In speculation regarding the theory of other life in the galaxy and the possibility of contact with a new civilization, most of us fall into two camps: One is of the belief that a species capable of traveling to us in the first place, and therefore more advanced than we are technologically, must be benevolent, the theory being that benevolence is the by product of time, intelligence and evolution. The other camp believes that any superior force would likely be a conquering force that would subjugate any lesser species it encounters.

Both may be right, and I believe there is no constant in the universe when it comes to the motivations and emotions of others. But any species would likely have evolved from a basic survival instinct imperative, and we are imbued with it as well. Therefore, any species, when fearing harm or death, would likely respond to this imperative and go to great lengths to justify any actions required in the pursuit of its own survival. Certainly we have seen this in our own recorded history.

My image started off as whimsical, and still is somewhat, but as I spent days on it, thoughts of alien civilizations played through my head, and I began to regard this image differently. It seems harmless -  an observer, a cartographer, an archivist quietly observing a representation of a planet, careful not to interact with it, keeping to the darkness. In my mind, this was an observer, a benevolent visitor in a holographic outpost of sorts, watching our planet discreetly and covertly, beaming back all the information he gathers to his people.

But the first task in invasion, the first step towards attack, is observation. Assessment of the target's abilities, weaknesses, capabilities. If this alien is benevolent, as his actions seem to indicate he is, what would this information be used for if the race from which he came decided to use that data for military purposes? In other words, "Who Watches The Watchmen?"

This phrase originates from a first century Latin poet, Juvenal. Though the satire it came from dealt with marital fidelity, the issue of moral fidelity is at play here too. If this alien is the benevolent watcher, who is watching him? Who will ensure he adheres to his own morality, if indeed anyone and everyone is corruptible? This is why I hold no faith, no belief in the religions of our time - because any group, any gathering greater than one, is corruptible, susceptible to politic maneuverings, and no one in that group is beyond corruption.

Originally, this image started off as a satire on the "careful tourist" - the traveler who adheres to the safe, the prescribed paths, and never gets his hands into the heart of the land and culture he is visiting. Once I made him into an alien observer, my mind reached back to an old episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation which has a similar title,  where the Federation, adhering to their own Prime Directive of non-interference of a less advanced culture, discreetly observe a primitive race from a hidden outpost. Through an accident, the outpost is seen by the race they are watching, and the Prime Directive is violated, contaminating the natural evolution of the people and their world. Their very beliefs are changed in a day when they behold the "miracles" of the advanced society that was studying them.

It reminded me of something I read once about the paradox of observing quantum mechanics. Essentially, it is not possible to observe a system without changing that system, and the observer and the act of observation, therefore, must be considered part of the system being observed!

In other words, the ethics of surveillance, as it relates to this fantasy piece, is the issue. Whatever the intentions are of the Watchman here, the information he gathers could one day be used to change the world he is observing, and the concern is one that applies to almost any culture, and leader, any society: Who Watches the Watchmen?


Michael Bilotta

04/28/2014

In Jungian Psychology, the Shadow archetype is sort of a repository for all an individual's darker qualities: the weaknesses, instinctual impulses, the negative tendencies and motivations. It is the wild side, the chaos, the unknown, the repressed ideas that the conscious mind. The shadow is often projected outward; instead of accepting this dark side as part of ourselves, we project our shadows onto others. Jung also described the shadow as the base of creativity - a rebellious force of nature acting against the rational, the logical "real world" around us.

In my recent session with this model, a few of the shots failed to trigger the lights, giving me essentially a dark silhouette of the man. I decided to play with these shapes, and attempt to build a piece based on the shadowy figures I was creating with the model.

As I built this piece, as usual, I did not know what I was ultimately creating, and it seemed to stay ambiguous for most of the process. Starting with the silhouette figure, I gave him a counterpart in the distance and liked that they resembled each other yet did not seem to acknowledge each other.

The setting of the Salton Sea, a desolate place if there ever was one, was something I wanted to use since I shot there last month. Part of this was the ruins of a small home structure, and I added light poles from another location in the ruins to conjure up a forgotten landscape, a place in decay or stasis. Adding snow and setting it at night certainly helped give it a sense of foreboding.

So what was the relationship between these two? Why is one waiting and what is he waiting for? What is he looking at? Why is the shadow figure avoiding the light?

It became an exercise of light and shadow, and a Jungian metaphor. The conscious side of the man is in the light, contemplative and patient, while the shadow appears to be moving or at least stepping away from the light. The light is reason, the light is consciousness, The man is unaware that his shadow is at his side, always with him, stalking him - one staying safely in the light, the other moving into darkness. The poles seemed to represent barriers or degrees of separation between them, and the scale became somewhat significant too - the shadow figure being much larger than the Self.

I gave the man and his shadow some familiars, birds to mirror this universal constant of the conscious mind and the subconscious - one content to remain in light and the other, the shadow, restless and on the move. Perhaps this desolate place is too arid, too dreary and uninspiring for the creative force of the Shadow to remain here. If this part of us truly represents our creative energy, our hidden desires, perhaps the Shadow is right in leaving, as the cold light of waking life offers little comfort. Perhaps the unknown, despite the dark path one must travel to get there, is a better place than what the Self accepts as his real life.

Despite the negative connotations associated with the Shadow archetype, it can motivate us, it can expand us if we accept this part of ourself and confront it, contain it. We see the Shadow in much of our contemporary and classic literature - a prime example being Mr. Hyde, the Shadow persona of Dr. Jekyll. Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes, Darth Vader and Obi Wan, the Emperor and Yoda, Harry Potter and Voldemort. Even Batman can be seen as the Shadow of Bruce Wayne. All these characters eventually confront or contain their Shadows and a resolution is achieved, a balance is struck, a sense of something completed, a journey concluded. Jung called this process individuation - a process of assimilating the shadow into the persona.

The man and his Shadow in this image do not appear to be at that stage yet -  alongside each other yet unaware of the other. They are in the dreamscape here, which often can be a place where we see our Shadows at work, an attempt to communicate with that side of ourselves we repress and fear.

Regarding the title, I thought it was somewhat playful, using the theoretical substance of our universe but also referencing the darkness of the matter at hand - the man and his Shadow and their connections - like dark matter, unseen yet binding them together.

Model: Ben

A Before and After version of this image will be available on my Facebook page and my website:

www.facebook.com/MichaelBilottaPhotography
www.michaelbilotta.com