Men have collected stones since the beginning of time...(in the belief) that certain ones were the containers of the spirit of the life-force with all its mystery. -Carl Jung
This idea of a spirit, a mysterious life force in stones or places or even moments is at the core of my work as a photographer. It is the unseen but palpable presence of the numinous that is the real inspiration for all of my work. The seascapes I have photographed for more than 30 years on the coast of New England, my series on the Portsmouth Harbor Salt Piles, and my decades of work in the high Peruvian Andes have all been done in search of and in celebration of the spirit that pervades and imbues the physical manifestation of our shimmering world.
The idea that there could be a living presence in a stone that fits in the palm of your hand is almost revolutionary in our modern rational scientific age. Yet it used to be common knowledge and still is in every intact traditional culture in the world. It is even featured in the Oscar winning film “Parasite” where the tradition of S. Korean ‘scholar stones’ is central to the plot. Plato and the ancient philosophers called this living essence the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World. Through out time it has gone by many names in many cultures. In Peru it is called the Teqsi Muyu. My exhibition at the Portsmouth Discovery Center in 2019 was titled “From Portsmouth to Peru, in Search of Anima Mundi.” An apt description of my journey.
I began in the early 1990s photographing rocks from our seashore both out on the land and in the studio. The stones of our coast are what called me here 30 years ago and why I have stayed. These same stones mysteriously arranged for me to find my teachers in Peru. For some reason it is the spirit of the stone beings that have opened me to the deeper ‘spirit of place’ here on the coast of the Atlantic. We each have our own true point of contact with the world. The artist works to trust, deepen and expand that channel into the beauty and mystery of life they are uniquely drawn to express.
One challenge in the style of ‘straight’ photography I do, is how to evoke the numinous soul of a place, an object or a person while being faithful to the physical reality in front of the camera. There is a tension between ‘literal’ reality and the uncanny sensation of an inner aliveness. This is especially true of stone. I sense within the stones that call to me a sort of slumbering epiphany. I seek to wake up inside that dreaming in order to bring forth its vision.
The indigenous cultures of the world have not forgotten how to enter the living dream of our mysterious world. For more than twenty years I have apprenticed myself to a culture, a people and a cosmology that has a far deeper appreciation for the true nature of life on this planet than our ‘modern’ technological society. They retain the wisdom our ancestors knew and we have forgotten. In the Andes of Peru they are still capable of entering the dream of their mountainous land just as the people of the jungle naturally enter the dream of their plants to seek the wisdom of creation. They have cultivated their ability, inherent to us all, to know the world directly through the sensations of their wise bodies and their imagination. Not the imagination our culture so arrogantly trivializes, but the imagination of Blake, Coleridge, Goethe and other artists and visionaries of whatever field. We too have the ability to feel, to intuit and to know the world far more deeply than logic will ever take us. This is an ancient path of knowing artists have drawn from since fashioning our first stone tools shaped so lovingly to fit in the palm of our hands.
Abandoned stones which I become interested in invite me to enter into their life’s purpose. It is my task to define and make visible the intent of their being. -Noguchi