Online Exhibition: 2015 HCP Fellowship Honorable Mention

  May 7 - July 5

Ryan Bush
The Hours: A Cycle of Consciousness

“Boundaries fade away as you dance your shadow with the ground. You feel plants growing out of your chest, stars emblazon your foreheard, and then all are merged into one...”

In the tradition of cyclical works like James Joyce’s Ulysses, the Egyptian Amduat, the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures, and the Rosarium Philosophorum, this series of photographs shows a cycle of transformation involving consciousness and shadow, spirit and matter, self and other, and ultimately transcending all divisions. The series will eventually have twenty-four images, and the HCP Fellowship would greatly help in completing the series.

This series is about being present to the true nature within ourselves, and to the world around us in the here and now. In some ways, the photographs are very simple - I photograph my shadow against the ground, and the images are minimally-edited on the computer, so what you see is what I saw at each hour.

As I photograph the images, I work to bring everything in balance. In addition to often using symmetrical compositions, my shadow and the ground need to be balanced without one dominating the other. The background needs to pulse with energy, like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. I don’t carefully arrange objects on the ground, I just align myself to my surroundings, so that objects line up with key areas, like the shadow’s spine or chakras. My shadow dances with the ground until they merge together, and are transformed. My body is made of dry leaves, or I am the Green Man. My surroundings, in turn, are animated by my shadow, become part of my subtle body. And then all boundaries fade away, and we are all one.

These photographs work with various opposites: sun and shadow, spirit and matter, consciousness and unconsciousness, the self and what is beyond with the self. I’m fascinated by the thin boundary areas in between, where light and dark mix. Unlike in traditional silhouette portraits, the boundaries of the self are not black and white - they can be blurred when we feel at one with everything.
When we’re deeply connected with ourselves and with what’s around us, we have a different relationship with the imperfections that are everywhere. There is exquisite beauty in fallen leaves, weedy bushes, cracked driveways, and old doormats, just as there is beauty in the human condition, and in our flaws and shadows. If we accept our flaws, we can bring light to the shadow, and claim the power that lies hidden there, like the jewels in the darkness of Hour #4.

These photographs also deal with appearances and reality. The pattern of the ground extends beyond the boundary of my shadow, though it may appear as different as night and day, depending on whether it’s covered by my shadow, or exposed to the blinding light that’s outside of me. Like the shadows in Plato’s cave, appearances aren’t the ultimate reality.

Even though the shadow is empty of human features (sometimes you can’t even tell if it’s facing towards or away), it reveals all the rich detail of the ground that lies beneath it. In some ways, these photographs show more of our underlying nature than a million selfies would. After all, we’re all made of the same basic elements as everything around us, we’re all made of dust and leaves and light. And like in Hour #5, a thought is like a gently-tangled knot, which can be unwoven and let pass when the time has come to move to the next Hour.

Matthew Arnold
Topography Is Fate—North African Battlefields of World War II

Recently published as a monograph by the German publisher, Kehrer Verlag, considers the varied landscapes of North Africa that the soldier of World War II was forced to endure. Thousands of miles from home, largely untraveled and ignorant of lands and peoples outside his home country, he was dropped onto the shores of what must have seemed to him a dangerous and alien environment—his understanding of the land limited to stereotype, myth and the relevant army field manual.

Some World War II battle sites, such as the D-Day beaches of Normandy, are well known and frequently visited. The critical battlefields of the North African campaign, which took place between June 1940 and May 1943, are particularly inaccessible, both because of their geographic location and because they exist within a region that continues to be affected by political strife and violent upheavals. Yet, in 2011 and 2012, I spent several months traveling from Egypt to Tunisia to document remote World War II battlefields where Axis and Allied forces fought against each other and against the elements amid challenging terrain.

The approach is conceptual, with the photographs of the North African battlefields presented, similar to the "New Topographic" photographers of previous generations, in an almost anonymous and neutral tone of voice. The images are taken in daylight, without complexity and noise, portraying a peaceful quietness of the desert or grassland to allow viewers to fill in that negative space with their own visualization of the war.

The project presented many obstacles, not only in locating all of the sites but also in obtaining the necessary travel documents, finding safe lodging and transport, and avoiding groups of protestors and rebel forces. I utilized World War II military maps to follow the route taken by the Allies. Along the way, I photographed the captivating beauty of the now-peaceful landscape, from its craggy coastlines and lowland marshes to its rocky hills and barren expanses of sand.

70 years have not yet eradicated traces of the fighting—campsites can still be found—evident by the amount of ration tins, trench systems and pill boxes that still carry the marks of battle. Unexploded shells, barbed wire and mines still litter the landscapes of North Africa and occasionally claim yet another victim, as if the very land itself is reminding us of the tragedy of war. These photographs depict the peaceful landscape that it is today, so very different from yesterday.