Koan: a story, dialog, question, or statement whose meaning cannot be accessed by national thinking, yet it may be accessible by intuition.
“Koans” is a body of work that Emerick has been pursuing for over 20 years. It is an ongoing series of photographs of traffic cones as they are found on the street and presented in groups, and individually as wall and floor installations mounted on Plexiglas.
Emerick was first drawn to traffic cones as a way of discovering the inner beauty of something ordinary. A photograph of a sunset can never be superior to the sunset itself, if one is given a choice they would rather see the sun and in the end the photograph becomes a disappointment. This is why sunset photographs are so cliché. Traffic cones are the reverse, so plain in life that we all but ignore them as we go through our day. But in the images Emerick presents, the inner life and unique qualities of cones are revealed and the image is in effect superior to the actual cone and is seen in a new way.
Since beginning the series, Emerick has called the body of work “Koans.” A koan is a story, question or statement used by Buddhists when meditating. By focusing on the Koan, one is able to change their perspective or understanding of the world. And this is what he aims to do with his photographs. An example of a koan is:
Wakuan complained when he saw a picture of bearded Bodhidharma, “Why hasn’t that fellow a beard?”
While the koan seems not to make sense, a continued and repeated focus on it eventually leads to a new understanding of oneself and these photographs also serve this purpose. Emerick’s focus on traffic cones is a form of meditation and it has led him to a new perspective of photography, art and life. When he started photographing cones he didn’t know what he was really looking for nor what he wanted his photographs to be. But overtime he began to see that the cones were becoming something greater than just simple cones. They were becoming objects with distinct personalities, objects with the power to teach a person to see deeper and to look further then they had before. When viewers finally understand what the images are of, they experience a moment of enlightenment, a moment where they understand what they are seeing and are often delighted by it.
The difference between looking and seeing is a matter of focus, a matter of seeing things for what they are beyond the physical level. And this is what the history of photography has always been, a search and exploration of the world around the photographs. Ansel Adams, in his search, photographed the landscape of America; Robert Frank, in his, photographed the soul of America; and in mine, I am photographing the traffic cones of America. Between them the subject matte is amazingly different but the intent of the artist is the same. To focus on the chosen subject and explore it thoroughly, in order to discover the similarities as well as the differences, to find out how the world around them is revealed.