Ann Whittaker | The Ecology of Paradox
I grew up at the base of a granite mountain that stood honest, simple, solid, true. I grew up in a home of disconnect and discord–a father who told me that girls couldn’t be archeologists and a mother who used to pray for wings so she could fly away. I lived in between these worlds of mountain and home–transitioning between two notes on a scale that I could not yet weave together. There was something alluring about the walk between my front door and the threshold of the mountain–I was walking a path that would create the geography of a life. I knew that music happened between notes–it is the distance, the relationships, and trust in uncertainty. You never quite know where you’ll land, but you have an intuition that the cadence, the arrival point, will resonate with your core being.
I closed my eyes to the broken relationships that surrounded me, and, yet, I could not turn off the sounds. I heard disjointed rhythms, dissonant chords, and unnatural silences. But in the mountain I heard aspen trees in the wind that transported me to a far away ocean, birdsongs that called forth the morning sun, and the sound of a river crashing into the thunder of monsoon season. These were the notes of paradox: the dissonance at home cultivated an ear for natural harmony, resolution, and resonance on the mountain. The geography of my soul was being formed by the ecology of paradoxes that I lived within.
I began to notice relationships, the place where two or more objects or people meet and identity is suspended––we are neither here nor there. How are we related in any given moment, over a lifetime? What distance or rhythm is between us? What is the ecology of a life? What is the composition? These are questions that began to flood my thoughts. Everything was about relationships, permeable borders, cause and effect, and the resonance we are left with.
I was consumed with paradox, and the tension between two seemingly opposing ideas. What music did a paradox create? What effort had to be made to get from here to there? What happened when sound faded into silence? What happened at dusk, when light slowly faded to dark? How could I feel so much love on a mountain when I felt invisible at home? It all existed. At once. In a composition that enchanted me to no end.
And then I opened my eyes to photography–compositions of relationships formed by light and dark. Where did the light meet the dark? In the subtle grays that give form through ambiguity––they are neither light nor dark. The grays, I found, were the music between the notes. And so I began to wonder can you see a cadence? Can you see an arrival point, made up of patterns, relationships, and intuition? How do shadows and light resonate like the rhythm of a poem?
I reoriented my life’s geography: I got on a plane to Mexico and walked into a classroom where I first began to understand that photography truly is the composition of paradox. And there was Jen–an unexpected but resounding cadence, an arrival point, a home.