Usually, when we take up a pursuit, we are led by a certain interest. When I took up photography in earnest, I was driven by a desire to capture the “transparency” of Finnish nature. With transparency I mean how light was able to flood the Finnish landscape in a way very different from more Southern parts of Europe.
With time, however, my interest started to shift to more abstract themes connected to nature in general. Such themes are the relation between space and light in general, but also mood, change and meaning in nature. In a way, my work has become more of a hunt for the non-obvious or hidden dimensions in landscapes.
The scene above was captured on a windy day. The lake was rippled by small waves and neither the tree nor the clouds were mirrored in the water. I have been often writing here about this “smoothing” effect when using long exposures (like here 80 seconds).
Of course, the camera or exposure don’t smooth anything. It is the averaging of light reflected by the water surface that gives the impression of smoothness. An artifact of the recording method. But is that all? Or does the alienation (in the sense of Brecht’s “Verfremdung”) reveal something to us? It certainly is a reminder that our visual perception is so much depended on the light-reflective qualities of what we are looking at: the sky is different from its water-mirrored image. Also the shape of the tree is different in the mirrored image – the latter also recording the movement of the water. But is the lake simultaneously smooth and rippled? In our perception this depends entirely, as the picture shows, on the time-resolution of the “snap-shot”. The size of the time window is decisive. And it is there that we might understand that time really is only a measuring method for change. But too easily we confuse our measures with the real thing.
The length and width and position of a table are not a table. They are ways to talk about a table. And while these measurements, these ways to talk about things have eminent practical value, they make us none the wiser about what it is we are looking at. More generally, we talk about things in spacetime – but what we try to describe is the constant flux of reality. The concept of spacetime is a mathematical model for change – but change itself is the actual dimension of reality.
Let me take another example. The word “tree” is not a tree. What then is a tree? We can investigate and detect more and more detailed descriptions of the tree, including how a tree works. During that investigation the tree might look like a factory, a chemical soup or, finally and just like everything else, like a conglomerate of vibrating particle-strings. There is, however, another possible approach to the investigation of a tree. We can plant a tree, nurture it, rest in its shade, see it swaying and falling and turning back into soil. We can experience it as an existence. Part of that experience will also be our love and caring while we nurture it, our joy if it grows, our gratefulness for its shadow and our sorrow if it falls. I also think that in this process we gain an understanding of what a tree is and how reality is woven: as an ever-changing web of interaction.
We have, by convention, decided that the crisp static outline of the tree seen through air is the “truer” picture. We can walk (ahem, swim) up to the tree and touch it. If we touch its water mirror image we only get wet hands. But still, in this latter mirage we can better sense the inherent dynamism of reality. Yes the lake and the tree are still and moving simultaneously.