Printing As Meditation Page 2

Generally I want viewers to be dead certain that the events in my photographs actually happened beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt, that they are definitely not photographic fictions that I fabricated. To further this objective I have to meditate quite a bit on how other people perceive physical reality and what I must do to make them believe me. Some of my most believable photographs have been lies, however, because I wanted to clearly prove that one can intentionally do this with photography and get away with it. All the lies were quite harmless, of course, especially since I have always taken pains to identify them as lies and to explain how they worked. I think it is important for people to know how cleverly photographs can lie.

When you are printing you naturally meditate on the events recorded in your pictures. Away from them now, you can look at them (and yourself) objectively, putting together the past that they represent in numerous ways to see which version is most illuminating and rewarding. Looking at a rather specific past through a print gives you something tangible to hang onto in meditation. The changes you can create in the image will usually be fairly small, yet they will nonetheless be real. A given print represents only one of numerous probable pasts, yet it is a good starting point for meditating.

Another idea that constantly enters into my printing meditation is the notion of intentionally building up an ideational charge in my prints, an invisible thought structure built up around them that would affect others unconsciously and to some degree consciously.

Thoughts are immortal, you see, and seek those who are seeking them. A picture is composed of an image and the things that have been thought about it: It's a more-or-less living entity that seeks. Though thoughts have no particular locus, since they operate outside time and space, you can treat them as if they did and use them to charge a print. It seems to work very well, perhaps because the print operates as a point of focus, a kind of gathering place for the things that have been thought about it. The fact that skilled psychometrists have long been extracting invisible information from prints is indicative of this.

Since I want my prints to reach out to people, including myself, I enter into them imaginatively to give them a life that extends far beyond their mere physical appearance. To imagination I add as much emotion as I can muster, for that gives ideas power and eloquence, makes them more available to others. I find that I can emote very well in my printing room, often talking to myself, singing, and whistling, all of these being forms of meditation.

How do I try to charge my prints? Well, for one thing I want people to see them as little realities, each one complete in itself, each with its own laws and reasons for being. At the same time I want viewers to see them as accurate representations of familiar reality. Silently or aloud, I talk much of this information into my prints, though a lot of it is strictly visual.

When I occasionally make multiple-image prints and other types that little resemble familiar reality, I want them to be accepted as legitimate alternate realities, ones that could and perhaps do exist. In a sense, anything that can be thought can also be.

In all of my trick prints I try to embody a visual logic that brings them within the realm of possibility. The notion is that if they look right they probably are right. My notion of visual rightness is drawn from the whole history of art, including photography, though I am also a very good inventor of styles. Indeed, I generally create a style for each picture. Then I try to understand the various styles and what they imply, thinking or talking that information into my prints. Most photographers develop a single printing style and stick with it, but I would find that inflexible and boring.

When I print a portrait I enter into an imaginative one-way conversation with the person in it, reviewing all I know about him or her and trying to visualize realistically the relationships we might have in the future, seeing both positive and negative possibilities and keeping a very sharp lookout for ways in which I might deceive myself. Since I'm an expert at self-deception, I have to devote quite a bit of energy to this, all part of my meditation. Lacking information, I might construct several imaginative biographies of the person in my portrait, trying to read the essential information out of the picture itself and attempting to come into a kind of psychic communion with it. I'm no more psychic than anyone else, but think that such communion is possible for ordinary people. In such ways I add to the informational dimensions of the picture.

I also add dimension with my positive thoughts about my subject, for I have a high regard for the human race and can't remember ever disliking anybody. Moreover, I want the people in my pictures to be loved and respected or at least be thought interesting. If we all felt this way about one another it would be a much better world. So I try to pack my portraits with love and respect, hoping that my thoughts will reach out to others.

My meditation carries over into print spotting, during which I add considerably to the invisible ideational and emotional content of my pictures, fully aware that I'm doing it. Since spotting is strictly a mechanical process, the mind flows freely and ranges broadly. In a sense, my meditation becomes most pure and concentrated at this point.

Throughout the whole printing process I meditate on it as a craft that I greatly enjoy and respect and for which I have considerable talent. Except for being a little slow, I am a masterful printer, well able to hold my own with anyone in the business. Despite my many years of experience, I'm constantly amazed at the new things I can learn to do in printing. To me it is one of man's most remarkable inventions and a wonderful challenge to any photographer.

I've told you how printing as meditation works for me and don't think I've left out anything important. I suspect that we have at least a few things in common. Perhaps my main point is that printing as meditation is definitely for you. Don't let the word "meditation" put you off: It's something you probably do every day, at least for a minute or two. The system I have described is entirely harmless, for it follows the natural flow of the mind and uses imagination playfully. You can surely come up with something just as joyful and effective for yourself. If you wish to use a more formal and disciplined system of meditation, be sure to work with a qualified teacher. At this point I have no idea how such a system could be applied to photographic printing.