Upon walking into my art book and glancing across all of my photos, a gentleman posed the question, “Did you actually go to all of these places?”
In order to fit with accepted social norms, and avoid being some unpleasant fellow who wants to argue the nature of every fleeting thought which winds its way through his mind, I simply said, “yes I did!” The visitor looked around for a few more seconds then left without buying anything.
Silently, I considered an assortment of possible reactions:
- Confusion: Why on earth would somebody ask me that?
- Defensiveness: Do people really not know how photography works? Should I have painted these things from scratch, pixel-by-pixel?
- Self-doubt and apology: Maybe his sole passion in life really is to collect work where each microscopic square was gently caressed by a human creator, and my simple direct answer conjured up utter disappointment in his mind. He might have imagined that I drove out somewhere with a camera, hopped out of the car, pressed a button, headed back home, transferred the numerical data from the camera to a computer, had Photoshop work its magic, printed the image on a sheet of paper, slapped the paper inside a frame, and I had absolutely NO say in the process.
- Offensiveness: “You’re damn right that’s exactly what I did, and if you don’t like it, go get a piece of chicken on a stick from the food court and suck on it, buddy!”
- Creativity: “Not at all!” as I clumsily hold together random items from in front of me — sunglasses, ink pen, hairbrush, empty soda bottle, “This complex device allows me to photograph vast landscapes without ever leaving my home. It was originally designed by Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1932, but it wasn’t until 1953 when Ansel Adams extended its range to over 7,000 miles. Please do not touch. This is very sensitive equipment.”
- Dismissal: Whatever.. people are weird.
After a time, it came to me. What does “Did I actually go to that place?” even mean? What’s in that place that isn’t already in this place? Where does one place end and another begin?
I’m reminded of one of my favorite toys as a child: The Reader’s Digest Wide World Atlas. I’m using the word “toy” loosely; I didn’t imagine that the book was something that it wasn’t (even thought it certainly was large enough that I could have held it open above my head as a parachute as I jumped off the back of the sofa), rather I was actually entertained by its contents:
I often wondered things like, “How do ships deal with that floating dotted line separating the Indian Ocean from the Pacific? Do they have to send people out to repaint it every time a storm comes through?”
Regarding all landscapes, not just oceans, the only border between that over there and this right here is an arbitrary thing that only appears in books. Both that and this are made of the same stuff, and there’s a continuous connection from one to the other. Connections like that are vitally important — There’s a connection like that right under your nose: from your mouth to your butt, and if any part of that link ever breaks, you’ll die!
The entire universe is the same way. But unlike an iceberg coming from a glacier, the universe can’t break in two. The universe doesn’t just include stuff, but all the emptiness as well. The resulting gap between the two pieces would contain more “universeness”, and therefore this hypothetical ‘break’ wouldn’t happen at all. The universe would simply get bigger.
At the smallest level, there is a direct connection between the fundamental building blocks of our DNA and the raw material fueling the sun. Even though we’re way over here, we’re still part of the sun, and therefore part of everything. If I am this, and the landscape is that, and this and that are one big thing, that means my work is simply the universe creating self-portraits.