Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Tag

Thanks! And Hope…   9 comments

Cobscook Bay


Happy Thanksgiving to all!

The way I see it, it has been an incredible year. Since this time last year, I’ve been fortunate enough to continue doing what I love, part of which is sharing the results with all of you. The friends I’ve met and the camaraderie we’ve shared is truly something special, so thank you for following along and hooking up with me, as I have in turn been watching what you create.

This has also been a year of extraordinary change, both in the world and in our perspectives on what we’re doing here. Having been around for better than a half century now, I can’t recall a period of such transformation, save perhaps for the late ’60s. Some of the changes may be unsettling for some, but I can’t help but think that it will result in something better for all of us. At the very least, things aren’t boring and certain, which suits me.

There is currently – and always will be – suffering in the world, and on this Thanksgiving I think of all the people who are actively transforming (or even maintaining!) the status quo at their own peril, hoping for a better, freer, and safer place to be. Not all of us will agree with their messages or methods, either side, but their dedication should never be challenged, nor should their perspective be marginalized. As always, no one perspective is the single ‘right’ way, but neither can anyone ever be 100% wrong. There is something important to all points of view; now it’s a matter of figuring out how they – and we – will fit together.

We’re living in a time of unprecedented adventure. Will we make it? Sometimes it seems like a horse race, but we can hold out Hope, which is really all we can hope to have anyway. In the meantime, as photographers and creatives, we can satisfy ourselves by finding the beautiful things in the world and bringing them home to share with others. In a rather big way, that’s what gives me Hope.

So, thanks for what you do… you enrich the lives of others with your creativity and thoughtfulness.



The image was taken at Cobscook Bay State Park in northern coastal Maine. Although it’s an HDR taken from eleven exposures, it would look much the same if I used the single middle exposure… the sunrise really was that spectacular. 

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Tobacco Row   9 comments

Tobacco Row
Immediately across the road from the old barn featured in Serviceable, we found this fairly large field of tobacco that I thought would make an interesting composition.

This is a very typical scene here in eastern NC. Whether it’s tobacco, corn, soybeans, or cotton, once you get out of the town centers, the terrain is pretty much devoted to agriculture.

Being one who is more aligned with nature rather than cities, I find a certain beauty in almost anything green and growing. On this warm, windy day, the plants were dancing around in the breeze, and a few had thrown brilliant yellow flower heads. But this particular field caused me to consider the dichotomy of what we do…

Sure, the plants are pretty, but I remember a time about 20 years ago when tobacco had a grip on me that was almost impossible to overcome. It took multiple attempts and many tools (I was up to six patches a day ;^) ) to kick the habit that I had developed over the previous 20 years of smoking. I’m now quite free of that, but it always struck me: How could someone who loves the outdoors and climbing mountains also pour poisonous, carcinogenic smoke into his lungs? It never made much sense, not then, not now.

Witnessing this schism in myself, I also wondered how we can so complain about the rising cost of healthcare, and yet continue to allow people to participate in a habit that has no real effect other than to destroy living tissue, and how we continue to enable ‘big tobacco’ in providing the product. Sure, it comes down to a matter of ‘personal freedom’, but still…

A good friend of mine wrote recently about similar disparities, and I rolled his words around in my mind as I watched the split between common sense and personal choice: “I believe we should do more to save our planet. I believe we should focus more of our money and efforts on our own country and less on the rest of the world, at least until we are back on track. I believe we should focus more on educating our children, and teachers should be paid more and professional athletes should be paid less.” (This was just one small part of his post.)

I guess that everywhere we look, we can see a difference between things that make sense, and our continued participation in an activity that flies in the face of that sense. In this particular field, we’re growing a product that specifically kills people, but the cultivation of hemp (not pot) — with over 40,000 industrial, nutritional and pharmacological uses — is somehow still illegal in the U.S.

This is not so much a rant about tobacco, per se, but more about the continued schizophrenic behaviors that we tend to exhibit as humans. I believe that we can and will eventually make better choices, but sometimes it seems the pace of this evolution is glacially slow.

And yet, isn’t there a certain beauty in being around to watch how we live, learn, and grow to maturity, taking note of our own foibles and eccentricities? I’m just glad that I get to stick around another day to watch what happens next.

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Reflections: Narcissus   8 comments

A single wild pony gazes at his reflection, at Shackleford Banks, Cape Lookout, North Carolina, NC



It’s been an interesting week. I’d like to thank all who came by to visit. I’m very happy that you’ve taken the time.

As we wind down a week of pony pics from both Shackleford Banks and Assateague Island, perhaps we can take a pause for “Philosophy Friday.”

For those who stop in briefly, this is the dominant male of a group of wild ponies encountered on Shackleford Banks near Cape Lookout, N.C. He’s the same pony featured earlier in Bad Hair Day. The ponies have been on the island ‘forever’; it’s believed that they swam ashore from distressed Spanish galleons in the 16th century. Not these particular ponies, of course, but their ancestors. 8)

If you’ve been following from earlier in the week, I mentioned this posture that the male was taking. As I very slowly and quietly (yeah, right) moved to get closer to the herd — which included a young foal — this male dropped his head and pawed the ground. Not aggressively, mind you, but enough for me to get the clear message that I shouldn’t get any closer.

I’m good with that.

My friend Mike “Saddleguy” Scott suggests that it was an accurate read of the horse’s behavior, so I feel good about my decision to back away slowly. Shortly after I backed off, the herd sauntered toward the beach, then up and over the dunes. Photo op over.

Now, on to the latest of the ‘Reflections’ series and why I called this “Narcissus.”

You might recall from Greek mythology the story of Narcissus, a young man of not inconsiderable good looks. He was exceptionally proud, and shunned the advances of those who would love him, including the nymph, Echo. Nemesis saw this action and attracted Narcissus to a pool where he saw his reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image.

Any time that Narcissus tried to touch the beautiful image in the water, it vanished, only to return a short time later.

He brought his lips near to take a kiss; he plunged his arms in to embrace the beloved. It fled at the touch, but returned again after a moment and renewed the fascination.

“When I stretch forth my arms you do the same; and you smile upon me and answer my beckoning with the like.” His tears fell into the water and disturbed the image. As he saw it depart, he exclaimed, “Stay, I entreat you! Let me at least gaze upon you, if I may not touch you.”

By degrees Narcissus lost his color, his vigor, and the beauty which formerly had so charmed the nymph Echo. She kept near him, however, and when he exclaimed, “Alas! Alas!” she answered him with the same words.

Absorbed in his splendid isolation and unwilling to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus withered and died. A flower named for him grew on that spot.

I’ve long believed that there is more to the story of Narcissus, a deeper meaning that we can take away from it. This is the nature of all good fables, myths, and parables: Read between the lines to find something much more than just an interesting story.

We are social animals. We are conditioned to be in contact with one another. To love, to grieve, to share, and to live in relationship with others. This can be seen everywhere among sentient beings — in our own circles of influence; in the way that groups of species move in the environment; in the herd of wild ponies that traveled together and worked carefully to protect the young foal. A pony doesn’t know what he looks like, but he well knows that he should stick together with other ponies instead of hanging with humans.

In our world and modern culture, we sometimes tend to lose that innate sense of contact. The current world environment that we’ve created seems to encourage distancing ourselves from one another. Nations quarrel with, and plot against, other nations. Leaders bark orders from their high places and people suffer as a result. Areas of the planet are now so toxic that we can’t walk near them, separating us from our very environment. Our media culture bifurcates opinion into left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative, ‘right’ vs. ‘wrong’, and focuses the little attention we still have to give on the friction between the poles. All of this causes a sense of separation between our internal notion of “I”, and the rest of the world. Is it ever more palpable than when contestants on ‘reality’ shows take the solo walk of shame off the set, are voted off the island, or are branded as “The Biggest Loser?”

Even if you care not to buy into that polarization, sometimes it seems we have to work so hard to keep up with life that we simply don’t have time to nurture relationships. Whereas front porches used to be the up-front feature of a house, those have been replaced by the up-front garage, which discourages casual, chance, nurturing discourse between neighbors and isolates us even further as we drive in, hit the zapper, and close the door behind us.

‘Social media’ venues, I think, are a reflection of our attempt to get beyond these influences and make contact with others, to develop relationships that are valuable and rewarding based on similar interests or ideologies. In a world where our culture serves to divide us one from another, it’s a way of reaching out to others to share something that might nurture us.

But perhaps too, I think, it’s our way of not hating ourselves for what we could become…

To go against the grain of what we are — social creatures — by living in the modern world, we sacrifice something very important to us. The singular focus on “I/me” and the exclusion of love killed Narcissus. An interesting interpretation of the story of Narcissus is not that he was so in love with himself that he couldn’t bear to leave his reflection, but that he hated himself for spurning the affections of others. In the self-created absence of healthy, loving relationships with men, women, and nymphs, he retreated to a place at the pool where each approach to his beloved was met with an equally loving response, and yet it was fleeting and unattainable. If he reached out to embrace, the reflection reached back. If he leaned over to kiss the reflection, it was right there for him. But he couldn’t actually make meaningful contact with it.

Without mutual contact and relationship, we suffer negative psychological effects and the brain is rewired. In extreme isolation — without feedback from others — we can begin to doubt that we even exist. We can’t ever see ourselves (physically), and in isolation, we can’t perceive our own sense of self (psychologically.) In a world that sometimes seems to encourage us to backpedal away from one another, we need even more the contact, love, and nurturing relationship that can only be found in healthy social interaction with others.

I think it’s best to do this in person, but sometimes sharing in online activity can bring us partway there.

Do you like what I’ve created here from my imagination? I love what you’ve done, and I’m remiss for not telling you that more often.

Are you a good person? So am I.

You’re trying your best to find your voice in creative work, sharing it with others? Yah… me, too.

Do you see me? I see you!

Can we band together like a herd of ponies — sharing, loving and nurturing one another in the face of a world that would have us attack one another?  God, I sure hope so, or else we might suffer the fate of Narcissus.

You can hit the Like button or ReTweet this if you wish, but I’d much rather hear from you directly. As I said in the first line, I’m so very glad you’ve taken the time to visit.

Love and Peace to you,

Reflections: No Ordinary Moments   24 comments

A serene view of Moosehead Lake, Maine, with mountains in background.

No Ordinary Moments


In the midst of all that is going on in the world, I zigzag a path between wanting to stay fully informed and yet wanting to step back to a more peaceful time and place. It’s as though the news of the day — whatever it is today — overwhelms the senses. People are unemployed, the economy is tanking, China might acquire the U.S., we’re living in a climate of fear, Trump’s hair moved, governments are falling, Obama greases Osama, Peak Oil has come and gone although we have no shortage if we just scrape it off our shores… The list is endless.

I think it’s a natural, human inclination to retreat from this type of onslaught. The problem is that although we would seek a serene center in our lives, we have a strong desire to know what will happen in the future and yet we pattern our time based on premises from the past. There’s a tendency to either gather information so that we (think we) know what will happen, or to run back to what is known and comfortable, even if it wasn’t perfect.

Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed by ‘current events’, I like to go back through my library of images to find something more calm and serene. (See image above.) One can feel righteous about it when seeking a balance in life. In doing so today, though, it struck me: Even that retreat is an avoidance of what is happening right now.

“There is never nothing going on. There are no ordinary moments.” — Dan Millman

Every moment of experience is all that we really are. Sometimes the experience is placid, at other times chaotic. Either way, it’s our experience, and surely that should not be avoided. While we might cringe at the thought of some possible future event, or reminisce fondly about the perfect campsite on a remote lake, doing so pulls us away from whatever is happening now, and it is only our resistance to what is happening that causes discomfort.

Millman also said, “The world’s a puzzle; no need to make sense of it.”

The key is to stay awake to what is happening, to watch, and to experience it fully. Any resistance to that awareness — any drifting to the future or to the past — creates suffering.

Today, I needed a reminder of that, so I wrote this.  Thank you for reading it.

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Feeling A Bit Rustless   11 comments

A rusty old lock and chains on a farm in Pollocksville, North Carolina

Feeling A Bit Rustless

Why is there so much miscommunication these days? Why is it that the national and world mood seems to be one of contention and hatred? Why do we feel such a need to segregate one’s opinion from the opinions of others, and then argue about it? Is this our current form of entertainment? Is this what makes us feel alive and engaged? Or, is there a better way?

Okay, I’ll admit that my day isn’t off the best start ever, and I’m feeling a bit restless as a result. Maybe it’s this interminably long winter. Maybe it’s what I’m reading. When that happens, rather than ameliorate my feelings with beer or chocolate, tempting though that may be, I tend to turn directly toward the issue to discover what lies beneath in hopes of finding a better way to do things. This post, I think, is the result.

I was recently on the receiving end of someone’s projection. Not much fun. I floated an opinion out to the world — it was nothing at all consequential, and largely ignored, as it should have been — but someone projected their own feelings and assigned them to what I said. Though I tried to point this out, it apparently wasn’t received too well. I might’ve suspected; it’s not easy to look at your own schtuff.  Problem is, I consider this person a friend, so I find it rather unsettling and unfortunate.

I’ve been watching some news, lately, and I’m astonished by the vitriol and hypocrisy present in the national dialogue. Even though people are using the term, “A new era of civility,” it’s quickly followed by, “BUT…”  You don’t have to watch a ‘news’ channel for more than five minutes before you’ll hear something that sounds like, “We need to elevate the conversation, BUT… those people over there are Nazis.” In fact, that N-word has been used far too often lately, and it’s a very dangerous term, for the first step in creating an enemy is to dehumanize the opposition, and this is usually done by assigning a label, an epithet.  Look at any war: Each side has a particular derogatory term for people on the other side of the conflict. This makes it easy to think of them as something less than human, and we are thus able to kill them without much remorse.

My day took a further turn when I tuned in to two opposing articles on Digital Photography School. One disparaged the use of HDR techniques, invoking the term “evil” (as if an inanimate object could even be evil!)  These days, “evil” is a term that has been so misused to segregate ideologies and even entire countries from one another that we can’t help but consider it a charged term, one that is bound to invoke a reaction from someone. Why did Shrub use the term “Axis of Evil” except to generate a knee-jerk reaction and galvanize public opinion against those whose ideologies conflict with ours? Mind you, some of “those guys” won’t qualify for sainthood any time soon, but still, the term doesn’t usually invite measured dialogue.

The other article brought up some interesting points, and actually served to expand the conversation, in my opinion.  Problem is, the title even had the term “tired debate.”

When will we stop going ’round and ’round, shouting opinions as though they’re facts, all while not listening much to the other side?

I recognize that this can be difficult. As I noted under one of the articles, our very nature is dualistic. From birth, we are conditioned to separate one thing from another, making distinctions, and this is how our world functions. These letters and words you’re reading (hopefully) are different than the background of the page; that’s why you can even see them. Hot is not cold; up is not down; here is not there, and so on. From the start, we cleave our experience into parts, so that we can know one from an-other.

But, in a very real sense, we are all swimming in the same sea — The sea of our experience.  Though we create arbitrary boundaries based on preferences, opinions, ideologies, nationality, race and darned near anything else that comes to mind, each and their other are two sides of a single experience, with one complementing another, and so to kill or destroy one side for the sake of the other is folly at best, and impossible always. Duality doesn’t work that way. If you get rid of ‘hot’, you can’t know ‘cold’. If nothing is ‘up’, then there is no ‘down.’ For too long, we’ve lived with the notion that in order for us to succeed, someone or something else must fail in a zero-sum game.

I’d only ask: Where has this gotten us?

As I mentioned at the start, I always like to look for a better way, and will continue to do so. Even though some may consider my comments to be a hyperbolic reaction to simple discussions (okay, fine), if it informs me and tells me where to move next, then I consider it to be good.

Even though my cornflakes have been thoroughly ruined for the day, this line of thought has compelled me to look for new ways of approaching my own work, which is a form of communication, my conveyance of something ‘inside’ to the outside world. (There’s one of those darned dualities again!) You won’t find me arguing the merits of HDR against more standard photography, nor standard photography over black & white shooting, nor film or digital or tin-type, or whatever is next, being ‘better than’, ‘worse than’, or more or less ‘evil’ than another thing.   Art… is Art.   This is one ocean. There is only one, collective, shared experience, and we’re all taking part in it. The separation we feel is created only in our minds. Wherever possible, I’ll be looking for the things we have in common, rather than the things that are different between us. We all realize that “everyone is different”, so why would we feel a need to argue about it?

It’s only when we start discovering what we actually hold in common that we can get beyond our differences and live more peaceful lives.

If you’re still here, thanks for reading. I’d love to hear and share your input on this, so please do feel free to drop a comment.

My day’s looking up already for your being here. 🙂

Posted January 22, 2011 by Rob Hanson Photography in philosophy

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Influences   13 comments

An old, dilapidated farmhouse in eastern North Carolina, as seen through the front door.

Open Door Policy

Our experience is influenced by many different things: Who you are with; who is not with you; what the weather is like; where you happen to be; what music you have on your iPod; even what you last ate. Any number of factors determine how we perceive and interact with our environment. Considering that array of variables, it’s no wonder that each of us has a unique photographic interpretation of the world around us.

Because of recent influences of some friends who shoot amazing grunge images, I found myself on a search for Urbex in the area in which I live, which is decidedly rural. Here in the south, unused commercial buildings quickly become flea markets and antique (junque) stores. A small, empty metal building becomes yet another church. We have no abandoned asylums or penitentiaries that I know of. Finally, I found a target that met certain requirements: It was solo, with no other active buildings around. It was a real pile. There were no dogs roaming free. It was ‘right close’ to the road, and the front door was already open… That’s not trespassing then, is it?

As it happened that day, I was alone, which is unusual. Though my radar was up, I was more relaxed and less rushed than I sometimes feel. I had my headphones on — another unusual move, as I usually listen for barking dogs and irate farmers. Perhaps this change of factors caused a shift in my awareness, influencing my perspective. As I looked into the building, rather than just pointing the camera and firing off the brackets, I found myself wondering, “How would my friends see this scene, and what would they do with it?” I wasn’t alone after all! All the friends whose work I admire were influencing the moment every bit as strongly as the other factors. I decided to move into that feeling.

Rather than staying safely ‘behind the lens’, which is where many photographers seem most comfortable, I wandered further into the environment while the Promote Control was doing its thing. I considered the old building, its history, and the lives of those who had once lived there. I stopped to smell the musty air coming through the boards. I looked at details with curiosity, wondering who would have left their boots in the hallway like that. I took a deep breath to connect with what I was feeling, and how the building itself was influencing my experience there. I realized that the experience I was having was just another passing moment in the long history of that building, in that field. I tried to imagine what it was like coming down the stairs for breakfast before going out to work on the farm, or how I might have dropped my muddy boots in the hallway after a long day, or what the farm was like before the highway off in the distance was built, or if I could have imagined a day when a photographer would wander in uninvited.

My perspective became less that of a photographer out looking for a neat shot, and more about being part of the ongoing experience of the house and its people, even if I was there for just a few moments. Further, the differences between that day and an “ordinary” shooting day helped me to understand how the images I see and the people I communicate with on a daily basis can influence how I perceive an experience.

It seems to me that this awareness is one step toward being able to effectively communicate that experience to others through photography.

More on this later, I’m sure.

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8 lens at 23mm (34mm), f/9, 13 exp. 1/125 – 2s. HDR Express merge, multiple tonemaps, Nik Color Efex Pro

Reflections: Creativity and Certainty   11 comments

Gulls and terns gather at Great Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware


“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” — Erich Fromm

Time for a little reflection, I thought.

I’m not sure why it came up today. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been posting images online for a year, now. Maybe I was compelled to do some soul searching on election day before heading to the polls. A blog entry by one of my Tweeps, Robert Vander Roest, got me thinking. (Link below*)

It is a time where decisions are hard to come by, a time where nothing seems certain. Whether I consider my own creative endeavors, or decide on who should lead the country (I say “lead” with no small degree of sarcasm), the same questions apply:

– Am I capable? Are they capable?

– Can I be a creative artist? Can they be creative problem solvers?

– Should I stick with what I think I know?  Should we stick with what we think we know?

– Will people want to see what I produce?  Can we stand to see what they produce?

At two ends of a scale — like hot & cold, or pain & pleasure — lie Certainty & Creativity.  People have a need for both in varying measures, depending on your own makeup and conditioning, and which way you lean determines how you move through the world.

On the one hand (let’s call it the Right hand) lies the need or desire for certainty. Stick with what we know. In fact, “better the devil you know…”  Tradition is important. Stability is a requirement. Conviction demonstrates unchanging belief. We want to wake up in the morning and know that nothing has changed.

On the other hand (the Left hand, of course) lies the need for something new, something creative, something unknown.  Tradition holds back change. Instability is a sign of evolution. Static beliefs are seen as close-mindedness. We want to wake up in the morning and know that something new, exciting, and utterly unexpected is going to happen.

It is at the nexus of these two that a tension is to be found, and whether we consider the internal tension that arises when we decide what to do with our lives, or the tension caused between two political ideologies, or the tension between an organism and its environment, it is tension that fuels evolution. Like Yin & Yang, or male and female energies, opposites do not interfere with one another as much as they complement and enhance each other, making a complete whole from seemingly disparate parts.

Certainty without Creativity is stagnation.  Creativity without Certainty is anarchy.

What to do… what to do?

It is the hallmark of evolution that Creativity advances ahead of Certainty, but only by a very small percentage, and it moves in fits and starts. If there were no Creativity at all, we’d still be throwing rocks at each other. But, whenever Creativity gets too far ahead the curve, Certainty is there to reel it back to the middle ground. This is why evolution moves glacially slowly, and why we see a pendulum swing from one side to the other on a fairly regular basis.

Both are necessary. Both are inevitable. And neither is right or complete by itself. Every perspective holds a piece of the puzzle, and none are 100% correct, and it is only by holding both perspectives lightly that we’ll survive and thrive.

As for my personal endeavors, having had a fairly long life of Certainty, today I choose Creativity. While so much of the world admonishes me to settle down, stay stable, and be certain about my future, I’m going to tip the table over and take chances. And as for tomorrow, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

To the decisions that the country will make today, I trust that we’ll see the usual ebb and flow of events, the typical swinging of the pendulum as we pass back and forth, left and right, between Certainty and Creativity.

And for evolution at large?  I trust that things are proceeding exactly as they should, for it can be no other way.

Be happy, and be creative with certainty.

Thanks for stopping by,

* Blog entry by Twitter friend, Robert Vander Roest


This image was derived from a single RAW file. In Photoshop, I applied a curves layer to brighten the scene, then invoked Bleach Bypass from NIK Color Efex Pro. Standard sharpening techniques applied. At the end, I decided to add a touch of bokeh, using Alien Skin Bokeh, to the background birds… at times like this, things need to seem a little fuzzy, I think.

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