Yes indeed, summer is here and for many people it is vacation time. So I thought it only fitting and proper to take a brief hiatus from this vocation to go on a mini vacation but not wishing to leave my readers with blank space in the paper this week, I have asked a fellow photographer by the name of Len Bernstein to share his thoughts and images with my readers. And so, without any further ado, here is:

Photography, Life, And The Opposites

Photography is perhaps the most popular art and pastime in the world, whether taking pictures with one’s cell phone or a complicated digital camera. Every day about 2 billion images are uploaded to the Internet and shared by casual snap-shooters and professionals—but how do we know when a photograph is beautiful, and why is this important? As a photographer for over 40 years and a teacher of the art I love I’m grateful to have found the answer in this landmark principle of Aesthetic Realism stated by its founder the esteemed American poet and critic, Eli Siegel.

“All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”

For example, the momentary and the permanent are opposites central in photography. No matter how fleeting the event, there is, or soon will be, a shutter speed fast enough to capture it for all time, revealing something new about the world. And that is what we are deeply hoping for ourselves—to see the world around us and the moments that fill our lives as having meaning and beauty that are permanent.

A good photograph, like every work of art, shows that opposites don’t have to fight, that the world and the things in it have a structure that makes sense. This satisfies what Aesthetic Realism explains is our deepest desire—“to like the world on an honest or accurate basis.” It also explains that we have another desire that is responsible for every cruelty—from a sarcastic remark to anti-Semitism and racism. It is contempt, defined by Eli Siegel as “a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not [one]self.” One of the reasons I came to care for photography as a young man was that it gave some opposition to my desire to find flaws in people and feel I was superior to them. As I looked through the viewfinder of a camera my desire to find meaning in people and things was encouraged and I began to have emotions about the world that made me proud.

Consider these two photographs I took at Brighton Beach. I was affected by the thoughtfulness of these three boys standing on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean.

They are separate individuals, joined together as they hold hands, looking down at the water gently moving about their feet. A wave is approaching and about to break right in front of them.

We don’t see this happen, but when it does, they are surprised and suddenly scamper off in different directions. Do we see in these photographs a composition of opposites we would like to make sense of in ourselves? I believe the answer is yes.  We need people and want to be close to them, and we also cherish our individuality and want to separate ourselves from others. We hope for some peace and quite, and also crave the excitement and release that accompanies the breaking wave. We are always trying to put opposites together in ourselves!

Len Bernstein was born and raised in Brooklyn where he currently resides with his wife of over 40 years Harriet. He is a photographer and educator who has taught students from kindergarten through college, and whose images are in many public collections. He regularly gives talks and workshops in educational settings that have included the Montreal Museum of Art and the Hebrew Home at Riverdale. His book, Photography, Life, and the Opposites, based on Aesthetic Realism principles, and with a foreword by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dr. Robert Coles, received a Star Review in Library Journal.