Some Days I Just Gaze and Take Occasional Photographs

Yesterday I just wanted to look around and take photographs of certain moments as they passed me by: Oliver making very distinct shadows on the pavement during our night walk, a daffodil or two springing up into the sun, small groupings of tulips in pink, purple, and red outside St. Bart’s Church.

Some days images are more important to me than words. Letting whatever is there come into my sight is enough. The visible world that my eyes open on every day unfolds, and I simply let it.

There is idolatry in looking, worship in gazing; and there is sexuality in it as well, just as there is always some sexual desire when a person gazes at or tries to make a painting or sculpture to body forth the bodies around us.

I like to look
to the animals
to the trees
to the bursting out flowers
and the newly budding leaves.

When I just want to observe plant, animal, and mineral life around me, I often think of one of my favorite thinkers, the psychologist and writer James Hillman. I think of an essay he wrote in 1982, “The Animal Kingdom in the Human Dream,” which has had an enormous effect on my view of the natural world (as if there is any other).

Animals figured large in Hillman’s body of thought, and the lecture drew on the many animal dreams Hillman had collected over the years, some from patients. He continued to collect such dreams until the end of his life in 2011. In the essay, Hillman warned against interpreting the animals in dreams as symbols and suggested that we “read the animal. . . . the dream animal can be amplified as much by a visit to the zoo as by a symbol dictionary.” In other words, if a snake comes to you in a dream, don’t think phallic symbol or evil. Go out and observe snakes. Read everything you can about them. Instead of reducing the dream animal, Hillman suggests that we reduce “our own vision, to that of the animal–a reduction that may be an extension, an amplification, of our vision so as to see the animal with an animal eye.” (Hillman, Animal Presences, p.438)

Ultimately, Hillman goes even further, and I love where he goes. Hillman equates the animal in all its physical presence with artistic creation itself: “the animal eye is an aesthetic eye, and . . . the animal is compelled by an aesthetic necessity to present itself as an image.” (Hillman, p. 765).  He says that when animals display themselves through their colors and songs, gaits and flights, they are the original, primordial works of art.

I love this equation and think that it could apply to other living beings, such as trees and flowers, as well.