“I would like to know if anyone has ever seen a natural work of art," writes Pablo Picasso. He continues, "Nature and art, being two different things, cannot be the same things. Through art we express our conception of what nature is not.” Picasso's statement reminds me of Magritte's painting of a pipe under which he wrote, "This is not a pipe."
In both instances, these artists ask us to reconsider the subject of the image. Although the subject may appear to be something in the external world, realistically the image better represents the internal experience of the artist. This appears to be true even in instances where the artist's intention is to reveal the external world exactly as he or she sees it. (As one would expect, there is considerable debate in photographic circles about this.) That the subject of the image is not the external world but rather the internal experience, is not "nature" but what "nature is not," is easier to recognize when the image has been rendered by some media other than photography, such as in watercolor or oil, or in cases where the artist or photographer has clearly asserted his or her artistic will onto the image. It is not so obvious, though, when the photographer tries to render the scene exactly as he or she sees it, which is what I have attempted with these four images.
While driving out to Inverness yesterday morning to meet with a colleague, I rounded the corner to discover an exquisite reflection of Black Mountain in the Nicasio Reservoir. This picturesque scene in pastoral West Marin immediately lifted my spirits. I felt something wonderful inside -- the dawning of a sense of hope I hadn't felt in a while -- a feeling I wanted to nourish with further contact and did not want to fly past in a sealed up car at 50 mph. I pulled over and stepped out of the car to a rush of bird song so beautiful I could hardly breath. Alone by this reservoir, I felt for one instant as though the world was perfect, beautiful, whole, and peaceful, as though it was suffering neither the strain of human hubris and greed and the threat of mass extinction nor the stress of interspecies competition and the fight for survival. Those "facts" are hidden in my images because at that moment they were absent from my mind. I simply wanted to honor the beauty I experienced. Call me romantic. I won't mind. I needed to capture my sense of hope for later viewing. I needed to convince myself that even though these images represent my internal experience at that particular moment of contact in that particular place, they might, just might, also reveal something about the nature of nature and the fundamental truth of a beautiful and hopeful world.