Afternoon Drive – Late Winter

Aquamarine Ford F-150 - Tompkin's Landing, Ab Canada 1
Aquamarine Ford F-150 – Tompkin’s Landing, Ab Canada 1
Aquamarine Ford F-150 - Tompkin's Landing, Ab Canada 2
Aquamarine Ford F-150 – Tompkin’s Landing, Ab Canada 2
Buttertown Buildings - Fort Vermilion, Ab Canada
Buttertown Buildings – Fort Vermilion, Ab Canada
La Crete Heritage Museum Buildings 1
La Crete Heritage Museum Buildings 1
La Crete Heritage Museum Buildings 2
La Crete Heritage Museum Buildings 2
La Crete Heritage Museum Buildings 3
La Crete Heritage Museum Buildings 3
La Crete Heritage Museum Buildings 4
La Crete Heritage Museum Buildings 4
Old Tompkin's Landing Ferry 1
Old Tompkin’s Landing Ferry 1
Old Tompkin's Landing Ferry 2
Old Tompkin’s Landing Ferry 2
Stuck in Snow - Buttertown, Fort Vermilion, AB Canada
Stuck in Snow – Buttertown, Fort Vermilion, AB Canada

I got out for an afternoon drive on a Saturday late in February. I gathered my cameras and set off for a look around within Alberta’s MacKenzie Municipal District.

From High Level I traveled south. I would cross the Peace River ice bridge through slushy water at Tompkin’s Landing, traveling no more than 10km/h. Before I got there, on the hill descending toward the ice bridge a blue, aquamarine colour caught my eye. The colour belonged to a seventies Ford F-150. Someone had dragged it a ways into the trees. It, like the 1970 Buick GS next to it, had served a purpose and was left there – a rusting relic. Tromping into knee deep snow I gathered photos.

Driving past Blue Hills, farms held livestock, the occasional horse and derelict farming implements. I detoured along back roads behind Buffalo Head Prairie. There, second and third generation families are operating farms that have grown in size through the years. Many families are moving from original homestead homes built in the forties into new homes. The older homesteads stand holding memory’s residue. Next, I drove behind La Crete to the Heritage museum. The museum site holds old buildings from the La Crete area, old farming implements and machinery. The old Tompkin’s Landing ferry that transferred people and vehicles across the Peace River is there. The museum is one I want to return to for photos. And, people are invited to arrange a tour of the site. It might be something to see in early June.

Later, in moving past Fort Vermilion and into Buttertown, I managed to get my truck stuck in snow. I had seen some Buttertown buildings built with Swedish log cut corners. They were likely more than a hundred years old and I had been meaning to photograph them for a while. In parking my truck on a snowy road shoulder, I got too close to the shoulder’s edge and my truck and I slid sideways into the ditch. I did not have to wait too long for help though. A young Mennonite farmer out for a drive with his date stopped. He took some time (an hour or so) and was able to pull my truck back onto the road. And, he didn’t want anything for his trouble. He was just being neighborly. Good on him!

I stayed in Buttertown for another hour or so before sundown and my return home with pictures, better for being out of the house, better for being away from town, grateful for all that my afternoon had held.

Quote to Consider – “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.” – Ansel Adams

Listening to – Martyn Joseph’s ‘Strange Way,’ Bruce Cockburn’s ‘Wondering Where the Lions Are,’ David Gray’s ‘My Oh My’ and James Taylor’s ‘Country Road.’

Photographic Recollection

Homestead in Late Fall - Fairview, Ab ii
Homestead in Late Fall – Fairview, Ab ii
Canadian Geese - Flying South, Fairview, Alberta - Canada
Canadian Geese – Flying South, Fairview, Alberta – Canada
Homestead in Late Fall - Fairview, Ab i
Homestead in Late Fall – Fairview, Ab i
Homestead in Fall - Fairview, Alberta - Canada 1
Homestead in Fall – Fairview, Alberta – Canada 1
Homestead in Fall - Fairview, Alberta - Canada 2
Homestead in Fall – Fairview, Alberta – Canada 2
Homestead in Fall - Fairview, Alberta - Canada 3
Homestead in Fall – Fairview, Alberta – Canada 3

An audio-book calmed us, my wife and I, during a night drive north on Alberta’s highway 63. Moving past our Grassland pit stop, we turned left traveling northward to Fort McMurray. As we drove, a snow storm brewed until we were within a wall of big, heavy snow flakes. I backed off on the gas and turned our high-beams to low. I minded the road, scouting the snow track left by previous vehicles. I gave oncoming vehicles a wide berth. I placed our vehicle with care on this highway with sharp shoulders.

I pushed the first audio-cassette in.

A familiar, Canadian voice met our ears – Donald Sutherland began narrating our story. “Did he know? Had he guessed that I knew for certain what everyone else only suspected?” … “I found myself looking straight into the past. Sunday, October 28, 1956. A cabin, not ten miles from where I stood now.” … “This is the weekend when we’re closing the cabin for the season and my mother has been moving around in the other room, cleaning, but now the screen door snaps shut as she steps outside. It is now that I see my father. He is hurrying away from the cabin ….” (Part 1 – May Brightman, Chapter 1 – ‘The Red Fox’ by Anthony Hyde, 1986). The cabin is starting point for a narrative that moves the reader compellingly around the world, a journalistic detective story that weaves historical fiction into curious and intriguing questions of ‘what-if.’

The homestead in the photographs posted here is one I have photographed many times. The edit arrived at in this image has brought forward mind’s eye recollection of the family summer cabin that Robert Thorn, protagonist (and journalist) recalls, as well, in an October funeral for his mother. Anthony Hyde’s novel led us as listeners through the untangling of truth from lies and the consideration of possibilities and where their trajectories of reasoning would lead you – definitely the right book to listen to on a long, snowy drive into Alberta’s north.

Listening to – Bruce Springsteen’s ‘If I Should Fall Behind.’

Quote to Inspire/Consider – “The eye should learn to listen before it looks.” – Robert Frank

Reflecting, Road Thought Work

Homestead - La Glace, Alberta, Canada
Homestead – La Glace, Alberta, Canada
Homestead - La Glace, Alberta, Canada
Homestead – La Glace, Alberta, Canada
Stop Ahead Turnoff - NW Alberta
Stop Ahead Turnoff – NW Alberta
Sunset - Warrensville, Alberta Canada 1
Sunset – Warrensville, Alberta Canada 1
Sunset - Warrensville, Alberta Canada 2
Sunset – Warrensville, Alberta Canada 2
Sunset - Warrensville, Alberta Canada 3
Sunset – Warrensville, Alberta Canada 3
Sunset - Warrensville, Alberta Canada 4
Sunset – Warrensville, Alberta Canada 4
Sunset - Warrensville, Alberta Canada 5
Sunset – Warrensville, Alberta Canada 5
Sunset - Warrensville, Alberta Canada 5
Sunset – Warrensville, Alberta Canada 5

“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.’

Cloud Cord Work

La Glace Homestead  - Sunset, La Glace, Alberta - Canada 1
La Glace Homestead – Sunset, La Glace, Alberta – Canada 1
La Glace Homestead  - Sunset, La Glace, Alberta - Canada 3
La Glace Homestead – Sunset, La Glace, Alberta – Canada 3

Day’s end, dabbling with high dynamic range edits in Adobe Photoshop CS6, shots from a La Glace golden hour at day’s end from two Sundays back. Very near the Rocky Mountains, the curiosity is the cloud work splaying out, unwinding cords of cloud above rolling foothills – not quite cirrus clouds, but clouds that hold line and shape against darkening night sky as back drop.

Quote to Consider – “Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” – Dorothea Lange

Listening to – Jesse Cook’ ‘Ocean Blue,’ Clannad’s ‘Harry’s Game’ and Snow Patrol’s ‘This Isn’t Everything You Are’ and ‘Those Distant Bells.’

Windshield Meditation

Barn - Rycroft, Ab - Canada
Barn – Rycroft, Ab – Canada
Barn and Quonset - Fairview, Ab - Canada 1
Barn and Quonset – Fairview, Ab – Canada 1
Barn and Quonset - Fairview, Ab - Canada 2
Barn and Quonset – Fairview, Ab – Canada 2
Spring's Rolling Hills - Near Rycroft, Alberta - Canada 1
Spring’s Rolling Hills – Near Rycroft, Alberta – Canada 1
Spring's Rolling Hills - Near Rycroft, Alberta - Canada 2
Spring’s Rolling Hills – Near Rycroft, Alberta – Canada 2

A prairie thaw, sky filling through the afternoon with cloud – a long drive southward into more and more of spring and sunlight provides ample opportunity for the meditation that becomes photography and each photograph – a photo walk with wheels so to speak, travel traversing a third of our province in a five-hour trek. Quiet, without news, story or music, the drive becomes a photographer’s dream – unending windshield time. That afternoon’s thought remnants are found in these images.

Listening to – Radiohead’s ‘Pyramid Song,’ Sigur Ros’ ‘Glosoli,’ Snow Patrol’s ‘Garden Rules,’ Bryan Ferry’s ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,’ U2’s ‘California’ and Tom Waits’ ‘Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis.

Quote to Consider – “The eye should learn to listen before it looks.” – Robert Frank

Window Pragmatics

Homestead on a Hill - near Sexsmith, Alberta - Canada
Homestead on a Hill – near Sexsmith, Alberta – Canada

Ten minutes north from Sexsmith, Alberta this homestead is one previously photographed in mid-winter, the land smoothed under a snow blanket, the homestead roof likewise blanketed, but windswept with snow blown into curvilinear shape. Here, in early spring, the homestead’s greying outline pulls my eye, then it is its placement on the rise in this field, then the weather drama of its backdrop clouding and finally it’s the immensity of the homestead windows, each – one on each side – four feet tall by one and a half feet in breadth; much can be seen from this homestead. A South African farming friend points out that being able to see in each direction – north, east, south and west – requires that the farming home be placed at best vantage point to allow observation and consideration of happenings on the farm property. Pragmatics is what has been highlighted – all should be seen from the farm home and limit the need to be on the land to check on things.

Listening to – John O’Donohue’s ‘Longing and Belonging.’

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

Walkabout Homestead

La Glace Homestead on a Hill 1
La Glace Homestead on a Hill 1
La Glace Homestead on a Hill 2
La Glace Homestead on a Hill 2
La Glace Homestead on a Hill 3
La Glace Homestead on a Hill 3

On my own, away from home and family, four hours into a walkabout drive with my camera on a sunny, spring Saturday, a right turn takes me west, heading toward La Glace – new ground. Nearly sunset, the miles long straight road climbs and curves around a foothill allowing this scene to find me – a homestead on the westward rise, against the big Alberta sky.

Listening to – Chris Whitley’s ‘Big Sky Country’ and ‘Dust Radio.’

Quote to Consider – “Photography can only represent the present. Once photographed, the subject becomes part of the past.” – Berenice Abbott