Koan: a story, dialogue, question, or statement whose meaning cannot be accessed by rational thinking, yet it may be accessible by intuition.
“Koan” is a body of work that I have been pursuing for over 20 years. It is an ongoing series of photographs of traffic cones as they are found on the street. Since beginning the series people have often asked why I have called this body of work “Koan”. My reply is that a Koan is a story, question or statement used by Buddhists when meditating. By focusing on the koan, one is able to change their perspective or understanding of the world. An example of a koan is:
Wakuan complained when he saw a picture of bearded Bodhidharma,"Why hasn't that fellow a beard?"
While the koan seems not to make sense, a continued and repeated focus on it eventually leads to a new understanding. I feel that my photographs also serve this purpose. My own focus on traffic cones has led me to a new perspective of photography, art and life. When I started photographing them I didn’t know what I was looking at or what I wanted my photographs to be. But over after many years I began to see that the cones were becoming something greater than just a traffic cone. They were becoming objects with distinct personalities, objects with the power to teach me to see deeper and to look further then I had before. My point of view had undergone a shift and I was now able to perceive ordinary things on a different level.
My work exists in the realm between looking and seeing, where ‘looking’ is just the use of one’s eyes to see the world visually but ‘seeing’ is going beyond the eyes in order to examine the world spiritually. In order to reach this place I photograph traffic cones but the resulting images are more than traffic cones, they are visually arresting images that at first allow viewers to bring their own interpretations of what they are seeing. When viewers finally understand what the images are of they experience a moment of enlightenment, a moment where they understand what they are seeing.
This difference between looking and seeing is a matter of focus, a matter of seeing things for what they are beyond the physical level. And this is what the history of photography has always been, a search and exploration the world around the photographer. In his search, Ansel Adams photographed the landscape of America; in his, Robert Frank photographed the soul of America; in mine, I am photographing the traffic cones of America. Between us the subject matter is amazingly different but the intent of the artist is the same. To focus on the chosen subject and explore it thoroughly in order to discover their similarities as well as their differences, to find out how the world around us speaks to us.