Under the Influence – Beauty and the Surreal in France



“If you’re well, you should be able to live on a piece of bread, while working the whole day long, and still having the strength to smoke and to drink your glass; you need that in these conditions. And still to feel the stars and the infinite, clearly, up there. Then life is almost magical, after all. Ah, those who don’t believe in the sun down here are truly blasphemous.” — Vincent van Gogh, Arles, France, 1888

The photographs in this series are my responses to places, events, and things in France I saw and experienced during my first visit. For a week, my wonderful hosts drove me throughout parts of south France including Arles, Goult, Gordes, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, Roussillon, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, Mont Ventoux, and Vaison-la-Romaine. Later, I joined my wife in Paris for three days. The landscape was ornamented with surprising colors and sculpted in fantastic rolls, ridges, and rock formations. These colors and forms were familiar and inspiring to van Gogh, but wholly new to my eyes. In the villages and markets, we found whimsical, unnerving and illogical objects. Often juxtaposed with the charming and elegant. It all struck me as beautiful and yet surreal.
The Platonic ideal of beauty emphasizes order where unity, regularity, and simplicity exist. While the Surrealist asserts ambiguity, shock, chaos, and sometimes the abstract. My photographs were influenced by the two discordant concepts of beauty and surrealism, the rational and the irrational. As a result, tension is created.
Surrealism’s goal, as stated by leader André Breton, is to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality.” This is a worldview held, in part, as a reaction against rationality. I take the position summarized by contemporary theologian Jonathon King:
“The transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty corresponded to the good, the true, and the beautiful. These terms speak of reality being knowable, reality in its right form being desirable, and reality in its proper expression of being causing a sense of delight in those that behold that reality.”
An ancient king who was also a musician and poet, wrote of his yearning for ultimate beauty:
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”

Such is my quest.

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