beauty in metaphor
“What is truth? A mobile army of metaphors,
metonyms, and anthropomorphisms.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche (1873)
Most images operate at both denotative and connotative levels, meaning that they serve both as depictions of things and as indicators of what those things might signify or express.
Underlying this signifying is a process that Alfred Stieglitz called "equivalence." To illustrate its power, Stieglitz experimented famously with shots of cloud banks that were framed so as to render them more abstract, their denotative content being de-emphasized such that the images' emotional resonances and associations for viewers could take center stage.
However one may feel about his deliberately alienated cloud series - which, as it happens, prompted a parallel experiment of mine with ice floes - Stieglitz's larger point about symbolic connotation was spot on: we experience a strangely charged kind of beauty that blooms outward from images that say something artfully at the level of symbol or metaphor.
The relationship between beauty of form and potent implication can be complex and intuitive. When the physicists Crick and Watson were combing through hundreds of alternate diagrams that might convey the chemical structure of DNA, Watson paused at their model of a double helix and found himself blurting out, from sheer instinct, "This is too pretty not to be it."
Starting from principles of equivalence that relate form to meaning, Minor White worked out a way of thinking about metaphoric photography that has, in turn, informed my own outlook and methods (which are described in more detail in ideas).
In my photo sets grouped under beauty in metaphor, each gallery makes up a loose meditation on a given theme. The objects featured in these essays matter chiefly for what they may suggest to you or resonate unseen, as well as for how their meanings may deepen or change for you in the presence of accompanying titles, texts, and links.
The first photo-and-text essay in this group, titled hard journey, catalogs an array of personal hardships and life passages that befall some or all of us on the road of life, and that make existence a challenge to body and soul.
Other essays built around visual metaphor explore:
- the mysteries and madness of religious belief (what god wants),
- the tribal fragmentation and stereotyping that are pulling America apart (us and them),
- the curious twilight of our natural world in the hands of man (in our nature), and
- the ways in which people become disastrously attached to their misfit desires.
if you enjoy these meditative essays, with their symbolic imagery, you can find a similar approach to a number of other galleries elsewhere on this site, such as my essay on the intimate relationship between chaos and the sublime, which headlines the set of galleries celebrating beauty from disorder. It's a gorgeous mess out there. Such is life.