Interviewsand Articles


James Hajicek: To Fall in Darkness: Gifts of Suffering/Gifts of Rejoicing

by James Hajicek, Jun 4, 2001



Contributing editor Jane Rosen brought the photography of James Hajicek to my attention. The work made a strong impression with its mysterious quality, evocative of an intersection in the world of night where elements of the solid world meet spirit, a place of the unconscious where one can imagine transformation.
     In a note to me, Hajicek wrote that this work came at a time "in the middle of my life when one has to face everything that one has previously engaged in (and believed in) and realizes one has essentially been lost, wandering aimlessly, or at best just on the wrong path when compared to the true potential of human existence."
     This is that moment immortalized in Dante’s opening lines of the Purgatorio, "Midway through life I found myself wandering in a dark woods." To come into contact with such an awareness must either compel the beginning of a new search in one’s life or require finding some way to cover it over in order to return to a previous level of comfort, no matter how compromised.
     Our phrase, “mid-life crisis”— rolling off the tongue so easily—leaves one at a safe distance from whatever those words might mean. But the photographs here, along with the artist’s short text bring one within range of something. It’s what one asks of art, that it opens toward a real connection with actual experience. —Richard Whittaker

Hajicek writes: You are in a desert city in the middle of summer—Phoenix—its very name conjuring mythological images of fire and ashes leading to eventual flight and rebirth.
     The heat is debilitating, the air is filled with mirages, and the brilliance of the sun can be blinding. Amidst this light it is the darkness you seek, but not for comfort nor escape: you know it is the darkness that must be entered first. So you wait for the night to come when you can finally wander the miles of irrigation canals of this desert city. The long straight sections of placidity don’t interest you. You are in search of something else, on a journey of another order, dragging along heavy and archaic camera equipment.
     You manage to climb over fences in order to enter restricted areas where the water (thousands of cubic feet of it) might turn a corner, fall over a dam, or be sucked below ground by some monstrous siphoning pump. All this in order to set up your camera at the very edge of the water, tripod legs precarious on the loose gravel. You lie on your stomach to reach out over the rushing water below to expand the bellows, open the lens, and just aim the camera. It’s too dark to see any image on the ground glass. No need for the artificial darkness beneath a cloth, now there is nothing surrounding you but darkness and moving water.

     In the newspapers there are stories of children playing by these canals, slipping, and their bodies being found in another part of the city…but you are here for serious work and feel protected. Still, there is fear.
     Now, with the camera set as best as possible, the next job is to strap the battery packs to your body. Over the course of the next hour several hundred flashes from a portable strobe will fill this arena with light, each flash producing an intense afterimage that can make you dizzy.
     You are wondering what it is that you are seeing and what eventually will appear on your film. You question the nature of every aspect of this activity, but you feel you’re on the right path—by day, reading Dante, and there is also the Reichian body work where language is suspended. The physical residue of all one’s experience is felt deep within the tissues of one’s own body—just as the concrete bunkers and canal linings define the movement of the water.
     You feel that you have done the preparatory work and that letting go of as much control as possible is exactly what you need to be doing. You feel that the universe will respond with images on film that will lead you deeper into that liquid that the ancient alchemists referred to as the water that does not wet the hands. You have only heard that the lead of the body can become the gold of spirit. In short, you are doing the work and you hope some form of greater understanding can result.
     Later you realize that you are in the second stage of alchemical transformation, that of dissolution —where water is required to be mixed with the ashes resulting from the collapse of your previous life. 

     These pictures have not been "made"—they have not been "taken" in the traditional sense. Rather they have quietly been received. Ego is in retreat and you sense you must continue to follow the water as it moves through the night. One can only continue to do the work…  JH



About the Author

James Hajicek is a Professor of Art at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, where he has been teaching for 25 years.   


A Man Impossible to Classify photo: r. whittaker One of my first experiences in San Francisco ... Read More 749387 views

The Dumpster       “We can’t use these. They look like ... Read More 161749 views

Cotton and Silk Vorbeck quilt, detail I’m working on the last panel of a pair of ... Read More 14520 views

Say Grace I am deeply delighted to live on a planet that is so big and varied that I can ... Read More 13195 views

An Interview with Betsy Damon I first heard about Betsy Damon from Sam Bower of Water ... Read More 48560 views


A Man Impossible to Classify photo: r. whittaker One of my first experiences in San Francisco ... Read More 749387 views

Interview with Bill Douglass - Jimbo's Bop City and Other Tales At the time I'd first gotten to know the widely respected ... Read More 371404 views

Greeting the Light It was thanks to artist Walter Gabrielson that I was able to get ... Read More 326410 views

Interview: Gail Needleman Gail Needleman taught music at Holy Names University in Oakland, ... Read More 196756 views

The Dumpster       “We can’t use these. They look like ... Read More 161749 views