The sky is blue. Long, thin wisps of cloud move at higher altitude in the atmosphere – we could have cloud cover in a day’s time. Following winter solstice, the sun perches low over the horizon in the afternoon. At 2:00 p.m. shadows run long over unimpeded surfaces. Buildings on either side of Edmonton city streets become canyons holding solstice shadow. Without a cloud blanket, the sun’s radiant heat will continue to escape and our part of the world will grow colder in coming days. In daylight, it is -32C … it is a colder day for some photos. Steam, a by-product from buildings maintaining heat, drizzles upwards into the atmosphere. Colder images from a colder Edmonton afternoon during Christmas break.
Quote to Consider / Inspire – “The most important thing about photography is who you are, and I can go into depth about the psychology of that, but there’s no way you can take a photograph and not leave your imprint on it. Every time you hit the shutter it’s based on who you are, that’s what makes you different from everybody else. My style is that I shoot from the heart, to the heart (Joe Buissink, Light Stalking).”
Listening to: Carrie Newcomer’s ‘The Beautiful Not Yet,’ ‘Three Feet or So,’ ‘Sanctuary,’ ‘Cedar Rapids at 10 AM’ and ‘A Shovel is a Prayer.’
I was in Iceland a year ago. The time was opportunity to move within and over unexplored terrain, alone. I would respond to it all, feasting my eyes through my camera lens, always working to understand the visual narrative of the land, its weather and people.
The windward-leeward interaction of mountain weather is a visible dynamic in Iceland. Atlantic clouds push into mountains producing rainy, spitting drizzle along their path. On the lee side they roll down, over mountains becoming a moving cloud blanket that dissipates, evaporating in its encounter with sunlight. Iceland’s cloud-work is extraordinary in its shift and shape, its play of light and shadow, its depths and in its interaction with the island. It is mountain weather, weather that can change radically within the space of a few moments. What was seen is revealed, here, as high dynamic range HDR images.
The lighthouse grounds at the Dyrhólaey Arch serve as orienting point for most images. From this crag black, volcanic sand beaches are visible. The Atlantic Ocean shimmers and rolls in. Mist and rain shroud distant islands. And, rays of sunlight stream through cloud and reflect upon the ocean. Inland, mountain snow melts exposing rock, sand and dirt. Lighthouse access is found driving up the side of this mountain outcrop along a steep, muddy, one-track gravel road, a series of switchbacks without road barriers. Poor weather needs a careful driver’s eye to prevent an unfortunate tumble off this crag. With my smaller SUV (a 2006 Ford Escape), the climb and descent were exhilarating as was greeting opposing traffic.
Quote to Consider / Inspire: “I never tried to revolutionize photography; I just do what I do and keep my fingers crossed that people will like it.” – David Bailey
Listening to – two ‘On Being with Krista Tippett’ interviews/podcasts: ‘Carlo Rovelli – All Reality Is Interaction’ and ‘Pádraig Ó Tuama – Belonging Creates and Undoes Us Both;’ ‘The Candid Frame podcast with Ursula Tocik;’ and, Ólafur Arnalds, Atli Örvarsson & SinfoniaNord perform ‘Öldurót,’ a remembrance in music, recalling Iceland.
Six kilometres distance is my morning walk around High Level. I am plugged in, listening to a podcast that opens out a little further my understanding of the world.
Words from a podcast interview catch my ear – “The greatest mysteries are the simplest ones. Those are the ones that we confront every day. I had a conversation once with a priest – I was travelling and went to confession in this very remote place, and suddenly he said, ‘Well, we don’t know what God is, do we?’” These words recall assertions made by John O’Donohue and Miester Eckhart – ‘God is only our name for it.’ I recognize the voice and am surprised to hear this same assertion being alluded to.
At -27C I am out of our home, on the road, bundled in layers of protective warmth and I have my camera. Good! My listener’s ear is attending to words offered by Martin Sheen, and, so begins this ‘On Being’ interview with Krista Tippett.
Within the walk, Martin describes his early days at home among his father’s family and then as an actor who is nourished by way of a soup kitchen. Further on Martin opens-out how his son’s film, ‘The Way,’ came into being. Emilio Estevez, Martin’s son has directed the film about a father, Thomas Avery, whose son had begun the pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago, but getting caught in mountains after dark and in fog may have fallen to his death. Thomas, played by Martin, takes on his son’s mantle of intention (that of seeing the world instead of just reading about it) and takes on the pilgrimage on his son’s behalf. Walkers and hikers will recognize the poignancy of this film for how it works with the matter of identity and community associated with a shared or common road. This film explores being upon Robert Frost’s ‘road less traveled.’
The eight seasons of ‘The West Wing’ series are recalled and the role of President Bartlett is under girded by Martin’s social activism and social conscience; Martin often is acting with an interior sense of what the President ought to do and this sense is buoyed up by brilliant dialogue and action provided by Aaron Sorkin. Martin’s personal evolution pulls him all the way back to Catholicism and to anchoring works of Thomas Merton.
The podcast is a good listen, a listening that I repeat. ‘On Being’ employs a listening strategy to anchor the interview within the listener. The edited interview is stellar – music, transition, clustering and flow of ideas. The uncut, un-edited interview is also presented as a second podcast, for a second listening – ideal for my longer morning walks. The second, uncut podcast interview holds other nuggets to be mined, revealing something more of interviewee and interviewer.
My morning – I have my camera with me, and, I stop and start, walking and listening my way around High Level. These images are those captured during my podcast listening.
Quote to Consider – “No place is boring if you’ve had a good night’s sleep and have a pocket full of unexposed film.” – Robert Adams.
Listening to – in addition to ‘On Being’ podcasts, recommendations from Steve Stockman (Stocki) from 2015: Jason Isbell’s ’24 Frames,’ ‘Hudson Commodore,’ ‘Flagship’ and ‘Speedtrap Town;’ Glen Hansard’s ‘McCormack’s Wall,’ ‘Grace Beneath the Pines,’ ‘ Paying My Way’ and ‘My Little Ruin;’ Jack White’s ‘We’re Going to Be Friends’ from ‘Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Llewyn Davis.’
“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 week’s end and our weekend have each held several endeavors, ones that have engaged me fully and used my mind and imagination fully. And, I’ve found that a mild cold has morphed into a productive cough and that I now have a prescription for antibiotics to see through to move me clear and past sickness. When I’ve been able to I’ve sat down with time for editing images, for looking through former results and for reviewing other’s image work. Our time in Jasper National Park in April, 2015 has been source for many of these edits. Have a look.
Listening to – Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians’ ‘What I Am,’ Concrete Blonde’s ‘Joey,’ Alanis Morisette’s ‘You Learn,’ The Dream Academy’s ‘Life in a Northern Town’ and U2’s ‘In God’s Country.’
Quote to Consider – “To me, photography is the 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
Taking time-out in the Brubeck sense, there being too much to do, having completed one huge step along a bigger task, clearing my head with photography before tackling the next huge step. This image is taken on a stretch of road behind the highway connecting Blue Hills to Buffalo Head Prairie, Alberta. The intention had been to use three F-10 images of the same scene with focus-stacking software to produce a merged, focused image utilizing the lens’ strongest point of focus with various focal points in the scene. I didn’t get that far. I didn’t purchase focus-stacking software. Instead, I used HDR Efex Pro to merge the three shots. I’m liking the result, an image that would suit a Thanksgiving theme, the harvest complete, the field prepared for spring and a move toward quieter, less hectic work. Good.