My Muses: Geology

My Muses: Geology
There are a few sets of conditions which usually incite a sense of awe in me, an awareness of something divine at work in the universe.

  • Human gestures of compassion and love, or of people just being — so perfectly — human, in sports, performing and visual arts, in the way someone rapturously sips their morning coffee in a moment of quiet repose.
  • Humanity accomplishing something seemingly much larger than any one of us could normally imagine. Monuments to human ingenuity, engineering and art.
  • The workings of nature, especially the results of small, trickling events accumulating over unimaginable stretches of time.

I rarely photograph people. I think, eventually, that will be the subject of its own post. I do photograph the monuments of human construction, frequently enough. But this post is about that third set of conditions. I could refer to this muse as nature but it is more accurate to call it geology.

We use the word “rock” when we want to connote the idea of something unmoveable (a rock and a hard place), something solid (hard as a rock), immutable (written in stone), unyielding (squeezing water from a rock), persistent (he was a rock in our relationship). I could go on… But rock is susceptible to the smallest workings of air and water over the expanse of the only truly infinite quantity, time. In fact, in the hands of nature, rock is as fragile, brittle and ephemeral as we, just ask the grains of sand comprising a desert dune. We, in our infinitesimally brief experience of time, see very little of the workings, and so, we are very easily filled with awe when observing their effects.

We are struck by the sheer expanse of nature’s work on our small, round stone, but also by the beauty in the forms, textures and colours the forces of nature produce. I personally believe the human capacity for recognizing “beauty” developed as a reflection upon the absolute perfection of nature’s creations, on the perfection of nature itself.

I don’t think nature creates anything more perfect or beautiful than a chasm the depth and breadth of America’s Grand Canyon, or the spheroidal crystalline granite formations of the Devils Marbles in Australia’s Red Centre, colours created when the chemistry of nature is at play creating bands of colour in the rocks and sediments and soil which form this crust we walk upon.

I still vividly remember, nearly twenty years ago, standing at the edge of the San Juan river in Arizona, carefully framing the six vertical photographs — each on a 35mm wide-angle lens, you should know — required to capture the sweeping vista of Goosenecks State Park. I felt so very small there, as I often do in the presence of things divine.

But that is only half the sense of awe we all feel, I believe. A fascinating and unexpected part of experiencing the presence of the divine, is sensing ourselves to be part of that divinity. In that moment we become both infinetesimally insignificant and, at the same time, because we grok the immensity and divinity and perfection, we become an integral aspect of the expanse that is all things. We become essential to the all that comprises perfection. We are enabled a glimpse of our own divinity, our own perfection.

In the best moments, like on the edge of the San Juan River gorge, that is the transformation I take with me, that feeling of personal divinity, as if I had touched the hand that makes perfection.

That is a subject no artist can resist, and at the same time never honestly hope to capture. The best we can do is work to evoke that divine experience, endeavour to capture well enough the beautiful perfection of a moment, a place, or a thing, that our audience remembers having already had the divine experience of it for themselves, and transfers that experience to the experience of taking in our art.

Goosenecks State Park
San Juan River
Utah, United States of America

Taken during travels, 1996

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge, Muse, poses a simple enough challenge, “So what’s your muse — what subject do you turn to frequently, more inspired each time?” This post is a response to that challenge. I have posted responses for other muses as well.

And here is a collection of other images responding to my Geology Muse.