You see, it’s all about balance. If you don’t balance the dark and the light, you’re controlled by them. Then you end up in a mad dance, ricocheting back and forth from one to the other. One day you’re a wonderful, loving human being. The next day you’re a complete ass. But you need both sides to be whole. Without both, you’re only a partial person. Half of the equation. Just like there’s no sweet without sour. No joy without misery. The trick is to realize that although things like light and dark seem like completely different things, they aren’t different at all. They’re extremes of the same thing. Can you really identify the exact place where light becomes dark? Where joy becomes despair? Where mercy becomes weakness? Where strength becomes cruelty? The magic we can experience in life lies in bringing these things into balance so they are all properly expressed. In order for something to be “warm”, it has to be both “hot” and “cold” at the same time. But it has to do so in a balanced way. So realize that finding and expressing that dark part of yourself in a healthy way is important for living fully. And then remember that every other person on this planet has their own special kind of darkness. So give them a break. Confronting your darkness may take away the simple black and white of life, but in its place you get a whole new array of nuance and emotion and understanding. And a whole new vision, which is what I’m all about. Once you confront your own darkness, not only does it change who you are, it brings depth to your soul. It brings compassion and insight. And it opens doors of perception you never knew were there. Which brings me back to my journeys into the city.
The city is absolutely part of my darkness. I was born there and I reveled in its dark corners. There I first heard the voice of my muse and recognized my calling as an artist of some kind. But with no Muse Owner’s Manual or mentor to teach me I had no idea what to do about it. So I did what seemed like a good idea at the time. I lived the outer life of an artist wannabe. I partied and caroused and nurtured delusions of grandeur. It almost killed me. Once I got the chance, I ran as fast and as far as my life would allow. I battled the demon by hiding in a suburban hole. In short, I did exactly what I was expected to do in order to live a respectable life. Never mind the fact that I had inside me an entirely different purpose. I left behind childish things. The only problem was that I left behind the wrong childish things. That just made it worse.
And guess what? That old demon, he’s a quick one. He wanted to be heard! So he pushed and pushed and pushed. And I ran and I drank and doped up and I tried to run some more. Eventually, one of us was backed into a corner. And it wasn’t my demon. So I folded my hand and ended up in rehab.
When I got out I spent a lot of time in the country and found solace in the light and the wide open space. I photographed horses and barns and country roads and I found a soothing that I hadn’t felt in many years. Being out there, in the smell of the corn and the hay and the animals, I was able to take a step back and look at my darkness from a distance. It quieted me down and grounded me. I got a lot of healing there so I worked for awhile in the beauty of the quiet farm country.
What I found out, what shocked me, was that the darkness didn’t go away. What it wanted was to be acknowledged and expressed in a balanced way. It also brought me a gift, and this is the cool part: it offered encounters with the numinous. Once I began to dip my toes into that pool of darkness that lies inside of me, I began to see things in a different way. The darkness was bringing harmony and context to my work. I had been making photographs by responding to what I saw around me. My darkness enabled me to make work that originated inside of me. This was a huge shift. I began to see my work, my vision. So I engaged fully. But instead of doing it in a destructive way, as I had before, I tried to use it as a starting point for my work. I realized that the key to overcoming the darkness wasn’t by defeating it. The key was understanding it and making it a friend. It was no longer a threat. It still had its place inside me but it couldn’t be a controlling force. I tried to look through it to find extraordinary grace and beauty in the peaceful surroundings I was in. It began to show itself in some of the horse photographs I was making. Like this one:
I had found the key to unlocking my vision and my work was beginning to reflect my inner state. We all start by mimicking the work of those who have come before us. We have to. It’s how we learn our craft. But looking inside allowed me to stop making photographs that had been made a thousand times before by a thousand different artists. I could make work that was truly mine. Work that couldn’t be made by anyone else. This is the way of the artist. The urge and the direction come from the muse but the inspiration and the vision comes from the darkness. Anything creative comes from that dark corner of yourself. And that’s why I have to go back to the city.
These days going into the city is an almost spiritual experience for me. I know that sounds trite. But I look at those buildings and I see them rising up out of my darkness. And to me they seem like monuments to that chaotic corner of my soul. Terrifying and majestic and full of themselves. Adorned with regality and splendor. At the same time, they represent everything that is so wrong with our world. The greed and waste and exploitation. They are glittering memorials to a culture that has ground so much to dust under the heel of its boot. But they are beautiful still. And so I photograph them. For me they are part of the torment and glory of my own soul. My own personal daimon. And so, for this time at least, my vision for my work begins there. I’m still working out my vision. But with each photograph I make I get closer. My work is beginning to look more like my own and less like anything that’s been done before. It’s mine because it’s authentic and because it comes from inside of me.
So here’s what I have to say to you. Find your own darkness. You know he’s there. Stop running from him. Know that if you run, he will chase you down. If you decide to confront him, he will lay traps for you. The battle is hard and it takes great courage. But in the aftermath, your fear of him will be gone. And though he never quite lets go (he has a great bullshit detector), he has in his possession a great treasure for you. He can pull back the veil that separates you from the numinous experiences that are the feeding ground for real, soulful art making.