Photography & Meta-Patterns

Table of Contents:

I: Foundational Vibrations

II: Meta-Pattern of Energy Exchange

III: Opposing Forces & Reconciliation

IV: Photography & Human Vision as Manifestation of Meta-Pattern

V: Photography as an Intuitive Process

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“For the Rays to speak properly are not coloured.  In them there is nothing else than a certain Power and Disposition to stir up a Sensation of this or that Colour.  For as Sound in a Bell or musical String, or other sounding Body, is nothing but a trembling Motion, and in the Air nothing but that Motion propagated from the Object, and in the Sensorium ‘tis a Sense of that Motion under the Form of Sound; so Colours in the Object are nothing but a Disposition to reflect this or that sort of Rays more copiously than the rest; in the Rays they are nothing but their Dispositions to propagate this or that Motion into the Sensorium, and in the Sensorium they are Sensations of those Motions under the Forms of Colours.”  (Newton, Opticks)

I: Foundational Vibrations

Photography is an anthropomorphic and scientific mechanism to express creativity that follows natural meta-patterns.  The mechanics of the camera are an example of biomimicry based on human vision.  For example, the lens of a camera is made up of concentric circles, as are human eyeballs.  Our understanding of human vision and image reproduction are in dialogue.  As such, each has contributed to furthering the understanding of the other.  Photography, color and light are processes of vibrations.  These vibrations, ultimately created by the sun, that the human nervous system decodes using the eyes and the brain, are emitted from any object that light falls upon.  “Sunlight contains photons of all energies in the visible range (of wavelengths 380 to 760nm) as well as those with energies both above and below those to which our eyes respond.” (Colour: Why the World Isn’t Grey, Hazel Rossotti)  Depending on the quality of the light, and the quality of the body on which the light falls, different vibrations will be absorbed, and others will be emitted.

For example, if sunlight, which is full spectrum, falls upon a red ball, then that ball will absorb all visible photons, causing a disturbance followed by vibrations of electron clouds, and emit the particular shade of ‘red’ that represents the compounds of its physical constituency.  However, if the same ball is under a yellow light, then the ball will not have absorbed the entire visible spectrum.  The ball will reflect back a yellowish hue, unable to vibrate at a frequency inherent to its physical makeup if the full spectrum of visible light were to be absorbed.  In other words: “Light, which is an electrical disturbance, interact[s] with a cloud of electrically charged particles; [and] its effect depends both on its energy and on the nature of the electron cloud.”  (Colour, p.31)  This also points to the hidden reality that sunlight is made up of photons of different energies.

When light itself is viewed as a process of electron clouds that vibrate while absorbing and emitting photons of various wavelengths, it becomes apparent that human vision is an electronic process that creates a sensation.  Fundamentally, the physical world around us can be internalized as imagery because of photons.  These photons, or, “colors,” are sensations produced by processes of reacting electrons that create wavelength emissions.  Human vision is an electronic process that involves cognizance of the differences between wavelengths utilizing specialized cells that send signals to the brain, or as Isaac Newton stated, “in the Rays they are nothing but their Dispositions to propagate this or that Motion into the Sensorium.”  (Opticks)

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“Any such boundary is at times between, at times within, media, and (as in the case of the earth/air surface) these boundaries, surfaces, or perceptible differences present a place for things to happen, for events to locate.  Thus, boundaries present an opportunity for us to place a translatory element in a design, or to deform the surface for specific flow or translation to occur.”  (Bill Mollison, Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, IV.4: Properties of Media)

II: Meta-Pattern of Energy Exchange

The meta-pattern of the exchange of energy follows the dynamic shape of the torus (*Appendix I, Fig.1 & 2).  The transmission and reception of energy occurs across boundaries.  Energy that is spread out, is then concentrated, and spirals through a small area, where a subsequent exchange occurs.  For example: Nutrients from the sky and the soil are absorbed into the soil and eventually the roots of a tree.  The tree then spirals these nutrients up into the canopy through a ‘point of origin’ made of concentric circles, which is located at a boundary.  The nutrients are ultimately spread out into the environment again via evapotranspiration through the boundaries of the leaves and/or shedding plant matter, each event representing a different manifestation of the same pattern.  At locations with maximized surface area, such as the branching effect where the retina communicates with the optic nerve, energy is efficiently transferred from one entity to the next.  (*Appendix I, Fig.3)  After the exchange, there is a difference.  For example, humans exhale different gasses than they inhale, after a nourishing exchange called ‘breathe.’

To demonstrate the dynamic nature of this pattern flow, please follow this example: Embodied energy from all over your body, working with mental cognition, the vocal chords, mouth and tongue creates an audible word.  The word, sourced from various internal elements, is expressed out of a narrow boundary made of concentric circles (the throat), which is located at the boundary between external/internal, and then spread out into the air in the form of sound waves.  A listener will absorb the sound waves of the word, through the narrow passageway of the ear, and then repeat a manifestation of the same pattern to complete the exchange of energy and understand the word via the translation of electronic signals to the brain. Photography and vision follow this meta-pattern in very interesting ways.

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“Colour photography, like colour television, records the intensities of light of three different ranges of wavelength which are roughly those to which the three types of retinal cone cells respond.  A direct way of recording colours photographically would be to take three separate photographs (instantaneously and from effectively the same position) through coloured glass filters which are transparent only to blue, green or red light.”  (Colour, p.177)

III: Opposing Forces of Reconciliation & Camera Mechanics:

Photography and image reproduction, which at first were chemical processes, are now mostly electronic.  As pertains to photography: images that were once concentrated areas of exposed photosensitive material are now pixels made up of different colors controlled by binary code.  Images are a reproduction of reality, and as such, the instance of light absorption is also the same instance that the particular moment transcends ‘present’ and becomes ‘past.’  In the mechanics of a camera, there are components that must be set in relation to each other in order to achieve a balance. Another way of phrasing the meta-pattern of the exchange of energy is that there are 3 interdependent forces: the activating force, the restraining force, and the reconciling force.  It is the relationship between these forces that creates the dynamic flow of the pattern.  The balance of each photograph depends on the relationship between: 1) the shutter speed, or ‘time;’ 2) the size of the aperture, or ‘space;’ and 3) the ISO/ASA of the film and/or electronic sensor, or ‘photosensitivity.’

The shutter speed is a function of time.  As the operator of the camera, any shutter speed lower than around 1/125 of a second will require a tripod or a flash.  The shutter speed can be said to be the ‘restraining force,’ as you can create drastic differences in the outcome of a photograph by limiting the duration of light that hits a photosensitive surface.  By setting a shutter speed of 1 second or longer you can capture motion in a still frame.  Likewise, by setting a time constraint of 1/1000 of a second or shorter, you can capture rapid motion as a still frame (*Appendix II, Fig. 2 & 6).  The aperture is a function of space, which allows light to pass through.  The aperture represents the ‘activating force’ of a camera.  Adjusting the size of the aperture is similar to eyeball pupil dilation.  A smaller number represents a larger aperture, and a larger number represents a smaller aperture.  Thus, f.2.8 is a large aperture and f.11 is a small one (*Appendix I, Fig.6).  It is important to note that the relative aperture affects the depth of field the photograph.  A large aperture, such as f.2.8, has a shallow depth of field, and can be utilized effectively to capture macro shots with blurry backgrounds.  A large aperture is usually balanced with a fast shutter speed, as more light is being allowed to pass through the boundary of exchange.  It follows that a small aperture, such as f.11, has a large depth of field.  Small apertures are effective for capturing landscape photographs, and sometimes need a tripod as they are balanced by setting long shutter speeds (*Appendix II, Fig. 4).

In order the capture this shot that was taken at night on ‘The Strand’ in Redondo Beach, I had to set the ISO and aperture in relation to each other in order to isolate the shutter speed to reconcile the balance of the shot within a set amount of time.  I knew that I wanted to capture motion, however, not too much motion.  3 seconds would have been too long, whereas on the other hand 1/10 of a second would be too short.  The yellow street lights were also an influence in the shot.  This shot was set around: ISO800, f.5.6 @ 1″.  In order to capture the motion of just the skateboard trick itself, and exclude the motion that occurred before or after, this is how I metered the camera to be able to have a one second long exposure.  

This is an example of a landscape shot.  To take this shot I knew that I would need a small aperture to have a very large depth of field.  When you set a small aperture, you are also restricting the amount of light that can reach the photosensitive surface, which needs to be balanced by adjusting the ISO to be more photosensitive, and/or elongating the shutter speed.  In order to capture this shot, which had very bright sunlight from 14,000′ coming through storm clouds, I set the aperture to f.11 @ ISO400; 1/400″.  Setting your camera to the landscape function will mimic this setting of making the other forces balance as pertains to the priority of having a small aperture.  Another camera setting is called “Aperture Priority,” which will make the camera balance the shot according to the aperture chosen.  

In this photo I wanted to capture rapid motion as a still frame.  In order to do so, I relied on a fast shutter speed, and balanced the aperture and ISO around the shutter speed.  “Shutter Priority” is the camera setting that will mimic this setting.  For this shot I set the camera to ISO800, f.5.6 @ 1/1000″.  

The sensitivity of the film (ISO or ASA) affects the relationship between the functions of time and space. Adjusting the ISO is to change the degree of photosensitivity, which acts as a ‘reconciling force’ built into the camera functionality.  Thus, if the film is extremely photo sensitive (e.g. ISO 1600 and higher), you can avoid using a flash at low light if you adjust to a large aperture and a relatively slow shutter speed (e.g. f.2.8; 1/125sec).  Although digital cameras do not technically utilize film, they still utilize the same ISO standards that were created for the chemical film process, perhaps to maintain an intuitive understanding of a human-to-machine interaction.  Adjusting the ISO creates an environment necessary for the desired balance of the shutter speed and aperture.

The mechanics of the camera can be seen as manifestations of the meta-pattern of energy exchange.  Each force, when applied, changes the outcome of the applied meta-pattern.  Just as if you were SCUBA diving, the exchange of gasses from your oxygen tank while your body is underneath atmospheric pressure, is very different from an exchange of gasses during breathe on land.  Thus, if you change the ISO, you must in effect change the shutter speed and/or the aperture to balance the intake of light in order for the photograph to be visible to humans.  Likewise, if you change the aperture, you can either adjust the ISO or the shutter speed to allow a human-centric amount of light to hit the photosensitive surface.

One camera technique of particular importance is called, “pushing the film.”  For example, if the moon is the activating force producing light and you set the camera to a small aperture of f.11 and the ISO to a low sensitivity of 80, you can then create an environment where you “push the film.”  This means that you have all of the other settings adjusted to a bright environment, while you are actually in a dark environment.  In effect, the outlying balancing component, in this case, the shutter speed, is ‘pushed’ to an extreme.  With the moon as your light source, and your camera set to f.11 @ ISO 80, your shutter speed will most likely need to be 10 seconds or longer to get a balanced exposure.  In this instance, you have utilized the aperture and ISO as the activating and restraining forces, thus isolating the shutter speed as the reconciling force to create a balance. This is a great means for capturing motion on a still frame and/or to allow moonlight on a landscape to absorb into the exposure (*Appendix II, Fig. 1).  If the desired effect were depth of field, rather than motion, then the shutter speed and ISO could be set in relation to each other so that the aperture would act as the reconciling force (e.g. 1/1000sec @ ISO400 would require a large aperture fit for a macro shot in daylight).

For this photo I was at the top of Twin Peaks in San Francisco.  I had to use a tripod.  It was a full moon and a clear sky (uncommon for SF because there is usually so much fog!).  I set the aperture to be small, in order to have a large depth of field.  Because it was dark out and I set a small aperture, I had to compensate by setting a very long shutter speed.  This shot was taken at around ISO400; f.11 @ 15″.  In order to get the effect of the moonlight on the horizon in the background, I needed to allow more light to be absorbed.  If I had set the camera to ISO1600, f.2.8 @ 1/20″, then there would not be enough time allowed for the moonlight to be absorbed.  

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“Learning a master pattern is very like learning a principle; it may be applicable over a wide range of phenomena, some complex and some simple. …  One can spend endless hours seeking further scientific, mystical, or topological insights into pattern.”  (Designer’s Manual, IV.1)

IV: Photography & Human Vision as Manifestation of Meta-Pattern:

Photography.doc Following the meta-pattern of exchange, cameras are designed to allow light to pass through a narrow boundary composed of concentric circles, in order to then encounter an area where an exchange of energy can occur.  As with our own vision, the light that passes through the narrow passage of a camera is then recorded in reverse.  As Bill Mollison writes in the Designer’s Manual, “Cells INTERWEAVE or cross over as they spiral out of or into the media.”  (p.72).  Thus, color film negatives record the photon vibrations (or ‘image’) absorbed in reverse, as well as in analogous colors; i.e. different sides of the boundary of exchange are in analogous proportion to each other.  In addition, human eyeballs interpret light as images in reverse, and it is our brain that then switches the images to their natural orientation.  In the chemical photographic process, it is when white light is shone through the negative, onto a photosensitive surface, that the image is then switched back to its natural orientation.  This is also the part of the process when the subtractive light of a color negative produces the desired colors on the positive photo.

In digital cameras as in human vision, sensors accomplish the same task of capturing light and converting it into electrical signals.  Photosensitive cells in the retina, called cones and rods, contain pigments that absorb different wavelengths of visible light.  This absorption and transference of a signal to the optic nerve, takes place in an area that branches out to maximize surface area.  (*Appendix I, Fig.3)  Likewise, it is when our brains receive the electric signals of the vibrations that our eyes have observed, that the brain then constructs an image of the world that makes sense.  In other words:  “In both camera and eye, the light produces only small changes in the photo-sensitive material, but these are the starting points for a long series of changes which take place during the ‘processing’ and which eventually produce either a photograph or a sensation… The eye behaves as a camera which contains two films, one for colour and one for black and white only, as well as a photochemical device which selects the film appropriate to the lighting conditions.” (Colour, p.109-112)

While I was documenting the Sustainable Vocations for Youth course at Quail Springs, I was at a sit spot in the food forest, watching an ant crawl on a baby fruit tree.  While the ant was under the sun on a branch, I could make out the difference between its black thorax and its red abdomen.  However, once this red ant fell under the shade of a green leaf, it became entirely black.  It follows that in image reproduction, green and magenta are in a subtractive relationship.  (I.e. green areas of a photograph will show up as magenta on a negative and visa-versa).  In this instance, when the full spectrum light from the sun passed through the filter of the green leaf, the red ant became black, because the ant could no longer absorb nor emit the wavelength of its natural color. (*Appendix I, Fig.4)

A photograph is to capture the light that is being emitted in the surroundings within the focal range of the lens used.  The vibrations of light being emitted in the focal range of the camera either a) expose photosensitive chemicals (e.g. create a film negative), or, b) create a representation of the image that the light constitutes by translating that light into electronic information (as in digital photography).  In other words, “all living events carry their characteristic time-shape memories, and (it would appear) so do rivers, volcanoes, and the sun itself.”  (Designer’s Manual, IV.8)  I feel as though what Bill Mollison refers to in this statement is that every event that absorbs and subsequently emits photons creates a ‘time-shape memory’ or, impression in the observer.   “Impression,” is not used here as “a notion, remembrance [or] belief,” but rather as, “a mark, indentation, figure etc. produced by pressure.”  In this sense, the word, ‘impression,’ implies that there is an observer (or other entity) that is impressed upon.  This is an important detail because it brings us to the awareness that we are still functioning within the same meta-pattern that is dependent upon the interdependence between entities.  The relationship between time, space and photosensitivity in the design of the camera, creates the means necessary to reproduce imagery.

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V: Photography as an Intuitive Process:

I have grown and matured as a photographer over the years.  I started practicing in earnest in 1999, when a good friend of mine introduced me to the black and white photo lab in high school.  I soon became a monitor of that darkroom.  This is where I first created a pinhole camera, and developed my first prints of blurry people walking across a field with the buildings remaining still.  While attending UC Santa Cruz, I forged a personal pathway of study that integrated photography with social sciences, because I did not feel like having one without the other would be satisfactory or complete.  I furthered my photographic understanding by also becoming a monitor for the color darkroom.  I resisted partaking in digital photography until 2006, when I had graduated and I no longer had access to darkrooms.

For me personally, photography transcends boundaries in my life, and has impacted my sense of creative expression as well as my profession.  I also appreciate photography as a source for social change.  There are many instances in history where a powerful image has changed public opinion, such as these instances captured in time from Kent State and Saigon creating momentum against the American wars in Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970’s.  It is rare to find a tool that can be used to impact society on such a large scale.  I believe that it is the energy found within the power of being able to capture a moment in time that has acted as an activating force in calling me to practice this art.

If anything were to be a restraining force in this equation, it would have to be myself, and my own psyche.  I am, at times, uncomfortable with the inert power that a camera holds.  I did not photograph people for a very long time in my photographic career, unless it was specifically requested of me to do so.  I write about this further in my experiences at Quail Springs.  My experiences here allowed me to understand the connection that I have between photography and trust.  I realized that I was not photographing others, unless they were good friends and family.  I am now pushing that edge and taking more pictures of people. Whereas before I was unaware of what was restricting me from photographing certain things, I am now aware of my own photographic process as an exchange of trust.

At times, the activating force that calls me to document reality in imagery is felt as an intuitive and creative process.  For example, I will see the same cityscape from a thousand different angles with a thousand different qualities of light, before I will feel like I understand the position of the angle coinciding with the timing of the light to create an excellent image.

A key area where I feel as though permaculture and photography overlap is in observation.  Observation is perhaps one of the most important and fundamental tools that a permaculture designer has in their intellectual toolbox.  The definition of permaculture includes the importance “[of] protracted and thoughtful observation rather than premature and thoughtless labor.”  (Designer’s Manual, preface)  I have also learned through my own studies and experiences, how necessary careful observation really is.  At times I view photography as a practice in observation, and I am glad that I have bridged the gap between photography and permaculture, so that I can stack functions and practice both at the same time.

The reconciling force in my personal manifestation of the meta-pattern of exchange of energy as it pertains to photography would have to be pleasure.  I find huge satisfaction in creating an image that creates a certain sensation in me.  I also find another source of happiness in watching other people feel sensations as they view my photographs.  It has been great to research further into the nature of light and photography itself, to have the language to be able to describe that colors and imagery actually are sensations.  Although I have done amazing things with photography thus far, I still feel as though I have a long way to go.  I feel as though I can develop myself as a photographer for the rest of my life, and that my relationship with photography will continue to grow and change.  I am grateful to have found such a beautiful and interesting hobby, and I look forward to my changing relationship with it.

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About danblake222

*MSc "Integrative Ecosocial Design" with Gaia University *BA "Ethnography & Photography" with Minor in Spanish Linguistics from UCSC *Artist in Residence at Omega Institute *Handyman, House Painter, Writer, Photographer, Permaculture Designer, Gardener *Photography portfolio at DBLfoto.com

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