Clocks and the Sun (symbols)

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Julie H, Jun 3, 2017.

  1. Both clocks and the sun have sometimes been symbolized as wheels.


    The center of such circles is regarded as the motionless aspect of existence, the pivot which makes the motion of existence possible, the one contrasting with the other like time with eternity. This explains St. Augustine's definition of time as the shifting image of motionless eternity.

    ... In an unconscious attempt to drive out the anguish of the brevity of existence, contemporary watchmakers have found no better way than to give their clocks and watches square faces rather than round, thus symbolizing the human illusion of an escape from the pitiless wheel and of controlling the world by imposing their scale of values upon it.

    ... To escape from time is to escape utterly from the cosmic order, to enter another order and another universe. Time is indissolubly linked to space. — The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols

    I would add that time is also "indissolubly linked" to motion: no motion, no time; no time, no motion. What does this mean for a medium that freezes time?


    the sun:

    Most cultures have at some time worshiped the Sun as the supreme cosmic power — the life-force that enables all things to thrive and grow. As the source of heat, the Sun symbolizes vitality, passion, and youth. As the source of light, it represents enlightenment. It is also an emblem of royalty and empire. In some traditions, the Sun is the Universal Father. Its rising and setting symbolizes birth, death, and resurrection. — Signs & Symbols: An Illustrated Guide to their Origins and Meanings

    ... the Sun and its rays, which were once symbols of fecundation, have become symbols of enlightenment. — The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols

    ... The familiar Greek myths of Icarus and Phaethon are instructive. To fly too near the sun is to lose one's ground(edness), to become identified with the inflammable, archetypal energies that far exceed mortal limitation is to court destruction and death. — The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images

    A sun/clock photograph for you to consider:

    August 9, 1945, Nagasaki by Shomei Tomatsu
  2. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    inspired choice of symbols given that time(clock) and light(sun) create photographs. is there a word for that, where the content defines the object and vice versa?

    the sun is everything, no doubt about that. its pull, both physically and artistically, is obvious. even Phil stops for a sunset.

    same with clocks, or cycles. at the very essence of our existence.

    but who has ever shot either of them with credit?
  3. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    we all shoot the sun from 93m miles. but at its core it is white light white heat. i shot a series of photos based on the sun getting perilously closer

    Uhooru likes this.
  4. These threads keep chasing me from symbol to symbol, inspiring half baked photos. (This one is actually 9 months old...ready to be pushed into the world?)

  5. Love that one, VisualEntropy! Too good ... :) Trying to merge the symbolism of eyeglasses with that of clocks/the sun is making my head explode ... and we must also incorporate the bicycle. And baked potatoes (suddenly the smiley looks like butter ... ).

    Norman, I really like your sun picture, especially the little slip where the near mountain overlaps the far, lower ones on the left, and how important that tiny blip of light at the far left is on the line of that same distant mountain line. The flat top near mountain looks like an altar.
  6. "the sun is everything, no doubt about that. its pull, both physically and artistically, is obvious. even Phil stops for a sunset."

    Everything. There's always everything.

    How can you think when you are being constantly bombarded with everything..... "everything go away we will play another day".
  7. 16x20 el capitan one.jpg I have one shot where I am able to print the disk of the sun. It was the result of shooting a black and white 4x5 negative and using modern scanning techniques to manage the highlights.
  8. That's a beautiful shot, Steve. Considering what I'm about to write, below, it makes me smile that I can't help admiring your technique, holding the tonal values throughout, especially in the near beach. Beautiful. But. BUT ...

    It confounds me how reluctant we photographers are to say anything about why we shoot the sun or what it is doing to attract our attention. In Phil's linked video about Robert Adams sun-flared pictures, the narrator does give some generic comments about the sun, but why is it that there is such reluctance to take it any further than that?

    As another example of this reluctance, Ansel Adams made a picture, The Black Sun, Owens Valley, California, 1939. He gives three pages of description about how he made the picture in his book, Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, but he never says why he went to all that trouble. He does admit that all the technical effort was because he was making an "exciting photograph." He repeatedly says he had "immediate recognition of the potential image" but doesn't say why having a black dot in his sky was so exciting.

    Further, at the end, Adams notes that an "astronomer once said to me, 'You must be careful how you use that term, Black Sun,' I replied that it was primarily an emotional/aesthetic title. A title like 'reversed sun' would be inane," and he once again launches into technical details of how the picture was made, completely missing the point of what his astronomer friend was suggesting.

    American Photographer has an article about many black sun pictures by many photographers (including the Adams picture, if you want to see it; also be sure to have a look at Chris McCaw's huge 30 by 40 camera; awesome!). Once again, in this article it's one long stream of technical details. Nobody wants to say anything about why a black sun is of interest, or what it's doing to a viewer. Symbolism is either unnoticed or assumed or ignored. Which, I can't tell. At the very end of the piece, the writer does note that:

    It’s not surprising that so many artists would latch on to such an aesthetic, often independent of one another; it evokes a powerful image. The sun is one of the few ancient and universal constants on this planet, as fundamental as air, water and earth. We may be just a few DNA sequences removed from chimpanzees, but the sun as a force for life goes all the way back to the earliest bacteria that were incubated in its warmth. When it goes black, all our expectations are flipped, conjuring unconscious reactions to the archetype and myth of the eclipse.​

    As with the comments by the narrator on Phil's linked video, I find that so generic and far removed from the visual as to kill any imaginative connection to seeing a black sun.

    Compare that to the metaphorical connections that Mark Holborn does make in the book about Japanese post-war photography, Black Sun: The Eyes of Four:

    After the first atomic test at Los Alamos, New Mexico, J. Robert Oppenheimer referred to "the sun brighter than a thousand suns," reflecting a phrase from the Bhagavad Gita. The vocabulary of archetypal myth was required to accommodate a concept that eluded the descriptive powers of words.

    ... The details and the particulars are the constituents of so much photographic experience. Wristwatches, glasses, and crucifixes are frequently the signs of humanity in the mire of information we have received from photographs of war since 1939. Behind what Milosz describes as the "fragility" of civilization, he writes that "man constructs poetry out of the remnants found in ruins."

    ... A young generation of artists and photographers was growing into adulthood and maturing among the ruins. They had lost their childhoods and sometimes their families in the war, and they needed a form to express that loss and to help them search for their confused origins. A mythical vocabulary might accommodate the events of 1945. Those events were so profoundly disturbing that only myth could encompass them. The myth would be dark and full of shadows like those found scorched on the stone and brickwork of Hiroshima. At the epicenter of the Hiroshima explosion a man was painting a wall. He disintegrated while perched on a ladder with his arm outstretched. His silhouette remains. He was severed from his shadow as the atom was split. The shadow continues to paint the wall, which inconceivably still stands. There are myths of shadowless men, like ghosts, who permanently accuse their murderers.​

    Whether or not you like Holborn's writing, at least he's there; he's not reciting technical descriptions.

  9. Am I allowed to make facial expressions? Body gestures? Am I allowed to gasp or cry? Am I allowed to make humming noises of assent or dissent? Or must I remain completely still and impassive, thus refusing to share or express any response? Is this because I might disturb the other viewers or because Adams suspects I will have no reaction at all to his pictures and by mandating silence, he prevents me admitting this to myself as well as others? [I like some of Adams work very much and some of it not at all. To the latter, I would am happy to remain silent.]

    Symbols are, to use an extreme word, weaponized forms. To cast them into pictures with no idea why they are there seems to me to be almost reckless (again, I exaggerate for effect). "Oh, I just thought a black sun was really cool!"
  10. Since the sun is the main source of illumination in the daytime, "documentary" type photographers such as myself who photograph people in natural settings I think are acutely aware of the sun and the qualities of light in general. I almost never photograph a person's face in direct sun, but I am extremely conscious of "daylight" or skylight: its direction, where the shadows are, how defined they are, softness, etc. To me it is a physical presence that actually dominates my awareness when I am photographing. In landscapes, the sun as you mentioned is an archetypal symbol deeply embedded in our minds. Sunrise means a new day has arrived, and the dark unknown of night is banished. Sundown means getting the people back into the safety of the village and hunkering down for the dark night.

    Clocks are slowly disappearing, I'm afraid! The millennial generation has no "time" for watches, since they have instant time in their pockets with their cell phones. Your phone will even verbally tell you the time whenever you ask it. I wonder what that will do for the coming generations, by disconnecting time with the circle of the clock?
  11. Speaking of sun flare! wendy at woodys.jpg
  12. That's a really good point. I hadn't thought of it. I wonder what the idea of "clock" evokes for the current generation.

    When I was a teenager, the darkroom I had didn't have a clock and I would sometimes (okay, often) go in on a bright sunny afternoon and forget about time. Coming out to discover it was late into full-darkness night was a total shock.

    I love that sun flare picture! If I get into saying why, I'm afraid I'll inhibit anybody else saying *their* why, so I'll hold off, but I really love it.
  13. Phil I really like that picture. All kinds of stuff going on. The weird thing is, the piece that seems the least powerful, the toy car, can't be removed. It's sort of a keystone.
  14. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    surely, the accumulation of the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom?
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2017
  15. I think, sun in an urban setting looks distinctly different than in a rural setting, especially among high-rise buildings. For me, an urban sun has a stronger sense of a day ending and time left behind, probably due to all the busy activities associated with the city. Here is a street musician in the backdrop of afternoon sun, taken in Las Vegas.

  16. Description of my feelings about Phil's picture and Steve's photograph:

    Phil's is a really good picture, IMO. To my eye, everything in it is symbolic. A viewer need not have any awareness of symbolism; symbolism works whether you notice it or not ("weaponized forms"). It works beautifully. It's not a limiting quality; it's an empowering one, though possibly a dangerous one if not presented knowingly.

    I love this kind of picture. From it I get the same kind of pleasure as when I find something new — in nature, or in technology; anywhere — and I pick it up and turn it over and try it out this way and that, with Ohs! and Ahs!, figuring out how it "works" on/for/with me.

    That pleasure, that joy of discovery is why you find me incessantly, in this forum asking "Why?" and "What's it doing to you?" It's not inquisition or an attack; it's the chatter of discovery. To refuse to respond or share is to turn your back and hide your examination from my/our eyes/ears; to refuse to respond is to refuse shared chatter in exploration. (Disagreement is very much a part of that lovely face-to-face exploratory chatter.)


    Steve's is not a good picture, IMO. But it is an amazing photograph. It does none of the things that Phil's picture does (even though the playpen is suggestive); I find no need to turn it over in my mind, to explore it, to find out what makes it "work." In addition, and this is strictly my own feeling, some portraits feel to me like they were meant for people who know the person shown, not for a general, strange public such as this forum. I feel like I'm intruding when I look at the girl in the picture; she seems to be smiling for her friends and intimates, not for a stranger like me.

    However, this is an amazing photograph, IMO, because it immediately takes me into its space. I am there. I think the sun flare does that for me; it makes air, it reaches forward; it makes time, it makes space. The expression, "bathed in sunlight" seems to describe what I'm after. There is a forever "now" about what that picture does for me that I love. It's immediate, it's lovely; it takes my mind like an open window into ... it just takes me. We — she and I — are feeling the same sun now. I find that glorious.

    Supriyo, I think the city gets in the sun's face and competes with its light. I'm rarely in dense urban areas, but in pictures, it seems as if people both seek the sun out between the tall buildings, and are surprised by it, which is kind of crazy (being surprised by the sun!).

  17. I was fishing for words to use. I couldn't think of how to separate something that "represents" and engages my thoughts from something that simply takes me over.
  18. The narrator in Phil's video clip says that flare suggests light and heat, and Julie says it gives substance to the air. It got me wondering how these things were evoked prior to photography. In looking at petroglyphs, ancient Egyptian art, Mayan depictions, and paintings from before 1800, there are plenty of depictions of the sun with radial streaks or rays, and some with concentric arcs or circles. It occurred to me that I had never looked at the sun with the unaided eye to know for sure if the rays really exist, so I had to go outside for an experiment. And yes, I could see rays, but they were caused by reflection or diffraction off my lashes because I was squinting a lot. Perhaps lens flare, a fairly recent phenomenon, relates back to dazzled, squinting eyes. But the cool thing about the experiment was that the afterimages of the sun were black.

    The 'why' of including the sun in a photo is hard to get at. A solar eclipse generates strong emotions in people, and I know of people who travel the world just to see them. But pinning down the reason why they are attractive can be difficult, and many people are speechless after an eclipse, or end up using hackneyed words. In August, I'll be driving over 700 miles to see my first one; maybe then I'll have some sense of what it's about.

  19. Heat and light. Energy. The word has become so dried up, commoditized, trivialized that it's almost meaningless. 'Energy' has become just another trinket that we get and spend at our whim.

    As I rode through the Schwarzwald, I said to myself: that little fire which glows starlike across the dark-growing moor, where the sooty smith bends over his anvil, and thou hopest to replace thy lost horseshoe, — is it a detached, separated speck, cut off from the whole universe: or indisolvably joined to the whole? Thou fool, that smithy fire was (primarily) kindled at the Sun: is fed by air that circulates from before Noah's Deluge, ... from beyond the Dogstar.
    Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Restartus, 1833

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