Visit with Jim – Cameras, Turbulence and the Illusion of Permanence

Today’s post may wander a bit.  My thoughts revolve around the impermanence in life and the illusion of permanence that cameras bring to us.   The three photos (above right and individuals further below) are taken on a glass plate with inks and paints moving across the field of view at various speeds.  In some cases faster and others slower. There is calm, turbulence, peaceful, chaos or soothing colors.   All appear to be frozen moments in time.  A hidden truth that I am working through in my mind is that this is an illusion. 

Often we look at a photograph and think about it as an event that was a fixed moment.  That is simply untrue.  Vacations, life events, poignant views and moments are all good examples that permeate our lives.  When we view an image it is a fragment or slice of time.  There is a start and stop to that moment with time passing within that interval.  Therefore it is an interval and not an instant.  In general, the thinner the slice of time, the crisper the image.  Thinner slices also mean a tendency towards a darker image as less light passes through and strikes the surface of the film or charge coupled device (CCD).   To gather more light, we extend the interval which causes more blurring.  Looking back at early photographs, most show ghostly images moving in the back or foreground.  People, cars, machines, smoke all moving across the image, yet we think of it as a static capture of what was happening.  Everything moved (in color) before, during and after the shutter opens and closes.  They are tendrils or threads of history move forward into what is now our past.

Using f-stop, photographers can change the depth of field, and allow more or less light to strike the film or CCD.  I will leave film speed for another day.  This ability to manipulate the depth of field can impact our sense of intimacy with the object of the photograph.  A flat landscape can appear peaceful, quiet, contemplative or serene.  Change the f-stop and the flower in the foreground becomes far more relevant than the towering mountains which recede into the blur akin to an impressionistic painting. Clouds move, winds blow and time presses onward.   Yet the magnificent photograph records movement as streaks and blurs or nearly stop action distortion of reality.  The compendium of photographs that abound are similar to our memories, accurate, but distortions of the reality they capture and help us recall.  Doesn’t take away from their beauty, simply belie something else. 

Manipulating both sets of variables, there is an undeniable truth: immediately before and after the shutter opens the river of time, and light, floods by and through both us and the camera.  That torrent will never stop (setting aside quantum theory).  It is a consequence of our inexorable journeys in our individual, sometimes shared, futures.  Impermanence.  At times subtle, imperceptible, it is never idle.  Time moves in all directions within, through and in between our lives.  The events that are associated with time’s passage are often a calm steady flow and occasionally as swirling, chaotic or disorienting sequence of events.  We can try to anticipate, control and understand those events.  Rather than controlling the events, is it better to manage how you land, find your footing and reorient oneself to find the path forward?  We cannot slow, speed up, stop or redirect time.  We can manage our response to this swirl and quickly find calm within ourselves.


When you consider this photo are you lost in the turmoil, the chaos, the turbulence?  Are you in the frenetic swirl of mineral oil and colored water?  Are you calmed by the curves and colors or unsettled by the apparent lack of focus?  There is a clear focal plane if you slow your thinking, it is there.   Or are you the calm pod of dolphins, porpoise or cetaceans finding their way to the right of the second image?   This pair of images was created by injecting mineral oil into the left of a votive candle holder with blue water creating torrents of moving color with simultaneous graceful sets of curves and contours to consider.   But a fragment of a second later, the patterns declare themselves and order began to appear.  How do you operate in this environment?  How do you find your footing and ground yourself?  How do you reorient yourself in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous) environment?   

Admittedly, I am unable to control the movement of the Oils, Inks, Glass and Air.   Influence yes, control no.  Managing the camera’s variables allows me to capture a measurable slice of time to reveal an appealing photo.  I cannot control the flow of time and light, but can choose to be still, look carefully, and see the stream of these two universal forces – time and light – within the camera.  With my life experiences, there is a growing conviction in me that similar patience and meditative looking allows me to understand that flow in life moving towards, through and trailing behind my journey. 

Perhaps that is why this activity in my studio is so beneficial.   One of my phrases in the About The Artist page is: “Healing is found in this art form as it opens the mind to new thoughts”. The drama and chaos in life is so compelling it has a gravitational effect that pulls us in, steals our time and shines negative light on our individual sparks.  We have a choice … always have a choice.  As an emergency medicine physician, the more difficult transition, was to move away from the highly addictive chaos, alarms and perpetual state of alertness.  A wise friend has begun teaching me about the neurotransmitters adrenaline, oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin.   I am deeply comfortable with their mechanical synaptic and neurochemical role.  Rather what I am learning about is the powerful influence over how these influence our perceptions and experiences … more to follow on that topic.  Learning to move towards the calm, centered and thoughtful deliberate actions allow me to see time, light and a pattern emerging as my future.  One to be well prepared for and to take advantage of as it arrives.  No doubt there are variables and dimensions that are outside of my field of view.  The is the hip check and boarding or roughing penalty that we all experience in the sport of life. 

One of my 2023 goals is to gather more studio time, more quiet time, and share more captured moments of light, color and optimistic images.   The meditative activity within the very small window into time and light that is a camera is teaching me something important.  It is growing more focused, clear and important with … the passage of time. 

Perhaps this is akin to meditation, yogi, prayer and other internal reflective calming centering activities.  For now, have a wonderful holiday season and a better new year. 

Join me in a fireside chat via Zoom in the evening to discuss any aspect of my artwork.  To qualify, and join a video conversation send your contact information here and let me know what you would want to talk about.  The selected participants will receive a 25% discount on any of my unlimited edition pieces of art.  I will personally sign the piece at printing.  Even more, the gallery is offering this purchase risk free for you. Free shipping, Free return, and no questions asked if you are unhappy with the art work.  You can keep the print for 30 days to enjoy the selection in your home or office. This risk free offer does not apply to metal, acrylic and other specialized media prints.





Join the conversation

Create an account

A link to set a new password will be sent to your email address.

Password Recovery

Lost your password? Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.

Arrow Chevron