Balancing chaos

Untitled (black and white photograph)
Untitled (black and white photograph) by Paul Politis (2020)

Untitled (black and white photograph)

“It’s very spiritual because you’re suddenly seeing the coherence and the interconnectedness of everything — left to right, top to bottom, front to back. It’s all connected and somehow it’s in this balance.”
— Henry Wessel

Below is a collection of short videos where the late Henry Wessel shares his thoughts on his process and experience of photographing. I’m interested in those states of awareness that Wessel often spoke about, which is what I pursue with my camera. I achieve these states fairly often if only for very brief periods, and sometimes they elude me completely.

I’m always aware of how allusions to what psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi dubbed the ‘flow state’ in 1975 (Maslow called similarly described, though not identical, experiences as Peak Experiences in the 1960s, and the idea of the ‘muse’ is obviously much older but I believe related) tend to appear in accounts from artists and photographers. I’ve heard it described by Winogrand, for example (“I get totally out of myself … it’s the closest I come to not existing…”), and Cartier-Bresson. And Wessel (“soft eyes”) in a video I can no longer find on YouTube.

“It has to do with the discipline of being actively receptive. At the core of this receptivity is a process that might be called soft eyes. It is a physical sensation. You are not looking for something. You are open, receptive. At some point you are in front of something that you cannot ignore.”
— Henry Wessel

Studies show that people who achieve the flow state more often tend to rate their lives as more meaningful. These experiences can be very spiritual, as Wessel points out in the quote above, if one is open to thinking of things in that way. I think the language of describing it has evolved (devolved?), particularly here in the West, from spiritual to scientific, but the experience being described is the same.

In the first video below Wessel describes an aspect of the experience as being “a free agent between your instinct, anticipation and intelligence”.