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photo essay


by John Bennett

The English language has no morning equivalent of twilight, the abbreviation of ‘between light’. I use Eos to refer to being in the presence of a new day, as light starts to overwhelm the gaps between the stars, before sunrise. Every morning, the Greek god Eos rises from her golden throne and opens the gates of heaven for her brother Helios, the sun god.

I record my encounters with Eos and first light in Gumbaynggirr country, New South Wales.

To meet Eos, I find a quiet space facing East. If possible a natural space, a garden, park or beach and wait. With no need so early to think of what to do (hunt for food, dig for water, search for shelter, check the phone, make breakfast, feed the kids, go to work), I can become immersed in nature’s presence. Eos seduces presence, contingent and opaque to rationalisation, bureaucracy and the institutions of the global carnival of capital and material flows.

Apollonian and Dionysian are terms Nietzsche used for the two central principles in Greek culture. Apollo is the lyre-god, a handsome Johnny-come-lately sun god, representing light, clarity and rationality. Dionysus is the wine-god having more fun, losing the ego through drugs, dance and dreams. The tension between them is at the heart of tragedy, but Eos is too wild for Apollo and too early for Dionysius.

Natural Aesthetics can help put us back in contact now we no longer hunt or grow our own food. By natural aesthetics I am referring to both: Art with a capital A that references, or makes use of natural materials, processes and representations of nature; and the experiential aesthetic of being in a natural environment, of being aware of landform, habitat, fauna and flora, using all the senses to pay attention. The two cannot be clearly separated.

We are cultural beings; art influences our ideas and perceptions of nature and vice versa. The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty noted that artists act on the world. He wrote that art-practice, ‘cannot be divided into a seeing of the world and a subsequent painting of a representation of what is seen. Through the act of painting something is done to the world.’[i] Art is performative, but so is everyday living which necessitates an ongoing flow of skilful activities in response to one’s environment.

I use technology; we are all immersed in it. I use digital photography and not a pin-hole technique, to interact with Eos, but always take time to put away my camera and notepad. I am aware that as Marshall McLuhan said: ‘Every technology at once rearranges patterns of human association and in effect really creates a new environment … most felt, though not most noticed, in changing sensory ratios and patterns.’[ii] Both being in the presence of Eos and making art with her, is part of taking a break from the everyday, increasingly deracinated from the natural and now fused into technologies. If we appreciate what we have, hopefully we will fight for what we are losing. I believe poetry and art can nourish what Fritjof Capra calls ‘ecoliteracy’, understanding our living networks which we are destroying.

I find Eos a complex subject. She is more primal than poetry or art; she goes to the heart of the matter. Eos is democratic, has no chosen people and makes no demands for servitude. Eos is almost ritual, a phenomenon in all known societies. She offers no explanations, no consolation, just a stream of new beginnings. Eos repays attention in a world where distraction is increasing. She offers a vast range of palettes, sensory experiences and opportunities to be present in natural environments.


[i] Merleau-Ponty, ‘Cézanne’s Doubt’, 1945.

[ii] Marshall McLuhan, BBC interview with Frank Kermode, 1965.

Published: January 2018
John Bennett

John Bennett’s PhD supports discursive ecopoetry and a documentary on his practice, ‘Poetry at first light’, was broadcast on Earshot, ABC, 2016. He stitches poetry into video and photography, and held an exhibition at Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery, July / August, 2017. John was Artistic Director of the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival for five years.

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Plumwood Mountain Journal is created on the unceded lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to elders past, present and future. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the lands this journal reaches.