William Giles finds meaning in the mystery.
Thursday, September 9, 1999
"What the photographer does, which is weird when you think about it, is put a dark cloth over your head, get blind in one eye, squint your other eye and put it before a peephole, turn three dimensions and a 180-degree span into a two-dimensional [image], and have the audacity to say, ''This is the world''," comments Giles, who laughs at the stunning absurdity of our search for truth and understanding.
"And yet," adds Giles, "it''s like going into the darkness without fear to see marvelous illuminations, to be enchanted, thralled and awed. For better or worse, it keeps you on the path until you die."
Giles'' current exhibition of landscape photography, "Light the Flame," which kicks off with an opening reception Friday evening at the Highlands Inn, does indeed beckon the viewer to undertake a dark and mysterious journey into the heart of creation. Unlike another local landscape photographer whose images we''ve all come to revere and love, there is nothing pretty or precious in Giles'' images of the natural world.
have the impact
of a Zen koan.
His is a world of dark and terrifying forces, a universe of enduring forms trapped and defined within the cosmic ebb and flow of creation. Giles'' stunningly powerful images of vertiginous rock formations, crashing waves and other man-made and natural objects have the impact of a Zen koan-riddles within riddles that can either smack you on top of the head in bewilderment, or, for a brief instant, give you a glimpse of the meaning of eternity as it is rendered in a single moment in time.
"It''s marvelous when you can sense the interfacing of forces at work in nature," says Giles, who notes that the path to understanding is not a journey for the faint-hearted, but one where you can lose your soul or be transformed through a higher understanding of life and nature.
"To see nature as if for the first time takes an innocence of eye and a ruthlessness of vision to dare stand naked to the universe," says Giles. "To dare to stare and not be cowed or scared by it. Nature has its own message, but it is also a reflection. It requires having a heart that can open your eyes to see your mind."
As reflected in both his photography and in his comments on his life and work, Giles is a unique combination of poet, philosopher, shaman, trickster and madman, someone with a fondness for mystical pronouncements which are more often than not punctuated by heartfelt laughter and a recognition of the absurdity of mankind''s pretensions.
Giles'' images combine the metaphysics of photographer Minor White and the so-called "equivalents" of photographer Alfred Steiglitz, with a healthy dose of English Romanticism and just a bit of writer/artist William Blake''s mysticism.
"I''ve created the show so it becomes a walking meditation," says Giles. "We''re so conditioned to seeing things a certain way, we label things, and that is the end of seeing. It''s esoteric stuff, but if someone walks through the exhibition three and a half times, that person will walk out with a different way of seeing the world. A photograph should take one''s breath away. It''s a moment in time that freezes that time forever."
At age 66, Giles admits to questioning whether society-at-large remains open to his type of spiritual/artistic journey, one that fewer and fewer artists seem willing to undertake.
"This is a complicated world with money and how to integrate it all," notes Giles. "It''s tricky because we respect newness as superior to anything else. Even the lowest type of work is respected, but because something makes lot of money doesn''t make it better. All people who pushed the medium wanted to do something authentic. The trick is not to devaluate what is going on in any epoch in time."
The current Highlands exhibit marks Giles'' seventh show on the Peninsula in the past 11 years.
"This is probably my grandest," boasts Giles, who credits the Highlands with helping to keep photography a vital force on the Peninsula.
"I''ve always thought of photographs like stars in the sky, pinpoints of light. My entire life has been a pilgrimage towards light, and it takes inner reserve to follow that. I''m always growing and I''ll be photographing on my last day on this planet, seeing the world as wondrous. No other journey is as satisfying. To point the camera with the feeling of what you''re seeing, the heart opens and leads you off into the wonder of yourself.""Light The Flame" will be on display at the Highlands Inn through Dec. 3. Artist''s reception Fri., Sept. 10, 6-8pm.