Whether photographing nature or culture, I am inspired by forms and human endeavors reflecting archetypal elements or universal experiences that highlight connections between people and nature or people of different cultures. I am drawn to landscapes that have mythic or dreamlike qualities suggesting links with invisible dimensions or the perspectives of ancient cultures viewing nature as embodying spirits and connecting humans to the spirit world. Photographing a range of cultures reflects my view that a global perspective reveals how diverse cultures and traditions contribute to humanity’s history and richness. For me, global photography serves a different purpose from that of earlier exploration photographers whose intent was often documentation of the unknown or seldom seen as a means of emphasizing ethnography and geography. Instead, today’s global photography is a way to convey universal human concerns, underscoring commonalities among cultures as a basis for understanding and tolerance. My photography of nature and culture is based on my belief in the power of photography to engender empathy for varied life-forms, people, environments, and cultures, creating opportunities for greater connection rather than experiences of alienation.
I have produced three forthcoming books. The Land: Portrait of a California Counterculture Community, photographed in 1976 and 1977, with text by Ann Mason, is about a counterculture community that was established as an offshoot of singer Joan Baez’s and celebrated war resister David Harris’s Institute for the Study of Nonviolence, existed near Palo Alto from 1971 to 1977, and focused on environmentalism and ecology before the concepts became mainstream, ultimately contributing to the preservation of scenic acreage as Monte Bello Open Space Preserve.
Beams of the Spirit is a book of images, with introduction by Ann Mason and foreword by Paul Caponigro, of sacred landscapes and architecture, religious rituals and artifacts, from thirty-six countries that represent twenty-five religions and depict world ways of worship expressing the commonality of spirituality which supports religious tolerance. An excerpt from the introduction reads: “In taking the images presented in this book, I was led to discover that around the world sacred architecture, rituals, and artifacts, as well as myths about deities and forces of nature, can all be viewed as ‘far-darting beams of the spirit’ (Walt Whitman, Passage to India), as reflections, in diverse cultures, of the quest to understand . . . the invisible realm of spiritual forces and the human relationship to them. As E. W. Wentz states in The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, ‘the wonderful temples of India, the pyramids of Egypt, the megaliths of the British Isles, St. Peter’s Basilica, Notre Dame Cathedral, each in their own way record more or less perfectly man’s attempt to express materially what he feels spiritually.’ Thus in the universality of their expression of the transcendental realm sacred sites, rituals, artifacts, and myths of various societies can become bridges between cultures, helping us recognize similarities across borders and find common ground for understanding.” Called by one commentator “a spiritual Family of Man,” Beams of the Spirit aims to honor some of the ways different religions have expressed the mysteries of spiritual forces and to show people’s enduring and diverse spiritual potentialities. An excerpt from the foreword by Paul Caponigro reads: “Such subjects . . . touch on the universal aspects of man, revealing his spiritual probings and aspirations. . . . The viewer of this work is thus enabled to make a journey of discovery into the world of power and beauty that enfolds man’s greater questions and desires—to know who we are and from whence we came. It is a flight away from the merely observable and into the ethers of mental and emotional exploration to serve the spirit.”
Offerings is a book, with introduction by Ann Mason, that focuses on acts of reverential giving to deities or ancestors in diverse cultures around the world, containing portraits, still lifes, and images of rituals taken in twenty-one countries, depicting a universal attitude of benevolent intention to interact with the spiritual realm. The following are excerpts from the introduction: “Offerings are tangible yet ephemeral substances or actions presented to gods or ancestors at times of prayer or remembrance. Such gestures show attitudes of openness, selflessness, supplication, and gratitude at the invisible intersection of the secular and sacred realms. Offerings represent external manifestations of the intent to interact with the spiritual realm through the avenues of veneration, creativity, and beauty. In depicting people’s various approaches to the sacred, they reflect moments of spiritual revitalization. . . . Offerings can be goods or services, actions or objects that have a variety of functions depending on cultural traditions and occasions. In many situations, offerings are an important means of maintaining good relations with invisible powers, which, together with human beings, safeguard and regenerate the sources of life. . . . Offerings are instruments for crossing an invisible threshold to the spirit realm that can lead to moments of personal revelation or transcendence. . . . While the essence of offerings includes the skill, attention to detail, and sacrifice of their creators, paradoxically offerings are transitory by intention—like earthly life itself—and as such are reminders of life’s fleetingness. . . . Offerings can be seen as external manifestations of what is in the minds and hearts of their makers and therefore . . . mirror the character and traditions of those creating them . . . and can be seen as symbolic self-portraits. . . . Witnessing or participating in such offerings can be a reminder of the value of giving rather than acquiring and inspire focus outside the self—on gratitude, life’s transitoriness, and connection to the larger human community. . . . Overall, offerings reflect sacred interludes of ephemeral art in the everyday lives of people achieved by creativity and by attitudes of reverence, hope, gratitude, and benevolent intention.”
Despite the digital age and today’s challenges of world travel, I continue to photograph around the world with a 5 x 7-inch film view camera because the process not only produces high-quality work but requires a purposefully slow pace that allows me to sense the timeless, universal aspects of subjects underlying fast-paced everyday reality and enables empathy with human and cultural concerns. My experience teaching literature informs my storytelling when photographing environmental portraits or cultural rituals, making me aware of how people’s surroundings, possessions, and actions reflect their beliefs and personal histories.
While my photographs are produced using traditional methods, including the making of gelatin silver prints in a traditional darkroom, and do not focus explicitly on social issues, my projects implicitly reflect some contemporary social concerns: preservation of the environment (The Land: Portrait of a California Counterculture Community); tolerance for diverse world religions (Beams of the Spirit); consumerism, acquisitiveness, and spiritual life (Offerings); the disappearance of American rural, individualistic lifestyles (Small Town America); the passage of time and transitory nature of earthly life (Time Frames); and the power of corporate America (Wall Street).