Two summers ago, my family and I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California. Transfixed, while at the same time swept away in awe, I found this a place of unparalleled beauty: panoramic views of the Pacific, wide-open concrete spaces, and meticulously-kept exhibits. My favorite section of the aquarium belonged to the jellyfish, a fantastic array of species that danced and tangled, bloomed and unbloomed in their startling-blue tanks. Later, when I went back through photos I had taken, I noticed how the blue background of the tank lent the perfect contrast, amplifying the jellyfish’s vivid details, and how when I switched the photo to black and white, the jellyfish became the center of an other-worldly, strangely selective kind of attention. In black and white, the jellyfish began to harbor secrets, to tell only what they wanted to tell, show only what they wanted to show. Parts of them naturally became part of the dark and other parts shone luminous and wild, entirely dominant of their existence.
Lately I have thought a lot about exhibition and how we open ourselves to others, how we tell our stories, how we unfold the rawness of our secrets with complete abandonment and full vulnerability. On social media it is, when felt to be artificially expressed, called performativity. But what is it called when in captivity? What are the stories of those kept under a bright light for the pleasure of onlookers? What experience is the consciousness of those forced on display so that we may tell a story about them? What are the stories of those kept in the dark? I think about the stories inside of me and how much I wish to bring them to light, to paper, to exhibition. But lately I feel my body, my head, my heart sucked deep underwater, twilight zone to midnight zone. My ambitions, my stories, my confessions are bright whispers in captivity. And it is here that I must listen more intently, respectfully, more lovingly than ever I would if given the broad facts of daylight.
This week I am continuing to learn and experiment with the basics of cyanotype, a UV light-dependent photographic printing process that is at the same time simple and vast in technique, style, and subject. Sun Art paper is a great place to start and has helped me gain a partial though definitive grasp on how sunlight and variable densities, textures, and shapes interact with one another.
Something which thrills me about photo processing is the gamble: you can never be sure what you’re going to get. You can never be sure what the image is going to say to you and what it will keep to itself. There is a shared silence, and it is here where love dances back and forth, blooms and unblooms. It is here where we must listen, eyes closed and hearts unfolded, to whispers shining out of the dark.
Here, we dominate our existence, our story.