MEDITATION ON MASKS #2 OF 3

002-71 -- Rubicon River in Winter

002-71 — Rubicon River in Winter

© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved
This is part two of three
from 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

Psychologist Erich Neumann explains the development of the persona as a development away from the natural and individual tendencies of the unconscious mind. Repression is the unconscious process of the mind to forget painful or embarrassing occurrences. Developmentally, it is beneficial that the mind’s reflexive fight or flight tendency be operative, but the urge to kill or do violence, is best repressed. Yet repression of one problem will many times allow for aberrant behavior, and a completely different problem. Repression of the urge to kill might cause a general sense of guilt that has no apparent cause. Neumann says that we adapt to the culture around us and our minds, when functioning healthily, adapt to fit in with other humans. Our minds are such, Neumann suggests, that the fully whole person is all ego, the persona is an interface, a superego, a conscience, that interacts between other egos in the world and the inner self of an individual. It is clear why psychology chose the Latin word persona to describe this process. Yet, while it is a healthy function of the mind to interface between the ego and the world, if the ego is completely submerged behind the persona, the persona becomes a mask and that is not healthy.
Mary Wolf-Salin explains that the failure to be one’s real self does not ocur because of a failure, or misuse, of the persona. Jung intended the persona to be understood as a part of the real self. Wolf-Salin suggests we simply cannot act the same way all of the time. Wolf-Salin suggests that the healthy person is one who finds a balance between the demands of the outer world of the person to conform to its expectations, and the demands of the inner person to be fully self. We need the persona much as we need the cloths we wear. We need to protect our bodies from danger, and we need to protect our inner selves as well.
Choosing to drive a car, which is dangerous and can kill us, is analogous to the operation of the persona. We take some precautions in driving a car by using seatbelts and following the traffic laws and speed limits. In this way we hope we can depend on enjoying a relatively safe journey. Similarly, we choose how much of our real self to allow to show through our persona. If we are really mad at someone we love and respect, we may not want them to know we feel like chopping off their toes—that is the raw us. We want them to know they offended us, and we will tell them that, but we know the other is not acceptable in a conscious society. People get into trouble when they act out their raw ego-urges, and do not conform to the expectations of society. I may feel like punching a rude person in the nose, but I just go home and whine to Cherie about it. My whiner persona.
The personas of Hilary Marckx, are variously: a photographer, musician, father, pastor, grandfather, theologian, husband. I am no one of these only, and I only use them to relate better to other humans. If I become any one of them—a photographer, a father, a theologian, a husband–as a means to distance myself from others, then they are no longer personas but masks.
A person is infinitely much more that any one or even a combination of personas. By confining ourselves to only one possibility, we shrink our worlds, and the world of others. By saying that I am a photographer and leaving it at that, I disclose something about myself, and add a limited amount of information concerning myself to those around me. If I say that I am a photographer of some renown, and use that as a grasp for power—many people are impressed that I have been in an exhibition or two and have had work in magazines—and to place myself over others, then the persona has become a mask and I have lessened myself. I have kept others out of the fullness of myself, and in a real way I have kept myself out as well. If I can only use my gifts to lessen others, I am made smaller as well.
An example of this happened for me some twenty-five years ago. I was looked up to and respected in my community of photographers. I was still trying to impress those around me, and I was working so hard at it that I had not noticed that a shift had occurred—younger photographers were now trying to impress me. I misunderstood this as competition. I still had the immature gun-fighter mentality. I still needed to kill my competition. I was in a position, that as I now look back, I can see as one where I could have been a mentor to several younger photographers. If I had done so I could have been even bigger than I dreamed, but I was not developed enough at the time to help. The incident I am thinking of happened at an opening a promising young photographer held. I and others were invited to celebrate with him his business expansion and the progress of his dream.
Well, I felt that his dream was cutting into my territory and I felt I needed I had to assert myself for great photographer I was. I waited my time for the right opportunity. It presented itself. He was showing off his prints to a group of photographers. The poor unsuspecting soul asked me, me, what I thought of a particular print. I said that the composition looked just fine, but the print itself appeared to be a little soft. Now, there are not many things more devastating to a photographer than to realize that what they think is a sharp, crystal-clear image is not quite up to professional standards. He was trying for affirmation, and I, hiding behind the mask of “The Great Photographer,” made sure he knew his position.
Cut to the quick, he stammered, became embarrassed, and floundered. What was to be his great moment was stolen from him. Masks do not let us see the thieves who hid behind them. With magnanimity I let him off by stating that the problem of sharpness might be in the processing, and we discussed the pros and cons of color printers to the chagrin of his color processor who was present, but even in this supposed gift of returning some part of his self respect, there was the tacit acknowledgment that it was only by way of a superior professional he could be affirmed. I had been similarly brutalized by one of my betters, and now I passed my own woundedness on to him. A killer hiding behind a mask is a danger to killer, killee, and witnesses.

MEDITATION ON MASKS # 1 of 3

131-72 -- Morning #1

131-72 — Morning #1

© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved
This is part of one of three
from 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

The purpose of this meditation is to discover the masks around us. What is the protective coloration we use? How do we hide from each other? What devices do we use to fool others into thinking we are other than we really are? How are we fooled by masks? In this meditation on masks the idea is to see through the mask to the real person. Layer by layer we look for our true center—the place behind the mask. To see our own masks, we look at our own reaction to masks in general. We will use the camera to look for the masks of our culture for insights into the masks we use ourselves. Advertisements, billboards, window displays, faces: these can be symbolic of our own masks, and can find clues to that which we would try to hide from others and from ourselves.
What face is it we put on for the world, and how do we know if it is the right face, or just something of the moment to hide behind? How do we know there is a wrong face? How do we know there is a face at all? To understand these questions, the distinctions between masks and personas need to be discussed.
Persona is a Latin word which originally was used to refer to the masks used in classical theater. The actors would use masks to become the character played. Many times the mask was known better than the actor. In a Jungian framework, a persona is that which we use to go about the daily functioning of our lives. I am a husband, lover, grandfather, photographer, theologian, professor, photographer: these are some of my personas. When the personas are used to hide behind, they become masks.
A persona becomes a mask when we begin to use it to gain distance from people and issues. If my persona is part of my identity, and opens my humanity to those around me, I am fine; if my persona becomes my whole identity obscuring my humanity, then something is wrong, out of kilter, and my persona has become a mask.
A mask can be used in many ways, but I will hold to three main usages here. A mask can be used as a power object; when we put on a mask we put on power. A mask can be used as a screen providing anonymity; when we hide behind a mask, like classical actors, people cannot see who we really are. A mask can provide us a facade of constancy; we can use a mask to keep others from observing various emotional changes we are going through. Another way to distinguish between persona and mask is this way: A mask provides distance between us and the real world; we use a persona to enter fully into the real world.
Masks in the primitive world are used to bring home the reality of myths, and the particular mask used has its own creation story which fits within a people’s larger mythic setting. Masks are generally of particular animals and are used by a shaman to turn into, be possessed by, take on a new identity of power. Putting on a mask enables the shaman to give up or to stand aside from the humanity condition, to die to self, and become incarnate spirit. It is the invocation of the power of another within, and the mask-wearer becomes more than the reality of being. The mask wearer also wears a mask so as not to be recognized by spirits. Suet and fat are used on the face as disguise which protects or defends against harmful spirits. It is also understood that the entire costume of a shaman is a mask which transforms the shaman into another being. Sometimes the mask is designed with the ability, through mechanisms of ropes and pullies, to display more than one face—sometimes a second and a third face.
A particular mask in a myth-system is related to other masks in what is termed a transformational relationship. This transformational relationship between masks in a myth-system is akin to the transformational relationship which exists in the making of the masks themselves. This is to say that masks in a sense exegete a myth, or that the mask-wearing shaman is able to, through the power imbued in the mask, open a myth up for further ritualistic understanding. Masks are used as part of rituals, and that usage is to symbolize and therefore bring the reality of the myth home to the participants.
Masks have been used since prehistorical times. They are seen painted on the walls of caves in France, burial masks were used by the Egyptians, and the Greeks used masks in their theater. In the story The Mask of Apollo, historical novelist Mary Renault portrays actors in Greek theater. There an actor might have many parts to play, and a mask for each character. The actor was expected to have enough life experience to change bodily responses enough to fit the parts. The actors were generally men who characterized children, women, young men as well as old men. The troupes were many times small with the actors expected to perform many different roles. The masks helped the actor move smoothly from one part to the next, at times in the same play. The masks also helped the audience know how to better respond to the part played.
According to historian Will Durant, masks were worn for both comedy and tragedy, and the masks were made with a brass mouthpiece which projected and reinforced the voice of the actor. The Greek theaters were large, and visibility and hearing needed to be enhanced, so nuances were traded off to help the viewer. Durant explains that the masks not only enhanced the actor’s voice, but the actor’s height as well through the use of an onkos, or projection on the actor’s head. All in all, masks transformed the actor into another identity which made the real self of the actor unrecognizable.
In choosing the Latin word persona to indicate the many ways one person relates to the world, psychology made a shrewd insight into human behavior and a subtle distinction between healthy and pathological behavior. As I understand the distinction, the persona we use, such as that of father and mother, or profession or trade, is healthy in that it identifies a way we exist in our world. It is unhealthy when the identification goes beyond the identification of a way we function, and becomes who it is that is functioning.

MEDITATION ON SEEING #4 OF 4

Silver Creek -- Spring:  Seeing Obscured by Shadow and Mystery

Silver Creek — Spring: Seeing Obscured by Shadow and Mystery

© 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

So many things are hidden from my view. There are so many secrets this earth keeps well hidden from me, that in my lifetime I will not see them all. I do savor what I see. Sometimes it is the light. I suppose that because I am a photographer, light has a special meaning for me anyway, because it is what makes photography, photography. Yet, light is so much more than just a tool to use, it is a way to see.
There are different kinds of light. Reading photography books I note there is a Westcoast light, an Eastcoast light, a mountain light, a light unique to the Southwest, a desert light, and on and on. It seems each section of the country is affected differently by how the sun comes through the atmosphere at that particular locale. I suspect too that these areas act as magnets for particular kinds of people, and these people interact in predictable ways with a type of light that is peculiar to that location. The photographs therefore become more or less of a kind and descriptive of the area, but this still does not negate the effect of the light.
Backlighting is when the light source is directly behind the thing photographed or into the eyes of lens, and rims what is before it with a halo of light. Sometimes, if the backlight is also in one’s eyes, there is a diffusing, softening effect called flare in photographic circles. Flare can ruin a photograph, but it can also enhance it. Ansel Adams looked at an image of mine and said, “Nice image, but it”s too bad about the flare.” I had not seen the flare at all—very disquieting. Backlighting many times can add to the mystique of an image by putting the majority of the image onto shadow and hard to see.
Light coming from almost directly overhead, high noon, is harsh and stark—not very gentle. This is the light between around eleven o’clock in the morning and two o’clock in the afternoon. Many documentary photographers use this light as well as axis light because it offers the most visual information possible. Axis light is light that is the exact opposite of backlight. Instead of coming directly into the lens, it comes from directly behind the camera making the scene textureless and flat to the eye. I use these two forms of light the most when I do my own photo documentations, because I want the most detail possible in my documentary images.
Cross-light, or side-light offers texture and drama to a scene. The light source is at the side and catches each rise in the surface of the image. Rough surfaces seem rougher; soft, flat surfaces, pick up nuances of texture that were not to be seen in flatter light situations. Cross-light combined with an atmospheric haze offers contrast combined with a painted effect. Here everything in the scene stands out in soft contrast. The shadows are still very dark as in a back-lit scene, but colors and textures appear present but muted. Sometimes this effect looks almost like a Rembrandt painting.
Another type of light, one which I enjoy, not for its ability to offer information, but its way of rendering the image soft and ethereal, is overcast sky, or the light of an open shady area. This light seems at first to be flat, but it offers a texture that molds the scene to seem as a soft edged sculpture. Wrinkles on faces that would be accentuated by a cross-light almost disappear in the broad, open light of the diffuse sky. Hues and shadows blend together into a wash of light that has no hard edges or lines. Boundaries between light and dark seem to disappear gently and gradually.
Some of these lighting situations seem that they might be better than others. This is not so. Having them all in the course of the day offers ever new ways of seeing. Many times it is possible to just stand in one spot and simply turn around to see them all at work. Light lets me in on the secrets of my world.
The day of the summer solstice is the one day of the year when the light is most present. The sun is in the sky the longest of any other day. The angles of light possible are extreme. From northeast at sunrise to northwest at sunset, the light does a slow wrap around the things we see. The north facing side of a tule bulrush will eventually be light on all four sides with a light that moves from a low early morning hazy cross light to a stark overhead noon light and again to a low afternoon hazy cross-light. This is all from a southward facing view; if I were to move my position I could see a back light as well as an axis light. To my way of thinking, the summer solstice is a tribute to the one day of the year having the most light—a day celebrating light.
Twenty years ago, as I drove along a remote and rough hard-packed dirt road in the sierra, I saw a pair of snow plants growing up through the decomposition of fallen trees. Snow plants are rare. They get their energy from humus that is decaying, and so they are classed as saprophytes. They are found in conifer forests that are shady and have a thick layer of humus. I did not seen a snow plant again until 1991. Oh, I looked hard enough, but to no avail. I have been told stories of whole meadows, blood-red with snow plants, glistening in the sun like fire, but no snow plants for me. If I had not photographed them in 1971 when I saw them, and if I did not pull out the transparencies from time to time to marvel at what I had once seen, I might begin to think snow plants were fictions, and once hearing the fiction, dreampt a life-like snow plant dream.
Sometimes I think I must be contented with the gifts as they are offered. I attempt patience, but nonetheless, I keep an ever watchful eye for things not seen. Sometimes it pays off.
In 1991, as I drove around a bend in a high Sierra road, my eyes saw and fixed, like a trout to a fly, on a red flash under a small roadside pine—I saw a trio of snow plants. As I turned my car around and drove back to park, I was almost afraid I had imagined them. When I did indeed see that they were really there, my desire to see them had been so great that I almost could not believe what I saw. I sat before them in reverence. I started to draw them and Cherie went ambling off into the forest. Moments later she called to me that there were more snow plants where she was. I went to look, and there it was, the fable come true. A clearing, not a meadow, but full nonetheless of snow plants.
I sat in their midst. I felt awe to be where I was, and it seemed as if we were old friends gathered for a reunion. The roadside three were sentinels waiting to show me the way to the gathering. A gathering of snow plants and one who revered glimpses of rarity, chance visions of the planet’s secrets. Some were grown to their full twelve inch stature. Others only just beginning to break through the crusty, snow-packed-now-dry-duff. All were red as fresh blood. I feasted, vision-glutton that I am, on great eye-fulls of mystery and color. I sat in the presence of life-forms alien to my own and communed on a divine vision. This life is rare and ephemeral, for by mid-summer they will be gone. Yet here I slaked, momentarily, my thirst for visions of mystery—until next time…

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I ask again, if you have comments please enter them here for the benefit of all. Thank you, Hilary

MEDITATION ON SEEING #3 of 4 parts

The Secrets of a Blue Lake Forest

The Secrets of a Blue Lake Forest

© 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

Bees: here are creatures that can truly amaze me. I can see bees—sometimes—but do I truly see them? Deep ecologost, George Sessions told me that one time when Arne Naess visited him up at Sierra College in Rocklin, George had to do something or another with one of his students, and Arne had to wait for awhile. When George was finished, he went to look for Arne and found him sitting in the dirt in front of a plant watching the bees in the plant’s flowers. Yes, I would really like to see bees. They fly so fast with their preposterously malformed (for flying) bodies. Yet their bodies seem so well formed for a bee. Who are we humans to judge what is and is not well formed for a bee when we cannot fly except with grotesquely manufactured metal bodies that are only copies of real flying creatures.
I was sitting in a clearing in the mountains at about 5,000 feet elevation drawing a wildflower. Cherie was off in another clearing drawing another wildflower. I was intently absorbed in drawing, when slowly and subtly a very low sound began to break into my consciousness. Not all at once, but just a little at a time. A low droning sound was wafting on the wind currents of the forest. All of a sudden I was not intent on drawing, but on the sound of a swarm of bees. I was now fully absorbed in bees. I became cautious, and fully aware of my body’s space in that forest—what was around me, where I was in relation to what was around me, and all of this relative to the bee-sound. One does not want to draw the attention of a swarm of bees.
I remembered a story two of my uncles tell of when, as boys in the Olympic Mountains, they were fly-fishing in one of the mountain’s streams and one of them hooked a hive. Their story was funny fifty years later—running as fast as they could through dense underbrush while desperately looking for a hole deep enough to dive into—but perilous in the moment. I did not want this to be my moment, but I wanted to see the swarm. I slowly moved towards the sound. What I saw gave me goose-bumps from my head to my toes. From about ten feet above the forest duff, to about eighty feet was a cylindrical, or spiral shaped swarm of bees moving slowly through the forest. It was like watching a slow dance. A chance sighting of a secret spring bee rite of forest passage. Yes, I would learn to see bees.
Bees I have not seen have stung me in the throat, and on my feet. Unseen bees have come up out of the ground to sting my hands. A bee nobody saw flew up under my mother’s dress and stung her when she sat on it. My friend Les talks of a time when he was herding cattle through Rockbound Pass in the Desolation Wilderness Area, and the cattle ahead of him kicked up a ground hive which immediately swarmed him and his horse. One time I went out to my car to find a swarm on the front bumper. I have seen a church wall discolored with wax and honey from a hive within. Every once in a while, a member of the church would harvest the honey until the buzzing became too distracting for a Sunday service, and the hive was removed. All of this does not compare to watching that secret bee-ritual enacted through the forest.
This then is what it is I clearly desire to see: secrets. I strain my eyes until they are almost blind with tears trying to see things I cannot. Sometimes I do not even need to try, and the seeing is a gift. Like the forest bee-ritual. Another gift was of martins. These weasel-like creatures came whisking into a camp I shared with hiking companion, John Neff, one evening just past dusk. They growled and grumbled, we heard them first and could not figure out what could make that sound. They complained to each other and rushed us once to see if we would scare off. We did not, but we grabbed our flashlights and followed them around to see them better. Finally they left, but the gift of the sighting was a thrill I add to the collection of images I have acquired in my memory.