commit: in light and shadow

ABSTRACT COMMIT: IN LIGHT AND SHADOW By Dawne Marrie Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies, with emphasis in Art and Special Education “No matter how fast you run, your shadow more than keeps up. Sometimes it’s in front. Only full, overhead sun diminishes your shadow. But that shadow has been serving you. What hurts you blesses you. Darkness is your candle. Your boundaries are your quest.” "From Wetness and Water", Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi Photography functions as a pause within the chaos. In a brief moment, the endless motion stills and all I need surround me. Photographs remind me that I have stopped to attend. What started out, as a relentless ache to understand myself has become a quest for redemption and resolution. Through the lens of my camera, I seek simplicity. With respect to instinct and expression, I seek solace. I voluntarily exchange precept and fear for exploration. Equipped with my camera and my shortcomings, I fearlessly imparted on a visual journey with hope and without reservation. Exploration allows me to investigate moments of my life that best define my existence. This experience is my commitment to engage without restrictions and understand my existence through understanding something that flourishes separate from myself. Through this encounter I was able to embrace difference and relinquish comfort in an attempt to bypass formal introductions and enter into a social contract with another species. An awkward relationship between the mantis and me, our journey begins. Throughout the years, chance encounters with the praying mantis made me more fearful yet even more intrigued. Social development occurs over our lifetime. We enter social contracts in formal and informal settings. Such interactions with nature tend to follow unusual patterns. The female mantis exhibits a fearless and seemingly confident pose when approached. A past encounter with one female was surreal yet felt oddly familiar. I was entranced while observing a female mantis and her mate. Several minutes into my observation, she became aware of me and quickly reacted. The combination of movement and visual cues sent my system into fight or flight. A feeling of impending doom caused me to fluster and move to flee. Mantis, as do other insects, have compound eyes which consists of thousands of individual photoreceptors. Located at the center of each eye is a pseudo pupil, a dark spot that moves across the optical axis as it is rotated. The eyes are widely spaced and sit laterally on a triangular shaped head. It has an elongated neck, and articulation of it is remarkably flexible allowing it to rotate 180 degrees. In nature this ruthless predator is designed to be deadly. A combination of these alien-like movements and my preconceived fears fueled my defensive reactions. There was no formal communication or exchange of language, yet I believed in that moment that there was indeed a shared sense of understanding. My interest was peeked and prompted my research over the next few years. I studied anatomy, development, movement, vision, communication and behaviors of this insect in hopes of discerning facts from perceptions. My fear of insects, and particularly my fear of the praying mantis, made it difficult for me acquire full access into their environment. The mantis is fully formed from the moment it hatches. They exhibit all mantis behaviors, but they are not yet able to fly. The fact that they are extremely tiny and cannot fly made it easier for me to suppress my fear and coordinate my observations over time in a secured and controlled environment. This allowed an advantageous to ensuring an up-close and personal look into mantis natural behaviors, development and interactions as well as an opportunity to engage and evoke reactions with a species other than itself. My study of the mantis began prior to their hatching when they were encapsulated in the ootheca. It took several weeks before hundreds of nymphs emerged. And I would photograph them throughout the day in the days after and for the several weeks that follow. My basic agenda of this observational study was to witness behaviors and development of the mantis in the beginning phases of its life cycle. My objective was to examine behaviors and connect behaviors and interactions to my research on survival and communication. This controlled study gave me a close-up view of the development of the mantis from nymph to adult on a daily basis. This allowed me to witness and note such things as stance, movement and behavior. With a reasonable foundation acquired from a variety of resources across multiple disciplines, I was able to identify deliberate movements and understand their function. Many of the mantis movements are calculating and aggressive; however, I discovered each movement is directly related to its survival. Throughout their natural life cycle, survival depends on its ability to hunt for food. Within this particular execution, each stance and every movement has purpose. Teaching by example, the baby nymphs have taught me discipline. I have learned to become composed without distractions of sense or impulse. I have learned stillness through observation. A veracious appetite for understanding is bound by the courage and the willingness to explore oneself. As far back as I can remember, I was taunted by questions. Cognitive deficits made it difficult for me to construct linear patterns of thought. Thought provoked me in many directions at once. Intellectual development hinged on my ability to adapt. Studying the complexity of the mantis and focusing on the basic skills of its survival gave me a well-rounded perspective. It became the perfect way for me to maintain my attention on the entire project and the many aspects of this experiment that interested me. I can indulge in the experience while simultaneously focusing my attention on a single event or solitary movement. The mantis is built for combat, is predatory and a skillful defender. Survival of the individual nymph is determined by their strength to sustain in their environment. The weak ones did not survive. They are combative and disciplined; and it became evident as the stronger nymphs prevailed. There was no particular social factor to report, however, they will confront one another and show dominance and at times attack without provocation. They even cannibalize their own. A commitment to photography became an adventure of truth and means for resurrecting the self I once sought after with all my might, a performance of opposites. A visual engagement, myself and another that not only I feared but understood even less than I understand myself. To explore the mantis in all of its form, I had gained awareness and adopted a new and improved way of thinking. A chance to formally engage in an event on unfamiliar territory was rooted on common ground. With photography I was able to commit in the light and in the shadows as I captured the mantis world on film. Surveying the scenes of this miniature world as it remains dormant and quiets in anticipation preparing for new life to emerge. Photographs were moments I was able to celebrate and record as I spent time with this strange insect. Fully formed and functional, they inhabit their space in an instance. My curiosity peeked, deliberately they advanced; and so did I. In my own quest for independence, I have come to learn to admire the praying mantis. Witnessing its strength has led to a deeper understanding which h fulfilled my need for clarity. Awareness and inspiration urge me to continue to search for enrichment. Revisiting the past where I was once fearful and confused of this insect, has allowed me to rekindle the internal passion that constantly provokes me offering me new ways to engage myself and celebrate the world around me. Although I am not fully comfortable socializing with an adult mantis, I thoroughly enjoyed the brief friendship with the little nymphs. Their movements were graceful and will stay with me far longer than their behaviors. To me, they seemed oddly detached and harshly independent. As with nature, all living things are different. I will remember the subtle similarities and take with me the gift of having had an opportunity to engage with such a perfect creature. In the end, fear was replaced with respect. Respect for something I did not at first consider beautiful. This encounter has allowed me to find solace; with meaning comes peace. A feeling of accomplishment allows me to enjoy a brief moment of inaction. And like the mantis, my rest will be followed by more adventure.