Monday, October 22, 2012

The living willow boat

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Andy Goldsworthy is a British artist who works with natural materials in landscape. I watched a video about him a while ago and found his work to be in line with many of my own ideas. I dug around in an old sketchbook and found my drawing for a willow boat to be planted, grown and woven together in the shallow end of my pond.

Conditions happened to be right. The pond was almost dry after a long hot Summer and Fall. I scythed down the cattails and water iris`, mattocked out a 16 foot boat shape in the dry muck and with a steel pry bar sunk a series of narrow holes around the edges. I then climbed a nearby willow tree and cut a bunch of tall willow wands. Ready to begin!

Each wand was pushed into the ground and quickly a fence of willow sticks was formed around the boat outline. A mast was added and then watered in by bucket from the watery end of the pond. An afternoon’s work for no practical use. But such fun and with such future growing prospects.

We watched the film ' Finding Neverland' staring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet the other night and were reminded how important the imagination is in our lives. Neverland being the story of JM Barrie’s' researching and writing the story of Peter Pan. It portrays the tremendous strength of the imagination to access those deeper places from whence our ideas flow. As I too spend some of my time far off in that creative space the story was very supportive for my kind of personality.

It is commonly assumed by 'practical down-to-earth folks' that the creative side is suitable for making nice things to hang on walls. Not much good for the everyday business of living, but pleasantly decorative. If you browse through my sketchbook however you will not see pretty drawings. You will see plans, visualizations, a working out in scrappy little sketches of ideas that will then take shape. From dream to reality. Like the story of Peter Pan.

The forested and rocky land on which we live has taken many years to develop and is still growing and changing. Drawings like my willow project litter the sketchbook pages. Our sailing trip around the Pacific began as a big dream. The next step was to begin to develop the fuzzy into something that could be become reality. All ideas begin in Neverland and are then coaxed out into the open.

The imagination is not just restricted to making things. Concepts, systems of thought, all the cultural ideas that make us human, originally came via the imagination. As Goethe says, if you have a dream,“Begin it now.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The end of drought coincides with the beginning of winter.

A rainy day at the Fulford Harbour ferry dock

 For a long time now we on the Gulf islands have been praying for rain. Things got pretty dry, my irrigation pond was just about to suck empty and early leaf Fall was all about trees shedding extra leaves for economies sake. We liked the bright warm afternoons of course and found the clear nights brisk and invigorating.

Finally we got what we hoped for: two solid days of rain and then some more. That strange sound in the middle of the night was rain drumming on our metal roof. The mud bottom of the pond became a small braided stream, genuinely Fall coloured maple leaves blew into windrows and the South-wester knocked some branches off the fir trees.

Indian Point and Russell Island

Today I winterized my sailboat. Just two weeks ago I imagined leaving her commissioned for winter sailing but that cold wind off the ocean reminded me that that dream has a miserably cold and damp component. I have rediscovered the real pleasure of the rocking chair beside the kitchen wood stove.

Some of the smaller Gulf Islands near Swartz Bay terminal on Vancouver Island 

The other day we drove onto the Fulford ferry amid yellow slicker clad seamen and noticed the winter look of steamed up car windows on the car deck. Still, I climbed up to a higher deck to record the trip. Each day brings something new and now the low clouds and dark silhouettes of the islands are still a novelty. I see this familiar scene with fresh vision after the long blue days of summer.

Who IS that handsome fellow?

Portland Island under a blanket of cloud

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A child-sized adventure on Russell Island.

It is late August when we make our fifteen minute crossing to Russell Island at the entrance to Fulford Harbour at Saltspring island. Some of us paddle our venerable wood and canvas 'Chestnut' canoe while my daughter's family row 'Edith' our 14 foot dory. Almost calm, a blue sky, perfect conditions for introducing two of our grandchildren to the pleasures of outdoor adventure and messing about in small boats among the smaller Gulf islands. This one, so close to home, is part of a national park and has a long association with Maria Mahoi a person of Indian and Hawaiian descent who lived here in the first half of the last century.

Today is all about making a child-sized afternoon’s adventure with time for a picnic lunch, a walk around the island and lots of play time allowed for on the rocks and white shell beach at the south end.

 I have brought my Samsung mini camera today so I find myself making images that fit well into its special characteristics. I race after the children as they run over the shoreline. Camera held low in front, I snap photographs literally on the run. I catch Katie in mid stride on a rock top and Adam deep in play mode. I snap a quick shot between Katie’s legs as she playfully tries to block my taking a picture of Adam at work in the sand. These are unusual photographs, and in an age of grinding repetition by the million a day of very similar scenes and approaches to composition these
unusual conditions have perforce created original images.

We will walk down to the old historic house and back along the bluffs on the seaward side, brushing through the dry grasses and crunching arbutus leaves underfoot and I record it all: this time on Russell Island, this moment in our lives.

Finding Gold at the Kinsoll Trestle and Bright Angel Park

The transformation of nature in art is rendering the nature phenomenon transparent to transcendence.
Joseph Campbell

 The Kinsoll trestle

Having hosted the photographers from Duncan two weeks previously, it is now the turn of Saltspring photographers to foot-passenger across from Vesuvius to Crofton and be carried off to visit a couple of photograph-able sights: the Kinsoll Trestle and Bright Angle Park. It is an opportunity to get to know fellow members in our own club and those folks from across the sea on the 'big island'. First stop, the Kinsoll trestle.

The original trestle was built many years ago when steam trains were used to log the first growth forests of Vancouver Island. A big ravine blocking the rail line’s path? The answer in those days was to build an enormous timber bridge called a trestle. Imagine this profligate use of trees simply to get at the rest of them! A few years back it was decided to make this old railway grade a part of the Trans-Canada Trail and to tear down the decrepit old bridge and replace it with a new, and somewhat modernized, walking one. Our first sight tells us that a massive amount of timber has gone into this one too. It is a solid reminder of what was built in the not so distant past, of the history of the logging industry, and we remember even as we decry the destruction of the forest, the rape of the land, that the modern province we benefit from, its infrastructure, buildings, and educated citizens, were built by the capital produced by that very destruction. We wring our hands over the desecration, but in good, solid, comfort.

It is close to noon, the sun is glaring from a clear blue sky; bright highlights, strong shade and cast shadows. As a camera cannot adjust to this range of light and dark anywhere near as well as the human eye can, there are choices to be made. With the camera adjusted for the brights the shadows are black. This high contrast can make some dramatic images, but if I expose for the shade and shoot the bright and dark combined, the highlights will blow out to white. It would seem that one has to be very careful where one points the camera today.

I scramble down a zig-zag path to the canyon’s bottom and peer up at the wooden matrix above. It is almost overpowering in its mass and repeating forms of verticals and diagonals. I slither down to the river bank, walk up beside the almost dry bed and turn back to view the trestle from here. On this shady side, the lattice of timber is almost an even blue grey, but bright light glares over the top of the trestle. I find a maple tree resplendent in its golden autumn colours and place an arching branch over the bright sky, take my exposure reading from the trestle and click. It is a great addition to the composition that the bright colours contrast so well with the cool tones of the trestle. Problem solved.

Problem solving like this is my chief delight. The Kinsol did not disappoint!

Bright Angel Park.

It is a short drive on to Bright Angel Park and down beside the river is that same glaring afternoon light. Here are broad gravel bars and shallow, wide pools which have been augmented with temporary dams to create enough depth for the returning salmon run. The locals have never seen the river so low.

Once across the suspension foot bridge I walk along the river bank and photograph against the light which is so strong that its reflection highlights the foliage and faces of passers by. It is almost too easy to shoot back-lit autumn leaves once again, but I shoot them anyway while waiting for something more challenging to turn up. Slowly I come to see that there is subtlety here beside this calm shallow river after all. It is myself that has to adjust and see deeper into nature and then find ways with camera settings and compositional techniques to portray it. How often it is knowledge itself that stands in the way of any true communication. We all experience this in our lives: we 'know' about this or that person and by 'knowing' we cannot see beyond our knowledge, we 'know' how to use our camera and how to shoot specific generic scenes and thereby are blocked from any real intuitive perception and way of expression.

I photograph the shallow river , the reflected and slanting shapes of two tree trunks and feel the communication. Perhaps the resulting image will seem flat and uninteresting to someone else compared to the potential drama in the bright light, dark shadows and strong colours that exist here but I recognize at this moment that the transcendent lies plainly all around us, all of the time,and yet usually we do not see the gold. My camera centres my mind and opens my eyes.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Freestyling with my DSLR at the Ganges market.

I stand on a bench in the central market of the little town of Ganges on the island of Saltspring on the west coast of Canada. It is a Thanksgiving weekend and the market vendors are little islands in a swirl of late season tourists and locals. I am demonstrating a style of photography I have called 'freestyling' to a group of visiting photographers from Duncan on Vancouver Island. Many of them are loaded down with long lens` and camera bags which does not bode well for much success in converting many of them to a way of photography that benefits from a wide angle lens and a light camera. I explain, I demonstrate and then release them do what they will do.

While I wait for any late arrivals a young woman walks down the boardwalk. Wow! I think she has done a fantastic job of bodypainting her legs and approach her to beg to take a photograph. No, she says this is a piece of tight fitting clothing and now indeed I see the occasional wrinkle around her knees. But yes I can take a picture and I will use the technique I have just finished teaching. I set my kit lens to its widest angle, give myself a good depth of field, and instead of peering through the viewfinder I reach down and place the side of the camera on the boardwalk. I tilt it upward towards my close subject, press the shutter release halfway so it focus automatically, smile up to my subject and take the photograph. So simple, so relaxed so non intrusive.

Later I stroll around among my fellow islanders to catch the flavour of a market I so seldom attend myself.“I am taking your photo,” I smile and make a connection with many Saltspringers in that hour, it is the unexpected bonus of 'freestyling' my photographs today.

Creeping towards the end of summer.

It has been a very dry summer here on the west coast of Canada and that drought has lasted through September and well into October. Except in the damp bottom lands where streams usually run, all our vegetation of the bushy type is hanging on for dear life. Yesterday though, after months of blue skies we had fog in the morning when I drove Heather to the early ferry and later when I took my camera down to Indian Point there was a damp breath in the air and nearby islands were indistinct beneath a flat grey overcast. What a change!

Gone are the strong shadows and stark contrasts of direct sunlight. Now I am back in the filtered, even light of winter. I miss the drama but welcome the subtly of smoothly delineated forms. The whole landscape is hushed in this grey waiting room, - waiting for rain and wind.

Crunch, crunch go my footsteps on the gravel beach and gentle sighs come from the little waves. In the dark forest all is still. So still that I feel watched and glance several times over my shoulder for a cougar walking silently in my footsteps. Waiting, watching.

Photography today comes out of that watching stance of the landscape. Nothing dramatic, no highlights, just careful placement of forms within my camera’s frame, a thoughtful working out of tones and rhythms. Muted, precise, like those even beats of the waves on the shore.