The Journey Into Art: Slot Canyons

May 5, 2017

The slot canyons of Arizona and Utah hold a particularly important place in my art and in my understanding of human experience.

My first exposure to them was during my first photography workshop with Alain and Natalie Briot in the spring of 2010, and little did I know the impact it would hold.

Upper Antelope canyon is a deep and narrow canyon carved by wind, sand, and water. It is deep enough to be quite dark in the bottom. Looking upward toward the sky reveals oranges, reds, and yellows. Yet the lower part of the canyon and canyon floor looks quite gray or even black. One's visual perception has to shift to night vision after a few minutes in the dark. That means that one begins to see more in black and white than color. We were told by Alain beforehand that whenever we saw the color gray, it would show blue to the camera.

In the depths of the canyon with my night vision engaged, I started taking pictures, thinking that they would be very dull in their color rendition. Yet when I got back to the computer, I could see what the camera saw. And that was a remarkable breadth of color that eased its way down the canyon from yellow to orange to red to purple to blue as the light bounced downward from wall to wall.

I was so staggered by the amount of color present (that I could not see at the time I captured the pictures) that it took me several years to unravel what I had experienced.

The unsettling issue I came away from that experience was that I blindly go on about my life constructing my experience based on what I see, perceive, and organize into a meaningful experience. Yet here the camera (an inanimate object) was more accurate at “seeing” than I was. It left me questioning the basis of much of what I had molded into meaningful visually-based experience. I was left deeply moved and unsettled. Perhaps the basis of my sense of reality was so based on my own interpretation of my own experience. And that experience might lead me astray in my quest to see "reality",

Philosophers over the years have tried to deal with what is “real”, and I will leave their discourse to those so inclined to read. The new neuroscience understanding sheds a bit more "light" on the subject, yet is still young and limited in its understanding. Yet here I had stumbled onto a primary existential issue. In this case, some electronic device could “perceive” reality better than my eyes, brain, and other senses. Where did that leave me in terms of my perception of “reality”?

That type of introspective questioning unraveled my security in my perception of “reality”. On that perception I had based so much of my perception of nature, human nature, and even moral and spiritual realities. Needless to say, there were not a few late nights spent pondering this issue and many hours trying coming to terms with this unsettling phenomenon. Neither the brain nor psyche likes things "unsettled". It was, as some say, “The egg had cracked...” And once the egg was cracked, Humpty Dumpty could not be put back together, even by the King’s men.

From an artistic perspective the slot canyons are the purest example of form and color I have seen. From one who came from no artistic training, learning how to focus my art on the form and color in nature was difficult but imperative. Here I could see form in it's purest sense and color in it's purest sense. This slowly gave me the basis of my understanding of form and color.

So from a simple photo shoot on a workshop with a bunch of nice people came a total shift in thinking and perception. It affected all aspects of my life. For this I owe a debt of gratitude, to the leaders of this workshop, as well as the maker of the slot canyons into which I had ventured.

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