Search the Lounge


« The Crucial Role of Rod Rosenstein | Main | Striking teachers and the First Amendment »

April 05, 2018


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Those are indeed remarkable photographs on the website (until your post, I knew nothing about Maier!), reminding me why I prefer, generally speaking, black and white photographs to color ones (with films as well), a preference I've never been able to quite understand, let alone explain. Her work exemplifies, for this viewer, an aesthetic—or perhaps better, artistic—variation on the theme of spiritual humanism, where “humanism” refers to a non-religious (hence not ‘anti-religious’) orientation qualified by a notion of spirituality that is understood more or less along the following lines, which possess some family resemblance to religious expressions and incarnations of spiritual life:

(i) “[A]t the richer end of the spectrum [of spirituality], we find the term used in connection with activities and attitudes which command widespread appeal, irrespective of metaphysical commitment or doctrinal allegiance. Even the most convinced atheist may be prepared to avow an interest in the ‘spiritual’ dimension of human existence, if that dimension is taken to cover forms of life that put a premium on certain kinds of intensely focused moral and aesthetic response, or on the search for deeper reflective awareness of the meaning of our lives and of our relationship to others and to the natural world.” — John Cottingham, The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy, and Human Value (2005)

(ii) In Mad and Divine: Spirit and Psyche in the Modern World (2009) the Indian (or Indic) psychoanalyst and writer Sudhir Kakar reminds us that “Spirituality, like culture, has many definitions and yet manages to give a sense of familiarity to most of us. For me, the spiritual occupies a continuum from moments of self-transcendence marked by loving connection to an object—nature, art, visions of philosophy or science, the beloved in sexual embrace—to the mystical union of saints where the sense of the self completely disappears. The spiritual, then, incorporates the transformative possibilities of the human psyche: total love without a trace of hate, selflessness carved out of the psyche’s normal self-centeredness, a fearlessness that is not a counter-phobic reaction to the fear that is an innate part of the human psyche.”

(iii) From the neurosurgeon and philosopher Grant Gillett: “Spirituality lifts our eyes from the possibilities defined by the everyday and economic. The divine wind recalls the breath that gives us life and the cleansing water that allows healing and refreshment in the arid wastes of suffering is a figure with meaning that goes beyond the material. In the most unlikely places we find loving and transformative touches, that are the things of the spirit in that they are ways not only of understanding but also beatifying what we do, however bloody, messy and unromantic it is. We are beset by directives and discourses that reduce, demean, and obscure our humanity, that are not noble, uplifting, inspiring, and fulfilling. We can render life in operational (or narrowly functional) terms and make it tolerable through escapism and pleasure but there is another way. We live and love in a world where real tragedies happen, real joy is found, and real connections are forged through time and across barriers of culture and position. In those things we discover the resonance in ourselves of inscriptions, utterances, and works that deepen our understanding.” — Grant Gillett, Subjectivity and Being Somebody: Human Identity and Neuroethics (2008)

Bill Turnier

Thanks. Her photos are among some of the best I have ever seen. Nothing beats Black and White photography.

Anthony Gaughan

Thank you for your comments, Patrick. I first heard of Vivian Maier a few years back in either a New York Times or a New Yorker article. I don't remember which. In any case, I didn't think anything of her story again until last weekend when I stumbled across the documentary on Netflix. Now I'm hooked on her story and her photographs! Have a great weekend.

Anthony Gaughan

Thank you for your comments, Bill. I love black and white photography too, and Maier had such an amazing eye for telling a story in a single photograph. Have a great weekend.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • StatCounter
Blog powered by Typepad