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A Surprise Communion across Continents, Classes, Centuries, and Cultures

The word “community” gets thrown around a lot, often with little if any justification.  A group of people who hold the same political view on a given issue commonly aren’t communing with each other.  I share with many others a dark view of Mr. Trump and reactionaries’ attempts to keep certain voters from voting, but I don’t “commune” with all those others just because we share an opinion or revulsion.  Some Northerners before the Civil War opposed slavery because they felt that it was a violation of the spirit of God and indispensable human values.  But many Northerners opposed it rather because they didn’t want more “coloreds” coming to live and work among whites like them in order to escape from slavery in the South.

I do, however, feel a strong sense of community with some people, many of them living and even more of them long-dead, who’ve had certain types of visions, seen certain realities, had certain emotions, beyond the merely topical or intellectual – and who worked devotedly enough on themselves and their art that they could make works able to evoke within me something of what they experienced or intended.  I constantly draw strength from communion with those people, through reading their words, listening to their music, viewing works that they painted, sculpted, or photographed.

In dejection from all the awful and discouraging news about reactionary political victories, rampant viral sub-variants, catastrophic droughts, and increasing violence (as well as, for me, unhappy views about my own self), I found myself doing something that I’ve done on occasion over the years, especially under stress:  I was hand-writing, long past midnight, a list of my favorite artists and mystical writers.  That exercise can calm and comfort me. not just as an obsessive-compulsive ritual, but as a reminder of real treasures that I’ve been given, for inspiration and illumination.

With this in mind, I’ll describe a very recent experience I had. For about twenty years, I’ve had a group of three friends with whom I’ve talked about various matters photographic, and with whom I’ve gone shooting and exhibition-viewing when we can.  These days, as you’ll appreciate, it’s hard to preserve such ties and such benefits.  As others do, we at least try to hold periodic video gatherings of our little tribe.  During one of those the other month, I told the three of them that I’d enjoy making each of them a print of any of my images at any size that my printer would allow.  One of the amigos, Kevin, asked me for a print of the image below, “The One Blue Expanse,” to hang in an office that he’s building in his basement.  I don’t want to write “about” this photograph now.  I’d just be grateful if you’d look at it and let yourself be absorbed in it for a moment before finishing this story.  (Don’t miss the duck’s silhouette at middle left!)

“The One Blue Expanse” by Lawrence Russ

(For a better view, go to: https://www.lawrenceruss.com/index/G0000u7qnNbBVMg8/I0000F0j._OxU7_g .)

After sending him the print he wanted, I got an e-mail from Kevin, saying that he’d received it, and thanking me for it.

The day after getting his note, I returned to a wonderful book that I’d been rereading for the umpteenth time, but that I hadn’t read in many years:  One Hundred Poems from the Japanese, translated by Kenneth Rexroth.  Opening to my bookmark, the first work that I read was the following four-line poem by Fujiwara No Tadamichi, “who was Regent and Prime Minister in the latter part of the twelfth century”:

As I row over the plain

Of the sea and gaze

From the distance, the waves

Merge with the bright sky.

If that sky was bright for Fujiwara, then the one expanse that he saw was almost certainly also blue.  His poem seems to mirror the experience behind and within my photograph.  As I’ve written in these posts before, I don’t believe in coincidences; I believe in coincidings.  Whatever you or I may believe is responsible for the occurrence of such a peaceful, felt communion as this, across divides of time (about a millennium) and geography (thousands of miles) and social class (middle class versus aristocracy) and culture, I take it as a gift, as evidence of the miracle and worth of art, and I’m grateful for all such things in these times which, for more and more people, have brought to mind these lines from Yeats’s “The Second Coming”:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all convictions, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

God be praised for all genuine art, and for any small communion of peace that comes to us.

Lawrence Russ View All

Was the Alfred P. Sloan Scholar for the Humanities at the University of Michigan. Obtained a Master of the Fine Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where I was selected as a Writing Fellow in Poetry by the Program faculty. Have published poems, essays and reviews in many magazines, anthologies, reference works, and other publications, including The Nation, The Iowa Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Parabola, OMNI, and the exhibition catalogue for Art at the Edge of the Law at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. Received a law degree from the University of Michigan, and have changed the law and created educational programs in the fields of arts law, historic preservation law, and public construction and contracting law in the State of Connecticut. My photographs have appeared in international, national, regional and state juried exhibitions, and have been selected for awards including Honorable Mentions in the Architecture, Fine Art (series), Nature (series), Open Theme (series), Portrait, and Seascape categories from the international Fine Art Photography Awards, and an Honorable Mention in the Fine Art-Other category from the International Photography Awards. Photographs of mine have been selected for exhibition or publications by or in the 2019 International Juried Exhibition of the Center for Photographic Art (Carmel, CA), 2019 International Competition of The Photo Review, the 2019 Open Exhibition of the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins CO, F-Stop Magazine, Shadow & Light Magazine, Black Box Gallery in Portland OR, Praxis Gallery in Minneapolis MN, the Darkroom Gallery in VT, PhotoPlace Gallery in VT, A Smith Gallery in TX, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and many other journals and venues. My work has also been selected for inclusion in the Flatfile Program of Artspace New Haven (CT). My photography website is at www.lawrenceruss.com .

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