Stilts of Abstraction: A Few Photographic Musings About Absence and Presence. And More.

A whiff of lavender. Annecy, France.

I am drawn to moments when the blurred images are so inviting and attractive in their presence. I guess, as a theologian Eugene Peterson would put it - It’s the Absence giving way to the Presence. He refers to faith “with its classic and never yet improved upon definition,” “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Letter to Hebrews, 11:1).

This brings me to nostalgia. We just saw a fascinating treatment of the Absence-Presence reality in the current Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” film. The film depicts a writer on his return visit to Paris, who dreams of escaping from being a hired hand in scriptwriting, and sets his sights on writing a real novel like Hemingway or Fitzgerald.

Driving through the City of Light. Paris, France.

This is a clever, and well-written screenplay by Woody Allen through which he is inviting us into a desire to push our own borders - a perfect novel, perhaps? We are invited to the City of Light depicted from dawn to darkness in which Gil, the writer, travels into his idealized past, rejects fake intellectualism, and celebrates what Paris can give him in culture, art and life. He is so set on the attraction of Paris that he keeps repeating that the city is great even when it rains.

Without attempting to write a film review here, I identified myself with a personal fascination with a back and forth journey in which past is idealized and becomes meaningful as the present and the future tickles one’s eagerness to complete the Absence with arriving at fulfilling Presence.

Basically, the film spoke to me in its depiction of nostalgia – a world of comparing the now with the then.

In essence, was one being invited into a permanent quest for a journey of faith, which has its evidence in what already was?

My favorite Gospel illustration comes from a story of a disciple of Jesus who was invited to join Him – Matthew. His belief, it seems, was born in an instant. How this happened, I don’t have a clue. But what happened to him later gave the answer. His choice was not placed on stilts of abstraction.

Great things always come in concrete reality, hope and grace including. Such wonderful arrivals at Absence-Presence can be witnessed among those who have been described by the song Amazing Grace. Such arrivals are not visible among those who are just, who are perfect. Such people are usually too busy with their good works!

My preoccupation – even fixation - with nostalgia draws me to abstract images of life – when moments are captured in a movement. Then, my imagination kicks in.

Being nostalgic for stuff that matters? What an idea to consider.

A moving boat. Lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru.

Walking and talking. Hong Kong.

Stain glass window. Burtonsville, Maryland,
United States.

Blue eyes. Heidelberg, Germany.

Taking tea. Insa-dong, Seoul, Korea.

A rhapsody in silk. Insa-dong, Seoul, Korea.

Turquoise moment. Hong Kong.

Life as a mannequin. Heidelberg, Germany.


  1. Very nice Ray!! Now I really want to see the movie. Great writing and photography...

    Daniel Weber

  2. Appreciating the beauty of everyday reality while simultaneously mourning its loss evokes a sense of poignancy.

    Poignancy has a door of nostalgia, and a door of longing. Nostalgia being the grief for the loss of beauty in the past - the questing through a fog of memory to capture a single moment of preciousness to hold onto. Whereas longing is the grief for the loss of an ability to attain an ideal from visions of the future - the questing through a fog (or abstract image) towards an imagined ideal one has yet to reach and grasp firmly.

    Perhaps because of its inadequacy, art is inspiring because it is rare and precious, and beautiful because it is fails to capture what cannot be show, and therefore unable to fully articulate experience. Just the eyes.. where's the face? Just the legs.. where's the torso?

    When you look at all those artists and writers who are enraptured by poignancy - there is a sharp pain to life resulting from beauty being ever within grasp, but ever elusive.

    What then is the function of our present moment if all we do in it is long for the past or the future? The present is the 'eliminator of possibilities' that transfers future into past when choice is made. What do we chose to look at, glimpse, and take in that eliminates a road not followed as we select another? What could have been, or what could be is created in choice, making life itself nothing more and nothing less than art.

    Lovely images. Lake Titicaca is the one that tantalizes my imagination and poignancy over never having seen it in person. Perhaps had I seen it in person, it would have been less magical than someone else's memory as seen through the perspective of a particular lens which so beautifully skews reality, leaving it subject to individual interpretation.

    As I look at the aspen trees out my window, I see their beauty while knowing that they are beautiful not because of their greenness - but because of what they have overcome and what they are creating. The beauty of the pain of poignancy.

  3. @ Michael - Yes. Poignant, as in "painfully sharp," or "pleasantly piquant," as dictionaries would have it!

    The nostalgia I considered in these musings has more to do with not allowing that which matters to be relegated into oblivion, than with having imagination summoned.

    There were days when one saw children traveling on a bus giving up their seats for older people. That's nostalgia one beckons to reclaim its place in the present.

    It's the assurance one craves when giving into longing for that which is virtuous, valuable, lasting. The function of our "present" is not diluted by longing. It's enriched. For progress is a matter of living in the valleys, knowing that hills surround them.

    Actually, all is subjective and that's why we are having fun with such a constant in reaching into the unexpected, and toward unknown. It's when we start describing the unknown that we get lost - for we lack words to describe what we cannot box through imagination.

    Someone told me to rely more on faith than on hope. I am still working on what it may mean in catching my daily elusive meanings...