Photography: Consuming my Conscious Activity

02 September 2011


Monarch caterpillar gorging on milkweed in preparation to become a chrysalis; August, 2011; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2011


While I’m reading neuroscientist David B. Eagleman’s Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, I’m reminded of the way my conscious mind can be omnipresent one minute and totally consumed for days or longer until resolution sweeps away my focus. So when the conscience is sequestered and we’re totally aware of it, is the brain alert, dozing or listening? Does the unconscious always know what the conscious is doing? Does it care? Because I certainly do not have a periscope into the brain’s intention for me.

Some people are so self-directed that they need little prodding to accomplish (no matter how small or gigantic the undertaking) their daily goals or dreams. But I’m the person that ambles along life’s journey with intuitive twists pushing me. My conscious state sways along at its own pace. That’s even true of my photography that has taken me on a long, but steady road. From black-and-white images processed in my basement darkroom in the 60s and 70s to color film in the 70s and 80s to hand-manipulated Polaroids in the 90s and digital since the end of the twentieth century–my sense of seeing changes with every photograph.

Today you can find magical and sensational photographs taken with iPhones, a device not intended for serious photography. This transition from cellphone to substitute camera is another example of human innovation at its most intriguing. In this very, very “techy” age the permutations of devices that can record an image are so numerous that the consumer can be baffled about what to buy.

The history of photography shows an ever-increasing expansion of formats that were (and are) available for use. Experimentation was destined to be critical in the metamorphosis of photography’s aesthetic. And the photograph’s utility is another reason for its longevity. We cannot conceive of a world without family albums or images of the Civil War. I cannot conceive of a world without my cameras and various lenses.

Our lives are built on phases and stages of development where we are continuously sorting this from that, and working toward this and that. Our brains and minds are jamming experiences into a small receptacle that (mostly) sorts them for us. They are similar to cameras recording our visual world as well as our physical, sensory and kinesthetic selves. Some of us are simply wired to be more spatial and visual in our orientation.

It took me years to figure out my affinity to what is (literally) right before my eyes. And lately I am more and more consumed with the camera’s frame and the vast arena awaiting to be stilled by my way of seeing the universe.

Just as it is important to read well-written literature to be a better writer, it is equally critical to study the works of noted artists and photographers to see what captivated their attention. I’m perusing through a sterling book called Photography in Print, Writings from 1816 to the Present (1981), which is edited by Vicki Goldberg. Each essay gives rise to questions about how we see as individuals (how the world is held loosely and tightly by our brains and minds).

So the inaccessible parts of my mind can keep on doing their jobs. I’m bound to get a glimpse here and there of how it prods me. Or will I? Each book that I read about the mind/body/brain connection convinces me that a cross-pollination occurs between them. But the interconnection that binds human thought with action and behavior is stranger than I ever thought. At least I can fixate on the camera’s eye and my own vision to help understand what I do know: the here and now.

I may not understand the true inner workings of the mind and brain, but I respect that it’s oh so complex and mysterious. But that does not stop me from building layer upon layer of information about them, and adding it to my knowledge reservoir.

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4 Responses to Photography: Consuming my Conscious Activity

  1. Sally W. Donatello says:

    Thank you, thank you–the monarch is particularly symbolic of this time of year, and has an important role in the health of our planet. Thanks again, Sally

  2. I think the catterpillar picture is the best yet! You have so much talent. Thanks for sharing.

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