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Friday, January 6, 2017

Project 66 #8: "A mood in the soul"

I always experience a mysterious sense of inner peace upon entering a Japanese garden; a sense of serenity I seldom experience in any other type of garden. This impression doesn’t descend upon me as much as it ascends from somewhere deep within me, as if I had crossed some type of mystical threshold between restlessness and inner harmony.  Perhaps the origin of this metaphysical transformation is rooted in the spirituality and peacefulness I have always associated with Buddhism, Taoism and Japanese meditative traditions collectively referred to as ‘Zen’.  Shamefully aware that my knowledge of eastern teachings and philosophy are predominantly informed by my youthful exposure to the adventures of Kwai Chang Caine (Grasshopper) of television’s Kung Fu fame, I decided to explore the history of Japanese gardens in the hope of discovering how they might exert their calming influence on my psyche.  What I discovered was that my limited knowledge of eastern philosophies was eclipsed by an even greater misconception of Japanese gardens and their very deliberate 'zen'.

My greatest misunderstanding about Japanese gardens was a most fundamental one.  Unlike other types of gardens with which I am familiar, Japanese gardens are not flower gardens nor are they plots primarily dedicated to the cultivation of plants.  Rather, a Japanese garden is first and foremost a landscape garden.  Some, like the Karesansui waterless rock and sand gardens, are devoid of plantings all together.  Even among planted gardens symbolic inanimate objects feature prominently in the design of a Japanese garden’s layout, reflecting their spiritual importance in the cultural heritage and mythology of the Japanese.  The goal of master Japanese gardeners is the creation of a harmonious landscape honoring the beauty and harmony among all the gardens constituents, a harmony capable of creating a ‘mood in the soul.’

‘Its artistic purpose is to copy faithfully the attractions of a veritable landscape, and to convey the real impression that a real landscape communicates.  It is therefore at once a picture and a poem; perhaps even more a poem than a picture.  For as nature’s scenery, in its varying aspects, affects us with sensation of joy or solemnity, of grimness or of sweetness, of force or of peace, so must the true reflection of it in the labor of the landscape gardener create not merely the impression of beauty, but a mood in the soul.’ L. Hearn, In a Japanese Garden, The Atlantic, 1892
Buddhism divides the world into things without desire (hijo), like trees, stones and water, and things having desire (ujo) such as people and animals.  It is no doubt the master gardener’s very intentional inclusion of the spiritual essences of hijo in garden design that contributes to a Japanese garden’s unique spiritual 'feel'.  The images in this post of hijo commonly found in Japanese gardens were captured on recent visits to multiple Japanese gardens.  Each is paired with a brief description of their history, symbolic significance and contribution to the unique sacred nature of Japanese gardens.  Some passages have been cited verbatim from a fascinating article by Lafcadio Hearn entitled “In A Japanese Garden” published in The Atlantic in 1892.  Hearn’s prose is just far too beautiful to paraphrase.

I found in Hearn’s descriptions an explanation of the Japanese gardens’ unique metaphysical impact.  Hearn explains that ‘The dead art that made the beauty of this place (garden) was the art, also, of that faith to which belongs the all-consoling text, “Verily, even plants and trees, rocks and stones, all shall enter into Nirvana.”'

And there it was. If even plants, trees, rocks and stones shall enter into Nirvana then there is hope for me. Even without my full knowledge of how or why, these gardens evoke a peaceful, hopeful mood in my soul.  

“All-consoling” indeed.

"In order to comprehend the beauty of a Japanese garden, it is necessary to understand -
or at least to learn to understand - the beauty of stones.  Not of stones quarried by the
hand of man, but of stones shaped by nature only.  Until you can feel, and keenly feel, 
that stones have character, that stones have tones and values, the whole artistic meaning
of a Japanese garden cannot be revealed to you.'  L. Hearn, 1892

"All these verdant elevations rise from spaces of pale yellow sand, smooth as
a surface of silk, and miming the curves and meanderings of a river course.  These
sanded spaces are not to be trodden upon; they are much too beautiful for that.... 
But they are traversed in various directions by lines of flat unhewn rock slabs, placed
at slightly irregular distances from one another, exactly like stepping-stones across
a brook.  The whole effect is that of the shores of a still stream in some lovely,
lonesome, drowsy place,"  L. Hearn, 1892

Ishidoro, or stone lanterns, have spiritual as well as decorative significance. Originally,
they served as votive lights at the entrance of Buddhist temples. Although the size
and styles of the lanterns are varied they all share certain features in common.  They
usually consist of five sections corresponding to the five principal elements of
Buddhist cosmology - earth, water, fire, wind and sky - thereby symbolizing the
universe.  The roof is often a stylized lotus blossom, the Buddhists' sacred flower.

Yukimi-doro, the snow-viewing lanterns are squat, broad-roofed lanterns lacking a 
pedestal.  They are so named because they collect snowfall on their broad roofs.  Yukimi
lanterns were developed specifically for garden use around the 16th century and have no
counterparts in lanterns found in Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines.  Yukimi-doro symbolize
the mother figure in the cycle of life.

Shinto and Buddhist traditions often required ritual cleansing before entering into holy
sanctuaries or prior to participating in sacred rituals.  Stone water basins were located
near entrances of shrines and soon became common features in Japanese gardens.
A wide variety of shapes and styles can be found. Many are placed low to the ground
requiring visitors to prostrate themselves while engaging in spiritual preparations.

While mountains and stones are the solid skeletal elements of the earth according to
ancient Japanese mythology, water represents its fluid lifeblood.  Water symbolizes the
flow of life, renewal, and continuity with the hereafter.  Waterfalls abound in many

gardens. In addition to their mystical  significance, waterfalls add sound to the other
sensual perceptions of the gardens.  Ten distinct types of waterfalls are recognized
in the canons of Japanese garden design, indicative of the subtlety inherent in garden


Monday, December 5, 2016

Project 66 #7: Gehry Faux-slot Canyon

As a photographer I have long aspired to photograph the slot canyons of the American Southwest. These narrow canyons are geological lacerations slashed into the scorched skin of the earth by the relentless assault of wind and water over eons. The resultant twisting ribbons through the sandstone and limestone strata can be over 100 feet deep and in places only a few feet wide.  In some places the walls have been worn smooth while in others wavy ridges produce a fluidity that seems to defy their solidity. They do not open widely to the sky these corkscrewing cracks.  Sunlight only briefly penetrates the narrow crevices as the sun sweeps overhead, creating moving shafts of light that illuminate the walls’ rich palettes of reds, oranges, golds, lavenders and black in a rhythmic light show complimenting the sinuous undulations of the sculpted canyon walls. The shapes, turns, textures, tones and colors of the rugose canyons make them greatly prized photography destinations.

While a field trip to the slot canyons remains a “To Do” entry on my photography bucket list I recently had a photographic experience that, surprisingly, put me in mind of a walk through one, and a grand one at that. That surrogate experiences might exist is perhaps not surprising, but the source of this one surprised me.  It was neither a natural landscape feature nor was it located in an arid, desolate environment.  My ‘slot canyon’ experience happened in Seattle while exploring architect Frank Gehry’s phenomenon known as the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP; formerly the EMP Museum).

Gehry’s characteristic futuristic design is a fusion of four individually colored metal-clad units, each with distinct undulating facades.  According to MoPOP’S website: 

"A fusion of textures and myriad colors, MoPOP's exterior conveys all the energy and fluidity of music.  Three-thousand panels, made up of 21 thousand individually cut and shaped stainless steel and painted aluminum shingles, encase the outside of the building.  Their individual finishes respond to different light conditions and appear to change when viewed from different angles, reminding audiences that music and culture is constantly evolving."

Standing in a copper-colored "faux-slot" created by an entryway at the confluence of two of the structural units while the sun popped in and out from behind passing clouds I was reminded less of the fluidity of music and culture and more of the fluidity, undulations and color changes typical of nature's slot canyons. 

Whether by the architect’s design or by a healthy dose of imagination on my part, these copper-clad walls provided a surrogate experience sufficient to tide me over pending my much-anticipated exploration of the real deal.

'In some places the walls have been worn smooth...'

'while in others wavy ridges produce a fluidity that seems to
defy their solidity.'

'They do not open widely to the sky these
corkscrewing cracks.'

'Sunlight only briefly penetrates the narrow
crevices as the sun sweeps overhead,...'

'creating moving shafts of light that illuminate
the walls' rich palettes of reds, oranges, golds,
lavenders and black...'

'in a rhythmic light show complimenting the
sinuous undulations of the sculpted canyon

Monday, November 7, 2016

11th Annual Black and White Spider Awards Winners Announcement



LOS ANGELES 10/05/2016 - Amateur photographer Tim Mulcahy of the United States was presented with the 11th Annual Black and White Spider Awards Third Place Honor of Distinction Award in the category of Architecture at a prestigious Nomination & Winners PhotoShow webcast Saturday, November 5, 2016.

The live online gala was attended by over 10,500 photography fans around the globe who logged on to watch the climax of the industry's most important event for black and white photography.

11th Annual Jury members included captains of the industry from National Geographic, Washington DC; The Armory Show, New York; TBWA, Paris; Victoria Film Festival, Canada; Aeroplastics Contemporary, Brussels; Studio Hansa, London; Fratelli Alinari, Florence; Australian Centre for Photography; Young & Rubicam, Lima; and Anthem Worldwide/Marque Branding, Sydney who honored Spider Fellows with 627 coveted title awards in 31 categories.

"It is an incredible achievement to be selected among the best from the 7,556 entries we received this year," said Basil O'Brien, the awards Creative Director. "Tim Mulcahy's "Surveillance," an exceptional image entered in the Architecture category, represents black and white photography at its finest, and we're pleased to present him with the title of Third Place Honor of Distinction." Jury member Paola Anselmi, interdisciplinary curator and arts writer in Australia added, "As always it was a real treat to be part of the program. Congratulations to all involved and to all the remarkable photographers who gift us new insights into the world and ourselves." "A truly amazing set of entries, so many deserving winners," added Marcel Wijnen, Creative Director at Anthem Worldwide.

Tim Mulcahy was also awarded Honorable Mention recognition in the Architecture category for his image "Curvaceous".  

BLACK AND WHITE SPIDER AWARDS is the leading international award honoring excellence in black and white photography. This celebrated event shines a spotlight on the best professional and amateur photographers worldwide and honors the finest images with the highest achievements in black and white photography.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Project 66 #6: The Path of the Salmon

In the autumn of each year millions of salmon, driven by unquenchable instinct and guided by a mysteriously accurate homing mechanism, return to the stream of their own birth in order to spawn.  Thousands and thousands home in on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, many seeking spawning sites miles inland in the headwaters of the Sol Duc River running through the heart of Olympic National Park.  The Accessibility of the Sol Duc River provides a unique opportunity for park visitors to experience some of the strenuous challenges encountered by the fish during their epic annual migration.

The Path of the Salmon

At the beginning of the ambitious trek the rocky earth pitches gently upward and the going is relatively easy.  The water is swift but deep.  Rocks and rocky ledges provide respite for tired muscles readying themselves for the more vigorous path upstream.

Upstream is now progressively uphill.  The water is skinny and rushes past rocks jutting above the surface, looking like the peaks of the Olympic Range breaking through the low cloud cover overhead.  The going is progressively strenuous with fewer and fewer resting places available to recharge tired and aching muscles.  Yet the urge to reach the final destination burns even stronger than the lactic acid accumulating in every muscle bundle.

The next major hurdles – the Sol Duc Cascades - come all too soon.  Progress upstream now requires battling a series of abrupt elevation changes over rocky ledges and around boulders surrounded by the swiftest water yet.  Precarious refuge can be found among the rocks but the successful climb requires continuous forward progress.  Heart rate and other physiological measures of strenuous exertion are on the rise.

The conquest of the cascades leaves little time for rest or celebration.  Continued progress upstream is long and strenuous.  The rocks are more and more frequent and the water more and more rapid.  The drive to arrive at the ultimate destination is still strong but now the physical toll becomes a growing deterrent of significant consequence.

Further ahead the once flat river channel is now a steep gorge.  Rocky, fern-covered walls tower above the raging river below.  The going is harder and harder as the climb to the final destination continues, becoming more vertical at every turn.  

With energy nearly spent and the drive to continue waning, the sound of the pounding falls just ahead re-ignites enthusiasm – as well as optimism that the journey will end soon and successfully.  Just a little further!  It’s doable!

Finally!  The end is in sight - the powerful, the impassable Sol Duc Falls.  One cannot go any further.  For the first time since the beginning of this strenuous trek it is possible to stop to refresh the body - as well as the soul.  The rapid pulse of exertion is replaced by the increased heart beat of exhilaration. A sense of accomplishment sets in.

So ends the description of my strenuous ascent to the Falls along the rocks and trails of the Sol Duc River.  I can't imagine what the salmon must endure getting here fighting their way through the turbulent water.

Salmon seek this spot to spawn, to renew their species.  I sought this spot to renew my spirit.  As I stood on the bridge overlooking the falls - trying to catch my breath - I was one with the salmon.