Seeing Bark as Cosmic Fabric

Bark Veil ©Lynne Buchanan
A Spirit Rekindled

Many thanks to Dewitt Jones for challenging me to take my photography to a new level and motivating me to introduce a personal element to my work without losing sight of my connection to the world.  It is a balancing act for sure.  My photography evolved out of my yoga practice and was a record of the openness I felt to the flow of life.  Though my conscious mind has been involved in that taking perfect exposures requires skill and technical awareness, the mental aspects of my work have always been secondary to the deep connection I felt with the universe on a more unconscious level.

Ever since I did the exhibition for the South Florida Museum on “The Rivers of Florida,” my work has been heavily influenced by a service-oriented commitment to help the planet by expressing the beauty of life through my photography, so people will see the value in nature, be healed by it, and work to preserve it.  Sometimes, I photograph the devastation as well, to bring people’s awareness to that.  Either way, my approach has involved humility and letting go to see what speaks to me.  Often I have felt like a channel for what was “wanting to happen,” as Rikki Cooke kept talking about all week on Molokai.  My photographs seem to take themselves. Appreciation for my subjects over personal recognition has always been my goal.  In the forefront of my mind is the desire not to be an unwelcome intrusion.  I never signed my photographs until recently, and I still only sign the backs.  Without nature, there would have been no images, and I did not want to detract from Her.  Some people told me this was a radical and probably not very good marketing strategy, so I tried to sign a few images on the front but it just felt wrong.

When Dewitt asked me to go out and make images that meant something to me in the most personal sense, beyond my selfless calling, I was petrified.  His request seemed to open the door to let the ego in and I know it often leads me down the wrong path in other areas of my life, so I did not know what would happen with my art.  Yet, Dewitt is very wise and incredibly creative and I connect with a deep spiritual dimension in his work, so I opened to the possibility that something new might happen on Molokai.  For the first few days, I photographed the way I have always done–opening to the beauty there, noticing both the grand landscape and small details that touched my heart and seemed worthy of celebration.  I kept wondering when this new vision would appear, but I knew I couldn’t force it.  I began to sense that it would have to have something to do with my largest Self, my guidance, and the voice I try to hear beneath all the chatter.  This Self includes both my ego and day-to-day personality, but it also taps into the unlimited possibilities for creativity and awakening that are contained within the collective unconscious.

Invitation © Lynne Buchanan

Then one day it happened in the palm grove.  I heard and answered the call in a fully present state.  No longer did I worry about being an unwelcome interruption.  I was in fact essential for the magic of creation to occur and it meant something profound on every level of my being.  Theresa Airey made an incredible photograph with light shining down on me the moment this change within occurred.   Studying the bark of the palm trees, I suddenly realized it was a gateway to the world beyond. As I wandered from tree to tree, I discovered portals to something much greater in seemingly inconsequential bark patterns, or in bark that was peeling off, or in old bark on the ground.  What was so wonderful about this experience is that though it took me to isolate these patterns in a way that evoked their greater significance, it was not my head that was doing this.  I was being invited into the mystery of life by a force much larger than myself and my whole being was being summoned.  It was deeply personal without being egocentric, the exact mix I was hoping for.

Falling Away ©Lynne Buchanan

Bark may not be so spiritually meaningful for everyone, although perhaps others will connect with the emotional chords it strikes in me when they view these photographs.  Photographing bark was the way my being found to enter the spirit world.  Others will find their own doorways or textures.   Dewitt was right.  Only through very individual, personal creative acts can the more universal aspects of spirit truly be expressed and revealed.   It is often through analyzing and responding to the most detailed intricacies of woven existence that the entire fabric of being can be comprehended in its wholeness and unity and the invisible becomes manifest.  Perhaps this is another reason bark spoke to me so deeply.  It really did appear to me as scraps of cosmic material. 

Textures ©Lynne Buchanan

As I delved deeper into the creative process in the palm grove, I was reminded of Ludmila Pawlowska’s paintings.  Ludmila is a Swedish artist who incorporates icons into abstract works.  Many have veils in them and/or layered textures that suggest veils.  One I was particularly moved by was entitled “Revelation of an Invisible World.” As I penetrated the bark with all my senses, it dawned on me that investigating the physical properties of unique living things on a microcosmic level from the perspective of my whole being was helping me connect with the unseen.   Just as we can peel away the facades of our being that are artificially constructed by society, our families, or our roles in the world, so too can we peel away the physical layer by layer until we get past our preconceived expectations of what is there to the hidden mystery of what is hiding deep inside which in essence cannot be contained.

Peeling Layers ©Lynne Buchanan

Exploring the bark from this spiritual perspective revealed to me that this mystery we seek to connect with is simultaneously ever changing and always constant.  It can never be fully captured through photographs or any other art form or scientific discovery.  In a sense, we are locked into our bodies and the limitations of embodied consciousness.  Yet, the process of creativity at its most deeply personal level is the best way I have found to begin to unlock these doors, so I can catch a glimpse of other dimensions and shadows of the world beyond. 

Bondage ©Lynne Buchanan

With deep gratitude to everyone at the Hui Ho’Olana for sharing your gifts and inspiration–especially to Karen Daspit for sharing your love of palms and your amazing creative techniques.  What a fabulous week!