The return, a drive home in late October; fog hangs in the air for two hundred kilometres – from Peace River north to Keg River Cabins. I’ve had my eye on this granary within these past two years as one to investigate with my camera. I’m liking the colour, textures and miasma – all visual opportunity.
Listening to – ‘The Dignity of Difference,’ an On Being podcast with Jonathan Sacks.
“Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.” – Matt Hardy
Timber, pushed down, lies strewn throughout a farmer’s field, a first step in clearing the land. Timber has also fallen across the structure of a homestead house yet has not crushed it. The house and a water-filled dugout suggest that a previous owner, another farmer, had initiated and abandoned a similar project in an earlier era. For now, timber will be gathered for burning; a winter or spring burn will reduce these trees and this homestead house to ashes, the land becoming ready for another use.
Quote to Consider – “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.” – Diane Arbus
Listening to – Ibarionex Perello’s ‘The Candid Frame’ – episode 238, an interview with Sara Jane Boyers, Jesse Cook’s ‘Ocean Blue,’ Shadowfax’s ‘Move the Clouds,’ Agnes Obel’s ‘Fivefold,’ U2’s ‘Song for Someone’ and Sigur Ros’ ‘Glosoli.’
The Place Where We Are Right
by Yehuda Amichai
From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the Spring.
The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.
But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.
Nissan Pathfinders – my wife and I have owned and driven three of these sports utility vehicles in Northwestern Alberta. We used each to travel in and out of Wood Buffalo National Park on our bi-weekly grocery run, a distance of 200km one way. Most of the time, the Pathfinder was locked in true four wheel drive and careening forward, sliding on any angle but straight along slick, clay-mud, corduroy roads or perhaps creating a first track along snow laden roads. The joke at the time was that we could have filmed a Nissan Pathfinder commercial because of the treatment each Pathfinder received and because of the durability and handling found in its use. And, though the Pathfinder did always find its path, there were humbling times when it got stuck and had to be pulled out – six times in my last year in the park.
A few years ago, travelling with my camera among the backroads in and around Blue Hills, Alberta, I stumbled across an early fifties Pontiac, an old grey vehicle that had been parked among trees and other aging farm implements along the entrance to a Mennonite farm. I photographed the vehicle and did some research. The Pontiac was a sedan, possibly one intended only for Canadian markets – a 1953 Pontiac Pathfinder. A Pontiac buff, having driven my father’s 1969 Pontiac Parisienne through most of high school, I was surprised to find that Pontiac had had its own Pathfinder.
On Saturday, I drove past a service station two kilometres north from Manning, Alberta. An old, early fifties vehicle was displayed on the property, having sat on the site, ready for sale, through these past two years; but, the vehicle has always had a blue industrial shipping container placed next to it, something which has made it awkward to photograph from a stance of adjacent backgrounds and from sunlight never totally surrounding the entirety of the car properly. As I drove by I realized that the shipping container was no longer there and that the opportunity of a good photograph was possible. I captured these images and in researching the Pontiac found it to be another 1953 Pontiac Pathfinder. It was good to spend time photographing the car and then it’s been fun to edit the images, too – each a high dynamic range (HDR) shot.
Listening to – Walter Trout’s ‘Almost Gone,’ a voice that sounds so similar to the Who’s Roger Daltry singing ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘Baba O’Reilly;’ the song accompanies this rusting relic well.
Quotes to Consider – (1) “I’ve never taken a picture I’ve intended. They’re always better or worse.” – Diane Arbus. (2) “Some pictures are tentative forays without your even knowing it. They become methods. It’s important to take bad pictures. It’s the bad ones that have to do with what you’ve never done before. They can make you recognize something you hadn’t seen in a way that will make you recognize it when you see it again.” – Diane Arbus
Perhaps twenty years ago, Chris Short, an art specialist from Newfoundland, slowed the pace of my thought when she asserted that between High Level and Edmonton, Alberta (750km), an artist could easily spend as many as three days to gather and respond to terrain and landscape in drawing and painting (and, then, you could repeat this task/vocation seasonally, too). Another friend coined an expression Chris would understand. In response to seeing fresh landscape and terrain, that friend would interrupt travel asking to … “Stop. Let me feast my eyes.” The call was to stop in our current proceedings and to take note with awe and wonder of something beautiful, right there, in front of us.
For the Yellowknife Photo Walk getting to destination would mean focusing on the drive and returning to many photographic opportunities encountered along the way at a future date. A similar conundrum confronted me in getting to my first Photo Walk in Fort St. John, British Columbia in 2011. In both cases, while opportunities for photos were available, my eyes and imagination would only be able to scout the scene and return to them at a later date. I would know where to return for future photographs, a treasure of sorts. Travel to Fort St. John had presented incredible autumn landscapes, a morning well-lit by sun with impending, dark winter clouds moving off in the distance; farmers, at that time, were completing their harvest, some still combining fields on either side of the highway between Rycroft and Fort St. John. In the same way, travel to and from Yellowknife presented many opportunities for images – the bridge among the terrain in the Rae Edzo area in the morning’s golden hour will be something to return for as will bison feeding on the warmer, sunlit side of the highway in the afternoon. Then, there was this bridge that crosses the MacKenzie River at Fort Providence. The river, at this point, spans almost two kilometres. Driving across this two lane bridge is a breathtaking experience. I stopped and in my friend’s words, I feasted my eyes. These images are the result.
Listening to – U2’s ‘Every Breaking Wave,’ John Mayer’s ‘The Age of Worry,’ Maroon 5’s ‘Lucky Strike,’ Coldplay’s ‘Us Against the World,’ Ed Sheeran’s ‘Little Bird’ and Snow Patrol’s ‘This Isn’t Everything You Are.’
Quotes to Consider – “Taking pictures is like tiptoeing into the kitchen late at night and stealing Oreo cookies.” – Diane Arbus; “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place …. I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” – Elliott Erwitt
I had wanted to be a photographer-participant in the Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk in each of the last three years. The eighth, annual Kelby Photo Walk would be held around the globe last Saturday – October 3, 2015. Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Fort St. John, Edson, and Jasper – all in previous years had photo walks that I could potentially get to. Key in such consideration was locating myself at the photo walk site with time enough for solid rest so that I could see that corner of the world with fresh eyes.
Coming to last weekend, two photo walks intrigued me. One would be held in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories and another would be held in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. The Fort Smith photo walk would begin quite early to catch the morning golden hour of dusk to sunrise and then to full morning – I’d need to be there quite early. The Yellowknife photo walk would start at 5:30 p.m.; but, I would need to be up and on the road quite early on Saturday to make it to the walk site. Going did not look promising because I would need seven hours to get there. But, happenstance prevailed. A group of roofers began nailing shingles to a neighbor’s roof early on Saturday morning; starting at 8:00 a.m. they began banging in nails with an air-nailer. I got out of bed, got a coffee and looked at the photo walk website and to the Yellowknife photo walk. I also got clear on the number of kilometres I would travel in order to be part of this event. My wife came downstairs and asked me about my Saturday and saw that I was looking at the photo walk. She got me going out the door and on my way.
I arrived in Yellowknife with forty-five minutes to spare, got a hotel room at the Explorer Hotel, showered and registered for the walk using my smartphone. I punched into my GPS the walk starting point – 3513 Ingraham Drive, Yellowknife (the parking lot at the base of Pilot’s Monument) and five minutes later I was at the site. Ten minutes after that I met the Walkers of our Yellowknife photo walk group, we counted thirteen.
The image presented here is my submission to the photo walk website – a float plane in the Narrows separating Yellowknife proper from Rock Island. My gratitude goes out to this photo walk group for their camaraderie, their welcome, their interest in photography and for how each photographer has worked photography into their lives. Good, good schtuff!
Quote to Consider – “Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how,’ while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why.’ Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.” – Man Ray … sounds like a key attribute of this photo walk group.
Listening to – New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give;” seems almost to have a Mick Jagger kind of voicing to the song; a student of mine has me fretting this song with him … we’re both learning it.
August, up behind Banff, on Sulfur Mountain, a Gondola ride ferries me, skyward, high above to a prominent mountain peak, a culling point for a cross-section of travelers and wanderlust. The sun, glimpsed behind clouds … sets – a time for a photo, a time to share with fellow mountain-top travelers what my camera captures; encouragement comes in broken, best effort English … “ten more minutes” and “beautiful [sunset].”
Quote to Consider – “To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before taking a walk.” – Edward Weston
Listening to – Of Monsters and Men’s ‘King and Lionheart,’ ‘Dirty Paws’ and ‘Slow and Steady.’
One of this summer’s revelations was finding that my Canon DSLR was able to move from three images in automatic exposure bracketing to seven, a potent option of possibility for use in High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography. In August, I trialed this broad swath of bracketed exposures in Southern Alberta in creating HDR images. Beyond such experimentation with camera and tripod, where I have been using Adobe CS6, Photomatix and Google’s HDR Efex for High Dynamic Range image processing, I found a free HDR program within the accompanying DVD/CD to my June 2015 issue of PhotoPlus Magazine (the Canon Magazine) – HDR Projects 2 – and was surprised to find how much more was now in my photo-editor’s control in producing an HDR image; I have since upgraded the software to HDR Projects 3 Professional. Summer’s downtime also presented opportunities to gather HDR skills. I took-in a webinar offered by RC Concepcion, ‘HDR Exposed,’ through the KelbyOne website. The webinar dealt with static and moving HDR images and dealt with all considerations in the process of creating the final HDR image (e.g. overcoming camera distortion, creating photo-stitched panoramas in portrait or landscape formats etc.). One of my new goals is to create an HDR image of a building interior – new, old, dilapidated and to utilize natural light to capture colour, textures and depth. We’ll see what happens.
Possibly an HDR Quote to Consider – “In Photography there are no shadows that cannot be illuminated.” – August Sander
Listening to – Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Eyes on the Prize,’ Bruce Hornsby and The Range’s ‘The Valley Road,’ Don Henley’s ‘Sunset Grill,’ The Kingsmen’s ‘Louie Louie,’ Coldplay’s ‘Magic’ and Of Monsters and Men’s ‘Slow and Steady.’
“We never see another person’s experience; all we see is their behaviour (R.D. Lang).”
I have had some alone time travelling in the past few weeks and been able to engage in uninterrupted thought work – some intersecting of ideas has occurred. I’ve listened to a 2007 John O’Donohue lecture on the creative force of the imagination and key ideas as starting points about our inner lives – in his words, “I always think that behind every face there is a secret life and that humanoids are the strangest creatures that you’d ever meet because so much is contained within the human body. A human face is one of the most unusual things in the world. On such a small canvas such a variety of presence can appear. And, behind every face there is a secret, hidden inner life … if friendship means anything it means in the presence of the other you begin to see who you are in how they reflect you back to you.”
Within this same time frame I took in a photography workshop offered by Joe McNally – ‘The Moment It Clicks.’ As I listened and watched Joe work to produce different portraits there was recognition that the photographer does what John O’Donohue proposes; ultimately, the photographer reflects the subject back to him- or herself. I have wondered, though, if portrait photography is really a dance of interrogation; I have wondered if shared vulnerabilities result in trust and a richer portrait. And, is it the photographer’s leading interrogation about the subject’s narrative that produces the best photograph? Or, is it something more mutual that does so? I am wondering if the good portrait photographer leads the subject in the relationship that produces the portrait? It is possible that subject and photographer would share a context of silence in portrait making.
John O’Donohue’s words highlight some of this – “No two humans inhabit the same world, internally. We all inhabit the same world physically. But, internally, each world is completely different.” On the side of the photographer and on the side of the subject, what follows is starting point. “… No one else sees the world the way you do. No one else sees it from the perspective that you do. In no one else is the same narrative building as there is within you. And even though similar things have happened to you as with other people the context that they find in your heart and mind and narrative is different from everyone else. Your inner world is completely hidden from other humans.” So, within portrait photography interrogation has the opportunity to work on both sides co-creating a reality – that of photographer and that of subject. Relationship and moment are captured and recorded as the shutter button is pressed.
As the week rounded out, I found myself among this theme, again, being explored and brought to life in Ben Stiller’s film of James Thurber’s story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Images from the Road – a derelict church in Woking, a La Glace homestead, the road at night and sunsets.
Quote to Consider – “If you’re having difficulty finding a natural or intuitive expression in a portrait session or having trouble identifying with the person you’re photographing, look into their eyes carefully and see if you can find your own reflection there. Discover yourself looking at you. Then, ask your subject to look into your camera lens and find their own reflection, and be prepared to make the portrait.” – Shelby Lee Adams, ‘Find Your Reflection’ … seems follow-up from the aphorism, “The more I know me, the more I know thee.” – Buber-esque and good, good schtuff!
Listening to – Jose Gonzalez’ ‘Stay Alive’ and Thomas Merton’s ‘The Seven Storey Mountain.’
The ground, seeded, transforms from dark, dirt black to green growth reaching its pinnacle of dazzling yellow before being harvested. I have driven through some of Alberta’s farmland in the past two weeks and Canola does seem the farmer grown plant of choice, this year, its yellows colouring and brightening what, in winter, had been a darker and more dreary landscape. I had hoped to catch Canola surrounding these Warrensville Westeel grain bins in the past two or three years, never returning to the site/sight until a week ago.
The Canada Flag painted on the side of a grain bin forms a landmark for travellers nearing the hamlet of Guy, Alberta. On Alberta highway 2, as you climb from the valley holding the Smoky River going north you’ll find the grain bin on your left two or three minutes along; for many the flag and shed serve as time marker for journeys northward. From this point, I can be at my doorstep in High Level, Alberta in three hours and forty minutes.
In addition to the broad reach of Canola’s yellows in these images, immensity surrounding the grain bin is also part of things; looking ahead through the miles a cumulonimbus cloud will later offer its weather, wind and rain, as something to be managed within our drive home. These images remind of photographs in which grain fields, mountains and breathtaking cloud work coalesce and immensity is the dominant feature within the image. I hadn’t considered it; but, the fact that a Canadian Flag has been painted on the side of a grain bin holds associations for the farmer – perhaps pride in being Canadian; it may also aim to have others consider the key role grain farmers play in Canada’s economy; or, perhaps the notion has something to do with being in the heart of Canada. What’s also there is perhaps something political … perhaps something like the assertion, ‘we are all Canadians first and foremost.’ The question intrigues – what was the point of origin for the idea of painting a Canadian flag on a farmer’s grain bin?
Quote to Consider – “A photograph is the story I fail to put into words.” – Destin Sparks
Listening to – Murray McLaughlin’s ‘Hard Rock Town,’ The Who’s ‘I Can See For Miles,’ Bob Dylan’s ‘Buckets of Rain,’ Steve Miller Band’s ‘Fly Like an Eagle,’ Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ ‘If You Wanna Get To Heaven,’ Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Radio Nowhere,’ Link Wray & the Wraymen’s ‘Rumble’ and Bruce Springsteen’s rendering of a Pete Seeger tune ‘We Shall Overcome.’
I dropped them off. Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium now held them – my wife, our daughter and our daughter’s friend – tickets, purchased last November; the event, a One Direction concert.
I began looking for possible photographs – different subjects presented themselves. I got out of our truck opposite Strathcona Composite School and had a look at a rat rod parked outside a gym on the southbound Calgary trail – very minimalistic in design and with little to draw the eye. I moved on. On Jasper Avenue the Gibson Building has always been an interesting subject to photograph – a building built to accommodate the wedge or pie piece shape of the land beneath it. But for the last eighteen months a neighboring construction zone has interfered with its presentation; I would need a fish eye lens to make something of the building without capturing the construction site. A photograph would not be viable today. Later, I had a good walk through the John Walter museum and gathered more information about the area and the history of one of the Walterdale homes I had photographed months before. There, in walking back to my truck, I ran into one of my daughter’s friends from her dance company – she was staying with grandparents and had recognized me. We said our hellos; I chatted with her and her granddad and we parted.
The evening clouded over. As the sun moved into its golden hour, I got to the Riverdale bike bridge and began gathering the shots above of the Edmonton Skyline. People walking by offered encouragement and saw the photographer’s opportunity of reddening clouds. One Direction’s music could be heard in the distance – people wondered if the music was part of the Taste of Edmonton event that was also going on, currently. In wind, spitting rain and cloud, wiping the lens with lens cloth regularly I gathered these images.
Quote to Consider – within the intention of ‘In My Back Pocket – Photography,’ has been the movement toward the seamless ‘See, Think, Do’ of image capture and image making. The following image conveys something similar and is found in Franz Kafka’s ‘The Wish to Be a Red Indian;’ “If one were only an Indian, instantly alert, and on a racing horse, leaning against the wind, kept on quivering jerkily over the quivering ground, until one shed one’s spurs, for there needed no spurs, threw away the reins, for there needed no reins, and hardly saw that the land before one was smoothly short heath when horse’s neck and head would be already gone.” Liking this … sort of what photography can become, response.
Listening to – Maeve Binchy’s ‘A Week in Winter’ for the long drive to and from Edmonton.