trapped

“Trapped”, Jeff T. Alu, Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk

 

I had planned to write about the concept of over-worship, and how it’s possible to like an artist or photographer to such a degree that you try to emulate them and forget about who you are and your individuality. Well, the weekend was crazy, dealing with many artists picking up their work at OCCCA, the Oscars, maybe a little too much wine, and so I didn’t quite finish the article for today morning. So here are my notes from the article, taken mostly in dictation on my iPhone. Somehow I think maybe they’re more effective than a finished article anyway…
—–

Don’t say why you like them, say how they’ve influenced your work. – more than just being good and inspiring you, they have REASONS for doing what they do. And you don’t necessarily have those reasons. And doing it because you like them is not a reason, it’s a copout.

When I grow up, I want to be just like him. NO YOU FUNKIN’ DON’T

It’s OK to be influenced, it’s OK to try out the ideas of someone else, it’s OK to acknowledge that someone has had an influence on you, but geez, you don’t want to be just like them, they have skeletons, and you have your own, and they won’t mix well together at all.

I realize that coming into your own can take time, and you might need a little help and guidance along the way.

Disperse the influences of other artists within yourself, thus blurring any indications as to where these influences came from in your own work.

Try imagining that you ARE a great photographer. One of the famous ones…and you’re walking around taking photographs. You have complete confidence in your abilities. You know that you have the skills to pull off a great shot. The shot that you take is going to become famous, and sell for quite a large sum. When you die, it will be auctioned off for an even larger OH FUCK! WHO ARE YOU KIDDING?? THE FAMOUS GUYS PROBABLY DIDN’T HAVE ANY MORE CONFIDENCE THAN YOU DO! THAT’S HALF THE BATTLE, OVERCOMING YOUR FEARS TO REACH YOUR GOALS! BUT YOU NEED TO DO IT YOURSELF, OTHERWISE YOU DON’T GET NO CANDY!

Yeah, OK just be yourself. Breathe through your own nose, see through your own eyes.

Don’t feel like you have to create in a certain style just because you know that style to be great or at least perceived to be great. Have faith that you have a point of view of your own.

Look! What I created here looks just like so-and-so’s work. Well that’s a great place to start but it’s only a beginning. Congratulations on having taken someone else’s journey without the journey part. You can’t reach a meaningful goal without first taking a meaningful journey. And as with any meaningful journey it may take a while to get there.

Linda brings some of her photos to class. She’s very proud of them. She shows them to the class and they love them. The teacher loves them. They look just like just like Henri Cartier-Bresson, the teacher says. Well he’s my favorite photographer, Linda states. I love his work, and you’ve given me such a huge compliment! I can’t thank you enough! Linda leaves the classroom completely satisfied. She goes home and celebrates. A few days later, she’s still very happy and satisfied. She decides to go out and take some photos. She walks along the street but everything looks the same, as if she’s seen if all before. She has a new perspective, one of peace and relaxation at having accomplished something real and true. She realizes that what she’s doing now is a bit of a waste of time, since she has no real desire to show any of her work to anyone anymore. She’s somewhat board. The challenge is gone. She reached her goal of being just like her hero. If she’s lucky she’ll find something else to occupy her time.

I place you on a high pedestal.

I don’t understand, why did you place be here?

Because I believe you can do no wrong. Everything I am, everything I want to be, is you.

Why the hell would you want to be me?

Because if I can be like you, I won’t have to worry about being me. I don’t have enough confidence in myself to be me.

Well, I didn’t have lots of confidence either. But I combined myself with other people and influences, but keeping myself in the front. I’m not so original or perfect.

But you seem so confident in yourself.

I’m really not as confident as I look. I just do what I do and hope for the best.

OK then get off that damn pedestal.

Why would anybody want to believe everything someone else says. Don’t take their word for it, form your own opinion.

If we want to advance as a society, we can’t think like everyone else. On the other hand, if everyone thought completely differently there would be chaos.

The more you worship another artist the less time you have to think for yourself.

The more you worship another artist the less you believe in yourself.

Replace worship with experimentation.

over-worship equals over acceptance of the way things have to be.

over-worship is like finding what you think is the answer without asking any questions.

It’s like blind faith.

over-worship is cheating.

Use the work of other artists as a guide, not as an ultimatum.

Jeff out.

Advertisements

 

tarkovski-andrei-02-g1

Andrei Tarkovsky

 

Andrei Tarkovsky was a movie director that has very much affected the way that I look at and think about many things, certainly the way I think about photography. He’s responsible for altering the way that I look at many of my subjects. What I would normally see as unimportant I now see as very important.

In movie making, I have a huge appreciation for intricate plot lines, fast paced editing, and mental saturation. Films with these attributes allow you to watch again a 2nd time or even a 10th time and notice things you didn’t notice before. This adds depth to what you’re seeing and lets your opinions and moods weigh in more heavily on interpreting the meaning.

In the case of Andrei Tarkovsky, we have the very same kind of depth going on, but the pace is much slower and you might at first be feeling that there’s nothing going on at all. Yet this slower pace forces you to notice more within a smaller boundary of consciousness. You’re presented with less over a longer period of time, so you’re given extra time to notice what you might ordinarily miss.

 

nostalghia

Scene from “Nostalghia”, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

 

Tarkovsky had the bravery to slow way down. He wasn’t trying to be tricky or overly-clever. He was simply following the path of his vision. He was never presented with a huge film-making budget to work with and he made only seven films. You won’t find any special effects in these films, he didn’t have any use for them.

Isn’t it logical that if you slow down you’ll see more of what is right in front of you? Do you really need to purchase expensive equipment or visit far away locations to see something worthwhile or to discover what it is you’re after? I think there is something to be said for doing a lot with a little. As photographers, we could certainly benefit from this line of thinking. Training our minds to see what is right in front of us is both practically and aesthetically rewarding.

 

stalker

Scene from “Stalker”, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

 

The result of Tarkovsky concentrating on smaller details over longer periods of time is that the seemingly unimportant becomes very important. We zoom into the fractal and those seemingly small or even unseen details become magnified. What we never thought was worth noticing is now commanding our attention.

I’m inspired by the fact that Tarkovsky was brave enough to follow his vision knowing that it was against the flow. He knew that his movies would most likely lose money in the theater, yet he followed his vision anyway. Many artists do this as well at times, out of necessity and lack of money. But Tarkovsky had the weight of movie studios, actors, and all of the crew and critics on his shoulders. He somehow convinced them all that his vision was worth pursuing and watching.

 

thesacrifice

Scene from “The Sacrifice”, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

 

Assuming you’re talking in terms of plot, very little seemingly transpires during a Tarkovsky movie, yet so much transpires in terms of emotion and vision. I think we can all learn something from this, or at least contemplate the nature of it. We can certainly add these aesthetics to our bag of artistic tools, and bring them out when we need them.
Below are a few great contemplative Tarkovsky sequences.

Here we have a sequence of three men riding a train, from the movie “Stalker”. We hear the sound of the train in the background and we note their individual expressions and emotions.

 

Here is a sequence from the movie, “Nostalghia”, a transition into a dream sequence:

 

This sequence is again from the movie “Nostalgia.” A man must light a candle and walk the entire length of a pool and when he reaches the other end he will die. The wind blows the candle out multiple times and he must return to the other end of the pool to relight it. The sequence goes on for nine minutes.

 

I was inspired by Tarkovsky to create the movie below that utilizes my own visions and techniques towards scale, but plays upon Tarkovsky’s aesthetic for bringing the insignificant to prominence. It was mostly shot in the farmland near where I work during my half hour-long breaks each day. I call it “One of Tarkovsky’s Dreams”, as if it were a dream that Tarkovsky might have had. I suppose you could say not much happens during this movie. Yet depending on your point of view there’s also an entire universe here.

 

I hope these Tarkovsky sequences inspire you the way they inspired me. If you haven’t seen a Tarkovsky movie from start to finish, I would highly recommend doing so. You might discover the power of the seemingly insignificant.

Jeff out.

Playing With Scale

Posted: March 4, 2015 in Uncategorized
ball

Jeff Alu, “Sphere”, El Mirage Dry Lake, 2009

 

One of my favorite techniques in photography is to play with scale. Or more specifically, making it difficult to tell how big or small something is. I want the viewer to look at a photo, do a double-take, and wonder “Just what the heck IS that?” They’ll accept certain aspects of it, but something will seem “off” about it. Why do I want them to react this way? It has to do with an internal dialogue that I have going on in my head almost constantly having to do with the fact that everything deserves to have a chance to be looked at. Why can’t I just leave these objects at their regular scale? Well, sometimes in order to appreciate something that might be overlooked I think you need to present it from a slightly different perspective than for which reality allows.

In adding a tilt-shift focus in many images, which I create in Photoshop. I’m using it differently than usual, however. In most cases with tilt-shift you see something huge being turned into something much smaller, such as a cityscape being turned into what looks like a hand-made model. In my case I’m doing just the opposite: making smaller objects appear to be larger. Some examples can be found below.

 

hill

Jeff Alu, “Hill”, Salton Sea, 2008

Here we have something that appears to be a mountain but which is only about 8 feet high. It is a mud volcano found at the Salton Sea. These small volcanoes spurt mud at constant time intervals. There are about 20 of them in the field and each one spurts mud at a different rate.

 

structure

Jeff Alu, “Structure”, Salton Sea, 2006

I came across this structure at the Salton Sea while hiking around. To this day I have no idea what it is. Was it something new that was being constructed or something old that was decaying? It’s about 30 feet long. The pieces of wood are each about two feet high. I really need to revisit the area to see if it’s still there…

 

wave

Jeff Alu, “Wave”, Laguna Beach, 2012

This wave is only about six inches high, but placing my camera down very low on the surface of the water made it appear to be much larger. The wave was about two feet away from the camera in this shot. It was not a waterproof camera, so I had to lift it up at the very last minute.

 

relic

Jeff Alu, “Relic”, Salton Sea, 2010

Here we have what appears to be an organic creature of some kind. It is actually a decomposing waste barrel. This was found about 50 feet from the mud volcanoes. The barrel itself had totally disintegrated, but the metal rings on the top and bottom of the barrel were still in tact, although totally warped out of shape.

 

dtla

Jeff Alu, “DTLA”, Shot from Echo Mountain, 2011

This shot of downtown Los Angeles was taken from Echo Mountain in the San Gabriel Mountains. I love the way downtown Los Angeles is represented by something incredibly small, a few rectangular blocks at the bottom of the image. It was a very noisy image to begin with, as it was a very smoggy day, and blurring the image further sank the buildings into the murkiness.

 

pyramids

Jeff Alu, “Pyramids”, Laguna Beach, 2010

On the day before a number of the mobile homes along the beach in Laguna Beach were going to be removed forever, I took a walk in the area. I came across these cement structures sticking out of the sane. They resembled large pyramids, especially with the long shadows, but are actually only about three feet long.

 

tree

Jeff Alu, “Tree”, Coyote Dry Lake, 2007

I was the cinematographer on an independent movie and one of our destinations was Coyote Dry Lake in the California desert. We traveled the lake bed in search of large, natural “pits” that can be found in the surface. Near one of those pits I found this small “tree”, about 8 inches high. I took a shot right from the ground. Many of these small bushes can be found, but this one had a particularly tree-like appearance.

 

canyon

Jeff Alu, “Canyon”, Irvine, CA, 2014

Here is what appears to be a huge Canyon but is actually only a trench about 5 feet high. I crawled down inside with my camera. I first threw some dust in the air to give it more atmosphere which gave it a depth cue and made it appear even larger.

 

wood

Jeff Alu, “Pieces”, Construction Site, Riverside, CA, 2000

In my first year of digital photography, I visited many construction sites. I found the shapes fascinating, though I often had to find ways to sneak in. They were usually abandoned on the weekends. In this case I came across two small pieces of wood on cement right after it had rained. Though it’s obvious to me that these are two small pieces of wood, almost everyone who saw this thought that I must have shot it from a plane.

 

dd

Jeff Alu, “Dust Devil”, El Mirage Dry Lake, 2009

This dust devil was shot at El Mirage Dry Lake in California. I’ve been chasing dust devils for years, as they are so often very similar to tornadoes in structure but are of course much safer. In this case I darkened the shot quite a bit to take out the foreground details, which would give clues as to the actual size of the dust devil. With those details missing, the size becomes questionable.

 

flow

Jeff Alu, “Flow”, Near Trona, CA, 2012

There is a huge field of mud flows near Trona Pinnacles in California. I took a drive out there but on the day of my trip I was just getting over a cold and had quite a headache. I didn’t stay for very long but captured about 50 shots of the mud flows of which this was my favorite. Some very subtle tilt-shift focus warped the scale enough to make it appear the it might have been shot from a plane.

 

mountain

Jeff Alu, “Snowcapped Mountain”, Fish Creek, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, 2000

 

I came across an outcropping of red sandstone in Fish Creek at Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Processing it in black and white gave it the appearance of a mountain top covered with snow. I love the way that one formation in nature imitates another in this case!

Jeff out.

 

In the past I’ve spent many hours in the darkroom. Unfortunately I have very few photographs in my portfolio to show for it. In fact I have none at all. All of that darkroom work is a big part of the reason that I became a digital photographer, and not a traditional film photographer.

From 1986 to 1993 I worked on the Planet Crossing Asteroid Search project at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). Headed by planetary scientist Eleanor F. Helin, the project was created to increase our knowledge of the asteroid population in the solar system, and to hunt specifically for Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), or asteroids that could potentially strike the Earth.

The telescope that we used at Palomar Observatory was in fact not a telescope at all, but a Schmidt Camera. Always referred to as a telescope, the 18” Schmidt camera, pictured below, was built in 1936, and was in use until 2010. Its primary users were our group from JPL and another one headed by Eugene Shoemaker and David Levy, who were considered to be our competitors.

 

telescope

The 18″ Schmidt Telescope as it appeared in 1936.

 

Photographs of the sky were shot with the 18” Schmidt on Kodak 4415 film. The film was first “hypersensitized”, making it more sensitive to light, by baking it in hydrogen gas for 8 hours in metal canisters. We would generally take 6 minute exposures, opening the huge shutter at the end of the telescope, and tracking on a guide star while the exposure was taken. The telescope tracking was excellent, but we would have to correct for smaller movements in the telescope by attempting to keep the guide star centered on crosshairs while viewing it through a smaller guide scope attached to the main telescope. Without doing this, our pinpoint star images would look more like streaks, and any very faint asteroids would not be seen on the films.

The films themselves were cut into circular pieces via a “cookie cutter”, and were loaded into a circular film holder that had to be loaded into the telescope. This could be tricky, as the holder was heavy and had to be loaded in complete darkness. Dropping the holder while loading it would be disastrous, as only a few feet below was the primary reflector mirror. If the holder was dropped and the mirror was damaged, we would be out of business for a while. Amazingly, this never happened during my time there.

 

chopper

“The Chopper”, used to cut sheets of 4415 film into circles.

 

filmholder

The film holder located inside the 18″ Schmidt Telescope.

 

The field of view of the telescope was very wide, and could be estimated by holding your fist up to the sky at arms length. This wide field of view allowed us to shoot photos of a large amount of sky in a single night, which is what was needed in order to be the first to discover an asteroid or, much rarer, a comet. It was all a race against time.

In the darkroom it was all very procedural. Nothing artistic going on here. The films were loaded into racks, 8 to 10 at a time, and lowered into the D-19 developer for six minutes. They were taken out and lowered into the stop bath for 30 seconds, and after that into the fixer for four minutes. Then a 30 second wash in “Photo Flow”, to clean off the chemicals. The films were then hung to dry. As negatives, they were almost never printed, and we used them as negatives, with black stars and white backgrounds. I spent many hours in this darkroom, listening to music while developing, and it’s here that I really learned to dislike the darkroom process.

Each area of sky was shot twice, with roughly a 40 minute separation. The two films, with identical star patterns, were then loaded into a stereo microscope. It is here that all of the asteroid discoveries could be made. When viewing the films through the microscope, all of the stars in the two negatives would appear to be flat, since they hadn’t moved over the 40 minute separation due to the telescope tracking along with the sky. However, an asteroid would be moving differently, and its motion could be detected by its appearing to hover above or below the plane of the stars, depending on its direction of motion. This 3-D appearance either signaled the discovery of a new asteroid, or a known asteroid.

 

stereomicroscope

The Stereo Microscope used in the discovery of our asteroids and comets.

 

We would discover many new asteroids on a single ‘dark run’ of six nights, and if we were lucky we would find one or two near earth asteroids. Occasionally we would discover a comet as well. I spent many hours scanning and re-scanning those films, occasionally finding objects that we missed the first time. At one point, we did miss something truly amazing: On our films, we had a comet which later became known as Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, the comet that crashed into Jupiter in 1994. To our credit I suppose, it didn’t look anything like a comet at the time we recorded it.

As advanced techniques for discovery later became available, such as CCD cameras and automated data gathering and detection, our method for discovering asteroids became obsolete. Machines were taking over and they could discover objects with much more frequency and precision than humans. The discovery rate began to increase and our old telescope was used less and less. It was finally retired in 2010.

 

tel

The telescope as it appeared towards the end of its life in the 18″ dome.

 

When I left the job at JPL, I found I needed something to replace the feeling of discovery that I was now missing. I began hiking in the desert, especially in unknown areas, to see what I could discover there. I bought my first digital camera, A Kodak DC-280, in 2000 to document my hikes in the desert. Before I knew it I was bringing back all sorts of strange photos from out there.

During all of that time scanning hundreds of films at JPL, it had begun to occur to me that what we saw on our films, these tiny little pinpoint images, were in fact representative of something staggeringly huge, and that when we made an important discovery of an asteroid which could potentially collide with the Earth, I could always trace it back to those tiny little black dots which required a microscope to resolve. This paradox tickled my brain and got me realizing early on that all things are of equal importance, large or small. Or at least all things deserve equal attention, regardless of size. In other words, when I come across something that is incredibly small or seemingly insignificant while I’m out photographing, I have no problem assigning it huge importance.

 

asteroid (1)

Near Earth Asteroid 1988 EG as it appeared on our films at the time of discovery.

 

crater

Wolf Creek Crater in Australia

 

In my own adventures as a photographer this philosophy and spirit of discovery is key. It drives me to move forward and continue the search. When I am out searching, I never have a set idea of what it is I’m looking for. I simply seek, occasionally finding exactly what it is I WASN’T seeking. For me, that’s the time I learn something new about life: When I discover a new path, a new way of seeing, a new reason for continuing my search.

 

comet-117p-helin-roman-alu

Comet 117P Helin-Roman-Alu

 

telescopenow

The 18″ Telescope as it appears now in the visitor center at Palomar Observatory.

 

 

What Is This Thing Called…

Posted: March 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

theblur1

Jeff Alu, “The Blur”, Galway Dry Lake, 2007

 

Photography is a means of recording current events and memorializing them for future generations. Photography is a means by which the egos of individuals are surfaced and multiplied. Photography is a long road to financial loss. Photography is a form of intellectual expression. Photography is a means by which the undeserving can find fame. Photography is a form of tension-release responsible for lowering the crime rate. Photography increases discouragement in individuals which increases tensions and raises the crime rate. Photography is created by the poor and collected by the rich. Photography is an outlet for those seeking to blabber on about elitist nonsense. Photography is pretty. Photography is gritty. Photography crosses borders exciting unity between opposing forces. Photography instills fear and causes death. Photography is a summation of ideas and beliefs, communicated uniquely by each individual based on their existing ideas and beliefs. Photography is a battlefield in which an individual fights for the right to speak as loudly as they like. Photography is a path, a journey, hopefully without a clear destination. Photography is just a huge lie.

I have no idea what photography is, ultimately. However, I’ve been asked to write about it here and I’ll do so even at the risk of becoming overly cerebral.

When I’m out doing photography, I usually don’t think about it much. I try not to let it worry me. I try to “zen out”, not thinking about any one thing in particular, and let the shapes in front of me dictate my actions. I try to relax. The less I know about those shapes, the better off I am. The more I know about a subject ahead of time, the less freely I interpret it. I just like to let things flow. That’s really all I can ask of myself.

If I’m lucky, the results will please me. If I’m luckier, the results will also please others, and they will not be thinking in their heads as they look at my work, “I could do that better”, or “I’ve seen that before”, or “That looks like so and so’s work”, or “This guy needs help”, or, “This guy is wasting his time”. I guess I really don’t care what others think about my work. OK, that’s not true. Yes, it is true. No, it isn’t.

I’m not big on equipment, so asking me technical questions about cameras is probably a waste of time. To me, cameras are simply data gathering devices. The light goes in and sticks itself to a chip somehow and it stays there until it is beamed to my computer and I can play with it. That’s what I personally love the most about photography, playing with the light.

Light is amazing to me, as are shapes. I tend to see everything in terms of abstract shapes, and to make matters even more complex, I tend to see almost everything symbolically. When I look at something, it almost always appears to me to be a representation of something else. This can cause me to zone out sometimes. I’m all there, I’m just busy processing. There’s so much out there that is worth processing, don’t you think?

I’m not big on “preconceived notions”. In fact I really hate them. Those bloody beliefs that we have to do things a certain way, or think about things within specific terms, or obey the intellectual laws and rules that are so often thrust upon us. I’m not saying that these laws and rules aren’t correct, and I’d even call them handy at times. I’m just saying that if we over-worship them like gold-plated zebra goddesses we’re likely to follow a path that eventually leads us to the largely populated berg of Boresville.

So, during this month of February, as I write about this thing called photography, don’t be surprised if I jump around from topic to topic, or if my emotions change from paragraph to paragraph, or if at times you think I’m a little nuts. Because really, we’re all a little nuts, we just try so hard not to show it by being overly careful. You know what I mean.

I doubt I’ll provide you with any answers here, because I don’t think I have any. I’m just not the go-to guy for answers. I prefer to ponder, zoning out as I do, and play with the musings going on in my head, and then somehow spit them out through my art. Very rarely will you find me bringing any of this up in casual conversation, being overly careful as I am.

So as an ending to this beginning, I’ll leave you with an unknown maxim that occurred to me a little over a year ago. I’m not saying it’s the truth or anything, but it occurred to me and I keep on reading it over, trying to prove it wrong but so far I haven’t had any success in doing so. I’ll place it within quotes to make it sound a little more imposing, like a preconceived notion:

“There is no true originality, there is only a mixture of two sets of laws: the laws in front of you, and the laws inside of you.

Your creativity is defined by the ways in which you mix these two sets together.”

Jeff out.

Detours of Life

Posted: March 4, 2015 in Uncategorized
self

Self Portrait, El Mirage Dry Lake, CA

 

An artist statement shouldn’t just sum up your intellect but also your emotions and feelings. Rather than summing your artistic beliefs up in a nice, neat little package, it should also talk about your weaknesses and your EXTREME beliefs, you know, the ones you’re too afraid to include in a “normal” artist statement.

One thing I’ve learned: A detour not taken is a world not explored. I’m not necessarily talking about a forced detour, I’m talking about all of the potential voluntary detours that we decide not to take because we’re so directly fixed upon our goals. It’s not always about the final piece of artwork, it’s about the life that you lead as you follow your path toward your artistic visions.

I once took a detour on a dry lake bed that led me into a saturated area which sucked my jeep right in. I Couldn’t move and it was getting dark. A lone house in the distance, who would I find there in the middle of the desert? Most likely crazy people. Nope, it was the elderly couple below who took me in for the night. I woke up early the next morning to dig the mud out from the front of my jeep and the elderly man used his tractor and a long piece of chain to finally pull my Jeep out.

 

hays

The Hays Family, who pulled my Jeep out of a “dry” lake bed. I owe them the world.

 

That’s just one of the crazy incidents that have lead me to where I am today. Where that is, I can’t exactly say, but I can tell you that the road I have traveled on to get here has been a rocky one, though luckily the rocks have been relatively smooth. I can say with confidence that I don’t have a single answer about this whole art thing, and I can only travel along having fun with it all, and seeing how things play out. My own artist statement (below) was originally written to mock the classic, overly-intellectual artist statement. However, after having lived with it for a few years, I realize that it has become to me a TRUE artist statement in that it expresses nothing about my art and everything about my life. Thank you for putting up with me here for the past month, it has been a wild ride!

Artist Statement:

Photography allows me to communicate the ways in which I see the world to others. Through it, I also discover new ways to see the world.

Personally, photography is an extension of some of my beliefs about life, such as the importance of constant searching. I’ve always been a seeker, and I always will be a seeker. What am I seeking? Answers to nagging questions on the meaning of life? Am I trying to collect heavy, provocative data so that I can form some kind of philosophical treaty in my mind about the workings of the world around me? Partially I suppose.

In fact, when I am out searching, I never have a set idea of what it is I’m looking for. I simply seek, occasionally finding exactly what it is I WASN’T seeking. For me, that’s the time I learn something new about life: When I discover a new path, a new way of seeing, a new reason for continuing my search.

 

jeff-alu-reachii

“Outcrop”, El Mirage Dry Lake, CA

 

Certain things excite me: patterns and compositions which somehow come together to form a statement so complete and startling that they must be recognized; A knowledge that these patterns and compositions are ALWAYS present, everywhere; The hot sun, the barren desert, caffeine, loud music, wind blowing through my jeep as I drive very quickly, sometimes so quickly that I forget about my search. The Search? Maybe I don’t feel like searching just now, I think I’d rather kick back and relax a little. Maybe I don’t want to be reminded about my search, the pressure of it, I think I’ll just drive and see where this road takes me. This wind, this heat, this music is taking me to a place where finally, I can stop thinking. I can literally become one with whatever it is I’m supposed to become one with, not worry about life, just look at the shapes, those simple shapes, the shadows, the brightness, the blowing dust, the loudness of the smell and taste of everything around me. I think I’ll just let the 4Dness of this sensational overflow of emotion move me along or I’ll move into everything and shut my brain down for a while. Now, finally, I will be able to see.

I see a dry lakebed over there. Can I get to it somehow? Why would I want to, there’s nothing over there. Just a flat surface, what could possibly be worth looking at over there? And getting over there is going to be a hassle, no roads to lead me into it. Well, there is a small dirt road, but it’s full of rocks and brush. I can’t even be sure it leads to the lakebed, probably instead to some abandoned and completely uninteresting old house set up by a person crazy enough to have wanted to live in such an uninteresting spot on the earth.

But I take the road because it is the only road that leads to the area that I, for whatever reason, feel the need to explore. The road is rough, like life is rough, and I feel it, finally.

 

img_7740_snapseedsm

“Embedded”, El Mirage Dry Lake, CA

 

The feeling I have as I drive along is great, one I love, one I experience only when I drive along here, in this type of terrain, or maybe when I try to imagine what it’s like to be here. I’m empty of emotion, yet quite satisfied. Maybe “empty of emotion” is not the best way to describe the feeling. “Empty” is the word, but not empty in the sense of feeling nothing. I feel so much now, as I drive along. I guess “empty” in this case means I’m finally devoid of all the unnecessary thought patterns I normally have on a given day. Usually, those thoughts I have which clog my arteries are present, but now they are absent. Or I’m absent of them. Or I’ve pushed them away. Or the scenery has pushed them away. It is a time of extreme freedom.

I flow. That’s a good way to describe it. Sure, the scenery flows by. My Jeep flows down the road. I flow past fences and rocks and bushes. So yeah, I flow along. But no, what I mean is *I* flow. ME. I flow through life as I move along, like I’m moving through it at an accelerated rate, without obstacles. Like I’m moving through a different world. A new planet. A new solar system. A different galaxy. No, it’s more than that. This is not just a new world. This is a totally different life. Not mine, a totally new state of being. A new existence. A place I hope to be, a place I’m glad I’ve found. That’s where I am now, in the desert.

So, what is it about this place? The absence of complexity, I think. Yeah, that’s what I mean. See, the desert is nothing but geography. Elevation with a thin skin. Nothing to obscure what’s real. Nothing to hide. “Nothing worth hiding”, I suppose some would say. Topography, something to navigate. A challenge of sorts, “can you make it through this harsh, barren wasteland”, to be cliche. No peach fuzz. Naked, neked, nonfat. Nothing to hide behind, nothing to lean against, no place to go to ask for advice. No fluff, no exaggerations, no timelines. Fractalization. Oh yeah, that’s a big one. Lots of Fractalization.

 

img_7754_snapseedsm

“Tower”, El Mirage Dry Lake, CA

 

Fractalization. What the hell is that? That’s the biggest word on this page so far. Fun to say, too. Makes me sound important. I say it as I move along through paradise, “Fractalization!”. Paradise plus intellect equals ultimate high. Like I think I know what I’m talking about. Like I think I actually have the ability to express my ecstasy in large, fun-to-say words.

Ecstasy and intellect come in many forms. I really need to stop and take a pee. It’s adding up, the coffee. I’m on my 2nd “cup”, the 2nd of those large 16 OZers. The first one I got from home, the second, I picked up along the way. “I gotta pee me, I gotta pee me.” I pull over. I get out. I’m nowhere, so I need not worry about being seen. I pull’er out, let’er rip. My mind veers towards intellectual domains. The more relieved I become, the deeper my thoughts enter into a new world. The sound of a good pee is music. Even the slight splattering on my bare legs is a signal of accomplishment. Basically, I feel real good. And to think I thought I felt real good before.

Back in my Jeep, I’m moving along, the caffeine pumping, and the road is rougher now than it was before. I need to slow down, which I do, but only the minimal amount necessary to keep from getting one of those flat tires. I’ve heard those can be bad; can ruin your whole day. I don’t want anything to ruin any part of my day, and I’m sure nothing will, I’m an artist after all, and art has its way of breaking through in spite of the barriers which try to break it down.
The road up ahead is still rocky and I feel the rockiness pass under me and there are THOUSANDS of them and they fly by and I would count them if I thought I had a chance of keeping up with them and isn’t it odd how with so much moving past me in such commanding quantity the lake bed has not changed at all in shape or size. Looking back I cannot see the paved road I came from, and I’m sure I’ve traveled at least a few miles on this rocky road, which means, judging from the not-so-changing shape and size of the lake bed, I will need to drive over a deeply humbling number of rocks before I reach final flatness. And eventually I will have to drive back on this same road in the opposite direction, my tires meeting the opposite sides of all these rocks which are slowly communicating to me a desperate need to be elsewhere, somewhere familiar, with a cold beer. I do have a spare, but it’s a spare after all and there’s only one.

 

img_7730_snapseedsm

“Safe To Shore”, El Mirage Dry Lake, CA

 

But I have the sound which I love of the wind and the dirt which is filling my ears and calming me down. I belong here, the sound PROVES that. It’s a rough sound, like this road, and it is welcome and I feel like I’m accomplishing everything I’ve ever set out to accomplish here and now and the beauty of this place is all that matters and the new sound, the hissing sound, is there now too and I’m aware of it but not yet letting it into my conscious mind because I don’t want anything destroying the perfection around me and there’s the wind and the heat and then the hissing sound is there more than it was before, not taking over the rough sound, not at all, but rather entering into my flow of thoughts so that I can no longer deny its presence and the road is rougher than before and there’s all the beauty around me and I no longer travel in a straight line but in short little arcs and I feel and hear a rhythmic pulse coming from behind and yet I feel like I’m floating and the light is bright and the shadows are long and black and the hissing, now VERY loud and I know, finally I know as I feel the heat and a huge rush of adrenaline that I can no longer deny that I have to stop…

…which, reluctantly, I do…

…and I turn off the engine and it dies…

…and there is only silence. Except for the wind which is still blowing and when it dies there’s only the hiss and I really love the sound of the wind and I wish that it would never die.

So that’s me, I was moving towards flatness and now I’m flat. I have a spare but no water. And I ask myself why I love to go out searching in the desert on extremely hot days. Alone. And yes, I get the spare on, and it does the job it was created for, and I make it back home, and life goes on, and even though I took not one single photo on this trip since I was too busy enjoying life and not in the mood to search for anything, I found something I suppose, though I won’t know what it is until I get further down my timeline, so I’m not going to worry about it now. I’m just going to look forward to my next desert trip and there’s really not much more I can tell you.

 

img_7774_snapseedsm

“Reach”, El Mirage Dry Lake, CA