Feb 052011


Whirlpool I (Above and Below)

A whirlpool dyad: one we see from above, the other we view from the side.

In the same way, I present to you two views of the artist’s mind: one as seen “from above” in an artist’s statement, and second, from the side—a visual mind-map of influences on this photo-series (Steven created this map using node software).


“Like our own bodies, whirlpools take the molecules of the material world and organize them into temporary dynamic systems. For me, these abstract images of whirlpools on the Shenandoah River, North Fork serve as metaphors for the energy, beauty and brevity of life.”—Steven David Johnson

Whirlpool II (Capra and Leonardo)

Fritjof Capra’s book, The Science of Leonardo, includes a section on da Vinci’s drawings and studies of water flow, including substantial work on whirlpools and water vortices.   You can read a section of Capra’s book.

Whirlpool III (Spiral and Nautilus)

Leonard da Vinci’s drawings include recurring spiral shapes like whirlpools, in women’s hair, in water, etc.   Run a Google search for Leonardo drawings, and you will see the whirlpool-like nautilus patterns that appear in many of his images. Notice the coils of hair in “Study for the Head of Leda,” echo the whirlpool structure.

via http://www.drawingsofleonardo.org

Whirlpool IV (Noah and Noah)

A man named Noah photographed himself daily for six years, then put all the images together into a video that shows the passage of time.  In the video, his eyes remain fixed straight ahead, while all around him, everything swirls in change.  His hair whips about, his environment flickers, the light shifts, his face ages–and yet Noah remains himself.  Like a whirlpool, our bodies are constantly absorbing new material and casting off the old.  Between the first image of Noah and the last in the video, most of his body’s cells were replaced.  But essentially, he is the same person.

(Speaking of men named named Noah, the most familiar flood narrative in western culture is the story of another Noah who took animals, two by two, into an ark.  Except for the birds, which were brought by sevens.  Interesting that this whirlpool series contains seven sets of paired whirlpools, is it not?  Methinks Noah and the animals would have seen some spectacular whirlpools while living on the Ark!)

Whirlpool V (Life and Death)

If our bodies are constantly changing in composition, absorbing nutrients and sloughing off old skin cells, then what are we?  Are we more like a pattern, then, than a reality?  This prompts all sorts of thoughts.  Each of us has a constant DNA, a genetic code, or pattern–but how that plays out depends on many other factors–environment, nutrition, lifestyle choices, even, to some degree, attitude.  The whirlpool remains fairly constant in its shape, yet every second the water molecules are being replaced by other molecules.

What if the whole of our selves could be put into mathematical terms, digitized?

What if the pattern could be re-constituted after death?

Whirlpool VI (Black Holes and Galaxies)

From looking at the cellular level, my thoughts now leap to astrophysics, because what can be more ultimately whirlpool-like than black holes?  Like whirlpools, they suck into themselves all matter that comes near.  Some galaxies, too, are shaped like whirlpools.

M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy in Dust and Stars, Credit: N. Scoville (Caltech), T. Rector (U. Alaska, NOAO) et al., Hubble Heritage Team, NASA



Whirlpool VII (Everything and Nothing)

A whirlpool seems to take in everything around it, but all the while, inside the vortex, is emptiness.  Negative space.  After my thoughts have taken wild tangents from cell biology to astrophysics, from mathematics to metaphysics–ideas flowing through my mind and out of it again–I seek calm, to think of nothing.  As much as human beings know–look at our progress since the Age of Enlightenment!–, in a sense, we also know nothing.  I imagine our galaxy, our whole universe, even–as one little whirlpool in a huge, unending river, and maybe some kind of being is out there watching it, the way Steven and I like to watch whirlpools on the North Fork of the Shenandoah.  I’ll leave you with a whirlpool to watch while you contemplate everything, or nothing, as you will.

—Text by Anna Maria Johnson, whirlpool images and node design by Steven David Johnson

  13 Responses to “Riffing on Whirlpools: Images & Text — Anna Maria Johnson & Steven David Johnson”

  1. Spectacular photos. I wish I could attend the show.

  2. really really beautiful

  3. I wish I could attend the show too, beautiful!!!

  4. Art and science. Johnsons, you make me swoon.

  5. Have you guys ever seen “Mindwalk”, a movie based on Fritjof Capra’s book “The Turning Point.” It’s one of my all-time favorites, and almost impossible to find anymore since it’s not out on DVD! 🙁 Loved the post.

  6. You are invited to our exhibition:

    Photo Show Features Combined Work of Three Photographers
    “Leaf. Flower. Spiral. The Flow of Energy in the Natural World” Opens Feb. 13 – Howard Zehr, Steve Johnson, Scott Jost.

    Location: State Arboretum of Virginia. Show opens Sunday, Feb. 13 with a reception from 3-5 p.m. The exhibit is on display from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily in the dining room February 21 through March 27.


    Whirlpool online gallery at:

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