Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pondering Impermanence With The Way Back Machine*

In October of 1993, the same year I finished climbing the 46 High Peaks, a group of Tibetan Monks were visiting St. Lawrence University. During their stay they created a sand mandala (photo above) in the art gallery. We went to the final ceremony. Before the ceremony there was a step ladder from which I (and others) were allowed to photograph the mandala.

During the ceremony the monks swept the  sand to the center and stirred it before scooping it into a glass pitcher. Those who wanted were given a small amount of the sand as a souvenir. Above my monitor as I type this there is a small silver box containing about a teaspoon of that sand. Following the destruction of the mandala and placing the sand into the pitcher it was taken to the river where it was poured into the water to wash away.
One of the purposes of the creation and destruction of the sand mandala is to demonstrate the impermanence of all things. Tonight as I was scanning these old negatives I was struck by the irony that the mandala lives on in these photos and not only mine. In the second photo where the sand is being poured into the river I count no less than 5 still cameras and one movie camera, not counting the one I took the photo with. In addition to that there were dozens, if not hundreds of photos taken during the several days that the monks worked on creating the mandala in the gallery. Those of us who photographed the mandala and ceremony took a demonstration of impermanence and made it permanent, at least relatively permanent. Certainly more permanent than the monks intent.

I recently read about a group of photographs that were shot into space on a geostationary satellite with the expectation that they will still be around millions of years from now. It seems in spite of the message that the monks brought to Canton, NY nearly twenty years ago we humans are doing our level best to create permanence in an impermanent universe and photography seems to be our chosen tool.

* With apologies to Sherman & Mr. Peabody I've taken to calling my camera "The Way Back Machine".

No comments:

Post a Comment