Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Art of Discovery (Part 1)

The OPEN PORTAL image continued to grow on me for a few days, and I was very much looking forward to sharing this view of Mission San Jose (and more) with those who would attend the Hill Country Invitational show in Boerne.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that something was yet missing.  The image itself continued as a high point for me, but it seemed I was still waiting for something more to come.

I dipped yet again into that well of stored images from which I had rescued OPEN PORTAL a few days earlier.  In that same sequence of images from San Jose (in fact, the very next one I took after OPEN PORTAL) was another one that I had totally discounted over a year ago as having basically no significant merit.  But this time, I wasn't quite so quick to discard it.

A cursory viewing of it confirmed that it, indeed, had the same "technical flaw" (a blown-out sky) as OPEN PORTAL.  Even worse, (since I had already concluded that this "flaw" was actually a central strength) was that the photograph seemed totally off-the-wall and even bizarre.  And it didn't seem to have anything like the strength of composition as the first one I rescued.  The image was enigmatic (maybe even undecipherable), unstructured, and pointless.  Why, in fact, had I even invested any time in recording this image in the first place?

But for some reason I kept coming back to the photograph.  I was initially wrong about OPEN PORTAL, wasn't I?  Maybe, for some unknown reason, this image had something important lurking in its shadows as well.  What the heck— I took a chance on the other one: why not just risk some more ink and canvas?  So, print I did.

As the photograph came creeping out on the printer's output bed, I wasn't quite so struck by it as I had been immediately with OPEN PORTAL.  But I did like the depth of tone and texture of the ancient stone wall.  And the bits of color showing in the bottom and middle windows was kind of surprising.  When it was complete, I laid it out on my long table, beside and parallel to OPEN PORTAL.  What I saw then began to amaze me.
© Bill Brockmeier
© Bill Brockmeier

I began to think back to the day that I captured these two images.  I, myself, was captured then by the semblance of an artificial "canyon" of limestone walls just behind San Jose's Sanctuary.  I had taken the first, and more obvious image with the carved stone doorway as the image's anchor.  Then, for some reason I felt I had to balance the effort so I turned around, moved slightly to the east, and took another vertical panorama of the same "canyon," but in exactly the opposite direction.  For some unexplained reason, it just seemed like I "needed to do that."

There was really nothing of major significance in that direction— maybe a couple of mildly interesting apertures in the stone wall, but what-in-the-world was that old timber doing, propped up in one of the windows as it was?  It wasn't even symmetrically lined up with the window (although it entered my mind at the time to move it slightly in the window, I resisted the urge as this is National Park Service property, and one can get into "deep yogurt" by messing with Federal property).

Laid out before me now on the table, I started seeing remarkable parallels and echos between the two photographs.  The most obvious connection between the two was at the very top of the images: the open "canyon" at the top (between the Convento and Sanctuary walls) was incredibly symmetric (though unplanned) between the two photos.  I had not noticed that previously.  As I continued lowering my gaze, it was also now apparent that all three spaces of open sky showing in OPEN PORTAL (framed by various walls and arches) were exactly balanced by three similar spaces of open sky in this newer image (framed by the walls at the top and the two windows below).

Stranger yet, the highly decorated doorway carvings in the first photo, and the common, coarsely hewn beam in the second photo seemed to be balancing the pair of images as well.  But what WAS that beam, anyway, and how old was it?  And why was it propped up there?  And speaking of strange things, why was the top window rectangular and the one below it hexagonal?  Mysteries seemed to abound in this photograph.

The image definitely began to seep into my consciousness.  Its secrets would not easily yield to pressure, and perhaps I will never fully apprehend them, but I have come to see that both these images speak of the same Invitation.  This is clear in the top third of both images, which are nearly identical.  But OPEN PORTAL seems to come at the issue from a more external, public, objective basis, while OPEN WINDOW (the second photograph) speaks an internal, subconscious, elemental language.  Instead of the beautiful and lavishly carved portal leading out into the sunshine, we have a primitive and almost ugly ladder or stair-steps into the sunlight beyond the stone wall.

I now see that what I was waiting for was the completion of this diptych (that I am now calling OPEN INVITATION).  Either one might be an interesting photograph in its own right, but when they have been seen together it is hard to imagine either one alone.  I have already begun to uncover many marvelous levels of meaning in these images (too many to mention here) and I expect  them to continue to reveal themselves in due time.

Both of these photographs will be on exhibition October 14-16 at the BPA's Hill Country Invitational in Boerne, Texas.  Come take a look at them close up and see what they have to say to you.

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