Stephen Strom

Stephen Strom has a retrospective exhibition at the Verve Gallery in Santa Fe, closing January 19th, but he is is not slowing down by any means.  Stephen has a new book, Sand Mirrors that is “a marriage of poetry by Zen teacher Richard Clarke and photographs by Stephen Strom.”

Stephen spent his professional career as an astronomer and began photographing in 1978.  His work, largely interpretations of landscapes, has been exhibited widely throughout the United States and is held in several permanent collections. His photography complements poems and essays in three books published by the University of Arizona Press: Secrets from the Center of the World, a collaboration with Muscogee poet Joy Harjo; Sonoita Plain: Views of a Southwestern Grassland, a collaboration with ecologists Jane and Carl Bock; Tseyi (Deep in the Rock): Reflections on Canyon de Chelly co-authored with Navajo poet Laura Tohe; as well in : Otero Mesa: America’s Wildest Grassland, with Gregory McNamee and Stephen Capra, University of New Mexico Press (2008). A monograph comprising 43 images, Earth Forms, was published in 2009 by Dewi Lewis Publishing.

Sand Mirrors
The images in
Sand Mirrors — which might be called metaphorical photographs — were taken on a
variety of beaches located along 
the Northern
California and Oregon coasts during 2007-2011.
These beaches are
notable for their relative isolation, expanse, 
stark uplifted
and eroded rocks. backdrop of richly foliated coastal 
cliffs, and
variety of sands (basalts; silicates).

This compelling
landscape was born in a cataclysmic collision 
of continental
plates and vigorous vulcanism, and shaped over 
millennia by
continuing tectonic activity, and the erosive power 
of the Pacific
Ocean. Fresh water streams flow through many of 
these beaches,
carrying silt and minerals seaward from the nearby 
coastal range. It
is the merging of ocean sands and finely ground 
minerals at the
interface of fresh water and ocean tides that creates 
patterns that are
at once transient, yet somehow timeless as well.

By recording
these patterns, Stephen Strom aspires to achieve the nearly possible: evoking
the seen and unseen rhythms of an ever-changing landscape, reshaped by wind,
tide, and the pulse of the earth itself.

The images invite
viewers to “quiet wonder at these few inches of sand that proclaim perfection’
and to remind them in the words of Lao Tzu “to the mind that is still, the
whole universe surrenders.”
 not wings of butterfly nor of bird

primordial
crafting on the shifting sands
of shadows of
forms to come
blue
among the
wandering lines
of mind that
tries to contain
or explicate
than leave it
as it is
in awe and
quiet wonder
at these few
inches
that proclaim
perfection
on this beach
for us to
stop
to stop and
see

 so neatly pieced together

with bold
dynamism
as we would
like our life to be —
smooth,
impervious and impeccable
a joy to
behold and to show to others
but what
really is
this fabric,
this tissue of self?
could it be
that it is
as mutable and
ungraspable and transient
as water and
sand?

 we keep seeking out and coming back

with faith —
the proof of things unseen,
that certainty
which, though yet unknown,
draws us on;
the sandy
surface an analog of simple silence
which all
those who directly know the Path
cultivate
as the place
of opening —
so here it
seems a tear in that surface,
yet what is
revealed beneath
is of one
substance with that which seems torn:
tantalizingly
blue feathery hints
that all our
seeking may only hide from us
what only
silencing will give some chance
at revelation
that
knowing is
intimacy

 are these building blocks for a nascent future

or shards from
the last great kalpa
our future is
our past and our past our future
or so it has
been said
converging
onto this point without dimension
that is now
we cannot but
look
and reflect
upon what affinity
what resonance
what aesthetic
compels us to
stop
and not walk
by

 needle and thread invented before the world needed them

no fabric but
sand and water
but sand and
water accommodates to the thread
like an oxbow
river
things that
otherwise might seem bizarre together
come out fine
on an Oregon beach
wear one
sandal and no other clothing
play a flute
you can hardly hear above the ocean surf
sand and water
blend it all into the one organism that it is
a real world
bigger than our rules


sea-crafted jewels emerge
from sand’s
soft silky fabric
with no one
and nothing to adorn
intrusions
into the stark innocence
of a
sufficient world that never asked for them
whose hidden
reaches lie modestly above and beyond
unwanted
treasures —
begs us to ask
what or who confers value on jewels?
or deems them
treasure?
and why would
naked beauty
wish further
adornment?

our lady stands before us
bedecked in
fishes scales
snakeskin and
Irish lace
her
translucent robe
hangs loose
upon her wondrous body
she rises from
the ocean in tidal time
gives us
demonstrations of skills
designs
of symmetries
we had not even hoped to see
we poor
landlocked creatures
that only
replicate and model
what she can
vision and create

it does seem that we might be viewing the sketchpad
of the
designer of many things
or doodles of
nothing at all
yet
everything in
this world comes from nothing at all
all
derives from
this generative exploration
a pencil
on a sketchpad
finding forms that appeal
that interact
what we are as
human beings
through all
the time we’ve ever known.
ocean holder
of all origins and memories
lays a record
down in sand
transient
between today and tomorrow
ideas
buildings empires of cities
and rooftops
streets and alleys
just this
where or what
or
sand-thoughts knowing not
what the next
wave might bring

an abstract artist or the imagined god create
from
Emptiness, the pregnant void
leave their
creations for a brief time in these compliant sands
until the next
cycle —
strong yet
gentle perfect curves
decisive
strokes
declaring what
mere words can never say —
their
magnetism holds us
to look and
maybe see
what silence
and the sounds of sand and sea
announce
ceaselessly —
if we but come
with patience
matching in
our timeless being
their
unhindered Source

in these few inches on the beach
vast river
basins being topographed
and in another
blink
are waving
strands of grasses
fossilized by
light
in flesh-soft
sand
until another
era washes over
by creator
wave