Photographs Outside Our Walls

Death Valley flowers

Death Valley

The Inspiration

The phrase, “Photographs Outside our Walls” comes from the 1971 book,  The Unforeseen Wilderness by Wendell Berry, illustrated by his good friend, the late photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard. It is the source of the inspirational excerpt on the site Home Page. They wrote it about the Red River Gorge of Kentucky which was slated to become a flood control reservoir. Berry asks,

“What will cure us? At this point it seems useless to outline yet another idea of a better community, or to invoke yet another anthropological example. These already abound, and we fail to make use of them for the same reason that we continue to destroy the earth: we remain for the most part blind to our surroundings. What the world was, or what we have agreed it was, obtrudes between our sight and what the world is…  The effort to clarify our sight cannot begin in the society, but only in the eye and in the mind. It is a spiritual quest, not a political function.”

The Aspiration

As a partial answer to his question of what will cure us Berry turns to the photographer:

“I turn to the figure of the photographic artist – not the tourist-photographer who goes to a place, bound by his intentions and preconceptions, to record what has already been recorded and therefor what he expects to find, but the photographer who goes into a place in search of the real news of it.

“His search is a pilgrimage, for he goes along ways he does not fully understand, in search of what he does not expect and cannot anticipate. His work involves a profound humility, for he has effaced himself; he has ceased to make demands upon the place.  He keeps only the discipline of his art that informs and sharpens his vision – he keeps, that is, the practice of observation – for before a man can be a seer he must be a looker. ..

“It is an endless quest, for it is going nowhere in terms of space and time, but only drawing deeper into the presence, and into the mystery, of what is underfoot and overhead and all around. Its grace is the grace of knowing that our consciousness and the light are always arriving in the world together.”

To that I aspire.