The Zen of Repetitive Form

Another Mindport staff member asked me what my current exhibit of photographic work in Mindport’s gallery would be called. I wasn’t sure I wanted to call it anything, but the above artbabble title tongued itself into my cheek. Not being a practitioner of Zen, I don’t know a lot about it, outside of its inscrutable public face. According to my dictionary, inscrutable means, “impossible to understand or interpret.” I don’t know that either Zen or these photographs are impossible to understand, but both are difficult, if not impossible to interpret. A tiresomely overused contemporary phrase would have it, “they are what they are,” which implies that they speak for themselves, and don’t translate well into any sort of verbal description.

A thought-provoking book worth your attention is, The Tao of Photography, Seeing Beyond Seeing, by Philippe Gross and S.I. Shapiro. There’s another called Zen and the Magic of Photography, by Wayne Rowe. This latter I haven’t looked at, so can’t speak for it, but I bring it up because its description on the website where it’s sold is similar to the way I’d characterize the subject contained in the former. This is to say, whether you’re talking about the Zen of Photography or the Tao of photography, we’re covering similar material. One way of understanding this (un) “style” of photography is to say that it’s photographing without objectification. That is, it’s photography that’s not about something describable as an object, like “Mom’s house,” “Fido the Dog,” etc. It’s about emotional reactions to an image as abstract form, however not obvious emotions describable in one word or even many words. It involves inscrutable imagery.

I actually don’t embrace any way of seeing upon which the label Taoist or Zen, or any other named “style,” has been tacked. A few years ago, after reading Gross and Shapiro’s book, I ran across a photographic web site that was devoted to “Taoist” photography. The images there became tedious after I’d gone through a few of them. It seemed to me that the people posting there had fallen precisely into a “style,” and that had drummed the life out of the images. Such is the peril that comes of misunderstanding books. Still, Gross and Shapiro’s is a good one to look at.

I’m not holding up the photos now hanging in Mindport’s gallery as being anything but images that grab me emotionally in. . .”inscrutable” ways. For a long time I’ve been interested in the significance my eye finds in random patterns, whether they be formed by rocks, waves, geological formations, or any other grouping of forms, usually ones found in nature. Seeing these significant patterns involves being in a certain frame of mind, a non-thinking, spontaneous, “mindful,” state, which is where the Zen or Taoist reference comes in. Those labels arose because they point to the pertinent mind state, that of paying rapt attention without labeling anything.

Whether these images will evoke the same emotional reaction in you that they evoke in me nobody can say. In that connection, consider the quandary that comes with the question: “When I see the color red and you see the color red, do we have the same sensation?”  Come by Mindport’s gallery and have a look. These photos might stir your imagination in entertaining ways. If they don’t, there’s plenty else to see and explore at Mindport.

Kevin Jones