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Eye to Eye


The Tate Galleries define abstract as "art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of visual reality but instead uses shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect. They define conceptual art, on the other hand, as art for which the idea (or concept) behind the work is more important than the finished art object. I can't decide which category this image falls into, so I'll just call it abstract conceptualism.


I tried several versions of this photo in B&W and color before I settled on this one (with the help of a independent photographer friend). This image is taken out of a world of color but needs that in order to feel the full dimensional impact. What is it? What is it saying to us as viewer? But don't read on until you've given some thought to what this image might represent for you. I won't be coy and keep you guessing from where this image came, that's not my intent. Rather, I want you to first come up with your own perspective, and only then try to see it from mine.


Ready now?


Okay, it is clearly an eye. But whose? The hair fully encompassing the eye will tell you that it is an animal and not another human. It is actually a ram. You probably couldn't make out the ear with the tag in it. See it now? And the frame through which the eye is peering is a wire fence. Easy enough to identify now that you have some context. It was William Shakespeare who said that "the eyes are the window to your soul." I can't see why that should not also apply to the animal kingdom, assuming we can all agree that a soul represents that part of a being that thinks, reasons, considers, learns, remembers; experiences emotion; is able to resolve, choose or make decisions. Of course I'm not here to argue that animals and humans reside on the same plane in this respect, nor that all humans are for that matter. As with just about everything, things come in varying degrees.


What might be the most interesting thing about this image is that you can't really tell in which direction the eye is looking. Is it looking straight on, into the camera lens as it were, or is it looking to its left, off to the side, perhaps at its ewe or newborn kids sidling up to the fence hoping for some food or attention? The eye gives nothing away; the ram holds himself close--for fear and protection, or for acquiescence to his situation (that is, stuck behind the fence). Can you tell just by looking at the image? Probably not, so as viewer you project what is foremost in your own mind onto the image. The eye is devoid of feeling, it is behind a fence. How does this resonate? And then, what feeling does it invoke? Only I as the photographer can tell you that he was actually smiling, eager for some attention, some diversion, or perhaps just a handful of grass; there was no fear, no aggression, there was only wonder, and maybe a little boredom. I could scratch is nose a bit, but not place my warm hand against his body. I could drop a bit of grass or straw through the wire mesh, but not hold my hand out in a friendly gesture. I couldn't release him from the only home he knew.


I guess what I'm saying is that even when two entities see eye to eye across a plane, whatever that plane may be, there will still be a barrier The barrier might be physical, like this fence, or a barrier between species. I could list a dozen or more different barriers the ram and I encountered, but that isn't the point. The point is, we were able to connect even for just a moment, and that made the barrier between us less important.

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