Since getting this website together I started to examine what I look for in an image, and what it is that I try to convey. There is an ancient Chinese Buddhist philosophical school called the Huayen or Flower Garland school, that taught about the principle (li) and the manifestation (shi). The principle is ineffable, inexpressible, intertwined and inseparable from everything else, while the manifestation is specific and concrete.
In each dust-mote of these worlds
Are countless worlds and Buddhas...
From the tip of each hair of Buddha's body
Are revealed the indescribable Pure Lands...
The indescribable infinite Lands
All ensemble in a hair's tip [of Buddha].
It kind of echos with the Platonic noumenon and phenomenon but is actually very experiential like all Buddhist philosophy and relies heavily on paradox and non-standard logic. So what does it have to do with photography?
Each image is a specific scene, a particular moment and yet it attempts to capture or allude to something universal, something of more relevance that an accidental arrangement of form and light. But this 'universal' must of necessity be ineffable, else it is trite and false. "When the doors of perception are cleansed, everything will appear as it is, infinite."
As my art teacher, Joseph, relentlessly tried to show us, each thing, each moment has its character, its story, its poetry, and it is our job to see it. This story, this poetry is what alludes to the universal. And somehow we have to convey this story vividly but faithfully. Hmmm.... I am sure I fail nearly every time...
Recently I shot a bunch of day-lit sea scenes. Mid-day light is something most photographers avoid - it gives too much contrast and not enough colour. On the practical side it was the only opportunity I had to shoot that location (Mornington Peninsula) and it also felt wrong to just give up on harsh mid-day light. So what is the character of mid-day sea scenery? The light is strong, burning and blinding, especially in the first few images when the sun was shining openly. Few shadows are present and objects don't appear fully three-dimensional. It simplifies, it reduces, like an overpowering presence that makes everything else appear less than it is. Our eyes dart about the scene, the pupil dilating and opening depending on the brightness, attempting to recover as much detail as we can. The camera exposes once and then the photographer can try to recover some detail hidden away in the megabytes using software to approximate how it actually looked to the eye, or even enhance it.