Transcending the Camera:
The Bright Reality Beyond “Point of View”
by Adi Da Samraj
The camera is “point of view” incarnate. The event of the camera registering an image on a piece of film replicates the human idea of what it is to see: The light of the “outside” world enters through a small aperture and is registered on a light-sensitive material. Thus, both the camera and the human being are mechanisms for registering reality from a particular “point of view” in space-time. The camera—like the human being—is a “point-of-view machine.” Thus, the process of making photographs reflects the nature of the human event, of human experiencing.
The human individual in the midst of reality is like a camera in a room—perceiving everything from a fixed “point of view.” But what does the room really look like? The room can be viewed from every possible “point of view” in space-time—not merely from any particular “point of view,” or even a finite collection of “points of view.” Therefore, no “point of view” can reveal the room, or reality itself, because every “point of view” is limited and essentially self-referring.
Reality itself always already exists. Reality itself is what exists prior to “point of view,” before any individual “point of view” constructs its version of presumed “reality.”
“Point of view” is the essence of ego-life: The apparently individual being presumes that he or she is a particularized “point,” or organized “point of view,” in space-time. And that “point” is “made” by contracting from the condition of totality—and, indeed, by contracting from even every mode, form, or condition of conditional existence. Therefore, the camera is a precise mechanical equivalent of the ego—because it, too, functions as fixed “point of view.”
In my use of the camera, I work to make images that go beyond, and even undermine, the conventions of “point of view.” Such images transcend the limitation that would seem to be inherent in the photographic mechanism (or “point-of-view machine”). They allow the viewer to see and feel the “room”—or the world, or reality—as it is, beyond the ego’s self-reference. And such images thereby become a non-verbal means of “picturing” the essential human process of ego-transcendence—going beyond the fixed “point of view” of the ego, or the core presumption of separateness.
This consideration of the human being as a “point of view” existing in the midst of unknowable reality began in my childhood. I spent many hours sitting silently in my room, contemplating what it would mean to exist and perceive not from a “point of view” in the room, but from the “point of view” of the room itself. This was the beginning of my investigation of the process of Divine Enlightenment—the process by which it becomes possible to be identified with the condition in which all experience is arising, rather than with the “point of view” of the apparently individual experiencer.
That consideration of the “room” has always been at the root of my artwork. For many years, the artwork I created consisted primarily of paintings, drawings, and literature. Eventually, the decades of my consideration culminated in a focus in photography and video, as artistic media uniquely suited to the communication I intend to make.
Long before I started my concentrated work in photography and video, I established my fundamental artistic position through the writing of a study of early twentieth-century literature and art, focusing on Gertrude Stein and such painters as Cezanne, Picasso, Mondrian, and so on. (This study was written as my Master’s Thesis, in the English department at Stanford University, in 1966. My graduate studies in English at Stanford were built upon my undergraduate studies in the philosophy department of Columbia College in New York City, including intensive study of world literature and world art.)
My primary interest in writing this study was to address the implications of the modernist effort to reduce art to sheer plastic and technical manipulation of words or paint (or the “medium,” in any form), thereby achieving a “meaningless” artistic communication. My conclusion was that the effort to divest art of meaning is a grave fault—a fault which is also generally evident in the culture of the time (dominated by the “point of view” of scientific materialism), in the increasing “abstraction” from what is profoundly human and, even more so, from everything spiritual and Divine. This conclusion is summarized in the title I have given to this study: The Reduction Of The Beloved To Shape Alone: The Effort Toward Abstraction, The Pure Present, and The New In “Modern” Art, Psychology, and Philosophy—Especially As Defined In The “Meaningless” Aesthetic Theories Of Gertrude Stein.
Thus, although my approach to creating photographic images is highly abstract, I am not looking to create “meaningless” patterns. Indeed, I have chosen the camera as a medium precisely because it inherently preserves at least a degree of perceptual realism and does not allow for the kind of absolute “abstraction” from meaning (or participatory reality) that is potential with paint. I wish to maintain the tension of a clear and direct reflection of conditional reality, including an address to the process of transcendence.
If reality is reduced to a shattered abstraction without meaning, then the beautiful is no longer there, the beloved is no longer there. I use the photographic medium precisely because it inherently reflects human and conditional reality and form. I enter into my photographic contemplation of reality as a feeling process—never abstracted from a feeling-relationship to human experience, but always embracing human realities. The content of my images is extremely intimate, humanly and sexually, and deals with fundamental issues of existence in which people are profoundly vulnerable and where deep consideration is required.
Thus, the making of these images is a profoundly participatory work—not abstracting the subject from myself, but participating utterly. Therefore, the visual abstraction in these images is not something separate or separative, but an expression of the seamlessness of reality. I work to move the viewer into ecstasy—abstracted beyond the ego’s modes of perception. Ecstasy abstracts absolutely (but not meaninglessly)—beyond all presumed “difference” between “self” and “other.”
My art is created by means of my participation in the process of realizing the beautiful, or the condition that is ecstatic. When that condition is fully realized, one spontaneously utters, “All of This Is Beautiful! This Is That Which Is Beautiful.”
This purpose for the arts—of realizing that “All Is Beautiful”—is the understanding that was alive in the Western tradition in the time of Plato, as expressed in The Symposium. I am thoroughly sympathetic with Plato’s consideration of realizing beauty. In the centuries since Plato, that understanding has been degraded in the Western world, and in the common world altogether—but that understanding remains fundamental to right human existence.
The living body-mind inherently wants to realize the Matrix of life, wants to allow the Light into the “room.” Making it possible for human beings to fulfill that impulse is what I work to do. My images are created to be a means of participating in reality as Fundamental Light—the world as Light, relationship as Light, conditional light as Absolute Light.
The “room” is where the “focal point” of ego happens. Ultimately, when the camera is transcended, there is no longer any “room” at all—but only Love-Bliss-Brightness limitlessly felt, in vast unpatterned Joy.