“Beauty is truth, truth, beauty,” -that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need know.
John Keats, 'Ode on a Grecian Urn.'
Down by the harbour the morning fog is still thick. As I drove to Ganges over the height of land I could see the grey blanket filling the harbour below and now I am walking down to the dock to check my sailboat. Photography in fog is almost too easy, everything is coated in glamour!
Some school girls ask if I will take their picture, so I do, and then look beyond them at the rocky bank, arbutus tree and the ocean sliding smoothly out into the white mist. Out there I can see a channel marker post and its reflection and, faintly, another. These are just the first two of several that mark the dredged channel which curves through the muddy shallows and out to the open harbour and the world beyond.
I give the girls their camera back, take a couple more with their permission on my own camera and then start thinking about the scene behind them. What will this picture be about if I do take a fog photo? Spooky/generic is just not enough today, but to imagine beyond that takes an effort.
I have been reaching for a different way of thinking about composition for some time now. The hallowed rules of composition that come slightly tattered and musty from the long tradition of European painting work less and less for me these days as I seek a more nuanced and dynamic way of recording the world. I raise the camera, place the rocks and tree in the right hand half of the frame and have nothing but foggy blankness and two whispy channel markers in the left hand section. I look carefully, make slight but seemingly important adjustments in the angles and proportions and click, I have the image in the camera. I know this is just right, that it is an excellent image by my developing aesthetic but also know that to others trained in a simplified photographic formula this may well seem rather weak or enclose too much white blankness or seem to be about nothing interesting at all. Just another fog photo.
What I think I have found is an image about a thought rather than a thing. - an idea, an epiphany of sorts. The eye slides off the softened forms of the tree and rocks and follows the channel markers out into the misty world beyond the harbour. This is an image that engages the viewer and leads him out of the frame into ‘wild surmise’, into the world beyond. Into another way of thought.
In a way, I have reached a long way back to those cave paintings of Paleolithic times and to the art of ‘primitive’ societies in our modern world that were made, not to be pretty, but to create a bridge with the eternal and the secrets of life. Beauty in those images was about truth. Truth and beauty, two words portraying the same thing, were to be apprehended by careful observation of deep relationships and the building of understanding, and not by a formulaic repetition of the status quo.