Photos from a portrait series – 2013

I thought I would share a few photos from a portrait series from 2013. These were made in the basement of a house on Gabriola Island near Vancouver BC. The light came through narrow windows and was perfect for portraits. I used a dark grey blanket as a background for most of these. This is the only portrait series I have done, and I would love to do more.

These are low-res versions I happened to come across so the technical quality is not the best. I may look for the higher-quality originals and upload those at a later time.

See below for color versions of some of these photos.

A scrub tanager and a vermilion flycatcher (photos)

Just a few photos of a visiting vermilion flycatcher (red) and a scrub tanager, both in bushes and trees next to the house. We hope that the number and diversity of birds and other beings here will increase as the regeneration project progresses over the years. (We are still in a very early phase.)

Photos: Beautiful vultures

A couple of beautiful neighbors, captured from our tiny house.

I love vultures. They are majestic animals. They serve a very important function in the ecosystem. (Cleaning up and making use of carcasses.) And they likely wish to have a good life and avoid suffering, just like me.

I also know they sometimes have a bad reputation. (The locals here inexplicably poison them.)

Why? I am not sure.

Here is one guess: We have an instinctual aversion to anything rotten, put in place through natural selection. (The ones who didn’t have that aversion were more likely to not survive long enough to bring up children.) Maybe some associate vultures with something rotten, and transfer their aversion to the vultures? If so, it doesn’t make much logical sense. (Which is not unusual.) It would be more appropriate to thank and praise them for removing rotting flesh from the landscape.

Photos: It’s a blur

I had some time to spend in a mall the other day, and thought I would have some fun with motion blur. These images were taken using the Live option on the iPhone and then edited a bit for color and tone. As a kid and teenager, I loved experimenting with double exposure, projecting images onto things and photographing them, freezing fast motion (bursting water balloons and small explosions!), and long exposures. I haven’t experimented much with it since, so it was a fun couple of hours.

I have many other photos I like more in terms of quality and end product, but enjoying the process is equally if not more important, and I did enjoy doing this.

Photos: Dawn at Cañón del Chicamocha

It’s a long time since I have used my DSLR camera, but staying in this amazingly beautiful area inspired me to get it out again. I did a few quick photos and edited them in Lightroom.

At the bottom left is a glimpse of the Chicamocha river. I like the contrasts between the dramatic blown-out sky and clouds, the dark areas in the sides of the canyon, and the many soft grey tones in the rays of light.

I like the general feel of this photo. The softness of the rays of light. The gentle hills. The dramatic contrasts and the soft grey tones in the rays of light.

This is a dramatic photo that reminds me of baroque paintings and graphics, and perhaps especially some Biblical scenes. Apart from the obvious, I like the gently sloping hill in the foreground with the tree and the roof to the lower left. There are a lot of interesting details here.

I like the gentle rays of light, the silhouettes of the tower and trees, and the interesting hill in the middle right. This is a detail from a larger photo.

This is a personal favorite. My attention is first drawn to the dramatic light, and then I notice the many details: The natural pyramid to the right, the bright small dancing clouds, the layers of mountains within the light, the human-made tower which contrasts nature, and the little town lit up by a beam of sunlight in the lower left.

Again, we have the dramatic blown-out clouds and sky, the play of the lines in the landscape, and the soft gradations in the rays of light. The middle landscape holds most of the details in the photo, and feels like a glimpse into a secret world. In the foreground, the vegetation shows up as silhouettes. The bush to the right goes from light on dark to dark on light on the top.

Photos: Dawn at Cañón del Chicamocha

Dawn at Cañón del Chicamocha, near Barichara.

Apart from phone snapshots, I rarely take photos these days. This is a rare exception. As usual, I seem to enjoy making my photos look like paintings, probably because of another phase of my life when I did a lot of drawing and painting.

Photos: Dawn at Cañón del Chicamocha

Dawn at Cañón del Chicamocha, near Barichara.

Apart from phone snapshots, I rarely take photos these days. This is an exception and I may post a few more from this series. As usual, I seem to enjoy making my photos look like paintings, probably because of another phase of my life when I did a lot of drawing and painting.

Life is living itself

I saw this amazing rainbow (firebow) a couple of nights ago, took this photo, put it out on social media, and it has around 3000 likes so far. Partly because I shared it in two groups with a large number of members. (The amount of likes is more than for anything else I have put out there.)

I see that I could take this as a feather in my cap. I could make it about me. All these likes mean I am a great guy, or it means I am lovable, or good enough, or accepted, or something like that.

For me, none of that rings very true. What’s more true is that this is about nature. Nature created that scene. I just happened, through grace and coincidence, to be there and had a camera to capture it. I was given the role of a messenger, someone who was able to give others a small taste of what nature created here at that moment.

I could also think that this is about my skills and sense of aesthetics. I am a good photographer. I have built up some skills. And so on. Although there may be some truth to it (not so much in this photo since it’s so simple), something else is more true.

All of that also comes from beyond me as this human being. I was born. I was born into a family that values art, aesthetics, and nature. They passed it on to me. Evolution made us humans so we can see and enjoy beauty. It gave us these bodies with eyes and a brain. My parents bought this cabin many years ago, making it possible for me to be here now. I live in a peaceful society making it possible for me to be here. Someone built this cabin. They learned it from someone else, who in turn learned it from someone else. Someone grew the food that’s kept me alive for long enough to see that rainbow and take the picture. Someone made the phone making it possible to take the photo. Innumerable generations of very smart and diligent people worked out the technology that eventually became that phone. And the same for the technology that makes internet and social media possible. The evolution of Earth was required for this photo to be taken. The whole universe, and the evolution of the universe, had to be just as it is and has been for me to take that photo and others to see it on their phones and computers.

This photo was taken by me, but it’s not about me. It’s about the whole world and all of the universe, going back to the beginning of time.

When I am grounded in reality, it’s clear that this is about what’s beyond any one of us. It’s about existence as a whole.

Ultimately, this photo wasn’t taken by me. The scene was created by life and existence. It was taken by life and existence. It’s enjoyed by life and existence. And all of it is made possible by life and existence.

Note: The photo ended up with around 10,000 likes.

Photos: Sølen

Some iPhone snapshots from a mountain trip in Norway. This is from the Sølen mountain in Rendalen, the area where my father’s family is from. My grandmother would walk from the valley up to this mountain to celebrate summer solstice and watch the sunrise with friends. The photos are edited in Lightroom. 

Unedited photos are more honest and genuine?

A few times, I have taken photos of someone, edited the photos for color balance and light levels, sent these edited photos to them, and they have asked for and used the unedited photos instead –  even if these unedited photos are off in their color balance and light levels. (I often underexpose my photos to capture details in the lighter areas and bring the exposure up afterwards to make it look more like it did to the eye.)

It may be that they just like these dark and underexposed images. But more likely, they have the idea that unedited photos are more pure, honest, and genuine.

That’s a noble idea, but misguided.

All photos are inevitably edited, even long before the shutter button is pressed.

They always reflect the camera settings (which may not have been optimal, and the strengths and limitations of the technology. Here are a few examples:

Our cameras are designed to reflect our particular human perception of light. Other species perceive other regions of the light spectrum and would make cameras reflecting their own perception. (Of course, since the photos are meant to be seen by humans, this doesn’t matter. But it does show that the photos are strongly edited before they are even captured.)

Before color film, photos were “edited” by technological limitations filtering out color, and converting different wavelengths differently into black and white. That’s the case today as well, in other aspects of the image. (For instance, most cameras have a far lower dynamic range – the span between black and white – than human vision due to technological limitations.)

There are many decisions and assumptions built into the cameras from the manufacturer’s side. Other decisions and assumptions would make the images look different, and sometimes very different.

The settings from the user’s side also heavily influence how the image looks. The image may be set so it will be under- or over-exposed. On digital cameras, the colors may be set to be more or less vibrant, or to emphasize different wavelengths. The depth-of-field may be short or long, determining how much of the image is in focus. The grain level may be set to be high or low. (And that, in turn, influences degree of motion blur.)

When it comes to basic aspects of the image, such as color balance, exposure levels, depth-of-field, and grain levels, the idea of a pure or unedited image is misguided. The image that comes directly out of the camera is heavily influenced by technology and decisions and preferences from the manufacturer and user. It’s edited before the image is even captured on the memory disk, and may or may not reflect what the human eye saw as the image was captured.

It’s, of course, different when it comes to photoshopping to delete or include elements that are not in the original image. In that case, the original is usually more honest.

In my case, it’s been slightly frustrating when the recipient choses to use the “unedited” photos even if they are too dark. The edited version is often much closer to how the scene looked to the eye. But I also realize that it pleases the recipient, for one reason or another, and that matters more. That makes it OK.

I have also noticed that it’s typically people less experienced with photography seem to prefer the unedited photos, so maybe some education is in order. That’s partly why I chose to write this article.

And just to have mentioned it: The photo above is unedited because it was correctly exposed. It’s one I took a couple of years ago at the cabin in Norway.

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Dark Night in Psychological vs Spiritual Context

The term dark night, or dark night of the soul, can be used in a psychological or spiritual context.

In a psychological context, it’s often used about anything psychologically shattering – trauma, loss, burnout or similar.

In a spiritual context, a dark night of the soul it’s what typically comes after an initial opening or awakening, and a period of “illumination” (as Evelyn Underhill calls it). It can take the form of a loss of conscious connection with the divine, a great deal of unprocessed psychological material surfacing, loss of health and other losses in life, and more. It’s a humbling and very human process, and the “darkness” comes largely from our reaction to it. Our minds don’t like it and perceive it as dark, even if it is the next natural step in our maturation and development.

They are quite similar. In both cases, we may have a great deal of unprocessed psychological material surfacing with an invitation to find kindness, understanding, and healing for it. We come up against our beliefs and identifications with certain identities and are invited to examine them and allow the hold on them to soften. In both cases, it’s an opportunity for great healing, maturing, humanizing, and reorientation.

In the bigger picture, both can be seen as a spiritual process. An invitation for healing, maturing, and even awakening out of our old beliefs and identifications.

There is also a difference, and that’s the conscious context of the one going through it. In a spiritual dark night of the soul, there is already a knowing of all as Spirit – even what’s happening in this part of the process. And that makes a great deal of difference. That helps us go through it, even if it’s just a background knowing.

What helps us move through a dark night, whether the context is psychological or spiritual?

Here are some possibilities: Taking care of ourselves. Understanding people around us. Therapy – body-oriented, mind-oriented, or both. Nature. Food that’s nourishing. Time. A willingness to face what’s coming up and move through it. Inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries etc.). Heart-centered practices (Tonglen, Ho’oponopono, loving kindness etc.) Body-inclusive practices (yoga, tai chi, chigong, Breema etc.)

For me, support of someone who understands the process, finding helpful tools and approaches, and the willingness to face what’s here and move through it, have been especially helpful.

What tools and approaches have worked for me? The ones mentioned above, and more recently Vortex Healing.

Note: In a spiritual context, there are several dark nights of the soul. I simplified it here and just mentioned the dark night of the soul. The essence of having to face beliefs and identifications is the same for all of them, at least the ones I am aware of so far.

Note: In any dark night, and any life experience, our distress is created by how we relate to and perceive what’s happening. That’s why inquiry can be very helpful. There is an invitation there to find more clarity and consciously align more closely with reality.

The photo is one I took at the edge of Princetown on Dartmoor some years back.

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Why is God love?


God is love.

Why? Why do we often experience God as love when there is a spiritual opening or awakening?

From a human perspective, we can experience God as love for a few different reasons.

When there is an initial opening or awakening and all is revealed as Spirit, there may be an experience of love towards ourselves, others, and everything. It feels like love. God feels like love.

When that realization is lived through us, we act as if from love. All is one, so helping others – as and when appropriate – is as natural as the left hand helping the right. It looks like love.

And when that realization is more stable through situations, we may realize that all is good as is. All is Spirit. What happens is Spirit. There is an infinite wisdom and intelligence behind it. Nothing is out of place. And that, to us, looks like love. The world looks like love.

The first is a felt sense of love, and the two others look like love but are not dependent on any feelings of love. And that’s why we may experience, and say, that God is love. Of course, love – and these three points – are all human concepts. It’s a human attempt at putting words on something.

The first one tends to naturally fade over time. I suspect it’s more a byproduct of an initial opening or awakening. And the other two tend to deepen over time.

Note: The photo is one I took at sunset at Venice beach in 2012.

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