Contrast is the thing that binds and then illuminates. Without it, we would remain in the same part of the spectrum, eternally. Sometimes it can be seen immediately, sometimes from distance, from two separate points of view, and sometimes it is simply an illusion. Sometimes it requires a second look, like deja vu rattling through the retina.
Always, though, there is a gap, a disparity, a difference. It is what we analyse. It was what we live. There are so many ways in which we exist in this place, different ideals and different mentalities, all designed to get us from one end of life to the other. In everything there is luck. Where you are born, how you were born, to whom were you born. Is there a better or worse way? Indeed, can one ever be truly responsible for the actions they take? You play with the dice, and it moulds you. Is not everything narrowed down, caused by an effect that was caused by an effect that extends to one such cause to which you played no part?
When I was six years old my parents, being as they are, took my three brothers and I to Malaysia to live. Ever present was the wroth of a horde of mosquitoes, and our chosen method of abstaining was by using those green coils you light on the outside end. Those things were marvelous. They seem to define through the searing nature of its memory a thought about the country. A lot of countries, actually. Nothing was pristine, but not only did they make do, they made do cheaply, efficiently, with less waste. It came to represent the country, tolerant but on the slow burn to ostracize if you came too close. Little India bestraddled Chinatown, which in turn sat across from the Great Mosque adjacent to St. Peter’s, and on the other side the red light district - a little bit of everyone, atheist’s partaking and taking note. All seem to get along, but dig a little and the water bubbles and your eyes with it. It felt so visceral. The past is a smell that wanders by you now and again, with which you then engage as if the conversation never finished, trying to tell you the difference between circumstance now and circumstance then. There is a feeling to change.
You feel it as if you’ve hit the barrier, as if your mind was moving at the speed of sound while your body remains firmly planted to the ground. You feel a drive. Like you can now talk to the little man in your head pushing the cog wheel around in the paddock. There is insight gained. You know you’re moving, and you’re playing catch up. Motivation is in you before you even register its source. Perhaps this is the same thing as those flashes of your childhood you reminisce on. The feeling of growth. It hits me now even, readying a new memory for later recollection. I’m writing on the porch while a torrential hits the fading afternoon sun, which lies there in the distance biding its time, and a generator newly turned on in the darkness is disintegrating under the sustained attack of the thunder. The lightning hits, and suddenly I see things as they are, just for a moment, and I know I am the only one that sees it in this way. You engage with the world like a rod for that lightning, prodding the expanse. It will be in the times that I am surrounded by black and I reach out to something foreign and sense it. This is the thing about light. It draws you in. It makes itself known.
Leonardo da Vinci, famously and in contradiction with his contemporaries, began each of his paintings with a canvas undercoated in black, mindful of the fact that nothing in the corporeal space was ever illuminated without light being shone upon it. He opined that nothing could be gathered without light. And so his brush would be the illuminator. The world is the brush, you are the canvas.
Mother Teresa once opined that the worst form of poverty was loneliness. We all do things to combat this onrushing tide. Some look for answers in religion, some in romantic entanglement, some in nature, some in friendships, some in travel, some in science, some in drugs, some in sport, some in art, some in death. It is all the same, to varying degrees. Indeed, it almost always overlaps. We cannot know the answers, so we need to provide a measure of comfort in order to accept the lack of control we have over our own existence. We look for company to fill the void. The fear in itself is a motivation.
When I was eight years old I was in the kitchen of my childhood home and for some reason I started to think on death, rather too intensely for a kid my age, one would think. My mother was cooking, and I sat nearby just staring into space. In her mind, nothing was amiss. And then I spontaneously combusting, bursting into tears with a fury. I think my mothers look was one of incomprehension mixed with pity mixed with frustration. I had simply gone down the rabbit hole a little too far, envisaging a consciousness that would be staring at the ceiling of a coffin for the remainder of eternity.
I wonder whether this situation drove me to rid myself of fear, as much as one can. Indeed, to me death is the highest fear. Not just physical death. Death of a moment, existential death, death of an idea, death of a goal, death of love, death of the unknown. Conquer death, in all it's forms, and the rest of fear falls away. So I strove to understand it, by filling gaps in with knowledge where I could, rationality where it may exist, and acceptance of ignorance when my efforts were thwarted.
It has defined my relationships with people and the world, and it has defined my sense of self. Understanding, accepting, death has opened the world to the vagaries of chance that I allow myself to commit. It has been my solace.
“The wish to travel seems to me characteristically human: the desire to move, to satisfy your curiosity or ease your fears, to change the circumstances of your life, to be a stranger, to make a friend, to experience an exotic landscape, to risk the unknown.” - Paul Theroux
There is a beauty in impermanence. If you let something touch you, and then also let it diminish, only then does it reveal its true value, its worth. The Tibetan monks on the high plateau know of this as a core tenet of buddhism. They will spend days, weeks perhaps, creating an intricate and searingly beautiful mandala made of sand. It is beautiful to watch. The mandala is meant to represent the universe, and the monks use it both as a focus point of their meditation, and as a reminder that world is moving, passing, for at the end of the creation of this piece of art, it is destroyed, the sand swept away with a rake. It is an ode to the concept of the present, and is a lesson in humility. It shows the importance of knowing what you have when you have it, while knowing that you never really have anything.
Enjoy the world as it is, and know that it will enjoy you until the next moment comes. "Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair" Kahlil Gibran once said. These moments, you find, pass in astounding moments of transience. For what is happiness if there is no melancholy to compare it against? We think of life as animate where death is still. Fleeting moments offer the most clarity. The universe is defined by movement. From sub-atomic particles to the revolutions of the skies, from the strokes of pen on paper to the logger wielding his axe, from the attraction in love to the conception of a child, humans - and everything else - are defined by their actions, imperceptible as they may be, tangible as they are.
This is what we do; we adapt, we make decisions and then we act on them. As humans we perceive, then change. Movement is one of our most primal instincts, and no matter the resource we generally do what necessity dictates, at the least. Indeed, work itself, of any type you can imagine, is simply, either in consequence or in itself, the movement of mass from one place to another, when you boil it down. Impermanence represents the change that stifles suppression. Move to grow.
Werner Herzog says, ‘What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”
The fear of not being where you want to be, feeling what you want to feel, is, or can be, debilitating, truly. It can paralyze you, almost literally, and the breath can leave you like the receding tide. It is the feeling that you are not who you are, that you are living a life that isn’t yours. The only logical thing to do, I assume, is to leverage this fear that is common to everyone, and use it as the spear that pierces the darkness. The world will not forget your fear, so make it your weapon. Turn around from your flight and face the entity that would have you break. Find the resolve to break through it’s claustrophobic grasp, and the fear will be only the first thing to fall.
Suddenly, you simply realize that it will be okay, even if it’s not. Transience is prone to lending things its beauty, in the way that it moves you.
There is a thing about being a photographer that doesn’t lend itself to inconspicuity. When you frequently swap out your face for a machine with an enormous piece of glass attached to it, people tend to notice. Invariably, this alters the resultant shot. There are two ways to combat this - either use a longer lens and sit further back, which will flatten the image, or integrate into the settings so they get used to the camera and you, which takes time and patience. I’m usually nonchalant about the first and short on the latter two, and so often my portraits have the subject fully aware of me. They are often only candid when the subject just doesn’t care, or I can work quickly. Or when you allow yourself to become part of the interplay of the scene at hand you’ve just stumbled into. You forever wonder whether this is the best way to come to understand their ways, or whether you should just be a fly on the wall.
Photography, not unlike the interaction we create with the world around us, comprises of cause and effect. The things that bind us are what need to be viewed with the most acute focus, for the story in between perspectives, is the only truth in a world where none exists. The more perspectives you can provide yourself with, the closer the triangulation. True, often the beauty of a photograph is its instantaneousness, its ambiguity in that moment that could be anything, depending only the perspective of the audience.
There is indeed art in making something relatable to a denominator so buried in the depths that it is constant amongst the gamut of humanity. Though still, to articulate as close to absolute truth and insight as we can muster, the evolution of the moment is what must flourish. It is amazing to think of how much can be communicated through just the visual. The perfect photograph can never be attained because the act of taking it, with all the other senses at work simultaneously, is reduced to relatively a relatively medieval calibre by the time it finds the viewer. Yet even through the loss of all but one of the senses, we can glean so much through the empathy and imagination the image conjures.
The connections we have transcend the physics that govern their taking place, using the emotion we feel as the medium to balloon past preconceived limits based on limited catalysts. There is an instantaneous transportation to something when you hold the image of it in your mind.
To me, this is what art is. This is what love is.
You walk in empty streets and all of a sudden you’re surrounded by people. Where did they come from? There are no cars parked outside, let alone a car park. The place is teething. You straighten your shoulders. The fluorescent lights burn down upon you. They are playing the local radio station on the loudspeakers. Lots of advertising. You wish you could hear it more, to save you from the immense hum mum of two hundred hundred Israelis. You need to get to two sections, and to get to each section you do a zig-zag motion. People have left trolleys side by side. There is a pink laundry liquid detergent spilled on the ground, nappies in the row next to that. Children, an army of them, are lost, which is sort of impressive if you think about it. You get to the first section and realise that none of the pizzas have meat. You get to the second section and discover in abject horror that low alcohol sweet red wine actually exists. You somehow negotiate your way to the checkout counters, having mastered the moving maze via the hummus section. Trolleys are parked in the space adjacent to the checkouts, making up Hebrew letters to your eye. A customer is arguing over something money related. All the trolleys are abandoned, because their tenants have gone off to get more things to adorn them with while they lie sentry. You push them away after a five minute wait and an open counter. The woman is blonde, big, and in her sixties. She sees you looking around expectantly and mutters something. You don’t speak a word of it, but you know enough Hebrew to realise she figured out that you were looking for cigarettes and then tell you there were none. One of the guys from the Hebrew letter for ‘W’ comes back and starts an argument with you because you’ve pushed ahead. You do that dance whereby you try to ignore him by turning to the sixty year old, strangely, but also make sure he feels heard. A dozen little coins in paying. Two dozen in receipt. Two tax slips. One forlorn expression. You leave and there is precious silence. You get home and you burn the pizza and you drop the wine. The Israelis in the room, the religiously pious ones, ply you with food & drink and, against your own advice, you end up staying the next day. I fucking love this country.
I have grown accustomed to life being interesting and adventure ridden and, rather childishly I readily agree, I refuse to believe that this must necessarily come to an end and that the rest of my life should be a sort of penance for all the reckless, irresponsible, and immensely fun things I’d done before. The night, on account of the pervading habits generated in the past decade, takes up a permanent seat on the Security Council in this committee of ‘things’. Certainly, I have spent more time than the doctor thinks I should have exploring the dynamism of the wild night. The dynamism in nightlife is the catalyst. I simply love being surrounded by a largely positive and open attitude. Everyone is there to be merry. To experience something, hopefully that they cannot foresee, if they are the right type of person, even if nights always have a chronology. And, the best places to do this are the ones where the social customs, and therefore the people watching, are such esoteric experiences that you sit there and marvel at the scenes that are going on in front of you. You are surrounded by gazes and curiosity, and you revel in the sanctity, uniqueness and creativity of that moment. Everything could happen, and it often does.
Dynamism in the place that you strive for.
Travel is the greatest boon for this endless stream of stimulation. If you live in a small town and are uneducated, then you don’t even know what to search for, or where to look. You are blind, and often the best you can hope for is blissful ignorance. Meeting people of entirely different mentalities will make the colour that hits your retinas as vibrant and luminous as can be. There is no greater pleasure than sitting with someone and learning their lives through intelligent discourse, and doing the same in reverse. It’s like talking to the author, the greatest scholar, of a book years and years in the making and carefully prepared. And if alcohol, or otherwise, is what it takes to get someone to tell his story - and despite what they say, it often is, especially when visiting places so briefly - then that is where I go. People go out and they open avenues in the mind mind that are not explored very often. The corridors are dark where the sober ones are brightly lit. There is more ‘new' there. Everything comes thick and fast, and you learn, learn, learn. Indeed, it’s a choice that intelligent people make all the time. It’s just a question of whether its conscious or sub-conscious. I know it is killing me, but I do it anyway because of what it gives me. I have beautiful moments when I’m living this life, and whether it be through travel itself, or alcohol, or drugs, or not eating well, or burning the candle at both ends in general, I am unsheathed, vulnerable, raw, open to learning because of it. Not conducive to physical health or dignity, but a shit ton of fun while losing both. There is something utterly romantic about the nights you don’t remember with the friends you’ll never forget. Even when it’s blurred there is insight in the ambiguity. I may die young, but it will be worth it for the things I learnt early, the things I had in my arsenal for longer.
Give me the mystery, the chaos, the fire. Give me the night, until the dawn tells me to wait, where I never will.