Infinite conversations

Three days before I turned 50 I had a dream.

I dreamed that I was at a tea ceremony with four Japanese master artists: Tatsumi Hijikata – the creator of Butoh dance, Takaji Kuroda – rocket scientist and the inventor of suimonga, Toshiro Kawase – the greatest living ikebana master, and Masao Yamamoto – the preeminent miniature photographer.

The only problem was, who was going to make the tea? They all looked at each other.

Kawase said: Don’t look at me! I am old, and I only work with vases and cold water.

Kuroda said: I am older still, and I always put soap in my water.

Yamamoto said: Not me, surely! I only use black tea to quickly age my prints and I carry used teabags in my pockets.

They all turned to Hijikata-san, expectantly… He shook his head, imitating a haystack, and shouted: Are you nuts? I am dead!

The tea got done in the end and I woke up with the words of Yamamoto sensei in my head:

‘A woman is a mountain. She is not a sea. She is a mountain.’ I laughed so hard when I first heard him say that in a short video documentary. But he knows what he’s talking about. He managed to grab people’s hearts with his nudes and silent visual worlds. There’s no higher sensuality.

‘You have to do it like this, he said in my dream.

I said, ok, and I ended up photographing a whole set of pictures for a Tarot deck that I dedicated to him, Tarot Interdit.

I gave myself two days for a project done entirely for my own pleasure, because Yamamoto sensei said so. A birthday present to myself.

Two months after this event I received a gift in the form of a camera, a Leica from 1963. My best friend’s widow gave it to me when I showed her my Tarot Interdit, my hommage to Yamamoto. I had an explanation for her as to why I started dreaming of photographers. She was moved by my story of my experience with work in the darkroom as a 10-year old. Nothing came of that dream due to circumstances at the time – I had no money for a Leica and even less for a darkroom – but the longing for it never died. The widow said: ‘You must have the Leica now. Do what you must with it.’ I was quite stunned, as I had no idea that my dead best friend was invested in photography that also won prestigious prizes in the 50s and 60s. He never mentioned it, but he kept a whole folder that documents his success. I inherited that too.

This whole, double story of Yamamoto Masao visiting me in my dream and K. Frank Jensen’s Leica made me embark on a photographic journey under the title The Danish Testament. But what the testament is all about is the idea of having infinite conversations. How do we capture them, when they are not exactly part of our dreams of the unconscious? While pondering on this, I arrived at this insight.

As soon as we observe something that grabs our hearts, we start an infinite conversation. Why is this so, when we are more prone to thinking that when we observe something, we do so from the perspective of ‘here an now?’ But what is ‘here and now,’ if not a moment in which we glimpse the entire universe in a grain of sand, as the poet William Blake said.

Some see this glimpse as having mythical proportions. But what is the mythical without the mundane? The gods we worship mirror human character. Contrary to popular belief, we are not made in the image of God. God is made in our image, the mind’s capacity to project a world of forms that we then give meaning to. Some of our ideas are great. Others not so much. Some of our ideas promise the infinite on condition: You have to believe in heaven, if you want to avoid going to hell. So a myth is rather small in scale, reducing everything to a personal agenda. When we compare myth to the reality of the infinite, or as others also like to think of it, the reality of nothingness, myth falls short of what it promises.

My pictures aim at passing on a message about the infinite conversations we can have with something without the cultural, symbolic, or mythical baggage that often informs our seeing. I see the manifestation of an infinite conversation in the roads less travelled, in people posing for the camera without a thought in their head, or in ‘the old ones’, from nature to dead Zen masters.

Miyamoto Musashi’s path, gelatin silver print, hand-finished with gold and red ink

About the author

Camelia Elias, PhD & Dr.Phil., is a former university professor. After 20 years in the academia, she left her career to pursue her interests in teaching and writing on the philosophy and practice of reading divination cards. She works with contemplative arts, oracular language, and Zen at her own school, Aradia Academy. Her analog photography project, The Danish Testament, is based on two events: A dream in which 4 Japanese masters have appeared to have tea and give instruction, and on inheriting unexpectedly immediately after the dream a Leica camera from 1963. The current pictures taken with this camera aim at capturing the idea of an infinite conversation between students and masters, roads less travelled and old ones, and animal power and human character. In between, fragments of gelatin silver prints are also used as talismanic art, that it to say, an object you carry around for magical purpose.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *