1952, a long time gone — iceland farm ruin

iceland farm ruin black and white

I’m breaking with something rather longstanding here. This image, which I find interesting in a number of ways, I can see and interpret as both color and black and white. While that may sometimes be the case, traditionally in my mind I fix the output as one or the other. “It will be a black and white print.” Or color.

There’s another image from the same file, color. Really, a different image:

iceland farm ruin color photo

I like the black and white version, maybe more, because the tones all play together. I can get lost in the textures.

The color image is far more complicated, as usual; the color distracts one from the basic overall pattern, the eye sticks in this part of the image, or that part, rather than dancing around as much. But strangely the color image is also simpler in some ways. The simplicity comes from the distinct color areas each having a solid ground, a place for the eye to rest. Stay with the orange lichen, run your eye over the rock and green lichen hillside. And each colored area is so rich in its way. Orange lichen!

Both are better larger than I can post on this page, and at higher resolution.

In the old days with a view camera, or even when I started compromising and using a medium format camera, I mostly had black and white film with me, and I mostly saw photos that way. Black and white form and texture. Shapes and tones. With the view camera, I usually had a few color sheets in film holders, but they were expensive, and I couldn’t print them myself. Similarly, with the medium format camera, with roll film, the decision to use color meant I had to burn through the whole roll of it. A roll of 120 color film was even more expensive than a sheet or two. I also had infrared sheets and rolls with me too. I don’t think I ever used both infrared and color film in the same camera setup; infrared was just another filter on black and white. Basically the idea was that I fixed the vision, at least in terms of the color palette, at the time of exposure. Much more latitude now.

These days, with digital camera (and an infrared one) in my case, I see both ways, but usually fix the image on output. I get stuck on that. We’ll see if I keep seeing this image as two images, or if one will prevail.

As for the image itself, I know that some others find ruins to be fascinating, maybe not everyone. On my part, I’ve thought some about the feeling I get from some images, and I think it has to do with two very favorable comparisons to aspects of consciousness, states of mind and being.

The first is a sense that our potential, expansion, and open-ness is often beyond the small box we build as our “self,” and the nuts and bolts that are our life. Even if we are solid in the way we are and our circumstances, we may have a sense of something bigger out there. When things fall apart a bit, or when we take the time to essentially take the solidity of our everyday mind apart (with, say, meditation), we can see the bigger sense of awareness around us. If you’re lucky, and you’ve had some difficult circumstances that you’ve used as a growth opportunity, you might know something of what I’m talking about — but we all have it as we’ve grown in our lives, from our childhood, our teenage-self, whoever we were twenty years ago. In the crumbling circumstance of change, a few things remain: there is some foundation, and there is our awareness. So this first aspect is that the ruin in the photo is like some sense of a basic foundation of ourselves, which opened up to the bigger world.

The second aspect is the awareness I mentioned in the paragraph above. The awareness that we are in touch with through all our life (if we’re lucky, or if we work at it) is also bigger than just our self. I think it’s M.C. Escher’s vision in those drawings with the ribbon creating a head, or two people — but it’s all space inside and outside of the not-solid selves he has drawn. So to me, the ruined building is like a sense of that openness, the inner and the outer are both connected; indeed they are the same. Without getting woo woo or even sensibly Buddhist about it, at a very basic level the outer world and our mind are connected very directly because we are aware of it, we resonate with it, we respond to it — so we have a direct experience.

I guess a third aspect of enjoying the ruin, in spite of my ramblings on our selves crumbling on the shaky foundation of the sands of time, is that we can also look at the ruin and feel like we’re not that much of a ruin. We’ve still got it together.

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