A too-long drive finds me having travelled 1200 km one-way, southward on a Labour Day weekend. I am taking my daughter’s car down to her, at University in Lethbridge. She and her mother are travelling together in my truck with boxes of personal effects and are ahead of me by a couple of hours. I have stopped at Fort MacLeod to ease body stiffness and to look around. I have my range finder camera and a 28mm wide angle prime lens to gather practice with. I stop at the North West Mounted Police barracks which in non-COVID times would be a tourist site; today it’s closed. It looks to be an interesting site from outside its walls.
From the barracks, I scan the horizon and find this Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevator. I find my way to it and enjoy an hour of stop and start composition finding. I work through different exposures from all sides of the elevator; my daughter and wife have given me the gift of time that is at my leisure. Good. I have the other 1400 km to travel back home in the next two days. The fun will be in the editing of these images in the months that follow.
Quote to Consider / Inspire – ‘A photograph is usually looked at – seldom looked into (Ansel Adams).’
Listening to: John Prine’s ‘Summer’s End’ (again), ‘Caravan of Fools,’ ‘Lonesome Friends of Science’ and ‘No Ordinary Blue’ from ‘The Tree of Forgiveness’ album.
Land, cloud, light and colour – in juxtaposition they caress and collide yielding immensity in southern Alberta prairie and among foothills and mountains.
Quote to Consider/Inspire – ‘To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy (Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers).’
Listening to: Bob Dylan’s ‘False Prophet,’ ‘My Own Version of You’ and ‘I’ve made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You’ from his ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’ album.
Immensities – southern Alberta prairie that stretches out unending, wind and cloud moving in the sky above and these four-story tall wind turbines. Each immensity is a necessary component of what are termed ‘wind-farms,’ an alternate means of creating electricity that does not require coal or the damming of a river system. Again, these are images from February’s road trip between Lethbridge and Waterton Lake National park.
Quote to Inspire – ‘The Earth is Art, the photographer is only a witness (Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Earth from Above).’
Listening to: Bob Dylan’s ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways.’
The Azure grain elevator has been an intended, return-to location for my camera and me. The last time I shot this grain elevator, I did so in the early afternoon and was looking into the sun. Doing so, produced more of a silhouette and the harsh light did not yield colour well. These images are taken more than a kilometre from the elevator. The telephoto lens does well compressing distance between tractor, grain elevator and mountains – all seem quite close to each other when, in fact, a sizable distances separate them.
Quote to Inspire – ‘Photography takes an instant out of time, altering Life by holding it still (Dorothea Lange).’
Listening to: ‘Blue Moon,’ ‘Unforgiven,’ ‘Wave’ and ‘Don’t Let It Go’ from Beck’s ‘Morning Phase’ album.
Gratitude – an evening’s opportunity to be out with cameras behind Nanton, westward into foothills at summer’s end.
Quote to Inspire – ‘All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth (Richard Avedon).’
Listening to: ‘Cycle,’ ‘Morning,’ ‘Heart is a Drum’ and ‘Say Goodbye’ from Beck’s album, ‘Morning Phase.’
A few Nanton, Alberta moments, perhaps an hour’s worth of stop and start in collecting these grain elevator images with an older rangefinder camera, the camera slowing me down … allowing me to think through exposure settings, the gather of composition, the finding of what works and the back and forth zoom only accomplished by foot.
Quote to Inspire: ‘I walk, I look, I see, I stop, I photograph (Leon Levinstein).’
Listening to: ‘Naima,’ ‘Libra,’ ‘Capella,’ and ‘Ad Te Levavi’ from Tommy Smith’s ‘Into Silence.’
A two-tonne grain truck sits on the north side of the highway connecting Lethbridge with Fort MacLeod. The truck and the landscape it sits within intrigue. On the southern side of the highway are coulees and then further south is the Blood Reserve.
Quote to Inspire – ‘The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things in words (Elliott Erwitt).’
Listening to: Tommy Smith’s 2002 Jazz album, ‘Into the Silence.’
Getting south – it began with a camera lens. While I was required to be in Edmonton for our annual, mid-year teacher conference, I would have three days to myself prior to this conference. I could work on finding a used 28mm Zeiss Biogon lens, a rangefinder lens that while wide-angle is rumoured not to offer any distortion. It had just been advertised. And, I had been looking. One 28mm Zeiss Biogon lens was on offer in Calgary. It would be a used lens, but it would be half the price of buying one new. The seller was unloading gear – trading away and aiming toward new and better. From Calgary, I could then head south into the Pincher Creek, Waterton and Lethbridge areas and follow my eye’s curiosity and gather images with my camera.
Locking in this plan, I began my drive late on a Sunday afternoon in February. The drive would be under overcast skies. The temperature would be close to 0C throughout the drive. I would use ten hours to get to my destination. I could manage it. I would pass through Edmonton near 11:00 p.m., proceed to Red Deer and stay the night at a hotel there. The drive to Edmonton was uneventful. The drive beyond Edmonton was not ideal. Temperatures through the day had been warmer. I was driving a car, not my truck. I began my drive toward Red Deer. I got on to the Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) Highway (between Edmonton and Calgary). With temperatures close to 0C through the day and with a recent snowfall, the QEII was slushy, sloppy and slippery. I passed the Wetaskiwin turn-off and then encountered a brightly lit, highway alert road sign indicating that travel was treacherous. The drive became a matter of keeping a safe speed and working through the road’s slushy, ever-hardening, icy mess. I made it to Red Deer, got a hotel room, showered and got to sleep.
The next morning was sunny. I messaged the lens seller advising that I could meet today and provided a location in downtown Calgary for us to meet. The lens seller indicated that meeting at lunch was possible. All was in the works. I breakfasted across the way from the hotel at Red Deer’s Donut Mill. Then, the seller messaged back. The seller could not meet. The seller would need a day or two in order to meet. I am not sure how best to have managed this situation. But, the time frame would not work for this trip. And, the seller was deviating from his first communication. A red flag went up, for me. Many things could have been at play for the seller. And, perhaps aiming to meet in the same day as my indicating interest was problematic. I halted things and asked the seller to disregard my interest in the lens. All this occurred within and hour and a half of first messaging the seller.
I moved on.
With that done I found myself in Central Alberta, still with an intention to travel further south and to explore with my camera. Travel would take me to Calgary and to The Camera Store. I would look around at books, at new cameras (Nikon and Fuji), at used cameras, at used lenses, at new lenses, at camera bags. I would have two good chats with sales people – warm, educating, engaging conversations, conversations in which my curiosity was able to lead some of the way. Good. I left at the end of store hours aiming to return to the store as I came back through Calgary.
Onward to Lethbridge – my intention was to get settled in Lethbridge and work from there to look around southern Alberta. Later that evening, I got a hotel room, washed my car and got a meal.
The next day, after a good breakfast at the hotel, I started out. The day began as one overcast with heavy, grey cloud. But, weather in this part of Alberta is quite changeable in terms of how it interacts with the Rocky Mountains. Mountain weather is something intriguing, especially for my northern Alberta eyes – something I remember from times hiking along mountain trails on out-trips in the Crowsnest Pass and when camping in Banff and Jasper. Almost as soon as I moved south and west from Lethbridge I encountered windfarms – rows and rows of gigantic, white wind turbines used to gather / produce electricity. I would drive south from Fort MacLeod and on my route to Pincher Creek I would find other wind farms. In posting wind farm images on Facebook, earlier this year, I would find that many people in southern Alberta no longer see their value, are concerned about their impact on the environment and find themselves rejecting how they have altered the landscape they live within. Along the drive I would find last areas of prairie within foothills. I would find homesteads as the only structures seen on the land for miles and miles, the land being that allocated for grain farming. From Pincher Creek to Waterton Lake National Park I moved further into the undulation of foothills and the mountains; the weather was mountain weather, weather that can shift rapidly. Sunshine and bright blue sky would be there one minute, the next I was driving through or standing in a cloud. Cloud work so close to land has immensity and is something to take in. Light and shadow are always moving with these clouds revealing a shifting contour, shape and relief. The highway south from Pincher Creek becomes the path along which foothills meet the front range of the Rocky Mountains. Homesteads are a part of this landscape as well – grain farms and cattle ranches. Again, changeable mountain weather, mountain and foothill landscape, farms and roads – all would catch my eye, my curiosity, my imagination.
I took a chance on a historic site. I drove from the highway out and up to Twin Butte upon which St. Henry’s Catholic Church sits; to the east it looks out to the prairies; to the west it looks from the butte over a valley of foothills and to the front range of the Canadian Rockies. To look out over all this, immensity is there … and it would be appropriate to use the term majestic. I rounded out my day’s picture-taking with a small look into Waterton Lake National Park before returning to Lethbridge. I paid the day’s entrance fee and took a slow drive into the park to gather a couple of images – the Prince of Wales Hotel is subject of two of these images. A good day out with my camera, it was. The next day I would return to Edmonton, to colleagues, to a conference. The Zeiss Biogon 28mm lens remains a lens I am still hunting for.
Quote to Inspire / Consider – “To the complaint, ‘There are no people in these photographs,’ I respond, there are always two people: the photographer and the viewer (Ansel Adams).”
Listening to – a cover of John Prine’s ‘Summer’s End’ by Sierra Hull; a song that’s so big and full of grace; Sierra does John proud with it. Good, good.
In Alberta’s northwest my family and I have lived in Fox Lake, Garden River, La Crete and High Level. The roads are long and distances travelled influence our cost of living. It can be cost effective to travel south for supplies if you are buying in bulk and stocking up. Yet, buying local permits piecemeal buying as needed and supports local business. We buy groceries here at home. And, I will travel south in the year.
Dunvegan – it is a place I travel through on my way south to Grande Prairie; with the suspension bridge crossing the Peace River, it is a place I know by sight; it became a place I would investigate. Fifteen years would pass before indigenous Art, Alberta history and site use would coalesce with it being a fixed name in my mind – Dunvegan. Like other points along the Peace River you descend into this river valley. A road cuts a long two-kilometre gradient into each valley wall, north and south, to ease the braking efforts of heavy-laden transport trucks. At the lowest point, you cross the kilometre-wide Peace River on a yellow and brown suspension bridge. Then you accelerate moving up and out of the river valley – south towards Rycroft, north towards Fairview. Dunvegan is the name given to the plateau area under and surrounding the north side of the bridge.
Seeing Dunvegan – I would see Dunvegan in indigenous paintings at Grande Prairie Art galleries. The contour of the land folding down from a high river bank to plateau holds the eye. With skilled use of colour and light, the painter could draw attention to sacred place and practices. Longing for old ways was found in such Art. Still though, I was not recognizing these paintings as the area I travelled through a couple of times a year.
Dunvegan took hold in my classroom with my students. Each day, along with our school, students and staff read for 15 minutes. ‘Drop Everything And Read’ (DEAR) saw my students return to one book for regular reading, ‘Alberta Ghost Stories.’ One tale in the book told of a ghost sighting in an upper room in one of the old Dunvegan historical buildings. From what I recall, as with most ghost stories, light dwindles well past dusk. A living and breathing mortal is walking outside the house. He feels compelled to look up and sees someone or something looking at him. There is surprise, impact and connection in seeing and in being seen. The tale’s impact is greater finding out that the house has been shut-up for decades with no way in. Readers in my class always discussed what they thought was going on … offering speculation. The story became real to them. Like me, my students and their parents traveled through Dunvegan on their way to Grande Prairie. Often, they would stop at Dunvegan for lunch or a smoke break. The Dunvegan story held their imagination and during a travel break they would investigate as far as they dared. My students’ stories of being in Dunvegan would return with them to class every few months.
Still, haste in my travels got the better of me. I was not yet stopping at Dunvegan in my travels southward. And, it was only a few years ago that I first stopped in at Dunvegan. My wife had spoken about a nursery for spring bedding plants that she and a friend would go to hours south from High Level. She had been talking about Dunvegan Gardens, one of the best nurseries in Alberta. You find it at/on the eastern-most section of the Dunvegan plateau. Located between Fairview and Rycroft, the Dunvegan Gardens serves residents of Grande Prairie and from as far north as High Level.
One time, as she and I came upon the Dunvegan turn-off my wife pointed out the Dunvegan Gardens to me. It was the place she and her friend had been. And, my wife got me to slow down, turn-in and stop at Dunvegan to look around. I was finally connecting the dots – this was Dunvegan. Since that time, perhaps for the last six or seven years, I have been making time to stop and look around with my camera. Good. The Dunvegan site is a beautiful and worthy landscape in all seasons. One of these times I am hoping to pass through the area in late October or early November when the Dunvegan valley is sometimes shrouded in mists.
Dunvegan has been one of the prominent fur trading areas in Alberta. Fort Dunvegan was a trading post. Established by the Northwest Company, the Hudson’s Bay Company would later take over the trading post. A Factor’s house still stands. The site would evolve to hold two Churches, a Roman Catholic mission – St. Charles, and, an Anglican mission later – St. Saviour’s. Behind the Factor’s house is the plateau area upon which are four or five Tipis with poles raised waiting for hide or canvas covers. The site is older than Canadian history, the site being a meeting point or assembly area for indigenous peoples.
Quote to Consider / Inspire – “To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy (Henri Cartier-Bresson).”
Listening to – The Candid Frame: Conversations about Photography podcast and Ibarionex Perello’s time in Japan in December, 2019; being present to situation, setting, light. Good, good.
A friend has been keeping up with my Facebook shares this past week. She has noticed that I am sharing many Iceland photos that I come across. Her encouragement, knowing I am a photographer, is for me to get myself over to Iceland and begin making my own photographs. It is a good kick in the pants. While I do want to go, in doing so, my friend was unaware that I would be returning to Iceland. I have had four days to myself in Iceland, in April, 2016. I let my friend know that I had been to Iceland. I told her I would include some of my photos in my Facebook posts.
So, four days in Iceland. My Iceland images were the first images I post-processed without using Lightroom presets. In editing those images I would use all parts of the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (Lightroom) editing menu with my photos. I would still create some High Dynamic Range (HDR) images, but most would be single image edits. That first work with editing took place in October and November, 2016. Those images became part of a Photobook, ‘Four Days in Iceland – 2016.’
Following interaction with my friend, I now had to find my Iceland images. I had not transferred them to my current 16Tb external hard drives. Two matters complicated working with these images. First, with last year’s wildfire and evacuation, I packed my external hard drives taking them with us. Until last week, they remained in storage boxes in the garage. Next, back when I edited the images, I had limited external drive space to work with. I often shifted images between hard drives to create space for different projects. In this past week (and since that first edit of Iceland photos) I have had a difficult time locating the images on any of my external hard drives. Within the intervening years, I have changed things. First, where I had used Lightroom 5.0, I now work with the subscription version of Lightroom Classic. It’s been a good choice. The subscription allows the app/software to update each month and stay current. Next, where I had used many external hard drives, I now work with two large 16Tb external hard drives. They will be able to handle most upcoming photos and projects for a while. Last week’s challenge was locating the external hard drive holding the Iceland photos. Once found, I transferred the images into the Lightroom catalogue. All got done – Good. I have wanted to work with these images for a long while.
So, the current COVID-19 question … what to do? In Alberta, our summer break is smarter with physical distancing and a mask. It is smarter to be more at home than in the public throng. I have that itch to be out with my camera(s) in places I have yet to explore. I have to consider how that might work best. For now, the best opportunity to take advantage of is to look back through my Iceland photos and to edit images I did not edit in 2016.
In this past week I have been editing some of my other Iceland images. While editing I have listened to Robert James Waller’s ‘The Bridges of Madison County.’ I have been able to listen to a cool YouTube vlog ‘Light from Rock Music vol. 3’ while editing. I have listened to radio around the world while editing – CKUA in Edmonton, CBC Vancouver, BBC Radio Ulster, Fine Music Radio. While editing I have attended a virtual concert with Brian Houston. Through Zoom I was able to access synchronous (live) and asynchronous (recorded) formats of the concert. Brian introduced all songs from his upcoming album for release in August. Imagine being able to listen live with fifty others to a concert in Belfast, Ireland. Imagine being able to interact with Brian and concert go-ers by Zoom chat within and after performance. I did need to recognize that an 8:00 p.m. Belfast concert translated to a 1:00 p.m. Alberta time possibility. I could attend and take part. Cool.
Brian Houston – In the early 2000s Steve Stockman introduced me to Brian’s music. Steve had air time on BBC Radio Ulster from 8:00-9:00 p.m. each Sunday from September to June. Steve’s program, ‘Rhythm and Soul’ is a place I found myself following my reading of his book, ‘Walk On, the Spiritual Journey of U2.’ I found myself interacting with the music of Lucinda Williams, David Gray, the Vigilantes of Love, Martyn Joseph, Bebo Norman, Billy Bragg, Wilco and many, many more artists. Brian’s songs found airplay. ‘My Debts is Paid’ and ‘Next to Me’ are current songs I find my way to from time to time. There are many others. I am impressed by the range of understanding, imagination and intention I encounter in Brian and his songs. Last week’s virtual concert was something new. Brian sung each new song from his upcoming album and talked through how each came about. I am liking how Brian has come to terms with owning his songs and that Life experience is foundation from which to build songs. I am liking that Brian’s versatility and musicianship allow him to cover other’s songs well and make them his own; his Van Morrison work from a few weeks back was exceptional. Right now, his song ‘Ivory Tower,’ is streaming on Spotify. If you can, give it a listen.
Iceland and edited images – there are a few images here, more are of a documentary nature; some hold a quality of wanting to pull you in, a visual narrative that will hold your curiosity. Thanks for looking in. Please stay safe.
Quote to Consider / Inspire – “The composition happens as the work progresses. Often the messy background makes it easy to disperse shapes as needed. I’d rather it took over me than I took over it (Myfanwy Pavelic).”
Listening to – Carrie Newcomer’s ‘Lean in Toward the Light,’ ‘A Shovel Is A Prayer,’ ‘Cedar Rapids 10 AM,’ ‘The Beautiful Not Yet,’ ‘Three Feet Or So,’ ‘Sanctuary,’ and ‘Help In Hard Times.’
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