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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Twenty Four: The Workplace -- essence of a culture > Flower Shop, Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar, 2005
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Flower Shop, Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar, 2005

These shelves, loaded with floral offerings, seem to overwhelm the women who sell them to worshippers at the Schwedagon Pagoda, one of the largest complexes of Buddhist temples on earth. In this case, Iíve subordinated the workers to the product they sell. The colors, textures, and shapes of the floral offerings were so varied and unique that I wanted to fill the frame with them. The workers are positioned so they do not conflict with these offerings, but rather complement them. The boss, wearing white, stands at left, working on a white bouquet that reflects the effect of a shaft of late afternoon light coming into the store through a doorway. Larger arrangements of white flowers seem to flow out of that little bouquet and move across the top of the image. Her young assistant, wearing red, and holding a bunch of green leaves, is warily watching me. She seems to have found a perfect niche at the bottom of the frame. This was the way I found them, and this was the way I left them.

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Phil Douglis19-Aug-2005 06:02
Your message here is really to Marisa, Lisbeth. I am thrilled that you find her ideas as substantive and valuable as I do. She has given us all an enormous gift of wisdom and creativity here, one that has already helped me change the way I see and think as both a photographer and a teacher. I will drop her a note and make sure she sees your comment.

Lisbeth LandstrÝm18-Aug-2005 22:50
Marisa, I think your explanation of contrast and polarities is so rich. Your explanation unites so many bricks - it broadens the meaning of contrasts - and it is told with so much substance that I now have the feeling that I have just seen 1000 pictures showing unifications on top of caos. Actually I am "exhausted". I was especially fascinated by your explanation about our pulsing travel between the poles ending up in the middle - understanding the way of the united opposites. This picture is beatiful. Through learning and experiencing - often through mistakes - we learn to navigate better through life. To see also a human proces like this as a consequence of interacting of contrasts is very fascinating.
Guest 26-Jun-2005 12:37
You're welcome Phil! But I think that you already have the knowledge inside. I'm looking forward to that new gallery.
Phil Douglis24-Jun-2005 20:23
There is no way to adequately thank you for taking the time to share your philosophical and metaphysical knowledge with not only me, but also with anyone on pbase who might wish to take the time to study it. I will need more time to study these complex ideas myself, if I am to be able to do as you suggest in the final sentence. You ask me to start looking at my photographs as not merely expression, but also as a "unity beyond this world of illusions." I must learn how to see that unity, and the polarities that comprise it. For starters, I am shortly posting a new gallery in my cyberbook that might be a first step in that direction -- I will call it "opposites, contradictions, and contrasts!" I am sure you will have a few comments to make! Thanks again, Marisa, for taking all of this time and effort to share your extensive knowledge with us all.
Guest 24-Jun-2005 18:58
Before answering your questions, let me do some previous “blabbering” because it is not ‘Marisa’s theory of opposites’. It is the ‘human life’s theory of opposites’… and maybe, the ‘universe’s theory of opposites’… and maybe…
It will take some time, but believe me… is worth it!!
We will make a kind of trip alongside the human history and also alongside the universe history, if you want to travel with me. I’m sure you will. It will be all about contradictions and, then, what is beyond that. 
So... where to start??? In the beginning, of course.
Can we travel to the second before the Big Bang, where everything was condensed in a very little particle of something? Darkness. Amalgamated mass. All the possibilities of life –known and unknown- waiting there… for the exact conditions that would bring them to the life.
And then, voilá!! Something happened. And the miracle began.

The Tao produced the One.
The One produced the Two.
The Two produced the Three.
The Three produced all the things.
All the things have in their back the dark,
And tend to the light.
Lao Tze (Tao Te King, XLII).

The catholic faith has its own Genesis of the Universe, where all was darkness before God said: “let there be light”.
Let’s now make a quick ride to meet the alchemy and the astrology…
The alchemy includes several philosophical traditions, near four millennia of history and three continents, and its general predilection by the cryptic and symbolic language causes that it is difficult to draw up to his mutual influences and "genetic" relations. At least two main tendencies, which widely seem to be independent, can be distinguished at least in the first stages: the Chinese alchemy, centred in China and its zone of cultural influence, and the western alchemy, whose centre had displaced throughout the time between Egypt, Greece and Rome, the Islamic world, and finally again Europe. The Chinese alchemy intimately was related to the Taoism, whereas the western alchemy developed its own philosophical system, with only superficial connections with the main western religions.
The alchemy in the West and other places was intimately related and interlaced to the traditional astrology to the Greek-Babylonian style. In many senses they were developed to complement one to the other in the search of the hidden knowledge. Traditionally, each one of the seven planets of the Solar System that knew the old ones was associate with, it exerted the dominion on, and it governed a certain metal. The list of governments was the following one: The Sun governed Gold; the Moon, the Silver; Mercury, mercury; Venus, the copper; Mars, the iron; Jupiter, tin; Saturn, the lead. Here works the correspondence principle too (see below).
The philosophical stone of the European alchemists can be compared with the elixir of the immortality, persecuted by the Chinese alchemists. Nevertheless, in the hermetic vision, these two were not disconnected, and the philosophical stone frequently compared was the universal panacea.
The Chinese alchemy was closely connected to the Taoists medicine forms, such as acupuncture and the moxa, and to martial arts such as the Tai Chi Chuan and the Kung Fu.
In the Occidental alchemy tradition we can find the Hermetism, the ones that follows the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, who is supposed to be the founder of the Egyptian alchemy, and the 7 Metaphysic Principles:
1. The Principle of mentalism: "The All is mind, the Universe is mental."
2. The Principle of correspondence: "As above, so below; as below, so above."
3. The principle of vibration: "Nothing rests, everything moves; everything vibrates."
4. The principal of polarity: "Everything is dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are all the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled."
5. The principle of rhythm: "Everything flows, out and in; everything has its tides; all things rise and fall; the pendulum swing manifests in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates."
6. The principle of cause and effect: "Every cause has its effect; every effect has its cause; everything happens according to law; chance is but a name for law not recognized; there are many planes of causation, but nothing escapes the law."
7. The principal of Gender: "Gender is in everything; everything has its masculine and feminine principle; Gender manifests on all planes."
The concept of macrocosm–microcosm is the central belief to the hermetic philosophy. In other words, the human body (the microcosm) is affected by the outer world (the macrocosms), that includes skies through the astrology and the Earth through the elements.
We can relate this with the concept of ontogeny and filogeny, as expression of the human knowledge where we can find the part in the whole, and the whole in the part.
A single atom contains all the elements of the Earth.
A single movement of the spirit contains all the laws of the life.
In a single drop of water lays the secret of the immense ocean.
A single manifestation of you contains all the manifestations of the life.
(Khalil Gibran)
It is an interesting point that Niels Bohr, in 1923, hundreds of years after these principles, used the name “correspondence principle” to, in a way, start the quantum mechanical studies. Now, the atom has in the inside a positive and a negative charge. That helped the physics to understand the ondulatory and corpuscular nature of the matter; and was this principle what helped them to surpass apparently contradictory facts. The opposed ones were finally united, giving birth to a new conception. Radiation and atoms… good news and bad news for humanity… (Fritjof Capra wrote “The Tao of Physics”, very interesting book to follow the scientific idea through a spiritual base).
Back again to the Alchemy. If we understand it as a spiritual way (here, I can recommend you the work of Carl Jung “Psychology and Alchemy”), we find 3 steps to complete the Opus: Nigredo, Albedo and Rubedo. The final mission of the alchemy is to find the union of opposites in the man and, finally, between the man and the universe, through a process known as coniunctio oppositorum. If the human can do that, he/she will finally have the philosophical stone, the elixir of immortality, and will change lead into gold.
In this final stage, occur the illumination and what is known as the spark of God happen inside of the human being. That’s why the Buddhist says that we are all seeds of Buddha.
And, yes Phil, we are talking about opposites and contradictions!!
The opposites and contradictions are inside and outside us. It is our ego and our conscious what make us think in a fragmented way, as pair of opposites. We have a bipolar conscience. If I say “I” is because I can say “You”. So, we are immediately separated in a pair of opposites. When the child can discover that he/she is not her mother but an individual by its own, the first division appeared in the human mind and soul. And we start to think this way. Good and bad, day and night, hot and cold, up and down, man and woman, spirit and matter, life and death, light and darkness…
We always yearned to return to the original union. With our mother… and with the universe… and with the Divine. Because is in the Whole where we finally find the Unity of the Opposites. The Whole is also the Nothing. In the Union, the Whole and the Nothing finally disappear, melting together. The origin of the being is the Nothing (the ain Soph of the cabalists, the Tao of the Chinese). That’s why the opposites disappeared there.
But, it is not the world the one that is divided. It is our conscious of the world the one that is divided. When subject and object are one, the division disappear and the union of the being happened.
Now, all the opposites travel from one point to the other opposite with rhythm. Feel your breath, think about the seasons, the daylight, your heartbeat… everything has its own rhythm, its own time, sequence… Rhythm is the basis of the life, because if one of the poles disappeared, the other disappeared too. The interdependence of the opposite poles show us that the unit of each polarity exists.
We travel to one pole to the other with rhythm and in circles. With each circle we learn about the unity beyond the polarity. That helps us to arrive, sometimes very slowly, to understand that the Way is the way of the middle, where opposites can be united. The Buddhism has the metaphor of the chakra, the spiral and the mandala as the Way to reach the Buddha conscious.
Due to this bipolar conscience, where we divided the unitary in aspects that we contemplated in a successive way, the concept of time is born. Therefore, if behind the polarity it is the unit, behind the time is the eternity (considering eternity as the absence of time). Also is born the concept of space, consequence of these ones.
We have the polarity of the day life and the night life, united with the conscious and the unconscious world. We have the polarity of the inner unconscious and the collective unconscious, the cosmic conscience. Without the barrier of the “I”, both conscious can be united, and the illumination will occur.
On the other way, our brain also is a polarity. Left and right hemispheres work in different areas. Each hemisphere has different functions and objectives and, together, completes the human experience. Daniel Goleman wrote ‘Emotional Intelligence’ a couple of years ago, describing in a very interesting way the functions of the brain. It’s a bit hard to read because of some technical stuff, but highly recommended.
In the yoga, we have also opposites. Ida and Pingala are the energies that cross our body in the left and right part. And meet in the central canal through our spine, where we can find the principal chakras. In the Taoism, we have two principles in which the original unit –the Tao- is divided: yin (feminine principle) and yang (masculine principle). The Tai Chi symbol is the representation of this: white and black, light and darkness… In the Hermetic tradition, the same polarity is represented by the moon and the sun.
Right side of the body is guided by the left hemisphere of the brain, the one that represents the logic and language, our abilities to read and write, intelligence; is related to the Yang energy, the positive, the sun, male, day, conscious,life. Left side is guided by right hemisphere, the one of the perception, intuition, overall vision, symbolism, analogical thought, music, smell, graphic expression, Yin, negative, moon, feminine, night, unconscious, death...
The advantage that offers the polarity to us is the discernment faculty. The final mission of a polar conscience is to surpass its division and reach the unity. That’s why the polar world is called ‘maja’ (illusion). And the unity is called ‘reality’.
On the other hand, if we have the same basic atomic structure than the rest of the things and beings of the universe, we can say that we are all the same, in a certain way. That everything is in us, and that we are in everything. Pars pro toto.
Every healing path, all the metaphysical, religious, philosophical, esoterically systems teaches the way from polarity to unity. Think about it… No matter where they start, they finish in the union. All this systems and many more, are the expression of the central metaphysical law. (Joseph Campbell, an extraordinary mythologist, wrote 4 amazing volumes called “The mask of God”, if you have some free time, don’t hesitate and enjoy them. Also, there is an extraordinary film “Baraka”, that shows all this in an exceptional artistically way. You can find more info in
But… what happens if the man looses the knowledge of what is his final mission in life? More… what happen if the man believes that his final and only mission is to consume? He is lost and empty. Like the modern human being.
So, let me resume all this blabbering in the following sentence:
The polarity is the key to the UNION.
Now, I’m ready to answer your questions!
“If, as you say, life itself is comprised of circles, opposites, contrasts, and contradictions such as we see in this image, would you agree that any substantive photograph expressing aspects of life should also be comprised of such things as you describe?”
Yes. In all my comments to your photographs, I always talked about all the previous stuff. And I will always do that in the future, too. Because they’re an indissoluble part of the human experience and of the life itself. But I can go further. I think, and also believe, that any photograph can express these ideas because they are reflecting the human experience. Some can do it in a better and more profound way than others. Yours are an example of the last ones. All of them can be valuable. But some of them can be an extraordinary aid to the human quest.
“Does your theory of opposites expand on my definition of incongruity as "elements at odds with their context," or is it an entirely different principle altogether?”
I think that your concept of ‘incongruity’ is contained in the greater realm that is the polarity. Because, for you, the elements at odds with their context creates the necessary tension in the scene. And is precisely this tension what catch our attention and makes us start to ‘look better’ at the elements that compose the scene, going beyond the appearances. Basically, we are facing ‘pretended opposites’ that can be surpass with a ‘new’ vision. Or, at least, they’ll help us to understand in a new and profound way the human condition and its lack of unity.

“My own definition of photographic expression is based on the use of the key principles of abstraction, incongruity and human values. Yet you are both telling me that I am also making use of opposites and contradictions to express my ideas. Do you consider these to be an addition to my existing key principles of expression? Or are they already present when I am using incongruities to express my ideas?”
I guess that, in a quite unconscious way, you knew all the previous blabbering and that’s why you built up the triangle theory of expressive photography in that way.
Opposites and contradictions are already present in your theory, Phil. You just didn’t know that.
Because they are present not only in the incongruities. They are also present in the abstraction and in the human values.
Polarity is the basic rule of human life. We are polar entities until we finally reach unity. Working with polarity, watching and thinking beyond the illusion of this polarity, we can reach the reality of the union.
In that way, working with your expressive photography can be a way of working with our human condition, with our contradictions, illusions, opposites, rhythms, circles. That work can help us to understand the reality that lays behind the illusion.
Now, that’s my challenge for you. Go further. Don’t think about expressive photography. The next time you start watching a photograph, think and feel it like a medium to find the unity that is waiting for you beyond this world of illusions.
Phil Douglis28-May-2005 19:51
Thanks, Marisa, for revisiting this image and taking still another long look into it. The more we study this photograph, the more we can learn from it. I have some questions for you about Marisa's theory of opposites. If, as you say, life itself is comprised of circles, opposites, contrasts, and contradictions such as we see in this image, would you agree that any substantive photograph expressing aspects of life should also be comprised of such things as you describe? For example, I have long felt that my emphasis on expressing incongruities was also based largely on contrasts and contradictions. What we are probably both talking about here is just another way to understand the meaning of life, a way that lends itself quite well to visual expression. Does your theory of opposites expand on my definition of incongruity as "elements at odds with their context," or is it an entirely different principle altogether?

Coincidentally, Ruthie Hanson, in today's review of my "Liquid Gold" image at told me that "we can't have light without the dark." Both you and Ruthie are coming at me simultaneously on different images, yet making the same point. In my response to Ruth, I mentioned that you found similar opposites and contradictions in my River Svir image at and in this image.

I think you both may have led me to a new insight here. My own definition of photographic expression is based on the use of the key principles of abstraction, incongruity and human values. Yet you are both telling me that I am also making use of opposites and contradictions to express my ideas. Do you consider these to be an addition to my existing key principles of expression? Or are they already present when I am using incongruities to express my ideas? Thanks, Marisa, for your thoughts on this.
Guest 28-May-2005 15:55
You said that this women seemed to be buried in flowers and, in fact, they are.. because what I feel here is an overwhelming oppression, this lack of air and space and chance to move, not only in that little space of the shop, but for sure in their own lives. The picture looks like a cemetery, and the shop is their tomb.. no chance of happy life, no chance of good luck.
In the place of the 'good luck' lays the darkness.. and now I remember an old japanese proverb "the dark reigns on the feet of the lighthouse".
yes, again the circles, opposites, contrasts.. life itself!!
Phil Douglis27-May-2005 03:24
Yes, it is very surprising that that until now, nobody else has seen fit to comment on this image, which I feel is one of the most thought provoking images I have ever made, Marisa. I did not mention why in my caption, because I had hoped my viewers would pick it up and discuss it without being pre-influenced by my own thinking. It does not surprise me that when comment finally arrives on this image, it comes from you, Marisa, because of your knowledge of Buddhism, and your passionate fascination with the contradictions of life. You also have a gift for reading the meaning in images that seem to prove more difficult for others to understand. You found a message in my River Svir Sunset shot at, because of the pleasure you take in finding meaning in contrasts: the dark side vs light side, reality vs. illusion, beginnings and endings. And you see meaning here as well because of what you say are contradictions -- essentially the same as contrasts. I saw the irony in this image, Marisa. And you picked up on it because of who and what you are. These are the people who sell others good luck, but for them, luck has appeared to run out a long time ago. Religion for them is not a calling, but a business. I wanted to stress the fact that these women were virtually buried in flowers. Their work is hard and probably thankless. I wanted my viewers to feel the oppressive nature of this lavish color, another contradiction. And now you tell me that you feel the negative energy being transferred to the very offerings that others will use to buy good fortune. Contradictions...all contradictions? Indeed! Thank you for your special perception, Marisa.
Guest 26-May-2005 16:53
why is that nobody left a comment here? I can't believe it!! For me this one is so interesting...
Because we have here such a big contradiction!! This gallery is about the workplace as the essence of a culture, isn't it? But what I see and feel here is the opposite of the essence of budism.
I have this beautiful book called 'Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings' written by Edward Espe Brown, 1997, that teachs some interesting recipies of Zen kitchen (to say it in some way) and also told beautiful little stories and metaphors about life it self. He is a budist monk and also a cooker and always repet how important is the spirit behind a cooker, in the sense that if the cooker is angry the food will recieve that energy and the ones that will eat it, too. That's why is so important to do the things with happines and peaceful mind and spirit, especially if the work or its product will arrive to somebody else. This one is some sort of principle in the zen budism.
and what I see here is this two ladies that work with flowers (natural and artificial ones) making this ornaments that will probably finished as ofrends to Buddha. But this two ladies really don't look like happy people in their work.. the manager one, with that white wearing is absorbed in her work but doesn't have any good connection with it... just bussiness! And the little one, the assistant, looks absolutly tired, angry and unsatisfied with the work, the place and, probably, her life... Her hair, vanished in the background, seems to be now that sea of flowers..
There's life all around, even in the artificial flowers... however, the humans look so 'artificial' in the enviroment!!!
And so, what kind of vibes will recieve Buddha through the flower ofrend??
contradictions.. all contradictions!!
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