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?

Standing on clouds, my feet got wet

Bayside Cloudscape #1Bayside Cloudscape #2Bayside Cloudscape #3

Bayside Cloudscapes #1, #2, #3

In my last piece of writing I mentioned my photographic dry spell of the last five to six months and in return I have received some good advice on possible ways to remedy this unfortunate state of affairs.

As I mentioned in that article and in the associated comments, I am not worried or anxious. I simply miss it. The act of photographing has the paradoxical quality of being uplifting and energising while being settling and calming at the same time. That’s one of the things I miss.

One of my reasons for practicing photography is to see things in a different way. To see beyond the obvious and perceive the hidden, the inconspicuous, the imperceptible. I tend to consider the successful photographic capture of these things as a bonus and I like to believe that seeing beyond the apparent does not require anything other than an open heart, if you’ll excuse such a romantic notion.

However, the last six months have shown me that without regular exercise of the shutter finger, the seeing muscle can waste away. Perhaps if I removed the daily pressures of commuting , working, paying bills etc., I could maintain the ability to see through the veil without the need for a prop such as a camera but this is clearly not going to happen for me as things are.

So in light of this it would seem that the solution to my creative rut would simply be to take my camera with me wherever I go. The trouble is that seeing is only part of the equation.

In my view, the act of creating also requires an act of self-revelation, it requires that I, as the creator, impart something of my being or, in keeping with the romantic notion that I allowed myself earlier, the act of creation requires a piece of my heart.

It’s one thing to see the imperceptible but another to see its meaning in relation to me. That part of the equation is not so easily achieved by conscious effort; quite the opposite. In my experience, meaning comes only through surrender; not so much in terms of giving up but of letting go. All very clichéd and new-age-y but in effect, my logic and reason must be set aside so that my emotions and feelings can direct the composition and the execution of the shot. This is the only way I have of ensuring that the final image holds some substance or some significance. There needs to be some meaningful emotional connection lest it becomes nothing more than a snapshot, even if it happens to be pretty or technically perfect.

I suspect that part of my problem over the last few months has had to do with my inability to separate myself from my time-consuming workload which requires only logic, reason and technical thinking on my part thus leaving little opportunity for emotions and feelings to surface. I might see something worth photographing on the way to work for example, but with thoughts fixed around work issues and whatnot, I am unable to see it beyond something that is interesting; assuming that my attention is not pulled away by overbearing thoughts beforehand.

The problem is exasperated by the fact that I do not have a creative nature to start with. I suspect  I am mostly driven by logic and reason (it’s difficult to be sure about this since it is nigh impossible to be objective about one’s own nature). It’s not to say that I have no emotions or feelings. Like anyone else, I can go through a whole range of feelings and emotions in the space of a day or hours; minutes even, given the right circumstances. More than likely, the issue lies in an inadequate ability (by my possibly unrealistic standards) to transpose those emotions into my chosen craft. And by that I do not wish to make out that I am creatively incompetent (though you are free to think I am), rather that my creativity is very much haphazard and infrequent. Driven more by luck than by intent.

This brings me to the three images above. With some time to myself and the Christmas break looming, I took my camera and headed for the bay on what was a hot and humid overcast day in the hope of rekindling some creative spark. I managed to snap a few shots which turned out nicely enough but after a couple of hours I still didn’t have anything that fitted my idea of creativity. I ended up by the shore of Wynnum Creek, a narrow waterway where small boats of all sorts are anchored off. The tide was high and a gentle breeze was coming off the bay. I snapped a partly submerged boat but all in all, decided that nothing would be forthcoming this day.

However, I stuck around purely for the breeze which was especially welcome on this hot day and sat myself down by the water. I started to look at the ripples on the surface which seemed completely random in their behaviour. Unlike the ripples formed by, say, a frog jumping into a pond, or the wake of a row boat, the ripples were appearing and disappearing randomly, going in various directions, perhaps driven by a mischievous breeze. In places, the water surface would totally flatten out for a short moment only to be suddenly replaced by a tiny whirlpool.

The effect was hypnotic and before I knew it, thoughts had ceased, replaced only by a quietude which allowed my eyes to be mesmerised by the display happening on the water’s surface. And then, with my head-in-the-clouds as it were, my focus moved. It moved beyond the surface, past the ripples and deeper into the water. All the way… to the sky. For there, reflected so beautifully, were the clouds, textured by the ripples like brushstrokes applied by an invisible hand.

With the sun hidden away, the colours were muted and soft. The water’s slight translucence added to the softness and the sheen across the surface, along with the ripples, rendered the scene into an oil painting. I continued to look down, realising there was no need to look up for there I was… already high above the world… standing on clouds.

And my feet were wet.

And I smiled.

And my mood lifted. And settled. And energised. And calmed.

It was only a small, simple pleasure but it was more than I had hoped.

Out of the dark

Camera Obscura

Camera obscura has had a slightly different meaning for me of late. My photographic spark has made itself rather dim in the past six month; almost entirely dark in fact with merely a pinhole of light left. In fact, this year has been a slow year for me, photographically speaking. I was just going over my 2014 folder on my computer and realised I have taken a record low number of photos once I excluded the ones I took while I was holidaying in the United States. The year started off fine but the second half sent what small amounts of creativity I possess into obscurity. Admittedly, I always go through a bit of a drought after travelling to highly photogenic places but that usually lasts a few weeks, not months.

The situation isn’t so dire as to cause me concern but life takes on a different, more muddied hue when time isn’t set aside for creativity and for that reason alone I have contemplated possible ways of getting back into the groove.  A creativity block is not so bad if desire and passion remain strong but for me, I must say that both have been so faintly perceptible as to lack any clear definition (to paraphrase the dictionary definition of “obscure”).

One piece of advice that has been offered by well-meaning friends is to buy a new camera. This advice, is not without merit. I can well imagine that a new camera would have me out and about trying it out which would provide a better opportunity for kick-starting my creativity than continuing on with my daily routine. That said, the only way I could bring myself to buy a new camera would be to place my current gear up for sale. Which is precisely what I did. Except that I got no takers. Despite including all of my eight lenses plus a bunch of useful accessories and pricing it the same as a good quality, mirrorless camera with a kit lens. It would seem I do not have gear that people want which is fair enough as I have always bought at the cheaper end of the market so I can’t expect anyone to get excited about my offer.

This lack of interest in my gear may be a good thing however. I don’t do well with choice and currently there are two camera systems which I like and I would have a terrible time deciding which one to go with should I be placed in such a situation. For those of you who are interested, the two systems that have my attention these days are the Fujifilm X-series of cameras and the new range of Sony Alpha cameras (specifically the A6000 and the A7’s). All these cameras feel so good in my hand and make such beautiful images that I would not know which criteria to use to differentiate them in order to pick one. Actually that’s not entirely true. The only one I can actually afford is the A6000 so maybe the choice would not be so hard.

Anyway, that point is moot since I still have my own gear which is still perfectly capable of meeting any creative urges I can conjure up. The trick, is in the conjuring. See what I did there?

 I do not have any specific ideas about how to get back into making photographs but I recently went back to reading issues of Black+White Photography Magazine which never fails to stir something in me and I’ve had a go at camera-less photography (using a scanner) which has yielded less than stellar results but which I enjoyed immensely. I’ve also shot some video which I am terrible at but is fun all the same. And of course, there’s a bunch of blogs I follow which always have plenty of inspirational motivation in each of them to fan any spark back into flame.

Failing all else, there’s always Instagram right?

I guess I will see what the new year brings. Since it’s customary to make predictions at this time of year, I predict that next year will see me make a record number of photos, maybe on the low side, maybe on the high side. Or maybe no record will be made and it will just be somewhere in between. It will depend.

I should have been an economist.

All the best to everyone and happy new year.