Water © Ken Schles
Water ("a crack of light between two eternities of darkness" © Ken Schles
Julia © Ken Schles
Douglas © Ken Schles
Isabel © Ken Schles
Fynn © Ken Schles
Jessie © Ken Schles
Moon through Trees © Ken Schles
Marine Layer © Ken Schles
Full Moon © Ken Schles
Santa Monica Wave © Ken Schles
Strings of Lights © Ken Schles
Crow Alighting In Fog Shrouded Tree © Ken Schles
Portrait on Beach © Ken Schles
Ken Schles says this book is a “photographic book about images, memory and the metaphor of light.” It is so much more. The level of abstract thinking required is so great that Ken includes his own exegesis at the end. It could easily be part of a course in hermeneutics at the Sorbonne. But it is also a unique book that will speak to Every Man at every level. After my initial dismay that I might never understand this book, I did discover a way to experience it very deeply.
I found myself handling this book with great care, even encasing it in bubble wrap to protect it, only later realizing that I was intuitively treating this like a sacred text. It is restrained, but beautifully crafted. The spine is natural linen and the cover a matte black image of a full moon, but also read as light coming through a small opening. The title, Oculus, names this aperture for us. Already, before we open the book, this is a lot of information. We are embarking on a journey, which requires our brain to interpret light. Normally, the eye does this for us, but this book will require our minds and hearts to participate as well. And, assuming that nothing on a thoughtfully designed book like this is an accident, I will guess the choice of putting the publisher, Noorderlight, on the front was purposeful. Perhaps we are meant to think of the light coming through the aperture as being “northern light” – a light that is charged by particles and creates stunning colors and patterns in the sky. The end sheets, including the extended double gatefold are bright red – the color of passion, blood, and life. This choice of color is at direct odds with the hyper-intellectual notes written all over those pages in a tight, formal font. I like that – it perfectly describes the tension of the book, and, I like to think, the character structure of the artist.
After working my way through the sections of images and text I honestly still did not know what was really going on in this book. Not until I read Ken’s personal circumstances that brought him to create this book did anything make sense. It is nothing less than a secular re-creation of the universe after his personal universe had been blown apart by an unending series of tragedies, suffering and calamity. Thankfully, Ken decided to write the atheist’s version of Genesis and not the Book of Job!! He relied upon his intellect to carry him through the world, until the destructive forces of Life destroyed that internalized framework. He describes it this way: “the images I held …. had become separated from the reality they once portrayed….my images no longer held up.” So, he proceeds to reconstruct what the images comprising memory mean; “how memory and metaphor play in constructing images we use to describe the fleeting nature of experience – and life itself.”
OK. I am honestly not smart enough to really put together those words with either the diagrams about Plato’s four stages of cognition or the other mini-discourses about light, memory, and image. I actually laughed out loud when I read, “Vilem Flusser famously said” because I have never heard of him and am left with remnants of a college philosophy course.
But I do see a cosmology (Judeo-Christian though) here starting with the opening photo of a man on the beach, in deep shadow: a man, any man, Ken himself and Adam, the first man. This is following by “Seeing Is Not Knowing”, a section of dramatic, riveting black and white images of waves breaking on a beach, and perhaps a ribbon of light reflecting off a river: it’s all about the inchoate state of Mind and Being before and the tenuous in-between the state of knowledge and self-knowledge, and put best by the Nabokov quote in the book: “our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”
We move to the next stage of manifestation, “Somnambulism.” This is the primal state of the evolving self where now there is matter but not a consciousness. This section is represented by close up portraits of sleeping children. Their young faces, plump, relaxed hands are not yet shaped by experience. Their “oculus” is still focused inward; their pathway to this physical world is closed. It is a state of blessed ignorance, really.
Before we are inducted to the corporeal world, Ken inserts a secular sort of dogma about the dance that occurs at the intersection of the realm of the Mind that is beyond our reach in daily life and those moments when we may lay our earthly constructs against that far larger one. That point is the fountain of creativity. From it flows the nectar which feeds the postmodern soul. The images that accompany this section are beautiful, and act upon the viewer entirely subconsciously, touching each viewer uniquely. This section ends with a portrait of a young couple on the beach at night, serving as a bookend to the opening image of the man. Their faces are illuminated and they look directly at the camera. Adam and Eve? The balance of male/female? To be human is to be connected? To be human is to see directly and engage directly?
The final section, “Recognition is Not Knowledge” has no images at all, simply the words, “Seeing is not knowing. Recognition is not knowledge.” I suppose this is a reminder to us all, lest we become cocky with our newfound awareness and understanding that we are only really able to grasp at bits of the universe at a time as we move forward through time and space.
This book requires work and engagement, but, as with all things of real value, the effort is deeply satisfying. This fourth book marks Ken Schles as a true master of his art and culture maker of the highest caliber.
Oculus - Ken Schles
96 pages; 35 photos.