© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved
This is an extract from a manuscript I used
in a class on spirituality and photography
at the Pacific School of Religion,
and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA
I have learned what is probably one of the greatest lessons of my career. I need to see. I mean I really need to see. The lesson itself is ironic, but nonetheless it is a discovery that may be the significant discovery of my thirty plus years as a photographer. It was neither a technical discovery, nor was it one of monumental import to the field of photography. It was personal. I discovered why I am still a photographer, but also that I need more than photography to be a good photographer.
When I was fourteen I became a photographer because the way images came up in a developing-out tray seemed like real magic. I found joy in causing an image to appear on the blank sheet of paper. I remember once proclaiming, “Taking photographs is not as wonderful as developing out the paper.” I only took pictures so I could work at making prints. My discovery that I need to see took me many steps beyond that adolescent decree.
My next realization was that the tonal values in a black and white print made me feel a way no other medium could come close to making me feel. The grays and shades of light and dark, when they fall as I have intended, make chills run up my spine. Viewing my prints, or anybody’s good black and white prints hung in a well lighted gallery is a moving experience for me.
Music almost does it. Once when I was in a band, there were times when the music pushed me into a certain inexplicable process of sensations that was almost addictive. The band seemed in a channel and I could not escape the incredible rhythm had I wanted. I felt I was infused with the pulse of the cosmos. It did not, however, make my belly wrench.
I write, read, and listen to poetry. Many times I am moved profoundly by the ideas and again by the rhythms. There is a dimension to that medium which inspires me. I receive ideas on which to turn my lens and my heart. Poetry sings like the music. It is my second love to photography. It moves my heart, but it does not leave my stomach with the weightlessness of a dip in the road at high speed.
Painting excites me, especially abstract expressionism. Pollock, Gottleib, Still, and Rothko bring me close to a sense of the ineffable. LeCompt and Palmer push me mystically into another realm of being in much the same way that Segal and DeStaebler force me into reality. I spent the last year working with acrylics and the colors made my mouth water. Concept and paint transferred from spirit to brush to canvas intrigued and captivated my senses. Like the music, it did not bring on a slow roll in my belly. This is analogous to anticipating sex: looking at the tones in a well stated gelatin silver print.
How I feel about a black and white photograph is inexpressible, yet it is that precise feeling which makes me a photographer, and which draws me beyond. I believe it is that same feeling that makes a dancer a dancer, a painter a painter, a musician a musician, or a writer a writer. It is that compelling desire to do a thing that generates in us a sensation in a way that nothing else can possibly induce.
This is a sweet feeling, a feeling of excitement, a rush of passion making my whole body twitch. When I look at the tonal values in a good black and white image, I feel both a deep satisfaction and an incompleteness. I feel wonder and, if it is one of my own images, I rejoice it was I who created it.
Once, on a reckless summer night, my youth got the better of my driver’s training. I took a car up to and beyond its limits for the road. One hundred thirty-five MPH on a narrow country highway made me feel like I owned my life. My blood and nervous system surged with a high-speed rush. I felt it was my own youth that governed the universe. This is close to how I feel when I look at one of my own prints, and no other medium has offered anything that comes close. Yet I have come to understand that it is no longer just the photography, or seeing the black and white photographic print. I have come to understand that it is seeing—really seeing—that moves me. I want to see more and more. Photography lets me into a world that for the most part is hidden—I want to see more of that world.
So, I have begun to draw. I still am a photographer, but I felt I needed my discipline of seeing enhanced by learning how to see in new ways. I have chosen to draw plants and grasses. My reasoning is that for a long time now I have photographed them, but when I photograph, I tend to see only in terms of composition, which is good for my images, but has begun to not be enough for my understanding of the world around me. I want to see in greater detail. I want to see what makes up the scene that becomes my photographic image. I want to know how much I miss by only seeing one way—the photographic way. I have taken on the task of finding and identifying flowers and grasses so as to study their details. I have discovered that I have really never seen, and I suspect that learning to see another way will enhance how I see photographically. So Cherie and I go on long seek-and-find missions to the wild areas of the California Foothills and Sierra Nevada Mountains in search if what we have not seen. We have become vision-gluttons and compulsive seers. We have learned that a flower we have never seen before and for all we knew never existed, once seen, is everywhere. I am not sure how this works. Maybe it is a miracle, but it is a miracle to which I have become addicted—I want more of them. I do not want to miss anything. I want to see it all.