Today, my daughter dances refining skills at a dance workshop. My wife has my truck and gathers bottles in a Church-youth bottle-drive. Our week’s sermon explored the intricacy and direct assertion of faith being tied to works – within my week there has been my action and my shortfall. Much of Northern Alberta burns, consumed in wildfire; we’ve donated money to the Red Cross and gently-used clothing to the 80,000 Fort McMurray evacuees. Today, I am chauffeur, more behind the scenes and needed, as needed. Time in-waiting provides opportunity to edit images and is welcome respite … the activity fits the day. Images – a farmer’s field alongside a highway north from Valleyview serves as resting site for older vehicles, those from a few generations ago … used parts, ready for use – for structure or as donor car. For me, each vehicle associates to former lives in memory. What memories stir and surface for you?
Listening to – Dream Academy’s ‘The Love Parade,’ The Beatles’ ‘Twist and Shout,’ Brian Houston’s ‘Next to Me,’ Nilsson’s ‘Jump into the Fire,’ Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Radio Nowhere,’ Link Wray and the Wraymen’s ‘Rumble’ and Tim Armstrong’s ‘Into Action.’
Quote to Consider/Inspire – “I wish more people felt that photography was an adventure the same as Life itself and felt that their individual feelings were worth expressing. To me, that makes photography more exciting.” – Harry Callahan
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.’
The day held a meeting and rather than a team of colleagues going, I would attend the meeting alone. I took camera gear with me. I hoped that the day would yield photographs, that I would find myself within the situation of a photograph. Having left early enough, I could scout out possible images; there was no need for haste through the morning’s seventy-eight kilometre drive.
The day held different gifts.
A year ago, a friend related an experience. He’d needed to take a call and had parked his service truck in a farmer’s farm entrance to be off the highway. He’d needed to turn his vehicle around, backing it onto the highway. Before he moved too far, he looked up, forward to find an old truck, perhaps a Ford, from the fifties or sixties. He captured the image with his smartphone. On this day, traveling to a meeting, I was in his neck of the woods, perhaps no more than three or four kilometres from Fort Vermilion and I saw the vehicle he was referring to from the highway. At day’s end, I would return and see if a photograph was possible. With less than an hour of daylight left I was able stop and take a series of shots.
The image above was the image photographed.
I intended to travel from Fort Vermilion to the north settlement after the meeting. At the meeting I asked a friend and colleague about the north settlement. “Would I be able to access or walk in to the St. Louis Catholic Mission church?” She didn’t know. But, the revelation was to find that she lived in the north settlement. Her and her husband’s families had lived in the north settlement through generations. She is someone who knows the stories of the north settlement, of Buttertown. That’s something.
These images are Buttertown, north settlement images.
Listening to – Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill,’ Peter Gabriel’s ‘Mercy Street’ and Roxy Music’s ‘More Than This.’
Quote to Consider – “The picture that you took with your camera is the imagination you want to create with reality.” Scott Lorenzo
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.
“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.’
An early-hours image from February in Edmonton, one of three surviving homestead structures in Edmonton’s Walterdale community from 1900 or so. The light work in the trees, upon the snow and that reflected to the white walls of the house attracts my attention. The homestead glows in a way you might anticipate when encountering a home within a ghost story, the narrative placing a character too many hours into night and the happenings that occur.
Quote to Consider – “In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.” – Alfred Stieglitz
Dave Brosha offered a photography workshop last spring in Fort Vermilion, Alberta. One day was devoted to portrait photography; another was about landscape photography. The workshop allowed for many practical demonstrations (talked through practically) and for us to review and critique our photographs together as a group. There was also the encouragement to get together and get out as a shooting group. We had opportunities to watch Dave edit using Adobe Lightroom and one of the surprises that I’ve held onto was that the erase function (a circle area that you direct within the image to eliminate things like dust spots could be dragged instead of only clicked on much like an eraser to erase areas of the image). The images presented here are from our landscape work and in the Gull Lake homestead picture I’ve been able to remove a person from the photo with the erase function.
Gratitude – thank you, Dave. It was good to meet you and to witness your energy and approach as a photographer. It was good to take you into Buttertown to the St. Louis Catholic mission, a place that had been part of distant childhood memories for you with your Dad. Take good care of your good self.
Listening to – the Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony,’ U2’s ‘In God’s Country,’ Coldplay’s ‘Life in Technicolor’ and Depeche Mode’s ‘Policy of Truth.’
Quote to Consider – “There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” – Ernst Haas (1921-1986)