Spiritual Painting with Light

Given that it’s not possible to make an image of a red dogwood…

Sadly, a photograph, not an image of a red dogwood.

There’s a lot of camera in that thing.

… that is free of the technology that makes it and delivers it …

The Forest of Fontainebleau

Albumen silver print from wet collodion glass negative by Gustve Le Gray, c. 1856, in the Art Institute of Chicago

…what one is actually doing when one gives it a go is making an image of social technology, ie of art, which is shared by the photographer and the audience. Go too far from that and it’s all unrecognizable. This, for example, is a photograph and a painting, although all made by light.

Piscator No. II, by John Dillwyn Llewelyn, 1856, via the Metropolitan.

How can a dogwood be communicated then? That is, how can one lead people to the world? Both of the above are artworks, not recordings of objective reality. With words? Is that how it can be done? Let’s have a look:

Not likely. That, too, is an artwork, of the kind known as a database. It actually says very little about the experience of living with a dogwood, even when does it only for a moment. So, what about the spirituality of a dogwood? That, too, is tough in the mechanized form of speech known as contemporary English. For a plant that was at the heart of medicinal traditions for thousands of years, this is what our language can manage these days:

A complete failure. Perhaps you can see in this a hint as to why I am writing a history of my country that attempts to see beyond its commonly accepted shapes and forms, as a way of sharing the experience of living it and the experience of being alive in it as more than an artifice. When one is the land, what else? Of course, artifice is what we have, so here’s a red dogwood from yesterday.

Here’s the same one a few years back.

And here’s some context:

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1860s) untitled cliché-verre, 19.8 x 16.7 cm

The clich´é- verre technique of print-making (above) entailed…

etching ground (asphaltum) applied to glass plates and blackened with lamp soot, but the wet-plate process soon provided a more convenient solution. Collodion, or nitrocellulose, could be used to make explosives known as gun cotton and was a flexible, paint-on dressing for wounds (1846, and still in use), and also led to the creation of the first plastics.


In the end, one photographed a drawing and printed it, and had a landscape that looked as if taken from life. Art and the Earth are not far apart in these technologies. I find it fascinating. With that in mind, and with a different aesthetic (this isn’t the 19th century and it isn’t Europe) here is a photograph that draws light rather than “captures” it, as a camera is said to do.

Note the bit of snow on a poplar limb. Notice how I have drawn it. Heck, if Corot could draw an image and then photograph it, can’t Rhenisch just draw light, using his camera’s sensors as a pen or a brush? Of course! Here’s another earlier image of the same bush up the hill to compare it to:.

And here it is with a couple dead leaves from the early frost.

How beautiful. It’s still not a dogwood, though, but it is a conversation. It is language. Note the difference between its conversation with the camera and the camera’s fractal making processing from an older image below:

I like that deepening of the conversation.Just as with drawing, one can press hard or softly, and change the point of view, the point where light enters the image, how much it slows, and where it stops.

And isn’t that what dogwoods do with the sun?

And the snow, too.

Isn’t that what they always do?

How they reach out to us and we reach back to them in thanks?

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