August 14, 2008

The Frame Up


"When I was a boy I had a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye"

-- Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb

The inscape of our world is always with us, omnipresent; a third that walks beside us. We are the ones who shut it out, who lose the thread when tangled in the web of daily events, who forever forget that we can always remember.

To live always in the light, in the presence of the now is something that is perhaps only possible for saints, as it is, for brief moments, available to poets. The power and luminosity rising out of the base ground of being can easily overwhelm our reduced senses; can strike us dumb, leave us numb. But at the same time this state of being is the state that we seek in our blind tapping towards God, thirsting for the merest sip of it, listening for the smallest hint of it, when we are in prayer or meditation, or satisfied at last to sit silently with ourselves.

At times we despair and turn our back on it, the pearl of great price we shall never possess, never grasp in this life. But the hints persist and proliferate always in the natural world about us, haunt us in the shadows of our soul. To have tasted the smallest crumb initiates a hunger never slaked by the senses alone. Once seen, even in the briefest glimpse, the sight is never forgotten. But if we drop our shields just a bit, we can see glimmer of that greater light almost at will.

Here's one technique for reaffirming the basic evidence of wonder in our world; that the world is made of a perceptible mystery beyond our means of measuring, but not beyond all sight unless we will ourselves blind.


Take a camera and a picture frame or mat (any frame of any size will do) and walk out into the world to any area given over without recent interference to nature. This can be a field, a forest, the seashore, a desert, a bramble, or a mountainside. Any area like this will do. It can even be a backyard let run to seed, as is the case here. The strict locale does not matter. What does matter is that it be a place where the hand of man has not of late intruded; some place that for some time has been left to its own devices and the work of weather, water, and wind.


Turning your back to the landscape, take the frame and toss it over your shoulder in any direction and with any force you like. You can even shut your eyes and then whirl around like a dervish and flip the frame into the air. Toss as random as you like. You can even turn and toss with intention as in a game of quoits. Your intention matters little.

Now take your camera and photograph whatever is in the frame, letting the frame in your lens take in the frame on the earth or in the tree or bush or wherever the frame has come to rest.


Repeat ten, twenty, thirty or however many times seems right to you. Then pick up the frame and go home.

Develop or image the pictures you've got and look at them. If you didn't notice it when you were taking them you will notice that, however difficult it may be for you to compose a photograph, whatever appears inside the frame you tossed blind and at random into nature seems very well composed indeed.


Now there are, of course, a number of rational explanations for why this should be so. There are the proportions of the frame. There is the structure of the mind itself and the training it undergoes, consciously and subconsciously, through the unremitting exposure to images of art and commerce on a daily basis. And there is of course the mathematical explanation devolving from the realms of fractals, chaos theory, and Fibonacci numbers – the realm of the golden mean and inscaping spirals burrowing deep into the substrate of creation itself.

But at the same time, if you look long enough and close enough with a mind that can stay quiet enough, you might also come to the understanding that in this exercise you can catch, if you do not come to close, a fleeting glimpse of that visage which our minds and mathematics cannot freeze.


And for all this, nature is never spent;_
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;_
And though the last lights off the black West went_
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—_
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent_
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

--God's Grandeur - Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89)

Photographs here taken in my back yard in Queen Anne, Seattle Washington, on the morning of August 10 in the year of our Lord 2008.

Written for and seen first here at The Anchoress

Posted by Vanderleun at August 14, 2008 2:48 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Your work, which was stellar years ago, somehow still improves. There is a talented youngster named Benjie Hughes whose business is called "Words and Music", perfect for his seamless integrations. Somewhere there must be the descriptors for your close-knit words and images.

God and love are having their way with us, with or without our knowledge and consent. Unmuddled by false Gods, our lives are frames too, made shiningly new and perfect each day by the One who made us to start with. All we have to do is turn our backs on foolishness, close our eyes and throw our hearts where they will go.

Posted by: askmom at August 14, 2008 3:59 AM

That was really beautiful. Thank you.

Posted by: Writer Dad at August 14, 2008 6:23 AM

Thank you.

Posted by: Robohobo at August 14, 2008 9:31 AM


Posted by: Skookumchuk at August 14, 2008 11:28 AM

This is an extremely provocative subject. The other day I posted about the importance of boundaries in the creation of meaning. In the absence of a frame there is no art or science. But who knew that simply providing one allows one to appreciate the superabundance of beauty that is always pouring forth from virgin nature?

In fact, you may remember the young videographer in American Beauty, who was able to perceive beauty by virtue of framing it with the camera, whether is was a paper bag blowing in the wind or a dead animal by the side of the road.

I often go mountain biking in my area, and just by virtue of taking along a camera and framing the shots (even if I don't even take a picture), a different level of beauty suddenly emerges. You start to see things from a "God's eye view," for what is creation but a finite limitation on infinite possibility, i.e., the imposition of boundary conditions on the infinite?

One could say the same thing of the formal structure of a poem, or of the structural narrative of a great novel that elevates the mundane to a higher plane, or the stage in theatre, which is also a kind of frame.

Bottom line: in the conduct of your life, choose your frame very carefully. It makes all the difference. On one level the frame is an artifice, but on another level it is the doorway into the infinite and eternal.

I guess it goes without saying that I see theology as a frame though which we may see, know, and experience all sorts of things (i.e., truth and beauty) that will go unnoticed in the absence of the frame.

Posted by: Gagdad Bob at August 14, 2008 1:59 PM

Excellent "exercise" fraught with potential. What better epitaph on one's tombstone than "Suitable for Framing"?

Posted by: robinstarfish at August 14, 2008 2:41 PM

Your enchanting exercise called to mind my favorite quotation, one of Thoreau's:

"The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him."

I've blogged about it, among other posts, in connection with the great heartland landscape architect Jens Jensen's philosophy, which I think/feel resonates in your "go with the throw." From the Jensen Legacy Project website:

"Everywhere he championed his core conviction: people must have some contact with the 'living green' -- flowers and plants native to their home. To Jensen, landscape architecture was not just a profession, nor was the use of native plants just one style among many -- they expressed his near-mystical belief in the renewing and civilizing powers of nature. He was a reformer with his hands on a spade and his head in the clouds."

I might not agree totally that the random frame is better than the selected one, of course, being burdened with a photographic eye that holds a mirror to my soul. More thoughts on "Unplanted Gardens."

Posted by: at August 16, 2008 3:15 PM
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