CONSCIOUS PHOTOGRAPHY

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by Haris Kakarouhas
by Haris Kakarouhas

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As we enter the 21st century, we witness the absolute reign of the image. Living and working in this era which is flooded by massively produced and consumed artistic by-products, we are seeking for an artistic work that can escape the illusory surrounding reflections and stand out as an integral entity, qualified to truly move and challenge its public. It is also obvious that no one can stand in front of an image silently. The majority of people approach the image through the intellect. The contemporary beholder attempts to explain, to find some meaning or the dominant concept, to make a comment according to his/hers own reality or to categorize the image according to its form. The fact is that no one actually looks at the image; they all use their eyes in order to give food to their restless mind. Therefore, today the greatest part of so called artistic images does not exist solely for themselves. There are images that occupy themselves with ideas, politics or aesthetics, in a continuous struggle for novelty. The artistic community in the big majority seems to do justice to Jean Baudrillard talking for the new reality of assimilation in our age. The principle of representation, -representation of concepts-, like a distant echo from the Italian Renaissance, informs anew the 21st century approach to art-making. The problem seems to be that, usually, models of assimilation are nothing but creations of the mind -the logical mind of cause and effect- and finally always stands separate from reality. In addition the products of such models are designed for the use of the model itself. And that’s what more or less is shown by the products of contemporary art production.

 

Against this reality, my active role as an artist and reflective practitioner is oriented toward relocating the image in its integral presence, in other words, redefining image-as-entity, and also, to find the way and the space to create such a photographic image. The whole work is based on a more ambitious view of humanity than the contemporary allows for. I have a strong conviction and a sense of obligation to express this alternative view.

 

Turning our attention to the creation of this photographic image which stands out as an integral entity, it would be useful to briefly go back in the past. Descartes’ Cogito brought division to the image as well, because it transferred the subject/seer and object/seen to the realm of the mind. He overlooked, however, the fact that there is a substantial difference between looking at a tree and thinking about its image. Thus, mimesis was converted into representation, when it became analyzed into form and content. This is the story of the Renaissance. But even though with Cezanne and Matisse, the image finds anew the thread that was cut after Giotto, the division of spirit and matter still exists. Beauty separated from the world has become a dematerialized ideal. Thus, caught in this endless intellectualism, after having exhausted the functionality of its constructs, besides abstract ideas, we represent the representations themselves with the excuse that, in the world of assimilation, objects no longer exist. But we forget that objects never existed, since the artist always renders his gaze and not some opposing object. The object par excellence is the picture, either a painting or photograph.

 

The photographic picture –a product with a brief history after undergoing its Renaissance period (see pictorialism) found its meaning in Strand’s Rebecca and Evans’ Corrugated Tin Façade, and later followed a path parallel to painting -subjected to common perceptions- to end up in pictures of concepts, politics, or aesthetics. In reality, the “idea” of the art-work transcends the concepts with which it is woven. The idea matches a specific thought; it is an image with content and specific form. This image -an image that constitutes part of the creator’s psyche- stirs his sensitivity and makes him endow it with a new substance. My focal concern is the gaze of those who face eschaton -death and the absolute- or ecstatically experience their alitheia/truth, like the gaze in the eyes of the saints.

 

In the short history of the medium, photographers have been trying to capture truth, using mirror lenses or hidden cameras. But we need to realize that the truth is not hidden by the other person’s shadow; instead, it is concealed by the photographer’s own shadow, by what the philosophers and psychoanalysts call false identity, self, or ego. When the photographer chooses to express his subjective state or illustrate his contemplation on the subject; in other words once his shadow is cast upon his own eyes, he automatically blurs his viewer’s vision. In case of prosopography, the photographic image is a trace imprinted on the emulsion when two people, emerging from the space within, meet in a particular space and time and commune a mutual quality. But through the partial, the whole reveals itself. “The image is not a certain meaning, expressed by the director, but the entire world reflected as in a drop of water” (Tarkovsky).

 

From what has been so far discussed, it becomes clear that we do not need to orient ourselves towards the external object; instead, we need to get in tune with our inner self. As Plotinus very well knew and the Sufi tradition bequeathed to us, “seeing is non-dual experience where the seer and the seen are completely the same thing. That is when the soul, the medium, is the same thing as the cognizer”. This way, we can create a space where objectivity and subjectivity become one, a space where truth and inwardness merge. We realize that we do not need to seek refuge in external objects or search for their rational explanation, looking for idealized spiritualities or omnipotent Gods. Instead, we should be looking for an inner locus that constitutes our truth. In this way, we reinvest the image with meaning while we gain our true gaze for our selves.

 

The Indian philosopher and mystic Osho says that “on the path of beauty, truth is not possible, instead once you have discovered inner truth, beauty simply becomes available to you”. My work gave me the opportunity to verify Osho’s words in my own experience. During my journey at Cuba, it was clear that, while I was defensive towards the “strangeness”, I imagined it “threatening” me; I would remain in conflict with the truth that surrounded me and with myself and, consequently, my photographs would be nothing of importance. Or, more likely, my work would be a commonplace. Everything changed when I became aware of my defenses and fears which gradually faded. I then found myself automatically in harmony with what surrounded me and my glance along with my pictures reflected reality and not just an idea of it. In addition, I was not capable to really “handle” a state of ecstatic coexistence with another person. I needed to work on myself in order to be able to hold on to and expand this space inside me. However, once I found the Presence inside me, everything became completely clear. I saw Reality as well as the fragmented reality that all people usually live in. Hence, I could truly “stand” in front of another person; I truly understood the nature of the photographic process and the function of the photographic image which then became a concrete independent entity through a profound empirical procedure and not through a theoretical one. Therefore, the photographic image that can stand in front of its viewer as a none divided ontological autonomous entity ought to be a beehive of meaning and time.

 

Meaning is not, of course, logical explanation; it is knowing inseparable from Being. At the same time, meaning acknowledges the rule of inner beauty, kallos, over the external one, thus spotting beauty in psychic expression. So, the photographic images are nothing except beehives of recollections and the living memory of the reality that created them. Therefore, in order to create a picture, the photographer needs to synchronize with the specific frequency of existence. In the case of prosopography, the other must enter the same space and time. This also applies to the spectator, who ought to enter in common time with the picture. The picture then, mediates towards metamorphosis by moving the spectator, by offering him synkinisis. Synkinisis acts differently. Here synkinisis is not emotional expression; synkinisis is what is created when the soul acknowledges through the senses, in a manifestation of existence, one of its own qualities. Genuine communication is realized beyond the realm of rationalization, in the space of presence of the soul; a space where knowledge equates a-litheia, the Greek word for truth which etymologically is made of its opposite lithi, the Greek word for oblivion, and the privative prefix “a”. As Ramfos points out: No passive reproduction possesses such power, it is not about release of feeling deriving from representational description of the external reality it is about its cathartic transmutation in aesthetic pleasure. This pleasure is generated by the qualitative constitution of the world as a world of meaning, its acknowledgment in its spiritual core, and by consequence the potential of constant transformation of love for what is beautiful into love for God, the continuous reduction of the empirical into this myth that gives birth to everything anew.”

 

R. Barthes also wrote on the photographic image that “The photograph may look crazy if its realism is absolute and in a way primitive, revealing again Time to a consciousness in love and tired: an act that diverts the course of things that I call photographic ecstasy”.

 

The image of this kind could be the development of the idol. From the totem to the orthodox icon, all the sacred objects of worship essentially served one and only purpose: to allow the transition of the person, to move from the specific form to the amorphous. Malevich with the ‘Black Square’ understood this truth experientially. In this way, the images are not windows or surfaces but bridges between the human and the cosmic nous; and this is possible because in the truth of the creator’s soul, the whole and the parts of existence are mirrored. Thus, the deeper and the more absolutely personal we become, the more we are able to approach the other because, as I have already written, by that time, we should be able to communicate on a common frequency.

 

By now it is very clear that when I photograph I collect “pictures” for my personal temple, my praying place and I invite all those who wish to share it with me. I must say that I felt great surprise and joy when I read at the “Visitor’s book” of the exhibition at the Benaki Museum a note saying “I felt empty, as if I was praying (something that I never do). Purity, unity… Helias”.

 

The above writing is my basic understanding on the nature of photography and prosopography, but the moment I lift my camera to take a picture, or I stand ecstatic in front of an image, I lack all that knowledge. There is nothing except from the void, filled with Being “the awakening of the untamed truth” (R. Barthes). To conclude, after all, this “Being” is the only thing that concerns me, the only thing that exists. And I use photography as a medium that can lead me there.

 

Consequently, we can speak of a meta-mythology as this state of being where what actually transcends us is no longer the law of tradition or of community, nor is the faith in a number of divinities or a single one, neither is a personal or impersonal God. This state is no longer shaped by external factors. It is rather a space within, which is commonly concealed, as it is covered by the inevitable and to a certain degree necessary structures of personality, identity or ego. Access to it requires primarily our willingness, accompanied by the wisdom of spirit, the assistance of psychology’s discoveries and, most importantly, our trust in Existence.

 

Under the aforementioned circumstances, contemporary art can redefine itself and become a transforming medium by rejecting its intellectualism and rationalism, factors that can only lead to creations concerning exclusively their creators. Contemporary art can become a medium-guide to our “Being”; to the reality of the spirit that, eventually, concerns and at the same time connects everybody.

 

Haris Kakarouhas

Square icons

 

As we enter the 21st century, we witness the absolute reign of the image. Living and working in this era which is flooded by massively produced and consumed artistic by-products, we are seeking for an artistic work that can escape the illusory surrounding reflections and stand out as an integral entity, qualified to truly move and challenge its public. It is also obvious that no one can stand in front of an image silently. The majority of people approach the image through the intellect. The contemporary beholder attempts to explain, to find some meaning or the dominant concept, to make a comment according to his/hers own reality or to categorize the image according to its form. The fact is that no one actually looks at the image; they all use their eyes in order to give food to their restless mind. Therefore, today the greatest part of so called artistic images does not exist solely for themselves. There are images that occupy themselves with ideas, politics or aesthetics, in a continuous struggle for novelty. The artistic community in the big majority seems to do justice to Jean Baudrillard talking for the new reality of assimilation in our age. The principle of representation, -representation of concepts-, like a distant echo from the Italian Renaissance, informs anew the 21st century approach to art-making. The problem seems to be that, usually, models of assimilation are nothing but creations of the mind -the logical mind of cause and effect- and finally always stands separate from reality. In addition the products of such models are designed for the use of the model itself. And that’s what more or less is shown by the products of contemporary art production.

 

Against this reality, my active role as an artist and reflective practitioner is oriented toward relocating the image in its integral presence, in other words, redefining image-as-entity, and also, to find the way and the space to create such a photographic image. The whole work is based on a more ambitious view of humanity than the contemporary allows for. I have a strong conviction and a sense of obligation to express this alternative view.

 

Turning our attention to the creation of this photographic image which stands out as an integral entity, it would be useful to briefly go back in the past. Descartes’ Cogito brought division to the image as well, because it transferred the subject/seer and object/seen to the realm of the mind. He overlooked, however, the fact that there is a substantial difference between looking at a tree and thinking about its image. Thus, mimesis was converted into representation, when it became analyzed into form and content. This is the story of the Renaissance. But even though with Cezanne and Matisse, the image finds anew the thread that was cut after Giotto, the division of spirit and matter still exists. Beauty separated from the world has become a dematerialized ideal. Thus, caught in this endless intellectualism, after having exhausted the functionality of its constructs, besides abstract ideas, we represent the representations themselves with the excuse that, in the world of assimilation, objects no longer exist. But we forget that objects never existed, since the artist always renders his gaze and not some opposing object. The object par excellence is the picture, either a painting or photograph.

 

The photographic picture –a product with a brief history after undergoing its Renaissance period (see pictorialism) found its meaning in Strand’s Rebecca and Evans’ Corrugated Tin Façade, and later followed a path parallel to painting -subjected to common perceptions- to end up in pictures of concepts, politics, or aesthetics. In reality, the “idea” of the art-work transcends the concepts with which it is woven. The idea matches a specific thought; it is an image with content and specific form. This image -an image that constitutes part of the creator’s psyche- stirs his sensitivity and makes him endow it with a new substance. My focal concern is the gaze of those who face eschaton -death and the absolute- or ecstatically experience their alitheia/truth, like the gaze in the eyes of the saints.

 

In the short history of the medium, photographers have been trying to capture truth, using mirror lenses or hidden cameras. But we need to realize that the truth is not hidden by the other person’s shadow; instead, it is concealed by the photographer’s own shadow, by what the philosophers and psychoanalysts call false identity, self, or ego. When the photographer chooses to express his subjective state or illustrate his contemplation on the subject; in other words once his shadow is cast upon his own eyes, he automatically blurs his viewer’s vision. In case of prosopography, the photographic image is a trace imprinted on the emulsion when two people, emerging from the space within, meet in a particular space and time and commune a mutual quality. But through the partial, the whole reveals itself. “The image is not a certain meaning, expressed by the director, but the entire world reflected as in a drop of water” (Tarkovsky).

 

From what has been so far discussed, it becomes clear that we do not need to orient ourselves towards the external object; instead, we need to get in tune with our inner self. As Plotinus very well knew and the Sufi tradition bequeathed to us, “seeing is non-dual experience where the seer and the seen are completely the same thing. That is when the soul, the medium, is the same thing as the cognizer”. This way, we can create a space where objectivity and subjectivity become one, a space where truth and inwardness merge. We realize that we do not need to seek refuge in external objects or search for their rational explanation, looking for idealized spiritualities or omnipotent Gods. Instead, we should be looking for an inner locus that constitutes our truth. In this way, we reinvest the image with meaning while we gain our true gaze for our selves.

 

The Indian philosopher and mystic Osho says that “on the path of beauty, truth is not possible, instead once you have discovered inner truth, beauty simply becomes available to you”. My work gave me the opportunity to verify Osho’s words in my own experience. During my journey at Cuba, it was clear that, while I was defensive towards the “strangeness”, I imagined it “threatening” me; I would remain in conflict with the truth that surrounded me and with myself and, consequently, my photographs would be nothing of importance. Or, more likely, my work would be a commonplace. Everything changed when I became aware of my defenses and fears which gradually faded. I then found myself automatically in harmony with what surrounded me and my glance along with my pictures reflected reality and not just an idea of it. In addition, I was not capable to really “handle” a state of ecstatic coexistence with another person. I needed to work on myself in order to be able to hold on to and expand this space inside me. However, once I found the Presence inside me, everything became completely clear. I saw Reality as well as the fragmented reality that all people usually live in. Hence, I could truly “stand” in front of another person; I truly understood the nature of the photographic process and the function of the photographic image which then became a concrete independent entity through a profound empirical procedure and not through a theoretical one. Therefore, the photographic image that can stand in front of its viewer as a none divided ontological autonomous entity ought to be a beehive of meaning and time.

 

Meaning is not, of course, logical explanation; it is knowing inseparable from Being. At the same time, meaning acknowledges the rule of inner beauty, kallos, over the external one, thus spotting beauty in psychic expression. So, the photographic images are nothing except beehives of recollections and the living memory of the reality that created them. Therefore, in order to create a picture, the photographer needs to synchronize with the specific frequency of existence. In the case of prosopography, the other must enter the same space and time. This also applies to the spectator, who ought to enter in common time with the picture. The picture then, mediates towards metamorphosis by moving the spectator, by offering him synkinisis. Synkinisis acts differently. Here synkinisis is not emotional expression; synkinisis is what is created when the soul acknowledges through the senses, in a manifestation of existence, one of its own qualities. Genuine communication is realized beyond the realm of rationalization, in the space of presence of the soul; a space where knowledge equates a-litheia, the Greek word for truth which etymologically is made of its opposite lithi, the Greek word for oblivion, and the privative prefix “a”. As Ramfos points out: No passive reproduction possesses such power, it is not about release of feeling deriving from representational description of the external reality it is about its cathartic transmutation in aesthetic pleasure. This pleasure is generated by the qualitative constitution of the world as a world of meaning, its acknowledgment in its spiritual core, and by consequence the potential of constant transformation of love for what is beautiful into love for God, the continuous reduction of the empirical into this myth that gives birth to everything anew.”

 

R. Barthes also wrote on the photographic image that “The photograph may look crazy if its realism is absolute and in a way primitive, revealing again Time to a consciousness in love and tired: an act that diverts the course of things that I call photographic ecstasy”.

 

The image of this kind could be the development of the idol. From the totem to the orthodox icon, all the sacred objects of worship essentially served one and only purpose: to allow the transition of the person, to move from the specific form to the amorphous. Malevich with the ‘Black Square’ understood this truth experientially. In this way, the images are not windows or surfaces but bridges between the human and the cosmic nous; and this is possible because in the truth of the creator’s soul, the whole and the parts of existence are mirrored. Thus, the deeper and the more absolutely personal we become, the more we are able to approach the other because, as I have already written, by that time, we should be able to communicate on a common frequency.

 

By now it is very clear that when I photograph I collect “pictures” for my personal temple, my praying place and I invite all those who wish to share it with me. I must say that I felt great surprise and joy when I read at the “Visitor’s book” of the exhibition at the Benaki Museum a note saying “I felt empty, as if I was praying (something that I never do). Purity, unity… Helias”.

 

The above writing is my basic understanding on the nature of photography and prosopography, but the moment I lift my camera to take a picture, or I stand ecstatic in front of an image, I lack all that knowledge. There is nothing except from the void, filled with Being “the awakening of the untamed truth” (R. Barthes). To conclude, after all, this “Being” is the only thing that concerns me, the only thing that exists. And I use photography as a medium that can lead me there.

 

Consequently, we can speak of a meta-mythology as this state of being where what actually transcends us is no longer the law of tradition or of community, nor is the faith in a number of divinities or a single one, neither is a personal or impersonal God. This state is no longer shaped by external factors. It is rather a space within, which is commonly concealed, as it is covered by the inevitable and to a certain degree necessary structures of personality, identity or ego. Access to it requires primarily our willingness, accompanied by the wisdom of spirit, the assistance of psychology’s discoveries and, most importantly, our trust in Existence.

 

Under the aforementioned circumstances, contemporary art can redefine itself and become a transforming medium by rejecting its intellectualism and rationalism, factors that can only lead to creations concerning exclusively their creators. Contemporary art can become a medium-guide to our “Being”; to the reality of the spirit that, eventually, concerns and at the same time connects everybody.

 

Haris Kakarouhas

[Ελληνικά] [English]
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