About Photography & B-Side Images

If you’ve been around the internet in the past five years, consideration of what comprises a perfect average day has surfaced as a means of designing one’s day so that key features in one’s day are found and recognized, so that Life-long goals are actualized and so that people recognize and master control over what happens within their days rather than being mere do-bodies, going from bed to work and back again with little awareness of time, values, meaning and effort, all of which are invested in each day. For me, what to do about photography and pursuing each next, best picture has been the question of the day … through many months. Photography is an activity that you make time for, an activity that you fit into your day, an activity that must, in precedence, rank equally to other activities in your day if you’re to find successes with it. It’s about photographing things you like to photograph, things you’re interested in. It’s about photographing things you don’t normally have access to in your day-to-day existence. It’s about capturing unique qualities in your subject that you and others may perhaps never find again. And, it’s about recognizing the beauty in things and photographing them. In Susan Sontag terms photography is about appropriating and making the thing photographed, yours.  Photography is not an activity easily engaged in. Often the timeframe from image capture through to print and presentation is a separation of tasks that involves days, weeks, months and as I’m still finding, it may involve years. It is work and it is cumulative work – seeing more and more of what the image can become. It is an endeavor engaged in primarily because the print outcome is reward; what is produced is a kind of manna for the viewer to feast upon. In the subjects photographed, while there are seasons and changes we pass through, what’s also beginning to surface as more photographs are created is the commonality or mean of existence, the fundamentals that we need to live and thrive.  And, I note my good fortune in not being fully exposed to lives lived in the absence of these basic ingredients of Life.

The photographs presented here are the other photographs, the b-side images that were not ones selected to tackle consideration of a single theme or idea or subject.  What’s interesting, though, is the repetition of what is subject within photographs – it’s beginning to reveal commonality among our human needs.

Listening to Young the Giant’s Cough Syrup, (a second night’s acclimatization to the tune), Ulrich Schnauss’ Passing By (from Elizabethtown Soundtrack – vol. 2), the Propellerheads’ Take California, Tricky’s Hell Is Around the Corner, Supreme Beings of Pleasure’s Strangelove Addiction, Moby’s Porcelain and the Gotan Project’s Santa Maria (Del Buen Ayre).

Quote to Inspire – Photography, like alcohol,  should only be allowed to those who can do without it.” – Walter Sickert

Tougher & Last Man Standing

Fifties Flatdeck Truck - Nampa, Alberta
Fifties Flatdeck Truck - Nampa, Alberta

A few things make today a tougher go – not the legitimate student response to spring’s arrival and the fever it’s engendering, nor is it those minds that recognize that their attitudes are blocked, stalemated or closed with the past six months of winter’s interior Life at home and school; at this time of year openness in perception, thought and attitude itches in angst to break free of winter’s constraints of living.  These are all within the arena of Life work in early spring in High Level, Alberta.

At this time of year, it’s too easy to say the wrong thing. It’s too easy to get caught-up in oneself and one’s endeavors. It’s too easy to neglect where one’s care needs legitimate directing.  This season is one in which humour can get you into serious trouble while also being a source of tremendous healing and celebration.  It’s a time of year when it’s good to have a bonfire that is shared among others, a bonfire that extends the day into the wee hours of the night.  It’s a time when strength of body and strength of mind carry you forward into this next season that is spring.  At such a bonfire it’s good to have a keeper of the fire, the last man standing for when the last ember dies, someone we know who will see the night through on our behalf when we find that we should direct ourselves home and to sleep.  And, perhaps that’s it, the toughest part of today is that of helping one’s body overcome extended wakefulness as the season changes from winter to spring.

The photograph presented here is that of a late fifties flat-deck truck in Nampa, Alberta.  In Nampa the historical-agricultural museum is in the process of re-locating.  So, farming equipment/implements, vehicles, train cars and buildings are shifting location.  Until the new site is completed these items remain scattered throughout Nampa.  This flat-deck truck sits in someone’s backyard alongside other vehicles and looks to be in readiness for use. This truck has seen perhaps fifty or so years of service and its structure still has integrity.  It seems to be one of the last vehicles standing and seems to have strength associated with preserved shape and ability to function.  Its look is that which we’d find in the wizened face, that face of the last man standing – the keeper of the fire – when we need to direct ourselves to sleep.

Listening to Over the Rhine’s Spark, Joseph Arthur’s In the Sun (with Michael Stipe) and U2’s One;  other songs have included Eric Angus Whyte’s Beggars and Buskers (of Belfast), Liz Longley’s Free and the Steve Miller Band’s Rock’n Me.  My daughter has had me download Young the Giant’s Cough Syrup and Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You);  Demi Lovato’s Skyscraper has also received download tonight.

Quotes to Inspire –  (1) “If I knew how to take a good photograph, I’d do it every time.” –  Robert Doisneau; and, (2) “If I have any ‘message’ worth giving to a beginner it is that there are no short cuts in photography.” – Edward Weston.

That Old, Disused Farmhouse – Skulking Around Former Times

The farming region I knew as a boy is that which lies west of Ponoka, Alberta – land homesteaded and broken by people who received land grants following their participation in the Canadian war effort during the second world war. Perhaps participation in war, an ordeal survived and won as a collective has made this clustering of soldiers who became farmers quite pragmatic with regard to helping each other out, and particularly so in relation to disused items. Word of an item no longer used will make its way around the region and the person who can use that item will connect with its current possessor. Terms will be agreed to, cash or services in kind will trade hands and the item will be put to good use. While I have seen such transaction occur with many smaller things – cars, trucks, tractors and farming equipment – the photograph presented here reminds me that in two instances I have seen houses as big as this one transported to new locations, set on new foundations and made use of.

The photographs draw me back to my childhood as a boy in the sixties and skulking around the old, disused farm house across the way from my aunt and uncle’s home near Rimbey, Alberta. My exploration of the house revealed a wooden basement foundation instead of a foundation made of cement (what I was used to). It also revealed a dirt basement floor and seemed to be used mainly as a cold cellar for canned goods and the like. My cousin and I explored other houses no longer used; they seemed to have been left medias res (in the middle of things).  Beds and dressers would be left in rooms.  The rooms would usually have painted walls, but in some wallpaper revealed tastes of a former time.  Some homes served much like sheds these days where old furniture or clothes that have gone out of fashion can be stored.  Some had floors rotted through, the result of annual flooding. Some homes revealed children’s toys of a former time. Exploration always revealed the lives lived within the four walls of the house.

Moving forward – I wonder about the house in the photograph.  It is huge.  It is well-made.  It still retains its structure. The plant growth surrounding the house cannot be more than fifteen years in the growing. So, whoever left it made their departure quite recently in terms of the age of houses. Thinking back to houses I’ve seen moved, I wonder about why similar efforts have not been taken to add new life and new purpose to this farm house. Surely it could have been used a while back as a house to help a young family starting out.  And, perhaps more importantly, doing so would have been a part of a farm family’s moving forward and their de-cluttering from what is no longer needed of the past. The curiosity is that there is something that holds this house in its present location … and that’s where its story is.

Listening to Shuttertime with Sid and Mac episode XXI and good discussion on the practices associated with landscape photography; I continue to be impressed by the opinions, persuasion, logic and knowledge these two Edmonton-based, Canon photographers possess.   Dave Matthews Band’s Steady As We Go and Dreamgirl, David Gray’s This Year’s Love, Patty Griffin’s Rain, Dar Williams’ The One Who Knows and Mindy Smith’s One More Moment surface as music holding my attention.

Quote to Inspire – “In my view you cannot claim to have seen something until you have photographed it.” – Emile Zola

Epiphany’s Happenstance

Epiphany is a term used to mean a moment in time in which a veil is drawn back and you see, realize or understand something that had until that moment been hidden or concealed from one’s awareness or understanding. At Thursday noon, my wife and daughter began a drive from High Level to Edmonton, Alberta what should be a nine-hour trek at the best of times. Along their drive, with spring’s first heating of the snow-covered earth condensation blown from the snow on the earth swirled up into the atmosphere coming down a second time in a near white-out blizzard causing my wife to stop only three hours into her journey at Peace River, Alberta. In a phone call from Peace River, she asked that I fly down to Edmonton so that I would be able to drive my daughter and her back. On Friday, they made it to Edmonton and I made it to Edmonton, and, for the first time, on Saturday, two events became epiphany for me as parent to my son and my daughter.

As parent among parents, in one day I witnessed my daughter and her ballet dance troupe win gold at the ‘Standing Ovations’ dance competition at Festival Place in Sherwood Park, Alberta; in her dance I caught my daughter’s confidence, grace and beauty in movement set to time and music. Later that same day, I had the pleasure of witnessing and hearing my son’s performance as bass singer among the University of Alberta’s Mixed Chorus in its 68th Annual Spring Concert at the Francis Winspear Centre for Music in Edmonton – the music was resonant, majestic and actual, something happening before me, something surrounding me.  My son’s comment was in the order of singing with the chorus being so much better than … Church.  Indeed, he may have found more of what Church is about within the experience of participating in choral harmony. My epiphany was not so much new understanding as it was about seeing and enjoying fruits of my labours. As a teacher, most times you will at best only read about former students’ achievements. As parent, my job on this particular Saturday was not to strive for something, nor was it to push or coax my children; my job was to sit still, open-out my awareness to my children and enjoy what my daughter and my son were able to achieve in performance and result and in terms of heart-felt impact.

My wife will own that I am the parent who’s brought music into the home that our children have been brought up in; but, what’s more the truth is that I’ve really been conduit to something my parents surrounded our family with in their home as did their parents before them. My father and my mother were both accomplished pianists, both able to perform, both passing on their enjoyment of music to their three boys – my two brothers and me. We did have my father and one brother with us for both events on Saturday. Mom, who passed away in May of 2005, would have delighted in what her grandchildren achieved in relation to music, dance and performance on Saturday. The images presented in these photos are of grave-markers, headstones and crosses that recall to memory lives of those whom are held in memory, those whose lives impacted us.  My great grandmother is buried in this Edmonton cemetery.

Listening to: Neil Diamond’s Song Sung Blue, Porcupine Pie and Canta Libre from the Moods album, songs we grew up to, songs mom enjoyed.

Quote to Inspire – “All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget.  In this – as in other ways – they are the opposite of paintings.  Paintings record what the painter remembers.  Because each one of us forgets different things, a photo more than a painting may change its meaning according to who is looking at it.” – John Berger

The Soft Solder

Fifties Grain Truck - South Side toward Nampa, Peace River, Alberta
Fifties Grain Truck - South Side toward Nampa, Peace River, Alberta

In a Canadian literature course at the University of Alberta in the late eighties, Professor Bruce Stovel had us reading Canadian literature – Margaret Laurence’s Stone Angel, Upton Sinclair’s As For Me and My House and Hugh MacLennon’s Two Solitudes. I was coming to Canadian literature in my last year of an Arts degree after a tour through the literatures of the world, a literature decidedly English in its understanding of the world.  We began the course with short stories about the Canadian experience of living in a young Canada. A young Canada could still be taken advantage of and Stephen Leacock wrote more than a few stories aimed at exposing a need to be more wiley and aware as a country among nations. One of the experiences written about was the matter of being sold something. Sales and selling were about creating something called the soft solder, an electrical analogy sales people understood to mean the means by which they connected the would-be, hinterland buyer to a commodity he or she didn’t really need.

The effective salesperson would work to leave the commodity, something such as a clock, in the care of the prospective Canadian buyer to let him try it out and to ascertain that the clock worked  beyond expectations. For perhaps two weeks or a month the clock would remain fixed in the prospective buyer’s home. And, after two weeks or a month, the seller would return to review the merits of the clock with the prospective buyer and to collect the commodity, a clock which had worked its way into the habits and routines of the buyer. Removing the clock was something akin to removing a tooth from one’s mouth; it had been possessed and the threat of removal brought with it the uncertainty associated with luck and promise. The unsuspecting buyer would grapple with improved luck and situation that the clock affixed in the life of the buyer would provide. The clock would be kept and terms of sale agreed to.

In and around Peace River, Alberta the means of sale are not so subtle and no longer deal with affixing service or commodity to the buyer. The connective tissue (soft solder) at present seems to be that  of using vehicles of a former era to attract retrospective view and attach it to a billboard affixed to the side of the grain box of an older grain truck. Retro grain trucks have become portable billboards regarding services found at location. On Peace River, Alberta’s west side a sixty-four (1964) GMC three-ton grain truck  connects passersby with Luxliner services transporting them to Edmonton at fair price while this Chevrolet three-ton grain truck connects passersby with sandblasting services  on Peace River’s south side.

Listening to:  Radiohead’s Go to Sleep from The Best of Radiohead, a cool tune in terms of minor key melody; then it’s Ryan Adams’ Starting to Hurt from the Demolition album.  Next is Pete Yorn’s Pass Me By from the Day I Forgot album.  Later it is 5/4 by the Gorillaz from their album of the same name.

Quote to Inspire – “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”  ― Ansel Adams

Twin Lakes – Roadscape

Alberta Highway 35 near Twin Lakes, Alberta
Alberta Highway 35 near Twin Lakes, Alberta

Distances travelled within Canada’s vast landscape are huge. Travel along its roadways demands commitment to best use of drive time between point of origin and destination so you get where you are going and so you enjoy where you got yourself to. Within this travel predicament kinaesthetic awareness of the road counts as much as visual presentation in terms of road familiarity. Curves, drops, bumps and inclines inform you in your travel along the road. Artists depicting the predicament of Canadian travel often poke fun at vacations enjoyed from a car’s interior as the terrain passes by as much as it is something enjoyed at the destination’s endpoint.  A better way to see more of Canada’s landscape is accomplished looking through a camera lens; doing so requires you to stop your vehicle, stow it safely along the roadside, get out of it and interact more substantially with the environment you encounter.

An iconic rendering of Canada’s roadscape is what the image presented here is about. I’ve photographed a portion of the up-and-down incline leading up to Twin Lakes along Alberta’s Highway 35, one hundred and fifty kilometres south from High Level en route toward Edmonton. In distance, the incline covers five kilometres of road surface and rises onto a land mass noted for the temperature change that occurs from bottom of the incline to its crest. In winter a double-digit temperature change can occur and is accompanied by a marked change in weather travelled through. Ascending or descending, driving this incline is a tricky endeavor in winter, something compounded by snow. While one aspect of this image favours the artist’s tongue-in-cheek take on ‘Windshield Time’, the manner in which most Canadians see their Canada rolling past them, the image also recalls lives of former students who as new (and perhaps impatient) drivers were trekking through this bit of terrain on second- or third-ever tries; one bright future ended in a vehicle roll-over. Another life was impacted by partial paralysis.  It’s this portion of road in this image that seems to surprise drivers … even experienced ones. Last November, descending the incline in snow was an activity more akin to skiing than rolling forward in a half-ton truck.

Listening to:  Gillian Welch’s I Dream a Highway from her Time – The Revelator album, Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road from her album of the same name and High and Dry from Radiohead’s The Best of Radiohead.

Quote to Inspire: “No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” ― Ansel Adams

Where Are You Going …?

The images I present in this post remind of a time when as a young Dad, I read stories from the Thomas the Tank Engine series to my son and my/our doing so was an enjoyable way to close out each day. Thomas, Percy, Rusty, James et al each had an engineer, each had a conductor, all worked for Sir Topham Hat – each set about to complete a task each day. At the end of each day each engine returned to the engine shed for maintenance and rest. In Sangudo, Alberta, there’s a museum celebrating the vehicles and machinery that were used in the building of the Alaska Highway. Some are scattered within the museum’s yard and some are housed in a roofed shed without walls. The museum has closed and is no longer open to tourists. All vehicles seem to look onto the Alaska Highway they once had a hand in building. The scene is one you might find in a Thomas the Tank Engine story –  vehicles dormant and apparently waiting for a time when they can be re-tasked with new purpose and new life. Curiously, two songs I’m listening to tonight almost personify a state of mind that could lurk, here. One is Dave Matthew’s song Where Are You Going and the other is a Hank William’s song, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. Both songs are sung by Martyn Joseph and are found in his Passport Queue album Pq35.

Listening to: Weight of the World, Invisible Angel, Kindness and I Will Follow from Martyn Joseph’s Pq35.

Quote to Inspire: “A family’s photograph album is generally about the extended family—and, often, is all that remains of it.” – Susan Sontag (b. 1933), U.S. essayist. “In Plato’s Cave,” On Photography (1977).