THREE PICTURES AMPLIFIED
by Mike Rambo
1. HOLE IN THE GROUND
I stood over the hole and wondered what the hell was going on. I had been standing there for 10 minutes, paralyzed with indecision. The voices said "don't be an idiot. This is stupid! Why waste the film". (At this point in my life, I used film like a sushi chef uses fish.) "You've got to move. You've got to cover a lot of ground. You're losing time. Let's go!" Yet I stood there. What was holding me to this spot? It was a small pit in a dry streambed near Ithaca N.Y. About two feet wide, roughly elliptical and 6 inches deep. There were two objects at the bottom of three inches of water. A thin stick about 5 inches long, and a pair of long almond shaped leaves attached at their base. I could barely see them but for the reflection of the sky across the surface of the water. I became very frustrated. My mind chattered away but my body froze solid. The idea then came to me that if I just took the picture, I might be released. I would figure this out later. And so I did. It was the beginning of letting the image resonate, and therefore pick me, instead of my trying to find it. I don't think I realized this at the time.
The problem of that curious moment needled and intrigued me for many years. The first forward step was the simple realization that the two leaves looked quite like a butterfly. Well of course, this is what must have sparked some unconscious recognition. And what really cemented my understanding of the paralysis was the well known idea that the butterfly is a symbol for the soul. So that was that. My unconscious had recognized a metaphor for my soul and had placed a vulcan nerve lock on my body until I had done something about it, namely taking the picture.
But of course, images that resonate don't end there. Besides the egg shaped form at the bottom of the pool, there was something else. Like a dream, some images can be endless in their possible amplifications. Years after this picture was made, I was reading a book, The Time Falling Bodies Take To Light by William Irwin Thompson about, among other things, "The Shaft of the Dead Man" at Lascaux in France. Here an image painted on a cave wall 16,500 years ago shows a man lying prostrate before a huge bison. Next to him is an upright stick with a bird atop it. It has been interpreted that the man was dead from an encounter with the bison. A logical assumption. The revised interpretation, Thompson says, put forth by Roben van Loben Sels, is that the man might be a shaman, and the stick-and-bird figure is a symbol of his power. The single stick-and-bird is primal enough to have been the possible origins of all the examples of this image that follow. The staff of Mercury, the god of dreams, is known as a caduceus and is the most notable descendant. Thompson goes on to mention the yogic idea of the three brains, the third of which is the neocortex, a bilobed organ much akin to the two wings of the bird. The evolution of the bird and staff image evolves through time to the snake and bird goddesses who rules over the waters "and her image is consequently associated with water-containers" (my italics). My hole in the ground. Could the bare similarities of this stick and "butterfly" to the snake and bird provoke those kinds of reverberations? Could there be enough unconscious archtypal material in my brain to register enough stimulation to make me pause in confusion?
Now there is another mysterious aspect of this whole thing. In James Hillman's book A Blue Fire, he discusses his collection of animal dreams. He cites a dream by a woman in which she sees a polar bear under the water. Hillman says that there is a Jewish legend that says "each animal species has a corresponding one [twin] in the water." Does that include insects, whom he calls "strange angels?" Is this another "tell" of the unconscious. Of the soul? Is that even possible?
And most of all, why such negativity before I took the picture? Why such an attack on the image, on myself?
Seeing something new always presents a challenge to the mind. A new image is a new idea. "Psyche is image" as Jung says. And as Hillman says, an idea is not only a thing we see, but a new way of seeing. A new way of seeing is, to the unconscious, change. And very often, change is symbolized by death. So might there be an unconscious equivalence between seeing something new and death? Might my conscious mind naturally erect a wall of denial and rationalize it with a denigration of the image, and even of myself.? Certainly this seems to be the history of any new idea. There is always someone there to say "that's crazy!" "It will never work!"
I even went so far with this fantasy as to think "Ah, that's why there are conservatives and progressives. The conservatives dislike new ideas, especially those of the progressives, who see problems and want to find ideas to fix them. The conservatives unconsciously think that if they change the structure with which they see and understand things, they'll die!
And in this fantasy I said to myself "who's is going to believe that!"
2. ICE AGE
During 2003, the one picture that was of any interest was taken on a path in a state park in New York. I presumed I had not gotten anything worthwhile that summer and fall, so I let the film alone for a month. When I had it developed, I was quite amazed. I had been reading at that moment Thompson's book, The Time Falling Bodies Take To Light. He discusses the first glimmerings of the primordial religion. Imagine, thousands of years in the cave, having only two things to look at. The Fire, and women menstruating and giving birth. The bleeding was the wound that healed, every month. The moon phases, changing and cycling every month. No wonder the first religion was goddess based. It must have seemed miraculous. And he suggests that women created the first written "memo" of the lunar cycles: a stick notched by women according to a lunar schedule. Much later, he posits this "baton" was co-opted by the men and used as a source of authority. Fascinating. The picture spoke to me of cave fires and the ice that surrounded everything in the paleolithic age. And the "freezing" out of the female religious ascendancy.
Curiously enough, at the exact same moment I was deciding on a name for this picture, the movie Ice Age was playing on the TV.
But looking at the picture, would a Freudian speak of birth trauma, and a Jungian of a "negative anima?"
ICE AGE 2003
All day on September 11, 2001, I sat glued to the TV as every else did. There were two things about that day. One was it was unusually clear. I haven't seen a day like that since. The other thing was that I couldn't believe it. It was unbelievable. I watched for 3 days alone in a house in the woods. On the third day, I moved out into the forest to see what I could see. (It usually takes me three days of gestation, fermentation and moping, before I go to the woods anyway.) I found three pictures. Now for me, three pictures during a whole season is a pretty good year. This was one of them:
I cannot help but see this as some kind of syncronicity. A layered tall structure being blasted from the side. I have wondered often if we are what we see, or if we see what we are. I go with the latter. I find it hard, very hard, to believe that this was a coincidence. It is very difficult to find an image, any image, from fungus on a rotting tree. That it was realized in the first attempt to search for an image, trying not to think of that disaster in N.Y., seems almost impossible. In this case I am much more comfortable with syncronicity than with coincidence.
I fantasized about this picture. The first thing I thought of was Nebuchadnezzar's dream. He dreamt of an extremely tall tree, the height reaching up to heaven. He was commanded to hew it down. The tree's great height was symbolic of his outragous ego. The tree symbolic of himself. As Jung suggests, this dream has been dreamt down through the ages. I fantasized that Bin Laden had this dream. Only the tree was now the tallest structure in the world. The Trade Towers. He thinks that God has literally told him to cut down this "tree." His concrete thinking has led him to project what he is unaware of in himsef onto the world outside. It seems to dovetail quite well with his hate for all things western.
The strangest thing about this picture to me is, what looks like a bird on top. (It's even odd that this is another kind of "bird on a stick" picture.) I thought that to be poetically accurate, the bird should be an eagle, symbol of the United States, perched on top, like the ancient roman standard, another descendant of the "shaft of the dead man." But that is no eagle. It sort of looks like a duck to me. How inelegant. But in Jung's book Dreams, he explains the frontpiece picture of the book, a 15th century vatican codex painting, recreating the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. Here a tree grows from the navel of a king and there is a "pelican" atop the tree. The bird in the painting does not look like any pelican that I know, but the photograph is closer to that than to anything else.
Copyright mike rambo 2005
Thompson,William Irwin. The Time Falling Bodies Take To Light,(New York,St. Martins,1981)
Jung,C.G. Dreams, (Princton/Bollingen,1974)
Hillman, James. A Blue Fire,(Harper Perennial 1991)