“The Carnival of Dreams is a short film based on the unforeseen events that transpired over a 48 hour period in a magical place called Slab City where Ian Ruhter and Will Eichelberger set out to make the world’s largest Ambrotype. In the midst of this larger 3 year project to photograph and film the community a spontaneous visit by Gary Oldman to Ruhter and our crew in the field revealed something far greater than the process that brought everyone together. As Oldman and Ruhter focus their cameras on each other the plates unveiled a beautiful friendship. The photographs made also revealed a hidden truth about the people who stand by our side and allow us to see the beauty that’s in front of us. The Carnival of Dreams captures this bond between colleagues, friends, loved ones and soulmates and a process that takes place within this journey.”
“My greatest failure in life came when I lost the ability to believe in my own dreams. It had taken a year and a half to return to Yosemite after enduring one of my most heartbreaking experiences. In an unexpected twist of fate I regained the courage to try again after seeing the world through a child’s eyes. Since the release of the Silver & Light film we have accomplished more than we ever thought possible. We could have never made it this far without the support of people like you.”
“In the process of preparing the time machine, I had no idea this would become one of the most extraordinary journeys to date. It would propel me into the future where I meet Chase Jarvis, one of the greatest photographers of all time. It would then send me back in time to meet with my old friend, Peter Line, the best snowboarder of this era.
All of a sudden I found myself in the present, making a picture of Ishmael Butler from the Diggable Planets. I had travelled the way you would in a dream, taking me backward into the future. A future where you paint with silver and light.”
Visit Ian Ruhter’s website here
Watch more videos here
(All photos by Paul Caponigro)
“I think the first step is the realization that each of us has [a calling]. And then we must look back over our lives and look at some of the accidents and curiosities and oddities and troubles and sicknesses and begin to see more in those things than we saw before. It raises questions, so that when peculiar little accidents happen, you ask whether there is something else at work in your life. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve an out-of-body experience during surgery, or the sort of high-level magic that the new age hopes to press on us. It’s more a sensitivity, such as a person living in a tribal culture would have: the concept that there are other forces at work. A more reverential way of living.” – James Hillman
Hillman in The Soul’s Code fleshes out the idea of the acorn theory or acorn myth. This is the idea that each of us has within us the kernel of a calling, a gift, a way of being that grows into maturity much like an acorn grows into an oak. It is an effort to explain what drives each of us to live the lives we feel compelled to live beyond the deterministic boundaries of genetics or social conditioning. In his book he gives examples of how this can be seen in the lives of several well known public figures like Judy Garland or Martin Scorcese.
Paul Caponigro, who would become an accomplished musician and photographer, as a child began to exhibit clues as to what this ‘calling’ would look like for him. Caponigro – “My father’s brother was a pianist. And so when we went to visit the relatives, I could not wait until Dad brought us to Uncle Jimmy’s. And he’d open the door and greet us, and I would run right through his legs – I was quite small – and sit at the piano, knowing he would play eventually. And so I’d wait until he played. I couldn’t wait to hear it, you know, because the piano meant something. This is age 3, 4, 5, thereabouts. I knew there was something in the piano for me.”
Sometimes a mentor appears, as in the story of the Hero’s Journey, to help guide or to give one tools so that you will succeed on your mission. Sometimes this mentor is a parent. Many times it is a teacher, as Hillman recounts in the lives of James Baldwin or Truman Capote. Caponigro remembers one man who noticed his latent talent. Regarding his parents,”They were very hard-working peasant types. And it was more [of] keeping a family together and making a living. There wasn’t enough time and space for them to look a little bit deeper, you know. It just was a major outer structure they were trying to keep together. And they did a fabulous job. They took care of us. They gave us love. They gave us a house to live in. You know, I mean, they really did well. But the subtler things of seeing a little deeper, that was seen by Arthur Gavin, who lived across the street with the principal of the high school. They eventually married. He was the art director for that city, the city of Revere. And he caught on that there was something going on with me. And he would feed me paper and colored crayons and pencils and inks and, you know, tell me to have a good time. And he’d do it in front of my mother, who didn’t understand what was going on, wouldn’t have seen that I had an artistic nature, and that it was supposed to have an outlet. So he caught on that there was something going on, and he tried to help my artistic nature.”
This inner calling can sometimes be so strong that it can filter out other responsibilities. What society deems successful can, to this calling, be seen as a failure (or vice versa), or at the least a major conflict. Caponigro – “I was poking around the photo supply stores, and I’d look in the shop windows. I’d go in and just look at things…in those early years, I was not interested in school. I did not want to do the work…I…could not wait for the bell to ring to dismiss us, and I would head out, not go home but go straight to the ocean, which was very close by, or the woods, and hang out there and listen to the birds and watch the waves come in and pick up shells. At an early age, I realized nature was my teacher. I didn’t want all the reading and arithmetic. I couldn’t give it my interest. So nature was really my teacher all through school, up to must have been the eighth grade. At which point I remember coming back from one of my forays to the sea – – – I remember coming back from being in nature, picking up some shells, get some stones. And I was passing right through the school yard where I was going to school, on the football field. And I was stopped dead with a realization: I had to get a camera and photograph this stuff that I see out there in nature…”
Caponigro discovered that his emotional reaction to certain kinds of music or to what he saw in nature was going to be his guide. “[It is] as if the cosmos itself arranged that I would not be a good student in school…in order that the emotional realm that I worked with would flourish and develop…I saw it as a gift that I did not do well in school… in that the excessive intellectual activity subdued my emotional activity. I saw that my emotional activity could get fed and would function quite easily, and was very perceptive that my emotions would do the perceiving. When that happened and I got information, I always felt confident about what that information was…”
At one point he became aware of who he was and what he wanted to do. “In the same way that I got this burst that said, get a camera and photograph what you’re seeing and what you’re working with…In the same way – it was at the age of 11 or thereabouts – I was walking the streets alone. Came from the center of town to go home. And I remember exactly the corner that I turned to get up the street. And again, this burst of something came in and said, oh, my God. I’m an artist. I recognized that I was an artist. And I had a double kind of whammy which said, what a wonderful thing and what a responsibility, the two of them simultaneously. I go, wow. What am I going to do with this? I’m an artist.”
So the choice becomes a question of what is this life going to look like. How does one honor the gift one has been given. How do you stay true to the calling. Caponigro – “So it didn’t take too long for me to realize, no. You know, I don’t want to go through what these concert pianists go through. Sure, I’d love to play at Carnegie Hall, and I’d love to thrill a big audience, and that would all be great. And to this day, I could still think of doing that. But I realized that that turning of the corner when I was 11 years old and saying, my God, I’m an artist, and the other half that said, it’s a responsibility, not merely a joy, and that part really was connected to the idea that art was a sacred act. It wasn’t until I had studied more and more of the Egyptian art and early ancient works in the museums, and certain of the modern pieces that you could tell were permeated with a man’s soul and real being – it wasn’t until then that I thought, my God, yes. This is – this could be a man’s religion. It did not have to be the organized religion of those structures and burning candles and incense and the rituals and the ceremonies. This could be a path to sacred experience.”
“In my years of photography I have learned that many things can be sensed, seen, shaped or resolved in a realm of quiet, well in advance of, or between, the actual clicking of shutters and the sloshing of films and papers in chemical solutions. I work to attain “a state of heart”, a gentle space offering inspirational substance that could purify one’s vision. Photography, like music, must be born in the unmanifest world of spirit.”
Jerry Uelsmann studied under Minor White, a photographer whose interests leaned toward mysticism. White mastered and then taught the Zone system, a process to manipulate photos starting from the exposure of the negative through the chemical development of the film and then through the printing process to achieve precise predictable tones along a grey scale in the finished black and white print. Along with a focus on a more traditional subject matter in landscape photography like Ansel Adams, Minor White also concentrated on a more interior vision.
As Peter Marshall writes, “White was strongly influenced in his early landscape photography by the photography of Edward Weston, but in the 1950s he developed a much more individual approach. White’s work moves away from the reality of the landscape into a dream world of unreal tonal values, whether by filtration or the use of infrared film.”
“It is a world (as in dreams) where unusual connections are made, where the shadow of a telegraph pole leads across a glowing field towards a small light shed standing next to a larger dark shed with a white rectangle, all beneath a dark sky with unusual streaks and clouds (‘Two Barns and a Shadow in the Vicinity of Naples and Dansville NY, 1955‘). Or where a brilliant white lines of poplars in bright grass line a black road leading into the distance, or a dark barn points up like a the end of a signpost into a black sky with light clouds. The whole body of work from this area has a powerfully surreal quality.”
White incorporated a concept from Alfred Stieglitz called Equivalence. (from Wikipedia) “The “equivalents” of White were often photographs of barns, doorways, water, the sky, or simple paint peeling on a wall: things usually considered mundane, but often made special by the quality of the light in which they were photographed. One of his more popular photographs is titled Frost on Window, a close-up of frost crystals on glass. However, in regard to an equivalent, the specific objects themselves are of secondary importance either to the photographer or the viewer. Instead, such a photograph captures a sentiment or emotionally symbolic idea using formal and structural elements that carry a feeling or sense of “recognition”: a mirroring of something inside the viewer. In an essay titled “Equivalence: The Perennial Trend”, White described a photographer who took such pictures as one who “…recognized an object or series of forms that, when photographed, would yield an image with specific suggestive powers that can direct the viewer into a specific and known feeling, state, or place within himself.” (Gantz)”
White’s mysticism is reflected in his ‘The Three Canons’
Be still with yourself
Until the object of your attention
Affirms your presence
Let the Subject generate its own Composition
When the image mirrors the self
And the self mirrors the subject
Something might take over
Jerry Uelsmann is an idol of mine. I had the chance to hear him speak and present some of his work about 10 years ago. I found him to be personally engaging and delightful while mesmerizing the audience with images of his work. Some have called his work surrealist. There is definitely a connection to the world of the unconscious and the dreamworld.
He is a master craftsman and his image construction is amazing considering that he did all of this pre-Photoshop. This work is the result of hours in the darkroom using a series of enlargers to create the composite imagery.
I had the pleasure of being at another presentation of his work a couple of years ago, this time accompanied by his wife, Maggie Taylor, an artist of comparable talent and depth. Combined they create startling images that, although different, touch on similar themes that could be found in any Jungian library dealing with the dream world.
While Uelsmann uses the darkroom to create his work, Taylor relies on the computer, using a flat bed scanner and Photoshop to create her colorful portraits.
Below is a link to a website that has a 90 minute documentary on this artistic couple along with over an hour of bonus material showing them discussing their techniques and the processes they use to create such striking images. It is a subscription site so there is a fee involved if you want to watch. If not, then please enjoy the 2 minute trailer linked to below to get a taste of what is offered.