Sunday, December 27, 2009

Point Reyes California

Point Reyes New Years Day 2009, tamsen ellen

Strange fences grow on Point Reyes Peninsula which is fastened like a haunted fingerprint to the California coast. Odd perspectives are constantly drifting out of sight or becoming too intimate in this place where white medieval Portuguese dairies suddenly appear cradled by cypress trees and then disappear as if they had never really been there at all.

from "Empty Houses" series, tamsen ellen

Hawks circle in the sky like the lost springs of old railroad watches looking for correct protein wandering somewhere below to swoop down upon and devour chronologically. It is not often that I journey to Point Reyes because frankly, my mind is seldom in that place, but when I do go there I always enjoy myself. That is, if enjoy is the right word, driving down a road lined with fences that look like cemeteries lost in half-vague and half-mercuric spiritual density.

from Sand Castles, Richard Brautigan

Thursday, December 10, 2009

In My Beginning is My End

Feral House #13, James Griffioen

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.

~ T.S. Eliot
No. 2 of 'Four Quartets' part V.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The normal way never leads home

Photograph by Marc Riboud

If you could imagine the most incredible story ever, it would be less incredible than the story of being here. And the ironic thing is that story is not a story, it is true. It takes us so long to see where we are. It takes us even longer to see who we are. This is why the greatest gift you could ever dream is a gift that you can only receive from one person. And that person is you yourself. Therefore, the most subversive invitation you could ever accept is the invitation to awaken to who you are and where you have landed. Plato said in The Symposium that one of the greatest privileges of a human life is to become midwife to the birth of the soul in another. When your soul awakens, you begin to truly inherit your life. You leave the kingdom of fake surfaces, repetitive talk and weary roles and slip deeper into the true adventure of who you are and who you are called to become. The greatest friend of the soul is the unknown. Yet we are afraid of the unknown because it lies outside our vision and our control. We avoid it or quell it by filtering it through our protective barriers of domestication and control. The normal way never leads home.

Once you start to awaken, no one can ever claim you again for the old patterns. Now you realise how precious your time here is. You are no longer willing to squander your essence on undertakings that do not nourish your true self; your patience grows thin with tired talk and dead language. You see through the rosters of expectation which promise you safety and the confirmation of your outer identity. Now you are impatient for growth, willing to put yourself in the way of change. You want your work to become an expression of your gift. You want your relationship to voyage beyond the pallid frontiers to where the danger of transformation dwells. You want your God to be wild and to call you to where your destiny awaits.

You have come out of Plato’s Cave of Images into the sunlight and the mystery of colour and imagination. When you begin to sense that your imagination is the place where you are most divine, you feel called to clean out of your mind all the worn and shabby furniture of thought. You wish to refurbish yourself with living thought so that you can begin to see. As Meister Eckhart says: Thoughts are our inner senses. When the inner senses are dull and blurred, you can see nothing in or of yourself; you become a respectable prisoner of received images. Now you realise that ‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’ and you undertake the difficult but beautiful path to freedom. On this journey, you begin to see how the sides of your heart that seemed awkward, contradictory and uneven are the places where the treasure lies hidden. You begin to become true to yourself. And as Shakespeare says in Hamlet: To thine own self be true, then as surely as night follows day, thou canst to no man be false.

The journey shows you that from this inner dedication you can reconstruct your own values and action. You develop from your own self-compassion a great compassion for others. You are no longer caught in the false game of judgement, comparison and assumption. More naked now than ever, you begin to feel truly alive. You begin to trust the music of your own soul; you have inherited treasure that no one will ever be able to take from you. At the deepest level, this adventure of growth is in fact a transfigurative conversation with your own death. And when the time comes for you to leave, the view from your death bed will show a life of growth that gladdens the heart and takes away all fear.

~John O'Donohue

Sunday, November 29, 2009

REZA: War and Peace

Reza has been a war photographer for almost 40 years and has won the 2009 Lucie Award for Documentary Photography. He is the founder of Aina (The Mirror), an international non-profit organization dedicated to the education and empowerment of children and women through the use of media and communication. His aim is for them to develop skills that can contribute to the building of a free and open society by supporting sustainable development, promoting human rights, and strengthening national unity. His work and words speak for themselves. For more images from this series visit Visura Magazine.


In my travels in war zones, natural disaster areas, places of sorrow and beauty, I have often been reminded of the tale told by Rumi, the 13th-century Persian sage. It is a tale known to many cultures, the tale of villagers who had never seen an elephant and are frightened when one comes near their village. The three men who are sent to examine the beast in total darkness come back with three completely different explanations of what it is. This is because each has only touched one part of the creature – an ear, a leg, its trunk – and mistakenly believes the single part is the whole of the animal. The different viewpoints lead to deep divisions in the community.

As Rumi said, “What all three of them said was true, but not one grasped the Truth. If the light of even one small candle had been shed on the elephant, they would have been able to see.”

In the years since my exile from my native Iran, in the midst of wars, revolutions, and natural disasters, and also in moments of untold peace and beauty, I have always tried to shed the light of knowledge on the events of our time. It is my hope that with this light, we may see the whole and not just the parts, the truth and not the illusion.

Though the world I have seen and photographed is a story filled with war and tragedy, injustice and heartbreak, I have come to see the power of hope and the incredible resilience of the human spirit.


1983. Afghanistan. Fleeing the war, the old man had left his mountain village and his past behind. He had settled with his family not far from the border. They had stopped there, within sight of the Afghan mountains, when he had raised his hand and waved the caravan to a halt. He had said he would not go any farther. He told them that they would set up camp there, and that his decision was final. Although his decision was against all reason, since they were still within reach of the Russians, it was irrevocable. Nobody dared contradict him. He was the family elder, the wise man, so his relative followed his wishes. He spent his days reading the Koran or poetry. My own exile was still recent. He said to me, “Your house, your country, your history are within you, if you let them enter. Wherever you are, they follow you.” But then, with a sigh, he admitted, with his eyes fixed on he slopes of the Afghan mountains, that he would not be able to survive without seeing his land, each and every day that God granted him to live.

1980. Iran. Kurdistan. Mahabad. Torn apart by colonial ambitions and the regional regimes between four countries – Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria – the Kurdish people has long fought for its territorial independence, and the recognition of its language, its culture, its traditions, and its social and political entity. Right after its accession to power, the Mullah’s regime sparked off the Holy War against the Kurds. The Guardians of the Revolution put to fire and the sword dozens of villages in Iranian Kurdistan in order to stifle any desire for independence and enforcing the order dictated by the new Government. There were a few of us, photographers, in front of the city central hospital. The morgue was full, so were the hospital beds. The air raid launched by the Guardians of the Revolution had brutally hit the population. The man was carrying his child whose eye had been wounded by the shrapnel of a shell thrown at his house. He told us: “Take pictures. Show that injustice to the world.” However the injustic was even greater when one of the photographers who were there made a poster of this child and his father: the poster, hung across Iran, said, altering the man’s identity and reality: “Child wounded by the Iraqi Army in Southern Iran” instead of “Kurdish child wounded by the Guardians of the Revolution.”

1990. Afghanistan. Thoughts of an exile: The first blow is against your freedom. Being different, thinking differently, having a different skin color religious belief, or political opinion: All are pretexts for enslavement. Even if the government is not actively repressive, it may cause you to lose your freedom by not protecting you. Sometimes its passivity makes it a silent accomplice in your loss of liberty. Exodus then becomes your only option. The first step you take as an exile is to leave your country, often at the risk of your own life. After this difficult transition, you begin the subtler process of trying to rebuild. You have found a refuge though exile….where you are physically safe and have intellectual freedom. Now you have to adjust to the emotional displacement of being a stranger. Within you remains the memory of your lost country, and you may feel disappointment in the land where you are now living, the country you thought would be your promised land. And beyond the joy of being free, there remains, too, a feeling of mourning for your native land. This grief is always with you, below the surface. For the exile, the joys of the present are full of the memories of the past. As you build your life in this new elsewhere – the place where you are but that is never truly home – you carry on, while always struggling with the conflict between finding inner peace in your new country and still feeling at war within yourself because you are not in your own land.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

In my end is my beginning

Francesca Woodman, from Space 2 series, 1977

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

~ T.S. Eliot
No. 2 of 'Four Quartets' part V.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Aphorism 2

Bruce Davidson, "Untitled" 1980

'It's better to entertain an idea than to take it home to live with you for the rest of your life' - Randall Jarrell, Pictures from an Institution

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Surrender to Literature

Thomas Allen, "Recover" 2003

‘You don’t really criticize any author to whom you have not surrendered yourself … Even just the bewildering minute counts; you have to give yourself up, and then recover yourself, and the third moment is having something to say, before you have wholly forgotten both surrender and recovery. Of course the self recovered is never the same as the self before it was given.’
TS Eliot to Stephen Spender

Talk about integrating art into one's life

Katharina Grosse, "Untitled," 2004

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Allure of Light

Photograph by Richard Winn

Last weekend in the Sunday edition of The New York Times, I stumbled across this photo in their travel section. It stopped me cold. What a photograph! Enticing and captivating, yet humble and demure. The woman, with her back to us cooking at a wooden, block table in a rustic kitchen, is bathed in light from the nearby window. But not any light. Vermeer light -- A subtle play of luminosity and colour that embraces its subject and augments an image's poetry.

Vermeer's scenes of domestic life use light that is ethereal, magical and inviting. He elevates daily life to a higher plane; the realm of Gods, perhaps? Or is it that he illuminates a terrestrial paradise. Yet, for all this, Vermeer never strays from the glory of the present moment.

Wordsworth wrote: "With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony and by the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Keep on not knowing something important

Dave Anderson from Rough Beauty series
Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it's not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble on a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;

and to keep on not knowing
something important.

~Wislawa Szymorska

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Facebook and the Pursuit of Happiness

Photograph of poet Edward Dorn

I don't know who Brainard Carey is. All I know is that he is on Facebook. He showed up in the "People You May Know" module. He knows five people I know. Facebook is funny. Whether people love it or hate it, they are most definitely talking about it. In fact, I was shocked during the holidays that almost every gathering I attended, the big ol' FB came up as a topic of conversation. Does it build communities? Is it isolating? Does it detract from facetime? Does it foster relationships? So who is this Brainard? Should I know him? Do I care? Perhaps not. No, definitely not. But i love a part of the description he wrote about his project Dreams + Possibilities....enough to repost it here, a blog that is no more that a silent ripple in an ocean of flotsam blogging and jetsam posting.

"Every day, all of us, no matter what our job or position in society, engage in a battle that is so personal it is often heard by no one except ourselves. Why is it that we are grumpy, critical or negative one moment and generous and happy the next? As we all read books and try to understand the mysteries of life, we wage our personal war with as much success as possible. And as we read in the news of the polished lives of celebrities and others, we can easily be led to believe that we are alone in our personal battles, and that only if we had more of something we would be at peace."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Morbid Preoccupation

"La Belle Rosina" by Antoine Wiertz 1847

"While seeking out the dead I see nothing but the living."
~ Honoré de Balzac

Look at her voluptuous nudity. The childlike gaze of curiosity. The contrast of spindly skeleton to velvety flesh. Is is death that mocks life or life that mocks death?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Endless forms most beautiful

Gregory Crewdson from Natural Wonder series

"It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us...Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

Charles Darwin, On the Origin of species by means of natural selection..." (1859)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Childhood Note to No One in Particular

"Morning Dew" by tamsen ellen

"As I walk down the street I hear the chirp of a bird. He's probably building his nest and working hard at it. People work hard too, but it is depressing to think that many people walk down the street, while the bird is chirping and no one hears that bird. They are too busy in their own heads to hear that one chirp or the rustle of a leaf. Maybe if one person who cared heard that bird that person could get it through to other people to listen the those lovely things God gave us."

written age 13-14