slowly, offering her secrets only to those who will look beyond her seemingly unrewarding surface for the jewels hidden within. It’s bliss to walk out into what looks like an ocean of harsh scrub only to find a delicate bloom peeping out beneath the brush, or poking up out of a crack in the hard soil. It’s heaven to drive down a desolate-looking road only to round a corner and find a small valley of wildflowers spreading out before you like a carpet of color, all the way across to the mountains.


Camping in Bridget’s Element each night (which was surprisingly comfortable), we quickly fell into a routine of waking just before dawn when the light was just perfect for photography, and bedding down just a few hours after the sun had set. That alone had a profound effect on me, a night owl who usually can’t get to sleep before midnight and drags herself out of bed at seven so there’s time for a walk and a shower before starting work.

Not that I abandoned the night, either – the stars were so vivid I lay watching them each evening for what felt like hours, absolutely mesmerized. I haven’t seen the night through these eyes since I was a child and lived with the big sky view every day.

Spending one’s day following the quality of light in the natural cycles was utterly magical – I’ve haven’t been home 24 hours yet and already it feels like an elusive dream (there is just too much you can do at night when you have artificial light, and of course that makes it hard to wake at dawn :-). But something of the experience is still staying with me, and feels permanent – for that I am profoundly grateful.

I also learned some things when I was gone – important things. Here are a few:

❧    Getting away from your normal routine is a Good thing

❧    An open road and no agenda opens up a sense of infinite possibility; and out of this void creativity is abundant – this happens naturally, like breathing

❧    When you carry your bed with you it’s ok to get lost, even at night

❧    This world is far bigger that we are, and when we accept that reality it’s not so hard to find our place within it

There’s so much more to all this than I can write here, now – the needs of the day are calling me and I suspect the bigger adventure is to find the balance between these everyday needs and the needs of my spirit to transcend them, so that experiences like I’ve just had are integrated into my life and nestle into my very way of being. I know my health (on all levels – physical, emotional, and mental) will benefit and so will the quality of my work in the world. 

I’m glad to be back and excited to see what will emerge from all this …


The weatherman says it’s going to rain soon; my guy is making sure our garden is prepared and on my walk this morning I saw people busy re-tarring their roofs and cutting those branches precariously situated above power lines. The energy of change is loose in my world and summer’s heat has been chased into memory by the last few days’ crisp breeze.

What’s most fascinating to me about all this, though, is the light, and what is happening to it now that we’re moving into autumn.


If a year were to be superimposed on one day, this season would be the first dawning of sunset, the beginning of twilight; my favorite time of the day. The colors are intensified, and the light soft, almost swollen.


Earlier this year, during the Winter Solstice Dreaming ceremony I did with my dear friends Pele Rouge and FireHawk in the Santa Cruz mountains, I wrote this love poem to Light, which I found the other day and thought I would share with you here.


This morning’s Thought Leader Gathering stimulated several creative threads for me, as usual.

Conversation starter James O’Dea of IONS (The Institute of Noetic Sciences) mesmerized us with his Irish lilt telling mythological tales of decay & redemption. The one that made the strongest impression on me was of Orpheus & his ability to counter the call of the deadly sirens (which O’Dea compared with the necrophiliac lure of cultural ‘norms’ like war and greed) with the enchantment of his own poetic imagination, with love of life or biophilia.

The meaning I made of this story is that I can find solid ground in my innate love of life & my relationship with nature, that I must call on the power of my creativity to address the challenges of my life & times… and that new answers won’t be found in old forms.

One of the new forms I’m exploring here in this blog is an attempt to incorporate many different parts of my life into a comprehensive whole. This makes the Beauty Dialogues hard to categorize, I know, and I am deeply cognizant that the ‘lack of professionalism’ in doing things this way may devalue me and my work in some contexts. On the other hand this mash-up – of metaphysical inquiry, ‘private’ thought, ideas about my work and field, my art & things that inspire me, social interactions, dreams, tools, resources & references, the promotion of my own work and that of my friends – represents a new paradigm, and I think it gives a truer sense of what we are all really like than the compartmentalization of earlier, more traditional, forms did.

I can only imagine we will be seeing this integration of life and work more and more, and I’m looking forward to the new forms we’ll create together.