Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Autumn leaves. Building compositions that are more than standard pretty.

We walk the suburban streets and parks of Ottawa during the last great flash of colour in the autumn foliage before the long cold eastern winter sets in. We can feel the change in season, not in the temperature which in unseasonably warm, but subconsciously, as a great sadness. Here is death of a growing season and the beginning of a long winter sleep. A completion. The brilliant leaves spiral down and blow into windrows. Each one a unique individual. We can relate.

As a picture maker though, how to capture the mood, the message, in such a way that others will make the association from a two dimensional photograph. This is such an over-photographed subject matter after all; calendars, coffee-table books, screen-savers all showing the scenes that are all around us here, - bright, back lit yellows and reds, winding paths through woods carpeted with the already fallen. We are strangers on a brief visit so we are doubly handicapped when it comes to deeply understanding what we see or portraying much beyond the superficial.

Back home again on the West Coast a few days later, our foliage is making the same transition. Heavy rains have brought the moss-covered rocky slopes and tree trunks back to vivid green and the big maple leaves are falling steadily. Some spiral, some rock as they side slip from side to side, while many wait for a stir of wind in the high tops to flutter down in yellow/brown convoys that sift through the branches and come to rest on fir branches, fences, or rock walls. In this familiar landscape I can see the individual nature of each leaf, but more importantly I can enter more deeply into a place I know so well.

Last spring I built a long, low drystone wall. I love building with rock like this, perhaps because I have so many Yorkshire ancestors who of necessity spent their lives building them by the mile around their fields, it feels so natural and rewarding. Now it is topped by fallen leaves. I photograph this combination from several angles, unsure what I am getting at. In this state of exploration I can be sure however that what I am doing is not an off-the-shelf generic image. Grey solid rock, structure, permanence, and the seasonal transitory-ness of these bright, wet, fallen leaves. There is something here that lies in the unconscious of us all.

The little ponds and waterfalls in the stream, flowing again after its long summer rest, pull me closer and here are leaves, new fallen, resting briefly on the slowly moving surface. They flow past, superimposed upon the reflections of the parent tree above. Perhaps not a collection but just one single leaf would be right? What is right here? Can it be quantified, developed into a photographic theory of composition or is this so deep in intuition that it is best left there? There is flow upon flow here, transition, reflection, bright colour against indistinct darker tones. I am so much deeper into my own reflective state here in my own backyard that I could be far away in Ottawa. I am back where I belong!

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