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End Frame: The Strangles by David Ward

Prashant Khapane chooses one of his favourite images

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Prashant Khapane

I'm a hobby photographer and get inspired by the artists who are also good writers. I'm a mechnical engineer by profession and work at Jaguar Land Rover currently as CAE manager.

travel-hopefully.com



When I received an email from On Landscape to write for the "End Frame" I was thrilled at first and then panicked. Panicked for two reasons/;

  1. Which photograph or artist to write about? There are so many I appreciate and adore. From Galen Rowel to Guy Tal. From Bruce Percy to Michael Kenna. From Ansel Adams to Jack Dykinga.
  2. Can I write anything at all, words worthy of the image?

Firstly, I used Google to find images made by my favourite artists and I was then even more overwhelmed than before. Then I decided to have sometime away from the screen and I looked at my own little library of photography related books.

And one thing stood out; I own all the books authored or co-authored by a certain Mr. David Ward. His Landscape series, particularly Landscape Beyond has resonated with me and inspired me to title my own website as "travel-hopefully". In contrast to my day job this lack of "getting it done" approach is what I prefer when out in the wilderness. The journey is important than the destination.

It is not the answer that enlightens but the question ~ The book starts with a quote from Eugene Lonesco

And David with his fantastic writing style "enlightens" us by creating more questions in our mind while seeing his images. One image which in my opinion is an epitome of "raising questions" is The Strangles.

It requires an active participation and works better if viewed as a large print. It connotes. Every time I look at this image I interpret it differently.
It is not a typical "pretty" landscape image which will get thousands of likes or thumbs up. Not that I think it is an indication of quality. Far from it. It is also not meant to be viewed passively and forgotten as you move from one to the next thumbing on your mobile device. Or in David's own words - giving us a short lived high. It requires an active participation and works better if viewed as a large print. It connotes. Every time I look at this image I interpret it differently. David has managed to create an illusion.

A spatial ambiguity. An abstract image created from whatever raw material was available to him. It makes me curious every time I look at it. I still have not figured out what it is. If I ever get to meet him I want to ask him what it is and end the agony. On the other hand, I question myself, should I? Will I not lose the "bliss" due to my ignorance?

I leave you with another quote from his book and the image itself to ponder.

The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible ~ Oscar Wilde

Do you have an image that you want to write about in our End Frame series? We are looking for contributions to our forthcoming issues, so please get in touch.



  • Excellent choice, Prashant. Such a wonderful image.
    By the way, Wilde was tragically wrong :)

    • prashant khapane

      :) Thanks. Can you please explain your perspective on OW quote?

      • Most of what we know about the nature of reality—the greatest mysteries that humanity has ever uncovered or even became aware of—do not come from anything we can perceive with our senses; they come from mathematical models. As Richard Feynman wrote, “To not know mathematics is a severe limitation in understanding the world.”

  • That’s fair, David. I was just being facetious. I take seriously the task of the philosopher: not to answer questions but to question answers.

    I think Wilde was an absolutely brilliant writer, even though I can think of many ways to disagree with the passage you quoted (starting with the fact that the concept of beauty literally is thought). There is no beauty in the absence of thought.

    • By ‘thought’ can I assume that you mean cognition? The conscious recognition of the concept of beauty certainly requires this kind of thought.

      As an aside, this kind of introspective / philosophical thinking is how many humans like to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Earth’s fauna (although with little absolute evidence that this is the case). We assume that there is a small band of sentient creatures –
      with ourselves at the top of the tree – and that all other animals are incapable of thought. But current research suggests that we have vastly underestimated the cognitive abilities of the rest of the animal kingdom.

      However, I would argue that there is beauty without cognition. It is often felt at a basic emotional level and is not always expressible in natural language or as cogent thoughts. This kind of beauty isn’t an appreciation of supercharged pretty, rather it represents the recognition of a deep truth. Such beauty gives us a warm fuzzy feeling because it feels absolutely ‘right’: whether it is a landscape with river and mountains (a good environment to hunt & live in) or the handsome face of a fellow human (handsome = bilateral symmetry which is a signifier of fit to breed) or the solution to a tricky problem (how to build a canoe, make a bow, construct a shelter from available materials).

      Therefore, it seems to me that the reaction we have to this kind of beauty is a fundamental response to parts of our environment that confer an advantage. A visceral reaction to beauty is our brains reward for things that are ‘right’. (To return to my earlier aside, I therefore see no reason why any other animal can’t feel beauty.)

      • Thank you for continuing the discussion, David. I enjoy this kind of exchanges. Rest assured I am not one who belittles the cognitive and emotional capacities of any form of life. It’s part of the reason I’m vegetarian and have been involved in habitat conservation and animal rescue since childhood. And, as those who had such discussions with me will tell you, I am not particularly proud of our species.

        Correct me if I am wrong but it seems to me that by “thought” you are specifically referring to conscious thought. In fact, conscious thoughts make up just a small portion of brain activity. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman separates thoughts into “fast” (unconscious, intuitive, pattern-driven; which he calls “system-1”) and “slow” (deliberate, complex, consciously controlled; which he calls “system-2”). In fact, his book “Thinking Fast and Slow” is one I think any person who considers him/herself rational should read to better understand how perceptions (often incorrect and irrational ones) are formed.

        The Oxford dictionary defines thought as: “An idea or opinion produced by thinking, or occurring suddenly in the mind.” The latter part suggests that unconscious thought (such as emotional response, the perception of beauty, etc.) is also a kind of thought.

        What you refer to as emotional responses, although not actuated deliberately or consciously, is still a form of thought. Also, as we are rapidly discovering through studies in neuroscience and evolutionary biology, what we consider as beautiful is related to evolutionary fitness. Beauty is not an inherent and consistent quality of things, it is a perception assigned to them by conscious agents, and for explicable reasons (whether we know what they are or not). I’m quite certain that a rat scurrying away from a human does not consider that human beautiful, even if s/he is a supermodel to other apes of the human species. Even humans of different cultures do not agree on what constitutes ideal beauty in members of their own species.

        I’m certainly happy to grant Wilde creative license with language, and forgive his ignorance of scientific knowledge not available in his time, and agree that he, too, was specifically referring to conscious thought (what Kahneman refers to as “system-2”). He simply did not know as much as we do about what a thought is to make the distinction. He also did not know of the plethora and magnitude of mysteries that humanity tapped into by way of scientific studies not available to him. One can only speculate whether he would have stuck to his words if he had this knowledge.

        The recognition of beauty (within the narrow confines of what humans consider beautiful) feels like an intuitive response to something inherent and unambiguous, but it is still a product of (unconscious) thought shaped by evolutionary adaptation. To wit, there is no distinction among physical parts of the brain responsible for conscious and unconscious thoughts. You can’t map “system-1” and “system-2” to dedicated brain structures. Perception and hallucination use the same cognitive mechanisms to form the sense of an experience.

        • Hi Guy,

          I’m very familiar with Kahneman’s book, an excellent work. I should not have been so presumptuous as to think you were only referring to conscious thought. My apologies for that.

          My aside about the cognitive abilities of other animals wasn’t aimed at you personally but was just an observation of one of humanities least endearing characteristics.

          Your description of our response to beauty as an evolutionary adaptation is also congruent with my own view – though I clearly didn’t express myself very well in my reply.

          It seems, then, that we are in agreement! :-)

          D

          • Very delighted to hear that, David. Having seen and read your work for some years, it is nice to know that we are in agreement about more than just photography.

            • Graham Cook

              What an interesting joust! Two highly intelligent and articulate artists reaching agreement seemingly via disagreement. You both have long been a major influence on how I see the world. This only confirms I made a good choice!

  • Now this is not what I really expected when I wrote it. Both Guy and David exchanging comments/thoughts. It is almost like being in a candy store.

  • prashant khapane

    Thanks David. Hope to meet you in person (may be the 2018 OnLandscape conference?) and learn more.

    • Hi Prashant,

      It would be great to meet up, unfortunately the timing of this year’s On Landscape conference means I will probably not be able to make it :-(

      Another time!

      D

  • Ian

    Now this could only appear in “On Landscape”. Can I nominate this as comment thread of the year? And when can we see or hear the “David & Guy discuss” show?

    • Hi Ian,

      I’m a great admirer of Guy’s photos and writing so I’d be very happy to participate in such a discussion.

      D

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