Out of left field

ContrastI wasn’t going to make this shot when I saw it but changed my mind when I thought it would provide a good example of where my thoughts go when I see certain things.

This building (it is all one building, part colourful and part not), while interesting enough as a piece of architecture, got my attention not because of its design but because of a mental association I made with aerial photography of farmlands. I had only just an hour or so before, overheard a couple talk about the Amazonian deforestation in Brazil. They were talking about the absurdity of converting rainforest to farmland and how the soil could only sustain one or two seasons of crops before it became useless and arid. Hence the photo above: fields of crops on the left, arid and dead on the right, and the knowledge that the line in the centre will make its way to the left, little by little with each tick of the clock. A bit abstract but there it is.

On a side note, I perceived the couple I overheard as being somewhat high and mighty about the deforestation of the Amazon basin and the Brazilian government’s apparent lack of concern. There is no doubt that what is going on with the Amazon is a tragedy but I wonder if this couple took a moment to think about the great forests that once existed in Europe, North America and Australia, the ones which we saw fit to turn into malls and parking lots over time. Sitting around at leisure over a latte and pointing a finger at the indiscretions of others sometimes seems a bit hypocritical and arrogant. Or maybe that’s just me.

The social ignoramus

Cloudscape, 2015Cloudscape, 2015I haven’t been here since February… where did the time go?

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted and it’s been a while since I’ve made any photographs. In the last three months I’ve only been out a couple of times with my camera and on each occasion it was simply to accompany my daughter. Each time, the only shots I took were to show my daughter examples of composition or camera settings.

It seems a little strange, sitting here, writing about it and realising that I have not missed making photos. For some time now I have had no desire to take photos much less carry a camera around. Recently I had the occasion to spend a day in one of the most beautiful National Parks in South East Queensland: a sub-tropical forest bordered by golden beaches in gorgeous little bays and coves skirted by azure seas. And yet, in spite of knowing full well what I was in for, I didn’t get the urge to take my camera nor did I regret not having it once I was there. This situation probably would have upset me once but not now. It may be nothing more than a passing phase or it may be something else. Whatever it might be I’m fine with it.

I can’t say why it is this way because I don’t know. There would have been a time where this complete lack of desire for photography would have depressed me. Especially the lack of desire for creativity. I was never much of a snap shooter but I always liked recording the scenes that touch me on some deeper level but now, for the most part, I am happy to just see, feel and move on.

Anyway, I’m sounding like a boring old fart or grumpy old man, even if I don’t feel that way at all, so allow me to change the subject to an unintended consequence to this absence of creative desire. I had never realised until recently, how much time I dedicated to photography, be it in the taking, processing or simply in the consumption of photography-related news and information. When I stopped taking photos I stopped having a reason for being on my computer and not being on my computer freed up rather large chunks of time. Far more than I would have anticipated.

My home computer barely gets used now and my use of the internet revolves around looking up addresses, buying books or movie tickets, listening to music and reading the handful of blogs I follow (those listed under “People I Follow”). And all those things I do on my phone. The good thing about the phone factor over the home computer is that it doesn’t encourage me to spend more than 10-15 minutes on it at a time, unless I’m reading a book or streaming music or, on occasion, researching some specific subject (admittedly, where the latter example is concerned I will usually boot up my computer). The small (even if it is considered a large phone) form factor doesn’t incite me to do more than I need to. I might think of a friend for example, lookup what he or she is up to and that’s usually it. Or I might finish a book which will prompt me to get on to Goodreads and find another book from my list, read some reviews or recommendations, buy a book and done. All quick and easy without getting side-tracked into a rabbit hole of YouTube videos, Facebook pages, forums, news sites etc., and wondering where the last hour or two or three went.

Like photography, I don’t miss being on the internet which is not something I would have thought only a few months ago. However, on the down side, I have almost no idea what’s going on in the world. I don’t know about big news events unless I hear about it from someone, I don’t know what new cameras are out or what the latest “must-have” gadget might be. I don’t know what celebrities are up to or what the meme-of-the-day is. I guess I’m becoming a bit of a social ignoramus. Actually I am not sure that this is a “down side”, perhaps I should have just said: “on the other hand”, and let others be the judge of whether this is good or bad. I can’t say I feel any sense of inferiority due to my newfound ignorance but it has made me wonder about something, namely: what particular pieces of knowledge are actually worth knowing or worth chasing?

A question for another time perhaps.

Impossible realities

Four pillarsThis is another photo taken on the same day as the previous bridge photo. There was something Escher-esque about the scene that caught my attention and when a boat went past, creating the ripples and distorting the reflection so beautifully, I had no choice but to make the shot.

Of course this is not a true representation of the scene. Out-of-camera, the image was vastly different to this one. The light was warmer, the contrast more subdued, the plume of smoke in the background was white, the sky was blue and the water looked far less inviting. That image was closer to what the general consensus would call reality but it was not the scene that I had seen in my imagination.

As I mentioned before, I got a sense of Escher’s impossible realities in this picture. However, rather than creating irregular perspectives or quirky perceptions, I played with textures and colours. That’s one of the wonderful aspects of visual creations is it not? The possibility of bringing to light the impossible realities of our imaginations.

Sometimes I dream memories

Sometimes I dream memories

Sometimes I dream memories

When I’m not out making photos, which lately has been any day ending in “y”, I find myself looking at photos. Almost endlessly. In books, in magazines, on blogs, on Instagram, in galleries, pretty much anywhere really. I am indiscriminate in my visual consumption. Some photos I spend less than a second on while others leave me staring incessantly. And then there are those I view fleetingly only to keep returning to them time and time again.

I imagine that any photo I look at changes me somehow. Every image touches me indiscernibly the way sunlight touches my skin on a cloudy day. I don’t try to figure out how or why. Instead I try to look at them the way I look at a scene through a viewfinder: mushin no shin – mindfully without mind.

Sadly I am a creature of judgement, like others I suppose. It seems impossible to live without passing judgement: good versus bad, hot versus cold, hard versus easy. In the passage of a single day I feel that every act, every spoken word, every choice comes from a judgement call. Making photos shuts all that out for me. There is no judgement, a scene appears, a shutter clicks. Sweet simplicity. So innocent. Naïve of course. Artless even, of that there is no doubt, but so, so childlike. I feel my senses tingle at the mere thought of it.

Fortunately I find that looking at photos brings me that same childlike attunement. Or at least it does when I can let go. No mind, no thoughts, no judgement. Feelings come like a sun-shower’s rain that evaporates as soon as it hits the pavement. There’s an underlying awareness of feeling something, be it joy, sadness, anger, frustration, fun, timidity, humility, cockiness or whatever else might have been triggered by the visual contact with the provoking image, but like a lone raindrop on a hot pavement it evaporates quickly leaving only an echo of a memory. Like in a dream that was dreamt long ago.

 At some point of course, thought and judgement returns. Technique, aesthetics, content, meaning, all these things and more are analysed, classified and rated. At that moment I might compare what I see to my own photographs or figure out how I might replicate what I like or avoid what I don’t. I might feel envious or jealous or proud or egotistical. I might feel optimistic or hopeless. I might feel nothing or become overwhelmed. I might dig a little deeper and try to recall the feeling that an image evoked and perhaps determine the reasons for this conjuration of emotions. I might end up depressed or inspired. Or anywhere in between.

Of course all of this is brought on by pure reasoning, it’s the realm of the grown-up me, all serious and clever, so full of self-importance. It has its place I guess, all this reasoning, but it doesn’t compare to that other place where things are simply seen, where childlike imagination soars around dreamlike memories, where something of eternity realises itself.

Sometimes, when I’m awake, I dream memories.

The taking and the making

Wherever this was, he wanted to stay

Wherever this was, he wanted to stay

Two weekends ago I tried something new. Well, new for me. I went somewhere I’d never been before and instead of shooting one to three shots as I usually do, I made dozens of shots. I think the final number was over a hundred. Stupefying stuff. My SD card didn’t know what hit it.

I got a lot of photos by the time I left and a number of them are okay but I don’t know if I’ll be doing that again. In the end there were only four or five I liked and only three did anything for me. Of course it’s difficult to say whether I would have gotten those three shots had I not fired off the other hundred or so. I’d like to think I would have because they were the ones I connected with at the times I made the shots. I connected with what I saw and I connected with the vision or the final image.

Like the image above.

I will always be attracted to reflections whether they be on glass or on water and as I stood on the bank of the Brisbane River beneath the two Gateway bridges (or as they have now been named the Sir Leo Hielscher Bridges), I knew I wanted to picture the bridges not in their solid, concrete, hard-edged, graphic forms but rather as a softer, slightly abstract, painterly rendition. The reflection provided just that. I walked back and forth along the bank to decide on my composition and was about to make the shot when I noticed the canoeist making his way from my right. I had already composed the shot so I waited until he was in place before tripping the shutter.

This photo is not a great shot by any definition but I liked it as soon as I shot it and when I got home I immediately turned it upside down in line with my vision and no sooner had I done that did I realise the real fantasy effect or dream-like quality this picture held within it. All I needed to do was keep the canoeist the “right” way up in the up-side down image.

I have never been the type of photographer who shoots hundreds of shots in a session. Even when I first started to shoot digital I remained miserly with my shooting rate. Perhaps it’s a remnant from the days of shooting film when it was more important to make every frame count. Perhaps I lack confidence. Perhaps I’m just a lazy photographer. Whatever the reason, I now know that I prefer waiting for the right opportunity and make that one shot that means something to me. Of course, that means there’s a good chance I’ll screw it up and end up with nothing more than a lost opportunity but shooting a dozen shots at various exposures and angles just isn’t for me. At least not now.

This image of the canoeist in his surreal, implausible, painterly world isn’t finished yet. It’s the kind of picture I’ll be working on for some months adding other elements, working towards the final vision. For all I know I may never finish it (I have a few such images on my computer) but this is exactly the kind of image that can provide a lot of fun for me. Not just in the taking, but also in the making. And having fun may just be the best way to rekindle my photographic inspirations.

Anytime and anywhere

The Red Hydrant

The Red Hydrant

I thought I would leave the deep and meaningful waffle alone for a bit. Photography is primarily a fun craft and maybe I need to remind myself of that. So here is a photograph which I made only last week. There is nothing meaningful or deep about it. It is simply an exercise in perspective with a subtle hat tip to Jeffrey Smart with regards to the processing.

Interestingly enough, I had my regular camera with me on this particular day but was unable to get the shot I wanted and ended up having to use my phone. Due to the particular lens I had on my camera, I was unable to line up the hydrant and the building so that the small fire hydrant would appear much bigger than it was and be centred it between the two columns. Fortunately, my phone worked out just right. I was even able to post-process it with the Adobe Photoshop Express app.

I made a couple of other photos that day but in terms of fun, this was the one that brought a smile to my face. It turned out well worth the effort considering it was no effort at all.

Photographs without content, I guess the time and place for those are anytime and anywhere.

Echo of a soft sigh

Gone is nothingnessGone is emptinessWhen time quickensTime quickens.
 Like a heart beat struck by love.
 Moments blur.
 There's a soft sigh of regret
 (Or is it relief?)
 As the world vanishes.
 Taking me with it.
 Gone is nothingness.
 Gone is emptiness.
 Only a distant echo remains,
 Of a soft sigh of regret.
 (Or is it relief?)

Here are three photographs.

And some words.

Feel free to stop reading now. The rest is likely to be pure prattle.

I have an affinity for abstraction in art and in photography but rarely does a photograph come to me where the finished image perfectly matches the reverie that preceded its creation. As such, these three pictures, created on two separate occasions, are oddities for each has, to some extent at least, matched my antecedent, fanciful, abstracted musing.

Like much of my photographic work, there is nothing original about these photos in terms of technique. Motion blur is a common enough approach. These images were made in broad daylight and the blur came from camera motion rather than subject motion. I used a neutral density filter (among other filters) and, a little ironically, I also used a tripod to capture them. At least with respect to the first two images. The third image was handheld and taken using my phone.

It is unlikely that anyone else looking at these images will see them in the same light as me. However, some may recognise a beach, the sea, the sky – as vaguely as these are depicted – seemingly painted in long horizontal strokes with an old frayed acrylic brush. And then there is the third image, a different beach, a different sea, a different sky. A water colour perhaps, painted in a restricted palette of earthy tones.

The notion which these pictures help illustrate is hinted at in the text immediately below the images. It would be a poem if I was even remotely poetic but these ill-constructed phrases will have to do for now. What follows is an attempt to expand on those words but I must point out that in spite of regular contemplation about this topic, I have a conspicuous lack of clarity as to what it is I’m contemplating. I am not sure that it will make any sense, perhaps even less than the pictures themselves so as per my earlier warning, feel free to stop reading. I assure you that you won’t be missing out on much.

I made the first two images a few weeks after returning from California. I had plans to make images that required a tripod and long exposures but on this particular day, the world decided not to cooperate and my original intent was left unfulfilled. And so, there I stood by my camera-mounted tripod, wired-remote dangling in the lifeless air like a useless appendage. It was August, the day was clear and the weather cold. Few people were around, most simply walking along the beach, children and dogs occasionally chasing seagulls who would rise into the air like a feathered wave only to return to the sand once the disturbance had passed. Soon, my eyes became transfixed on the calm water of Moreton Bay and thoughts of my recent family trip bubbled up. Wonderful memories of sights and laughter and good food and fun times. But were they memories of a time that had been, or imaginings of a time that never was?

Every morning, upon waking up, I often feel grateful (sometimes even surprised) that I get to have another go at living. Not because I’ve been told my days are numbered (though, technically, they are), but because each new day feels like it’s my first day and memories of yesterday are nothing more than an extension to the dreams I just had. And memories from further back are even more phantasmagorical.

It is said that time is the only true measure. But time slips, it stretches, it contracts, it stops still only to rush forward again. Always forward it seems. As I stand there on the beach, perfectly still, I imagine time speeding up, faster and faster, one moment merging into the next, faster and faster. I try to imagine what I would see, what the world would look like but I cannot, and yet, for some reason, I have this irrational gnawing deep inside telling me it’s important, that I need to know, but my imagination fails me. Instead I grab the camera remote, release the shutter and pan the camera to the left then to the right and back to the left and back to the right, until I hear the shutter click shut. I move further down the beach and repeat my action. I review the EXIF data and notice that the exposure was only two seconds each time. It felt longer which is ironic since I was thinking about time speeding up. I pack up my gear and forget about the photos.

Two months pass and I am on my way home from work on a Friday afternoon. I decide to walk part of the way, taking a new route. It’s October now and it’s already unseasonably warm. I come to a pedestrian tunnel and stop to look at the mural painted on its walls. Colourful paintings depicting a surreal impressionist landscape of trees with detached leaves and a forest floor littered with bright coloured blotches depicting a carpet of flowers. Along with the shade provided by the tunnel, the painted scene is cooling and refreshing. A thought occurs that I need to get home, that I mustn’t waste time. Waste time? I question inwardly. Something tells me it’s not possible to waste what is nothing more than a mental fabrication.

At that moment a memory pops up, taking me back to the last time I used my camera. A thought of time speeding up, moments merging.

When was I last standing on that beach? Two months ago? Or was it just yesterday? Did it ever happen? But of course it happened, I’ve got photos to prove it, don’t I?

I don’t have a camera this time but I take my phone out of my pocket.

If time was so fast that two months ago was two seconds ago, what would I see in those two seconds?

I sweep my phone across the two-dimensional impressionist landscape of the tunnel, left and right and left and right with the shutter open.

Two months in two seconds, would the world look different? Would a forest become a beach? And if time speeded up even more, would the world simply vanish?