March 2013



Elements II

Artist’s Statement

These photos are from several different ongoing portfolios. It all started when I bought some translucent white fabric, on sale at Wal-Mart, and draped it over the head of a friend I was photographing. After posting some of those photos, I received a note from Jeanne Wells, a well-read Maine photographer. She suggested that the work brought to mind a line from Rilke’s Duino Elegies, which translates as “Every angel is terrifying…”

I became totally engrossed in Rilke’s work. Having grown up in Germany, not far from where Rilke had lived at one time, the work took on even more meaning. This despite the fact that my grandmother had always tried to interest me in his poetry, but I had absolutely refused to have anything to do with it. Now it resonated with me. Dealing with personal tragedy at the time helped me make sense out of the opening lines of the First Elegy, the translation of which I modified to read:

“Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies? and even if one them pressed me suddenly against her breast: I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying…”

Beauty and death are not concepts the average person equates, and as David Byrne notes in one of his journal posts, that notion “…seems overly Romantic a la Rilke….” The morbidity of beauty. Huh.”

I am not so sure that I want to go with a “morbidity of beauty” concept too far in any of my work either – that seems, well, a bit too morbid for me. More interesting and appealing to me is Leonhard Koren’s wabi-sabi interpretation which holds that things wabi-sabi are “murky” and have a “…vague, blurry, or attenuated quality – as things do as they approach nothingness (or come out of it).” I simply like the “…beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete…. [the] beauty of things unconventional.”

So, whether I am photographing Terrifying Angels or Tarnished Mirrors I am interested in addressing our own mortality while at the same time encouraging myself to take comfort, however bittersweet, in the beauty surrounding me.





Christian Harkness is a photographer and printmaker living with his family in northern Florida, where he is the Photo Lab Manager and an adjunct photography instructor at Florida State University. His wife teaches and is finishing her doctoral thesis in Art Therapy. Christian holds an MA in History and an MFA in Studio Art. He also had a career as a Marine Corps Infantry Officer and commanded two Marine Corps units in combat. He is extremely happy and satisfied to be able to do whatever kind of photography he desires.