'A grey mist on the sea`s face and a grey dawn breaking.'
Sea Fever. by John Masefield
There is a painting called ‘Grey’ by a West Coast artist I have always admired - Emily Carr- and now I am once more walking the trails of Indian Point where everything makes me think of it: the power of art to channel our view and understanding of a place. There is the obvious relationship - it is an overcast grey winter`s day that casts its thin sad varnish over all- but that is not what I am feeling, something more nuanced than that.
I`m carrying my camera as usual but I wander past the subjects of water, wood and stone that usually bring me back for repeat performances and indeed I do not feel really fit for making photos today. My mind flaps feebly with other sad social thoughts and cannot come down to the present moment. To make the pictures that honour this place I feel that I need to do that. To let this place reach into me and do its work I surely must adjust my mood.
That painting of Emily Carr`s is the physical record of another walker of the woods and shores, her articulation of that meeting place of artist and subject that I can usually reach so easily. Perhaps that is in itself my problem today. Familiarity. This is a common kind of winter`s day in so familiar a place for me that nothing reaches out to flag my attention. Until this moment I have always took this as ultimately all my own responsibility but somewhere along the line today I am figuring out that for this to be a true relationship, I must see this wet world as it presents itself and the landscape must also accept me as I am today.
I methodically take photos of the overlooked places. The mossy logs and roots uprooted by a winter storm. The shattered remains of a long fallen tree. The leaves beaded with raindrops lying on the mossy forest floor. Emily Carr in her painting chose an ordinary tree in the forest and found the form hidden within, so could I perhaps if this wet dripping moment in the life of the forested shore could open to me.
The ocean surface is a smooth sheet of metal, reflecting the clouds overhead, sometimes lightly stippled by raindrops. At first I try too hard to make it into an ‘acceptable’ image but only when the surface resists me do I see that this is what is and either I accept or go away to come again another day. I must work with this flat grey light rather than try to modify and make it mine. This light that it is so very even, with no strong darks or highlights, that is creating forms that are smoothly rounded, the light flowing into the shadows. There is potential here for photos that transcend the ordinary, that reach into the private thoughts of landscape when its brightly painted public face is not on display. Not so different from my own mood in fact. My grey mood is a perfect match for this moment.
I continue to simply photograph without expectation of reaping the rewards of great looking dynamic photos, simply let my mood meet the landscape. A kind of practice: both the obvious practicing with the camera and training my eye, but also the basic elements of a spiritual practice carried out regardless of mood and with no expectation of personal reward. Grey, gentle, dumb, unexpected whatevers collect inside my camera and an hour later I emerge from the forest and drive off home. No high moments here today, but something more valuable, a deeper understanding of relationship.