Emerson, the Transparent Eye, and photos on my iPhone

 

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Illustration of Emerson’s “Transparent Eyeball” that accompanied the essay “Nature”

In his essay “Nature,” Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said:

“I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part of God.”

I know of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “transparent eyeball” and his essay “Nature,” but it is not my area of expertise.  (Although I confess, it is the illustration that accompanied the “transparent eyeball” passage in Emerson’s  essay “Nature”  that I recall most readily. It is a wonderful illustration.)

If I remember correctly, in “Nature,” Emerson is propounding a way of looking at the Universe in general and Nature in particular. It is Emerson’s “transcendental” way of finding communion with a divine being through observing the “scripture” that is Nature.

But lately I have been thinking of the “transparent eyeball” in a different way.

On a Monday in mid-April, I was reading a piece by a woman named Yoon Soo Lim.  In it, she mentioned that she had taken up a challenge of keeping a photo journal , in which one photograph was uploaded each  day of the year. The site was called blipfoto.

I didn’t think much of it, until my walk home through the city.  I started seeing possible “photo ops” everywhere: a funky display in an art gallery, a shadowy alley with a latticework of fire-escapes, a graphic advertisement for a boxing studio.  I had become an “eye” and had begun seeing things that I passed every single day and had never seen, or at least never paid much attention to.

Fog Rolling In 2014 jpbohannon

Fog Rolling In
2014 jpbohannon

 

I took up the photo challenge myself.  And it has changed the way I look at things.

Doors on N. 4th Street 2014 jpbohannon

Doors on N. 4th Street
2014 jpbohannon

No longer do I walk aimlessly from the bus to my door, from the street to the train station, from my desk to the cafeteria.  I walk now with a purpose…the purpose of seeing.

 

Sculpture at Market East Train Station 2014 jpbohannon

Sculpture at Market East Train Station
2014 jpbohannon

I am not sure why, but this leaves me feeling very alive.  I feel that I am “seeing deliberately”—a term that echoes Emerson’s disciple Thoreau who advised us all to “live deliberately.”  I am excited to see things, to find things, to re-discover things that had been invisible for so long, behind the cloak of daily routine.

And I am having fun with it.

 

Werner Herzog, Northern Liberties and my neighbors’ art

Werner Herzog photo Bil Zelman

Werner Herzog
photo Bil Zelman

So it is August last year and I’m with a group of people at a street fair on 2nd Street and we’re standing watching the children attempting to throw over-sized basketballs into undersized hoops. All of a sudden, the barker takes away one of the balls and points it to me. “Let’s give Werner Herzog a try,” he says.

Now, I’ve have been compared to a lot of people in my time–both as insults and as compliments–but I had never been compared to Werner Herzog before. We all had a laugh and promptly forgot about it…until this past Tuesday, that is.

Anyway, I was walking down 3rd Street to my local when I passed the abandoned Ortlieb’s brewery at 3rd and Poplar. It is a derelict building with a lot of character but in really great disrepair, and nobody yet has taken the risk to convert it to anything. Anyway, I was surprised to see, yet again, a reference to the German film director: Brand new graffiti spray-painted on the brewery wall.

Newly Arrived Graffiti on the wall of the abandoned Ortlieb's brewery (3rd and Poplar).

Newly Arrived Graffiti on the wall of the abandoned Ortlieb’s brewery (3rd and Poplar).

What is the fascination with Herzog in my little neighborhood? I photographed it immediately.

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Philadelphia is very proud of its wall art–murals that dot the city–and visitors can now take one of several bus tours visiting the more spectacular ones. But in my neighborhood of Northern Liberties, the wall art is not necessarily all that official–but it is more than impressive. And so on Wednesday, I took my own little tour of just a one block by two block area, snapping whatever pieces I saw.

A half-block north of the Ortleib’s brewery is Liberty Lands Park. Its southern wall is Kaplan’s Bakery and the air is filled with the aroma of baking bread–bread that makes its way to many of the restaurants throughout the city. The wall is filled with a three-dimensional mural of birds and bees and a map of the land as it once was.

A half-block north of the Ortleib's brewery is Liberty Lands park.

A half-block north of the Ortleib’s brewery is Liberty Lands park.

At the northeast corner of the park, where Bodine crosses Widley, there is a house where the owners have painted a interesting tale on their wall. The famous tortoise (looking a bit startled) is crossing the finish tape, held up by a pigeon and an owl. The hare is nowhere in the picture. Hah!

The Tortoise crossing the tape.

The Tortoise crossing the tape.

Immediately across the street, ten meters from the tortoise, a neighbor has painted his garden fence in lush roses.

A Garden Fence of Roses (Bodine and Wildey Sts.)

A Garden Fence of Roses (Bodine and Wildey Sts.)

A block away in one direction, there is a coffee shop…

One Shot Coffee Shop

One Shot Coffee Shop

… and a block away in the other direction is GreenSaw, an environmentally-conscious design, architectural, construction firm that makes furniture, does remodeling, and sells DIY materials and supplies—all earth friendly and green. I guess that pleases the orangutan on the wall next to them:

4th Street between Poplar and Brown

4th Street between Poplar and Brown