An early, July, Saturday morning in Edmonton finds me with my camera at play with haze and light.
Quote to Consider / Inspire: “Elegance is a virtue. Elegance is simplicity. I learned about elegance … because one day I was in Japan and saw a totally empty house and then a small detail … like a flower arrangement or painting. And, the rest is empty. This is elegance … because … there’s only one detail that you can pay attention to. Elegance is about getting rid of all the superfluous things and focus on the most beautiful one (paraphrase, Paul Coelho).”
Listening to: Cloud Cult’s ‘You Were Born,’ from their album ‘Light Chasers.’
A sunny, August day in central Alberta saw my wife, daughter (recently returned from Guatemala) and me driving back roads in central Alberta. Clouds were building through the afternoon – there would be a thunder shower this evening. My wife and daughter were content to read through the stop and start and camera work. The timeline was our own, we could stretch the day, we would return to camp after sunset. We could explore. I could look at the world through my camera lens.
Quote to Consider / Inspire – “In the fields of observation chance favours only the prepared mind (Louis Pasteur, 7 December 1854). Other versions of this quote include: (1) Chance favors the prepared mind; (2) Fortune favors the prepared mind; (3) In the field of observation, chance favors the prepared mind; and, (4) Where observation is concerned, chance favors only the prepared mind.
The Dawson Bridge reaches across the North Saskatchewan River within green verdure of Edmonton’s river valley in August.
Quote to Inspire/Consider – “I began to realize that the camera sees the world differently than the human eye and that sometimes those differences can make a photograph more powerful that what you actually observed.” – Galen Rowell
Listening to – April Wine’s ‘Roller,’ David Bowie’s ‘Fame’ and Coldplay’s ‘Moses,’ ‘Yellow,’ and ‘Clocks,’ all from their Live in Sydney concert gathered in their ‘Live 2003’ album.
A Studebaker farm truck, a shot found, photographed on a drive from Lake Miquelon into Edmonton on an early August, summer afternoon in Alberta. I got low with a 70-200 mm lens shooting upwards to the truck on a knoll in the highway corner of a fallow field. A Canadian flag celebrates Canada being a nation of 150 years (1 July 2017). From this vantage point the flag hides a RE/Max billboard advertising sale of farm land along the flat deck of the passenger side of the truck. The first edit plays with saturation of summer colours. The second edit is more literal, one true to the scene, true to Central Alberta summer weather and the mix of blue sky and clouds.
Quote to Consider/Inspire – “Don’t pack up your camera until you’ve left the location.” – Joe McNally
Listening to: Bruce Hornsby’s ‘Mandolin Rain,’ ‘Look out Any Window,’ and recognizing that his ‘Go Back to Your Woods’ is a song also done by Robbie Robertson. I’m further along in Sebastion Barry’s ‘The Secret Scripture;’ a fascinating set of narratives revolving around one, one-hundred year old character – Roseanne McNulty – told linking to one shared narrative gathered within this novel; among other things it holds a family ghost story that will give you the willies.
Watching: Visual Flow: Mastering the Art of Composition with Ian Plant (from B&H on Youtube) – a sensibility and set of conceptualizations that meets me well. Another is ‘Star Trails Photography Tutorial: Free Software’ offered by Serge Ramelli. A final one, just watched, is ‘Mentors,’ a photo project giving homage to people who have mentored photographer Sean Tucker as a young man – totally interesting to find the term two phrases in the talk – ‘grieved humanity’ and Eugene Peterson’s book title referenced, ‘A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.’
A few days drive from home, I stop my truck … my eyes have found something. I walk this scene, allowing my eyes to question ‘What is it that is here?’ I set camera upon tripod. I look and frame what I see – ‘click.’ Light’s point of origin directs golden light to and around the landscape it is falling upon – ‘click.’ Light’s absence, its shade and shadow and depth – at sunset, shadows are growing long – ‘click.’ My eyes are finding passage of time – ‘click.’ I’ve recognized something in the landscape and quality of light. I am recalling something – ‘click.’ I manage the machine, my camera, working aperture, shutter speed and ISO – ‘click.’ I am exposure bracketing to seven shots at one-step intervals – ‘click, click, click, click, click, click and click.’ HDR shots are possible – ‘click.’ My intent is not only to capture and hold this moment in memory – ‘click.’ It is to recast reality with the image produced – ‘click.’ Wheat fields that blanket rolling foothills are drawing my imagination to this scene – ‘click.’ Appreciation for what I see builds – ‘click.’ A long-ago memory loosens, … ‘click’ … connecting me to what I now see for the first time as an adult – ‘click.’ A sense of something familiar grows – ‘click.’ My mind resides and works equally in another place – ‘click.’ It anticipates the other side of download, edit and image production, ‘Can I bring the edited image produced close to what I now see?’ ‘Click.’ Weeks pass. I make time to edit images. I remove the SD card from my camera and download it onto an external hard drive. A Lightroom edit begins. In the edit, the surprise of the extraordinary occurs; what my eyes and camera captured weeks ago is now re-seen and more fully seen in the image that has been created. Good.
Images – Foothills Wheat Crop, Manning Canola, Nampa Grain Truck and Spruce Grove Canola.
Quote to Consider/Inspire: “Look for LEICA patterns; Look for lines, edges, intersections, contrast and angles in the shapes, light and shadows of the global and local elements of a photo to create a harmonious composition,” John Kosmopoulos.
Listening to: Molly Tuttle & John Mailander’s ‘Another Side, Tell Me,’ ‘Morning Morgantown,’ ‘Moonshiner,’ ‘I’m Over You’ and ‘Red Prairie Dawn;’ Spencer Elliot’s ‘Torque.’
We were in Edmonton and only days into our summer break when I seized the opportunity to cycle along Edmonton’s River Valley Bike trails. These trails were ones I road between terms at University thirty years ago. Then, I road a Kuwahara, chromoly steel-framed mountain bike. I bought it after my 1986 convocation and completion of my first degree. Now I road a new, Giant Hybrid Roam I. It replaced my weathered, well-ridden, fifteen-year-old, yellow Specialized HR (HardRock) Comp mountain bike. I donated it to Goodwill and bought the Giant Roam I.
The trail I remember had been a quick-paced, two-hour ride. The route covered upwards of forty kilometres. Now, I encountered the River Valley’s up and down on each side of the North Saskatchewan River. It passed by the Riverside Golf Course, through Rundle Park, out to the Strathcona Science Centre, then back along Ada Boulevard to Concordia College. From there, it moved past the Dawson Bridge, under the City Centre, past the Alberta Legislature, across the High Level Bridge, alongside the Pitch-and Putt behind the Kinsmen Field House, under Saskatchewan Drive toward the James MacDonald Bridge, then the Low Level Bridge and finally up a rigorous climb from under the St. Joseph Seminary out of the River Valley and then through Forest Heights Park to McNally High School where my truck waited.
Where I had completed this trek in two hours, thirty years ago, this well-worn path was taking me upwards of three and a half hours to complete. Sections of the once familiar route now suffered neglect – cracks and frost-heaves made the trail uneven. Hard-core, cycle-til-you-drop Edmonton cyclists had taken to spray painting cracks with bright paint to remind and to warn other cyclists of bumps along the trail. Other parts of the cycling trail were being restored. In one case a cycling bridge beneath the Shaw Centre was being dismantled and replaced. A detour was needed around this construction site – a ten minute, hard climb out of the valley with travel along the edge of the city centre core. Cycling time extended. Detours added delay.
Stopping to gather photographs slowed my cycling circuit. I was searching-out images associating to memories of early morning cycling in the Edmonton River Valley. Other images took-in and experimented with Edmonton architecture. Composition in some photographs now seems hasty. Cycling’s faster pace has seemed, at this later editing date, to have limited my awareness of all (or other) composition choices. Images that I photograph while walking hold different consideration. Walking into the scene gathers perception for what an image can become. Good consideration for how to frame a shot can occur. Three days of early summer cycling gathered these images.
Listening to – Keith Jarrett’s concert album, ‘The Köln Concert’ from 24 January 1975 – enjoying this as a former piano player.
Quote to Consider / Inspire: “Adequate photographers use their sight, good photographers use their senses, and great photographers use their souls.” – A. J. Compton
Summer images remind of other photos yet to edit and look back through. With our Ford F-150 we pulled our Tracer Ultra-lite southward from High Level, camping around Alberta – Edmonton, Pigeon Lake, Gull Lake, Hinton, Jasper, Banff, Nanton and Red Deer. We saw cousins and family. We enjoyed an afternoon, with my father in assistive care – out among the flower gardens. We explored the regions we camped in in a more settled way, always having a familiar, yet temporary, home to return to at day’s end. We got out to the Calgary Stampede and my daughter got me on a sky-lift tram – a first for us both. My daughter attended dance camp. I cycled in Jasper National park along highways and upon cycling / hiking trails – the Maligne Lake canyon and trails 4 & 7. I cycled in Banff National park and up to the Johnson Canyon. I attended a conference with our trailer.
Quote to Consider – “It is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph.” – Robert Frank
Listening to – The Candid Frame podcast and an interview with Andrea Francolini, an Australian sport yachting / sailing photographer and his charitable work in Northern Pakistan setting up and supporting a school – ‘My First School.’
A summer image, looks west from Baseline Road at 17th Street to Edmonton’s skyline; it appears as silhouette. To the left and right are various petroleum-based industries – the road is known also as ‘Refinery Row.’
Quote to Consider – “Just put on the lens and go.” – Miroslav Tichy
Listening to – Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Open All Night,’ as first rendered on his Nebraska album – a rockin’ boogie on an electric guitar and the voice of Bruce, those two instruments, nothing else; the song is quite different from piano and band boogie as it is rendered on his ‘Live in Dublin’ performance. Also, listening to ‘The Candid Frame: A Photography Podcast’ and Ibarionex Perello’s interview of Stacey Pearsall and the subject of Military Journalism and the Veterans’ Portrait Program.
I heard a lot about the AVRO Lancaster and the RCAF around our kitchen table. As an adolescent during the seventies, I was making sense of the Second World War. I was grappling with facts coming to me. Twenty years before I was born, Canada fought a war in Europe. My good-natured uncle, who now farmed with his family, in central Alberta had been a bomber pilot. He had done so before marrying my aunt and starting a family. Our families exchanged visits through each year. They would come to our home for Christmas and Easter. We would see them every other month or so at their farm. We would spend the better part of an afternoon and evening together in each visit. Sometimes a comment or question about piloting a Lancaster would come and I would listen to narrative. I would try to work out what a Lancaster was and what the adults were referring to. My curiosity would stir and I’d wait for the drive home to confirm or ask about what I’d heard.
Those conversations evolved into dinner table fodder. Around the table I could ask questions and listen to answers. Extrapolation, implication – I gathered understanding of my pilot uncle and the Lancaster. What was it like to fly forty sorties in a flight stream to Berlin, Kiel and the Ruhr Valley in War? What kind of task was it to lay mines in enemy waters? My uncle and his crew would need to abandon three Lancaster Bombers in the war – none of the crew were lost, all parachuting to safety each time. My father would point me to an AVRO Lancaster book in the Coles bookstore. He and I would assemble a model of the Lancaster together at our kitchen table. I continue to piece this narrative together decades beyond those kitchen table discussions.
Much later on, my uncle re-certified as a pilot. He and a friend purchased and had a single engine, Cessna 172 that had crashed rebuilt. The plane became alternate transport within Alberta and later around North America. He and my aunt flew to Cuba for vacations. He enjoyed flight. His family gave him opportunities to fly them to different destinations. On one flight I got to ride-along. One fall evening, we dropped off my cousin one-hundred kilometres away. It was my first venture flying in a single engine plane. It took a minute-or-two to find my confidence in this mode of transport – it came, I could trust it. The flight only took twenty minutes.
After landing, taking off again and returning to the air, my uncle invited me to fly his Cessna. My hands took the control. My feet explored the workings of the rudder pedals. My uncle spoke about yaw, pitch and roll and how each worked. I was working to manage the attitude of the plane as we returned to his farm. He had me keep my eye on the horizon as the way to maintain level flight. As we flew, my uncle completed paperwork detailing the route we’d taken. I asked about flying the Lancaster. He said it handled like a heavy truck. With the release of its payload the Lancaster became more buoyant, with noticeable lift. Though lighter it did not pick up any agility. That may have been in my second year of University. Implications associated with the Lancaster’s role in the war were yet to surface.
This past winter I watched BBC One’s ‘Bomber Boys.’ The AVRO Lancaster and the men that flew them are the subject of this documentary. Ewan McGregor hosts the documentary. In it, Ewan’s brother Colin, a Royal Air Force pilot, trains to fly a functional AVRO Lancaster. The documentary spurred my curiosity, again. Over the years, I had heard about an AVRO Lancaster located near Calgary, Alberta.
Nanton, Alberta is home to ‘Bomber Command Museum.’ Its chief artifact is a functioning AVRO Lancaster. This past August, I had time between the completion of a conference and some tasks before my return northward home. I arrived in Nanton on 20 August 2016. I arrived as Nanton’s Bomber Command Museum was celebrating its 30th Anniversary. Their Lancaster was outside its hangar. That day I would see the Lanc Crew start all four Merlin engines and before the crowd the Lancaster would move forward 20 feet under its own power. I was able to get a sense for the bomber – its size, the length and depth of its bomb bay, its shape and sound. I also worked to understand the Lancaster through the lens of my camera. The images posted here are of the Lancaster at Nanton’s Bomber Command Museum.
My investigation of what would have been my uncle’s Lancaster and war experience continues. Len Deighton offers a dramatization of a final mission of an RAF Lancaster Bomber. It occurs in the skies and on the ground, in Britain and in Germany. I have it as audio-book on my iPod, listening to it as I cycle to and from our local airport.
I am still at a distance from my uncle’s story. I know that flight engaged my uncle. It brought him challenge and satisfaction. It suited his temperament. For me, the Lancaster is a means to understand that my uncle brought a hand to shaping the world we know. For me, his narrative with the Lancaster helps me understand service, one man’s for another, and that my uncle served our country and protected its freedom. A Flight Lieutenant in the RCAF 428 ‘Ghost Squadron,’ commissioned in 1941, his commendation reflects this well – “His willingness and the cheerful manner in which he has carried out his duties has been a source of inspiration for the younger crews of the squadron. For the completion of a most satisfactory tour of operations and for the support he has given the squadron, I recommend the non-immediate award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.” He received his DFC in 1949.
Well done, Sir. Thank you.
P.S.: My cousin and his wife were able to take my uncle to Nanton in his later years; he took great pride in showing them ‘his’ plane.
Quotes to Consider / Inspire: (1) “In my view you cannot claim to have seen something until you have photographed it.” – Emile Zola; and, (2) “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” – Henry David Thoreau.
My computer has sat dormant through six weeks. Now, summer’s hiatus concludes. The computer’s card reader accepts an SD card and I upload a first batch of images into Lightroom. I attend to those images pulling me to edit them. I begin work with new and old editing tools and wander the path of image creation, a kind of play, a kind of exploration – seeing what can happen with each edit. Colour, structure, light and shadow – four images, vintage grain trucks, images from a farming heritage museum in central Alberta.
Quote to Consider/Inspire – “If you want to learn what someone fears losing, watch what they photograph.” – Anonymous
Listening to Sigur Ros, their live concert performance entitled ‘Inni’ – Svefn-g-englar, Glósóli, Ný batterí, Fljótavík, Við spilum endalaust, Hoppípolla, Með blóðnasir, Inní mér syngur vitleysingur, and, E-Bow.