Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Reflections on a dark pond.

  To the general public, photography has always represented a means of capturing reality, and colour serves only to enhance the illusion. For photographers, it has either been a vessel of truth (documentary) or an abstraction ( personal interpretation) but it has never been confused with reality.
                                                               Ansel Adams

Walking past a small pond the other afternoon I was attracted by the reflections from the mass of overhanging trees. Dark, still water, perfect reflections. This morning before sunrise I trotted back with my camera to see if I could capture the dark mystery and quiet mind of this reflecting water.

I quickly found that a perfect reflection was easy to capture but not the final statement in itself, but the regular drips from the overhanging branches did interesting things to the surface.Eventually I began to toss stones and record the complexity of branch patterns as they rode the waves!

This was so at odds with my original idea about the pond - this dark, quiet place – that I questioned what I was doing: should I be changing horses in mid stream? But then the squiggly active images were more visually interesting in themselves and what was my real duty here; accurate reportage or creative image making?

Today, I decided, there was time and mental space for both, they were but two out of many possible ways of picturing and understanding my subject. Two faces of this dark, overgrown, reflective water. Two major approaches to photography.

Once more my deeper life goes on with more strength,
As if the banks through which it moves had widened out.
Trees and stones seem more like me everyday,
And the paintings I see seem more see into:
With my sense, as with the birds, I climb
into the windy heaven of the oak,
And in the ponds broken off from the blue sky
My feeling sinks, as if standing on fishes.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Finding meaning on a walk along the mountainside to the sea.

As the cricket's soft Autumn hum
is to us
so are we to the trees
as are they
to the rocks and hills.
                              Gary Snyder.

The last time I walked along the mountainside trail at Burgoyne Bay it was early Spring, all fresh leaves and hope for the year ahead. Today it is the depths of winter's short days and long nights, tired grasses and bare tree branches. An overcast landscape with fog lifting into cloud. For me, this has more potential for my photography that any sunny cheerful day can provide: art is about things other than the happy and beautiful and thought can find more traction in this soft inexact world; shy little semi-formed ideas raise their heads and whisper in my ear and the odd-end bits of the complexity of nature reveal themselves if my mind is prepared.

As the path climbs upwards the fog increases, and ordinary trees and boulders swim into a new and separated existence. The complexity of backgrounds is softened and even the near is interestingly imprecise. The nominally unimportant has stepped forward into prominence.

Down at sea level once again, an eagle calls insistently from a treetop, a line of ducks fly past and up in the fog another eagle appears. It is tempting to frame all this from my personal perspective: to see the world as though it is a moving circle that surrounds me and I and my camera are the central players on this stage. I cannot avoid this reality but I must not frame the world in this egocentric way: better to see my little figure from those ducks perspective, a quick flash of form out the corner of the eye as they sweep past the point fully committed to duck business.

The granite headland too has a solid presence that exists outside of my own existence, that is what I see as I take its photograph, as do the old oak trees with their rough bark and twisted limbs. A green rock lies just below the surface of the cold clear water framed by a fir bough; here is one of those quiet little thoughts that can emerge on a day like this. And the ripples curve out greeny towards the orange stained granite rocks.

Today I am finding grey-gold; the landscape matches mood, everything comes together.

Our own life is the instrument
with which we experiment with truth.  
                                    Thich Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Englishman River Falls: identifying with landscape.

[ the camera is] an instrument of love and revelation.
- a great photograph is “the full expression what one feels about what is being photographed and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.” - Ansel Adams

It has rained heavily overnight and by morning's light the landscape around Nanoose, on Vancouver Island is shedding excess water as fast as possible; the ditches along the roadside as we drive towards Englishman River Falls are full to overflowing - little rivers in themselves. With this much water, what can we expect at the falls? The answer comes to us from some distance away: the muffled roar of white water foaming and leaping as it rushes down a narrow tree-lined canyon.

I am using my regular moderate zoom lens today so this will be a different 'take' from my telephoto trip to nearby Little Qualicum Falls a month ago. Really, I am more comfortable with a wider perspective, and the question in my mind is whether I can produce photographs that can 'speak' and not simply allow the drama that lies ahead to overpower me.

Down, down the green moss-covered slope we hike and there at last flashes the white streaked river through the trees. Yes, conditions are truly spectacular this morning and we have a brief slot of sunshine between rain clouds to experience it in. What can I do to both record the moment and yet give the viewer a deeper sense of this place? What angles, what camera settings, what mental state of readiness - of being prepared for the expressive and the unexpected?

I feel compelled to first record the standard views, the lower falls, the swirl of the current seen through trees, and then I am free to play with proportions, with relationships, with the contrasts of of colour and light and dark, all the while edging towards the clincher if it exists today where everything comes together.

The main upper falls when we reach them is more than simply impressive. A mighty mountain river dives into a crack and disappears. A roar, much spray and mist and then out it shoots again into the narrow rock walled canyon far below. I snap away, I cannot avoid this drama, but then repeat an approach I have been playing with earlier, placing the mass of white water within the context of the forested banks: the particular which frames the spectacular. Here is the image I have been working towards, a composition that enhances the particular details of living things within the rush and roar. Here is something we can at some level relate to within our own lives; ultimately we are the canyon, the vegetation, and we are the river itself foaming to the sea.

I know why you stare at the mountain's beauty,
for she reminds you of something vital in yourself.
And natural desires to explore her heights are just
there to help you reach your own summits.

 'A Year with Hafiz'  Danial Ladinsky

Friday, January 9, 2015

At Beaver Point on a misty winter's day: breaking through to understanding nature through photography.

Perhaps man will someday reconcile the greatness of his human creativity with the greatness of the wild that created it. If we can do this without diminishing either Man’s great works or nature's then we shall indeed walk in beauty for as long as the rivers shall run and the grass shall grow.
'Navaho Wildlands' ( a Sierra Club book) David Bower

  Some warm moist Hawaiian air has hit our coast in mid winter after several days of frost followed by torrential rains and the result is moisture of the misty variety. But, I wonder, perhaps somewhere in the flat grey vagueness of early morning I might find some useful source material for photography. Besides, I need a walk along the waterfront and on our beautiful island there is never a lack of subject matter. The question in my mind is, can I find something more that the usual 'foggy' imagery: I am still pushing myself to find the original possibilities that must be there if only I can float myself into the right mind space.

And that is the real challenge, not the subject matter, but the twist of mind that will open my eyes and so permit a leap into new visual territory. At the heart of all things is observation: the challenge for all artists is Seeing, much more than is knowledge or smart fingers and technical expertise. We can all produce that which has already been tagged and framed before for us by others, but today I am trying to avoid standard foggy pictures, and skin my eyes and open my inner gates. I will need to take a risk and fall forward into a new place. And now after doing that in paint for the past week, airbrushing for the first time and working on large non-standard imagery, might be a good time to step back into photography and see what I might find on this boundary of land and sea displayed now in vague and interesting uncertainty.

Click, here is my first image as I step out into the parking lot and I notice that the powerlines are in this photo, not carefully avoided to create a 'old and charming' historical image as I might have been lead to do previously. Still, I have framed and organized carefully as though I am not ready to leave composition behind just yet.

And next the pot hole in the road, usually beneath my interest but today I shoot it to break my usual photo habits.

There is a cold wet wind blowing beside the ocean and I wipe my lens and the tuck the camera inside my coat. “Open”! , I am willing myself to both sharpen up and relax, to let the place speak for itself and yet be ready to provide a translation in two dimensional picture form. Between the dark trees, beyond the salal, a cedar drapes across the water and I almost walked past it, headed for the familiar point ahead. I stop, wade through the bushes and See what is on offer: such a small and insignificant thing really, part of the background of my thoughts, but today I will take this image and let it jostle for a place among the standard fare. The guidance from my censor that provides me with the usual compositional  check right up front is this morning being told to go take a hike.

At the first point of land I can peer into the blowing mist at the distant shore and islands, but how to photograph this? I walk back and forth, sort through my usual set of compositional possibilities and in the end choose to place a piece of rock in the foreground that repeats the line of the coast. Despite all my good intentions I have taken a 'composed' image and in the process been reminded that composition has an important part to play; if I wish to permit the landscape to speak clearly, even on this foggy day, I need to provide the supporting framework – the repeating motif expresses the scene better than would a straight shot of distant shoreline.

A set of glacial erratic granite boulders nestle amid the vegetation on Beaver Point. I have photographed these before, but today the flat light provides a new way of understanding them. I take several images and am pleased at last. Yes they are composed, but differently somehow as though I was letting them speak, to show their individuality.

Drift logs along the sandstone shoreline gleam in this light, the colours richer, the shapes distinctive, Not the greys of weathered wood I see in summer sunshine, but now full of colour on the dark shoreline, their skins ground down to new wood by winter storms. It is OK to simply take a portrait of a log without needing to impress some viewer, especially my inner censor who often seems overly concerned with how things might appeal to others.

A sea lion splashes off the point, a lone raven croaks as he flies up and away from something in the undergrowth; I watch and listen - these are the sounds, along with the suck and surge of waves, that accompany the visual. I feel the damp cold chilling my hands and ears. I step through the runoff from the forest's depths that cascades onto the beach below. I need to pay attention and today, without others to walk and talk with and no grandchildren to watch out for, is my time of opportunity.

Ahead, the trail winds among boulders. I have walked here hundreds of times but never really seen these rocks. Now rock faces wave to me and beg for their images to be recorded. At last I feel in sync and taking photographs that seek to reveal, to express rather than impress. I feel in partnership with the natural world.