On January 30th, I had an errand at Zeff’s Photo. It wouldn’t be like me to miss an opportunity to visit Blair Pond. The day was chilly and quiet. For the first time, there were no ducks on the pond, no geese, just one heron sitting on a low branch in the distance. The human mark within the pond is quietly present as always: birdhouse on a pole, sticking up out of brown grasses.
[please click on these photos to see the full image]
I placed myself on top of the culvert through which Blair Pond flows out, under the Boston & Maine Railroad tracks, on the other side of which it reaches Perch Pond and the Little River. This is the view from the outflow point, looking back at the pond. To me, the old iron culvert and the concrete spillway, though they are not nature, seem not to be interrupting the natural but to be part of the wholeness of the scene.
There seems to be no bad day on which to visit the pond.
On the way out I couldn’t resist again photographing favorite graffiti.
I’m beginning to feel that the graffiti are in collaboration with the nature (or is that “nature” in quotation marks?) that I visit at this place.
Maturana and Varela (see section 13 of the narrative) would say that this perception of an ongoing collaboration is the world I am bringing forth.
Gregory Bateson (Mind and Nature) says that mind is “made of parts which are not themselves mental. ‘Mind’ is immanent in certain sorts of organization of parts.” To Bateson, there is a larger thinking, a larger mind around us. To him, an ecosystem is mind.
To me, then, this thought translates in a most pragmatic way: don’t just look at the things that are there, look at the spaces between them. This is what I’ve been wanting to do in the pictures I make. The photo above is trying to be a picture of a relation between the sumac, the painting on the wall, the wall itself, the fence and plant life beyond. Most especially between that which grew on its own terms and that which people created for reasons of their own (which in turn were at least two kinds of reasons, those for the building and those for the graffiti).
This picture is trying to be an argument that a certain collaboration or harmony already exists, in unexpected places.
Resolving to see not just the things in the space but the spaces between them is of course fundamental to the effort to create a visual composition. The argument here — Bateson’s argument, and I believe I’m going to sign on to it — is that this is more than an aesthetic insight. If Bateson is right, the above photo is a glimpse of mind, no doubt a partial and inadequate glimpse, but of mind nonetheless. Not simply my mind that framed it, but of a “larger thinking” that is going on among all the elements in concert: sumac, painting, wall, fence, plant life — where do we draw the line, if anywhere? Should the list continue to the railroad tracks which I know are there but are not visible in the picture, to Blair Pond, the heron on Blair Pond, Wellington Brook . . . ?
The more the list continues, the more it seems I am saying nothing. The idea I’m struggling to express evaporates, blows away. Frustrating. Because I feel sure this idea is not nothing, but I haven’t yet found a satisfactory way to say it. At this moment, the picture will have to do.