The Dream Of The Ultimate Image

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It’s been raining almost all day, and Ben’s been gone eight days now. A day as good as any to finally sit down and describe an idea, a chain of thoughts, a philosophical concept, if you will. Let me just go downstairs, grab a glass of wine, and put on some Hard Bop. I’ll have to go through about 3,000 words of notes taken and find out how I got there when I first tried to put it into words almost two months ago. I think it makes sense to present the thoughts in the sequence I had them. As a bonus, I list which song I am listening to while I am writing each part.

Giant Steps / John Coltrane
Driving in my car on a mid-October morning, this whole thing started by taking two things I believe in and putting them together in a creative context, say … photography.

The one thing is that I do believe that it is always now, and that really is all we have. The past is a memory of nows that are gone. The future is something that will happen further down the road, but when it actually happens, when we get there, it will no longer be the future. When it finally happens, it is now, and it will be then when and where it happens.

Brilliant Corners / Thelonious Monk
The second thing is that I do believe everything is connected on another level altogether than what we think life is. This connection is beyond what we can imagine, grasp and describe using our mind. It is this concept that made me think that whenever I take landscape images I take selfies because I am in there and I take pictures of all of us because we are all in there.

To finalize this first stream of thoughts I abstracted it to the max and arrived at the thought that every image we all ever take is one and the same. Forget about EXIF data, they were all taken in the now, and the subject matter is always everything. So all of us are taking that one image again. And again. And again. You should realize though, that this should be nothing to feel frustrated about. It should rather be liberating.

The Preacher / Horace Silver
A week later I was in the car again, driving along the same roads and it was no surprise that my thoughts would be going back to what I was thinking about a week before and expanding those.

Thinking about the statement that all of us are taking the same image over and over one might argue how the image can be the same when they all look different. I wasn’t talking about Tunnel View or the Eiffel Tower here, I am not talking about the forms you see in all those images. On the surface, we might think that those forms are or can convey what the image is about when they really are not.

When I say the image is always the same I of course don’t mean we all take the same image of a certain subject matter at a certain time of day under the same circumstances. Maybe it’s a picture of us looking for ourselves in the world of forms, which is desperate and hopeless. We might look there because that’s what we identify with, but that doesn’t mean that would be where we can find ourselves in our images or in the “real” world.

Scrapple from the apple / Dexter Gordon
There is a difference between those two worlds we are dealing with, the world of forms and the world of space. Our consciousness is the space in which those forms exist and in which things happen, with these forms interacting. You might have guessed by now that the ego of forms is an illusion, us identifying with form can be used as an escape from having to realize that all of the things we can touch, describe and own are not real. Not real enough to carry us and help us answer questions we can’t but would love to avoid.

It’s really all about space. About the stuff that’s in between things and forms. And that was when I started thinking about Miles Davis.

Autumn Leaves / Cannonball Adderley
Miles Davis said, “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.” It’s about what’s in between. The silence. As a photographer, you should be aware, that in photography it’s not just about what you photograph, what’s in focus, what is lit. It is also about what you do not photograph, what is out of focus. What is left in the dark.

The next step in this thought that is growing more and more while I spend time with it, this next step was even more interesting than the others before or after in terms of how it came about. All the other steps were thoughts, building on other thoughts before them, associations, and again, forms. This isn’t optimal, but for now, this had to do. This next step though came as a feeling and it was really hard to describe it. As it is something that can’t really be described and what makes it even harder was the excitement I felt when I had this impression.

Doodlin’ / Horace Silver
For some reason (the feeling didn’t give an explanation) I felt that most of the inspiration for a story about that particular image is in the darkness, in the space, in the notes we don’t play. This space, our consciousness as felt in our images, inspire not just one definite story about those images. There is not just one that fits. That makes sense. As it is the same image all over again, it is also the same story all over again. But another version, another incarnation if you will. There is only that one image and that one story. It is always now and it is always the same story really, but it can be told in so many ways.

Cantaloupe Island / Herbie Hancock
In what is omitted in the image you will see the space that holds the forms. A consciousness that is yours and also the viewer’s consciousness. A place where the inspiration for the story lies. A story you try to make your own. As I was thinking and feeling this, I was searching for meaning (as we always do). In the images, the forms, and the space. For something I could call my style. For a reason, I was doing all that. As we progress through this chaos, this onslaught of thoughts and feelings, we’ll see that we need to abandon that search. But more on that later.

Walkin’ / Miles Davis
It was interesting and exciting finding something out not by trying to think about it but discovering it by removing everything that is hiding it. Peeling back the layers and revealing something underneath that was there, to begin with. This was not learning but finding back what we knew all along.

So at this point, I am thinking the image is always the same and so is the story. The forms in the images are not the same, it is what the individual photographer thinks is attracting or makes for a story as an interaction of the forms with each other and also the space if the photographer is aware of that. I also got a feeling that the space, what lies in the dark is where the most inspiration for the story is hidden. I can’t tell yet why that is so, it is more or less a hunch, however strong.

Softly as in a morning sunrise / Sonny Rollins
There was a morning towards the end of October and I woke up to a thought about why I had this feeling that the next most important question was about the dark, the space, and what it was holding that was so important.

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The word that came up was “identification”. In what we call real life we identify with things so we can define ourselves, which we desperately need to do to find our place in this world. So when you look at an image like the one I posted above (“In Transit”) you look at the things and start thinking about what it all could mean? What can I make of that? But it is not those objects that will tell you anything.

When I took that image, our bed was right next to it and I woke up one day, rolled over, looked at the thing and I thought I saw a picture. I didn’t think too much then taking it, so you shouldn’t think too much looking at it. Don’t try to come up with anything. The moment you think about the image and what could be in there, you’re wrong. The space in you, which has no thingness, your consciousness will react and understand.

‘Round Midnight / Miles Davis
Coming to the question of what the ultimate image is, I’ll have to go back to what the original idea was. I was thinking about an image that would touch you so deep inside, it would make you cry and you might not even know why. That was all I had when it came to defining what it was.

Eventually, I started to try and outline that a bit more and as a next step to try and find a way how to actually take an image like that. I thought it had to be oozing with ME, with the space and the space would become so very obvious and important and it would supersede the form. And somehow the connection that exists between us all and everything would come into play when the space would be emphasized like that. But how would you go about making the space stand out and so in your face that you have no choice but to look at it? And understand what it is? If I could only answer those questions I felt I could make you catch at least a glimpse of yourself. And that could make you cry.

The reason you cry could be that it feels disturbing or confusing to see yourself in there as part of a truth you haven’t started to understand yet. It could also be you’re crying out of gratefulness and relief realizing you’re not alone with those questions, answers, and beliefs.

Jordu / Clifford Brown
I don’t think I am at a point where I can say that I have a final answer, I am sure there are more questions to come. But I find them all to be interesting and kind of necessary. I can’t find myself leaving any of those unanswered.

As for the question of how to take the ultimate image, I am at a loss for words, which might be the only right way to tackle this. The answer I have arrived at now about what the ultimate image could be is one I am not comfortable with as I am aware that getting closer to that would mean a significant departure from anything I thought photography would be.

Cascades / Oliver Nelson
For the ultimate image, you might need to let go of many things you feel define you as an artist. We as photographers want to show individual views of the world we live in. We as human beings want to be an individual so bad in order not to lose ourselves. I want you to look at my photographs, read my stories about them and then find your own stories and feelings looking at what I did.

The ultimate image might be the one that doesn’t need any form or story. The ultimate artist could be the one who gives up being an individual and embraces the oneness of us all. Who shows you the ever-changing reality in all of us. And witnesses the story we all tell in all the ways it can ever be told.

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