Business first. So to the complaint department: In the recent formatting changes of this blog, the comment box at the bottom disappeared. In its place, at the top right had corner, above the theme photo is a button called “Get In Touch.” That’s the new and improved way for contact and comment. If you’re like me any change in any cyber system is baffling. That’s why the dinosaurs disappeared. They could not assimilate a changing environment quickly enough.And now some advertising. Folks often tell me how they like my photographs. I love flattery. (It is something I’ve been doing for over fifty years and yes, I do miss film cameras and the old darkroom days.) Anyway, I’ve recently discovered a site called Fine Art America.com, FAA for short. I’ve joined up and now have posted over five hundred of my images from my digital photo archives. You can buy any of my work there, (or other artists of several disciplines) reproduced in many ways such as canvas prints, framed prints, shower curtains, T shirts, hand bags, duvet covers, coffee mugs and so forth. I receive only a pittance of each sale but it is great exposure for my work and a fantastic gift idea for anyone. There is an image to please anyone. Many of the photos which have appeared in this blog are available. Of course, folks can always contact me directly through this blog, or any of the popular social medias. I may have something to please your specific heart’s desire. Be warned, In future I will regularly flog this site on my blog. A direct link is now in the ads column on the top right hand of this page. End of commercial, we now return to the regular blogging program.I spent many hours in front of my computer editing my photo files, posting images and their descriptions one at time time. It was truly a pain in the ass after sitting day after day. But now I have an online portfolio, a true love-me effort I am rather proud of. Between digital images, slides and negatives, I cannot guess how many thousands of images I have squirrelled away from all my years messing around with cameras.I also signed in with Face book, LinkedIn, and with Twitter. Haar! Now I can exchange views directly with Donald. Considering that I have to drive to cross US borders twice to get to Mexico, I know that I do not want to deal with Homeland Insecurity if there is any sort of dark marks on file. Few of those folks appear to have any sense of humour and, I’ve learned, do not appreciate my jokes or smart remarks. So... two ears, two eyes, one mouth. Yes sir, no sir.
On that note, I’ve just finished reading ‘Into The Beautiful North’ by Luis Alberto Urrea. He is a Mexican who clearly understands the illegal Mexican immigrant story. This novel drew me eagerly forward with a wonderful account of young Mexican women smuggling themselves into the US in order to bring a few Mexican men back south of the border to protect their town from criminals. It is humorous, entertaining, insightful, and also a primer of Mexican Spanish and slang. I seldom recommend a book I’ve read but this one gets lots of stars from me. It certainly offers a fresh perspective to this gringo. This work enhances conversations and new insights I gained on my most recent trip down that way. There are certainly no valid black and white arguments once one begins to grasp all colours of the cross-border situation. Despite all the dark stories, I love it there and want to return as quickly as I can.Perspectives are often misleading and a person may look back on a view eventually realizing how inaccurately life can be seen and believed. For example, when I was very young, my father who loved brass bands and so too the Salvation Army, parades and military tattoos, provided my with plenty of exposure to that sort of music. One of my childhood amazements was trombone players. I was gobsmacked, how when playing their horns, they could slide that long brass tube up and down their throats without ever flinching. I was convinced they were as talented as sword swallowers. I held no desire to play the trombone. We listened regularly to the local radio station CHWO 1250 AM, “White Oak Radio.” I had been shown the station itself which occupied the upper floor of a small brick building in town. I listened enthralled, wondering how in the hell all those bands, orchestras, singers and musicians passed through that place, up and down the stairs, without ever making a sound. I waited interminably for someone to drop their cymbals, or cough, but nothing, always nothing. I believed all music in the radio studio was live. I knew nothing about recordings, we certainly kept none at home. My perceptions have changed.Often we believe something as solid fact which is actually unfounded and inaccurate. A part-truth is as good as a lie. We are immersed with a daily avalanche of information from the media. In their need to constantly produce a quota of content we are often under an overdose of babble and speculation until our brains are nearly exploding with a plethora of fiction. I watch folks sometimes come close to blows over a certainty about what they have gleaned from public news sources, the clergy, politicians, the weatherman or some other uninformed opinion either deliberate or accidental.
How many millions have died in wars and natural catastrophes believing God was on their side just as their enemy also did? Throughout history hype masters and spin doctors have determined what someone else wants us to believe. Even I, a self-declared cynic, am stunned at how incredibly gullible I can often be. I recently saw a bumper sticker that said, “Don’t believe everything you imagine.” In other words, ask questions. Always.
The cave you fear to enter hides the treasures you seek. Joseph Campbell
Well, well, blog 200! How did this happen? It does not seem so long ago that I was writing my first blog and declaring my intentions, one way or another, to do wonderful things with my boat ‘Seafire.’ Then again, rocketing through my mid-sixties seems incredible as well. I don’t know how I ended up here! I clearly recall being a teenager just a few months ago. Of course, in my tiny brain I am still a young fool. Well, still a fool! And, I’ll admit, not a lot has happened to see me travel in the direction I intended since writing that first blog. ‘Seafire’ is still at the dock, here. How that grieves me!
One of the things about blogs, or any writing, is that no matter how diligently one checks for errors, there is almost always something askew which you do not notice until the “Post” or “Send” button is clicked. Rectal-linear as I am about grammar, punctuation and spelling, there will be, almost always, something I’ve missed which does not stand out until the piece has been committed for someone else’s perusal. One of the tricks I’ve learned is that if in doubt, use a hyphen such as in the invented word in the previous sentence. It always seems to satisfy the computer’s spell checker. The existence of that in every computer leaves me amazed at how many mistakes I find in other folk’s writing. Of course, sometimes, you just have to know the nuances of language. And, I should add, sometimes the spell-checker can be wrong. We now communicate with grunts and flying texting thumbs, abbreviations are used extensively LOL and well, you know what I mean eh? But, I’m old-school and believe that language is indeed the cornerstone of culture and that every point of the art of communication matters. Grunting is for cave men.
“I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.”
That quote is attributed to both Oscar Wilde and Gustave Flaubert. In any case, that is where this blog is. I wrote half a page and then deleted it. I caught myself being far too cynical. Why employ negativity in this season of light and hope? CUT! That was easy enough. So there, Bum-hug. I’ve declared that things will soon get better, and when they do, I’ll drink to all of my readers…the hell with what the doctor says. Yes, I’m daring to say that there is something wonderful just around the corner, I just have to fill in a few blanks.
On my desk I have dictionaries in several languages, a thesaurus (not to be confused with a sore ass when I sit too long) a rhyming dictionary, a book of synonyms and antonyms as well as the ubiquitous copy of ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves.’ My texts are still often embedded with errors. So God bless the editors and proof readers out there. I cannot imagine myself doing either of those jobs for a living. There are indeed many different kinds of courage.
At the moment, I’m typing away in the dark. Thankfully this lap top, (Or whatever I’m supposed to call it these days) has back-lit keys. The battery is dwindling. The power went off a few hours ago so I’ll have to go and watch TV in the dark. We have had a vicious surging wind most of the day with gusts coming from all directions. Trees are down everywhere, the power is off all over town and we are reminded of how incredibly dependant we all are on the electrical grid. We take so much for granted including fresh clean water, food in the grocery store whenever we want it, health care on demand and all the things that millions of othershave never heard of. It is Christmas time, and for most of us, a pinnacle of consumer celebration but suddenly, here we sit in the dark, our comfy little world has come to an end for the moment and I’m sure some folks out there are fuming that “Someone ought to do something about this.” Well, a little slap therapy can be a good thing.
Down at the marina there was an exceptionally high tide, brought on in part by a storm surge; boats were leaping violently at the ends of their skinny little lines. The vessels which really did not need to be worried about, had sturdy lines and owners on hand to make sure all was well. ‘Seafire,’ a solid old ark, sat nodding her head serenely while most her neighbours were slam-dancing in their berths. This wind was not that bad compared to many I have known in other places and times but it is a big deal here. I had a hard time appreciating the drama that so many others were invoking. Such vigorous winds are uncommon here and the flora is not designed to cope with it. The storm turned out to be a real old limb-ripper with varying degrees of devastation all over the South Coast. Trees blew over everywhere, someone in Duncan, a few miles south, has been killed when a tree fell on them. Houses were damaged and there is general chaos. Thank the gods that the leaves are now off the deciduous trees, otherwise we would have a truly horrific mess. All’s well that ends and this night will surely pass.
And so it did. I rose before daylight to go for my morning swim at the local recreation centre. It was clear and calm outside. Venus, the Christmas star, (Actually a planet shrouded in clouds of sulphuric acid) gleamed down as I scrapeda frost-encrusted windshield. After a torrential rain everything froze, including the doors and locks. Driving across town, it soon became obvious that a large portion of the community was still without electricity. The pool was also shrouded in absolute darkness. Clearly I live on the right side of the hill. The power came on last night just after sitting down to a candle-lit dinner. Jack the dog nestled into his blanket in front of the gas fireplace. That item certainly proved its worth; there was no need to burn any furniture. Today, the twenty-first of the month, is winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Soon the daylight will be noticeably longer and all will be bluebirds and rainbows. Yeah right!
The Aftermath: Jack and I went out for our morning walk and could not go to any of the places we wanted. The roads are blocked nearly everywhere. All routes are cluttered with debris and broken power wires. In Nanaimo, the water treatment plant was “Compromised” and folks are out buying up all the bottled water they can. There are few stores and no banks open because folks can’t do business anymore without computers. You cannot buy gasoline, the fuel pumps are all defunct. Traffic lights are hard-hit and hanging dead over the intersections. Christmas roads are a tangle. Wonderfully, nearly everyone is being interactive and things are flowing as best they can. The smell of crushed fir needles from all the shattered branches fills the air everywhere and that is the perfect perfume for the season. One whiff of that takes me back to childhood Christmas’s and then into my years as a logger. Many houses have downed trees laying on them (Imagine waking up with a tree top up the old wahoolie!) and let’s simply say the roofers will be very, very busy for a while. The line crews are making some good overtime pay but they are out there around the clock in extreme weather, facing nasty conditions that must be quite dangerous at times. And apparently, we here on Vancouver Island are considerably better off than many on the mainland.
This is all due to a windstorm that lasted a few hours. Imagine how life would be, should the dreaded “Big One” earthquake were to occur. The sun is brassy and hangs above the pallid sky within a distinct sun dog. There’s more to come! Now that I’ve spread some good cheer, Happy Christmas everyone. May it be warm and fuzzy. I hope that your New Year is filled with good things to do, something to look forward to and someone to love.
“Don’t look back – you’re not going that way.” …Ovid
A deadline not to be confused with a dead line. That bit of dark humour ran through my brain as I typed the title. I was going to call this “I’ve done it again!” as reference to my second video, just posted in time for Remembrance Day or Memorial Day if you prefer. After completing my first video I decided to see if I could meet the deadline of November eleventh and compose something in respect of that date. Mission accomplished! Here’s the link:
Or, go to You Tube and type in: Swoop Fred Bailey. As it turns out, there are a lot of Fred Bailey dudes on YouTube, all shapes, sizes, ages and colours. Take your pick! My video, I hope, is visibly improved from my first. Please, please, if you see any hope in my effort, look for the thumbs up icon below the YouTube screen and give it a click. I need all the help you can give. I have tons of clips in my archives so there will be more to come. It is a fascinating art form, especially if you go at it self-taught. GAWD! But this cyber-neanderthal is determined to master videography. What I need now is a proper video camera. So far I’ve been using DSLRs, my mobile phone, and cheap action cams. I regret not diving into this discipline before computers came along and wonder at some of the brilliant work done on celluloid. Older short films and full length movies are especially amazing when you consider the considerable skill that went into making them.
My video muse is a good friend named Pär Domeij. His videos are what I aspire to and are of superb quality, flawless and award-worthy in every way. Coddiwomple is his latest masterpiece. Here’s that link:
If you don’t want to come sailing on the West Coast after seeing this….well real estate is still cheap in Donkey Shin Kansas or wherever it is you choose to live as far from the ocean as possible. And, I suppose, someone has to grow the wheat to make sea biscuits!
On a final note about film-making I’ve discovered a beauty this week called Fauve. You can find it on Twisted Sifter or Vimeo or simply by googling up the name. It is filmed in Quebec in real time, in real places with real people and is one of the most brilliantly made short films I’ve ever seen. This award winner is poignant, it does not have a happy ending but it is beautifully acted by two young boys and is perhaps an oblique consideration, in regard to today’s date, of how we seduce young men into going to war to die for someone else’s ambition. They have a sense of being invincible. By the way, if you are a short film junkie like me, one more film to google up is called Room 8.
Here are some still photos taken locally in the past few days. We have had spectacular weather this autumn and still, nearing the middle of November, we enjoy intermittent hours of soft, golden sunlight. I’m trying to enjoy it while it lasts because, as we all know, good weather is never, never paid for in advance. See you in the movies.
“ The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.” … Ralph Waldo Emerson
If the link doesn’t work you can find it by typing in: Friends Below . It has taken nearly a year of cyber Neanderthal fumbling, starting over and over, learning, learning, learning, cursing, cursing, cursing and trying again as I self-teach myself this long-time goal of mine. And here it is. There will be many more to follow, steadily improving, I hope, as I learn and grow in this incredibly complex yer wonderful art form. Please, if you see any hope for my future efforts, click on the thumbs-up button. Thanks.
“Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found.”
On the chart it is named Kakushdish Harbour. The locals called it “Gustafson’s.” I much prefer the Heiltsuk name but I have no idea what sort of spices are used in a kakushdish .(She fed him some kakushdish and he was up all night) Seriously, the name rolls off one’s tongue in a lovely way and I’d guess it means something to do with shelter or safety. This is a short, shallow inlet only a few minutes from downtown Shearwater but a world away from the industrial ugliness and near incessant dirty clatter. I’ve avoided coming here, partly because it’s too close to home base but mostly because one has to pass under an electrical power line. I just don’t like overhead wires while on a moving sailboat. On the chart there is a clearance indicated of twenty-three metres. That is plenty enough for Seafire’s mast of sixteen metres but still I have a bad feeling about overhead wires and bridges. Unless the overhead obstruction is very high, it always looks as if you’ll go bump or zap; that tense anticipation is a nasty sensation.
Once under the wire the bay is wide and calm. In places there are long grassy shores to stretch your legs. With our late spring, the colours seem especially intense. This morning there’s a high overcast but the bay is still lovely. The season is very near summer solstice and nights have long lingering dusks. It is a time of richness and plenty. All creatures are busy feeding, raising their young, and preparing for the coming winter. The last one seems to have barely passed. As I get older the seasons, for me, spin faster and faster. Summer is the apex before the long descent into the next cycle of cold, dark and wetness. Yeah you know it, south, south!
A few days ago I crawled out from beneath a customer’s boat to find myself fifty feet from a young black bear. He was a beauty. My immediate concern was where the mother bear might be but it was soon obvious that this character was alone. There were a few people watching him but he was oblivious as he perused the aromatic garbage bins. Wild animals that accustom themselves to humans almost invariably meet a nasty end. I threw my hammer at him, several times. Bumbles, I named him, belonged in the safety of the forest, not in the middle of a shipyard at midday. He ambled slightly away but was determined to find a meal. We finally steered him up the hill, towards the school; plenty of lunch buckets up there. A yearling, probably orphaned, he has not been taught to forage for wild food and will need some strong persuasion to avoid the temptations of civilization. He has been spotted several times within the community. I fear for his future.
Because I am in my last days at Shearwater time is passing slowly for me, just as it did when I sat in a public school classroom this time of year so long ago. Friday afternoon finally arrived. I slipped the boat’s lines. We were quickly around the corner and out of sight. I spent the night and following day in Kakushdish most pleasantly. After a morning exploration of the bay by dinghy I settled down to work on the boat’s teak. I almost sanded my fingertips to the bone but tonight one cap rail is done. It has been scraped and sanded, had two coats of teak oil applied and all the metal fittings are back in their place. I enjoyed my simple honest work. A cool breeze hummed and whistled in the rigging. I knew a great sense of well-being. Funny how contentment can come from such a simple thing.
Late in the day I moved ‘Seafire’ to Beales Bay, a short distance around the rocks and reefs of Gunboat Passage. ‘Sjoa’ is anchored st the far end of the bay, I wonder what magic video footage Paer has made. I look out one last time just before bed. Last night’s full moon shines down between the scudding clouds. In the morning I awake with my eyes glued shut. I have to peel them open. Insect bites, or teak sanding dust, my whole head feels puffy. It’s snot funny. I force myself into the day; and soon happy for what it becomes. Paer comes over to ‘Seafire’ for a visit and we finally get to know each other a little. What a delight to meet someone new who closely shares similar perspectives and philosophies. I learn of adventures in Sweden along the Arctic Circle and in Lapland. Paer tells of sailing there and how life is in summers of the midnight sun and intense winters of near eternal darkness. He has an advantage of being able to see things from an outsider’s perspective and finds a positive view of things where I see only the negative. He points out that Shearwater, a tiny oddball community of misfit refugees from urban latitudes, manages to survive in relative harmony. He also points out, that despite our industry, we are able to make a minimal environmental foot print. The morning flew by as, in happy discovery, we plumbed each other’s philosophies, values, perspectives. Affirmation is very good for the soul.
I’ve been wanting to explore this huge wetland and estuary. Today the weather and the tides are in my favour. There is a lively and shallow, drying tidal rapids which guard the entrance. I’m able to pass through with a few inches of water beneath my kayak and slalom around three points and rocky islets into the marshland. It is unique as it spreads broadly around three saltwater streams which almost dry out at each low tide. Certainly they are navigable only on a rising tide. I am able to penetrate the green marsh by bumping along the bottom only as the tide rises up the stream bed and lifts me along a little further at a time. It is fantastic. The bottom of the streams are very course sand with glinting bits of mica. The water is slightly tea-coloured but clear. I am able to penetrate the grassy marsh and see birds and minnows in abundance. It is a place where I expect to see deer and bear at any time. I’m not disappointed.
Up one reach of the stream network I find Paer hiking in the marsh. We chat at the stream’s edge, marvelling at how quickly the tide rises. As we stand there a deer emerges from the forest, walking directly toward us. Eventually she senses our presence and we all stand motionless regarding each other across the flowing water. Mesmerized, we don’t notice how the tide is rising over the mud at our feet. Paer has to scramble for higher ground. I paddle out against the flood arriving back at the narrows just as the tide is about to turn again to ebb. I imagine how the marsh streams must be when salmon are spawning. They will be lined with bear and churning with spawning salmon. My one regret is that it has taken me so long to discover this wonderful place. Paer spends days there, always alone. He loves the marsh and lagoon and has developed an intimate knowledge of this area. His film work is of superb professional quality. Clearly he loves filming wildlife and wilderness. He points out that he has never made a living with film; it is something he does in amateur passion to share his vision of the natural world. I note again that his film vignettes are published for viewing on Vimeo and YouTube.
Look for his name: Paer Domeij or titles like ‘Ellerslie Lagoon Waterfalls,’ ‘Two birds and a bear’ or ‘Sommarpromen i Lulea.’ ‘Gransfors Yxmedja’ is fascinating and ‘Cruise Canada’ is my favourite. I have not mentioned his exploits as a man who built a boat and went voyaging as he still is. I am both impressed and inspired by Paer. High praise indeed from this cynic.
Monday was the usual hectic day with transient boaters lining up at the shop door to present their tales of woe. We serve folks on a first come first serve basis but somewhere else there be a place that serves people on the basic of the best dramatic account of their perceived problem. Uncle Harold’s ingrown tone nail and that the cat had diarrhoea six weeks ago really don’t have nothing to do with solving your present mechanical failure mister. You are number seventeen in the line-up so far this morning. We’re working on work order three from yesterday. Uh huh.
At least my little bear came back, he’s still alive and hungry. He did not seem as cavalier about the presence of people today and in fact scrambled up a vertical rock face to escape me. There are reports of a mother bear loitering in the surrounding forest. Hopefully, as the berries ripen during our late spring, our furry friend will prefer eating in the rough to biting the bullet if he continues to scrounge around people. Run Bumbles, run.
“I’d rather see a blackbird in the forest than an eagle on TV”
I’m on the ferry again. It’s May 7th already, two days past Cinco de Mayo, or Independance Day in Mexico. Apparently there are signs of the coming rainy season as it becomes unbearably humid and hot. It’s time to head inland to the higher altitudes of the mountains. The locals stay where they are and survive as best they can. Next year I’ll be able to do that, go to the mountains that is. I’ll have my trailer. I’m on my way to pick it up today. I’m excited that another piece of the plan is falling into place although I’m a bit subdued with a bout of flu. Don’t worry, I’ve washed my hands and I’ll turn my head to cough.
It is a lovely time of year to become infected with some ugly bug. I suspect it has something to do with the nasty, mouldy old sanding dust that sneaks under my mask while working on the vintage Cheoy Lee. I’ll soon have the interior finished and as our rainy season finally eases I’ll start ripping up and rebuilding the decks. Hopefully I’ll have the antibodies for whatever lurks within that spongy mess. This project has become what feels like a career. It goes on and on. I intend that this be the last boat project I ever take on. I find it frustrating that everything takes so long to accomplish, due in part to the simple fact that I no longer possess a younger man’s zeal and energy. The boat’s owner is happy with my work and certainly observers (Yes, with spring comes the return of the ubiquitous dock inspectors) all offer favourable reports. This is a job that requires an older man’s patience but the ability to wiggle and contort into awkward places is getting much harder. I’m definitely no longer the willowy kid whose clothes I once wore.
While I work I often listen to CBC radio. Usually it’s Radio 2 where the odd gem of music is heard within the manure pile of repeated cliché cacophonies. I understand the need for Canadian content but surely there are more than the same ten tunes. Sometime for a break in monotonies I listen to Radio 1 which, quite often, is an endless diatribe of interviews about meaningless issues. Occasionally someone actually has something to say worth listening to. Recently, a professor from an obscure Midwestern university offered a very interesting conjecture on the relationship between physical activity and creative thinking. He offered several examples of writers and composers whose daily artistic regimen includes walks of several hours. Thoreau is an easy example. Then there was Forest Gump.
This academic extrapolation explained that the human brain is a computer which is maximized by the electro-chemical stimulus produced by prolonged moderate physical activity. It is the way we are biologically engineered. We need to get up to operating temperature for full function. Walking, jogging, bicycling, rowing and swimming in their many forms, or any other ambulant activity, are fundamental to clear creative thinking and problem-solving. This now rather Rubenesque writer can recall all the years of mornings that began with a long swim in the nearest pool. Even when travelling on business, if at all possible, my first event of the day was that swim. I joked about going to the “Think tank”. Often, while doing my lengths, I’d be able to think out a business problem or some other conundrum. I wrote two novels and many stories sifting through the many plot challenges and character developments, in part, while swimming.
I know, I know, I live on a boat, what’s my excuse now? There is no swimming pool available on Gabriola Island. Somehow the romance of wriggling into a still-damp and cold wet suit to leap off the dock into murky ice-cold water and plunking around the bay eludes my personal discipline. I suppose rowing is the next logical routine and I offer no excuse other than the many nasty weather days. Certainly, in places like Mexico, each day begins for me with a long swim out to sea. Breakfast is taken nearer to noon, one meal of the day is eliminated and life is good. At home my dog Jack demands his daily constitutions and apart from the ambling we do, all that shouting for him to come back is good for the lungs.
While on the subject of higher creativity I should thank all those who take the time to send positive comments and questions about the photos in this blog and on my Flickr photostream. And actually no, there have been no negative remarks. Really! You’re all so kind. One person has even asked for longer blogs!
I don’t want to write any photography manuals in response to the questions about how I take succesful photographs but I will try to respond succinctly. There is no subsitute for practice. I began taking photographs when I was was seven or eight years old. I found someone’s discarded Kodak Brownie camera. It used 120 roll film available, I believe, in eight and twelve frame rolls. I remember having to seal the camera case with adhesive tape to block light leaks and saving pennies and nickles to get the film. There was a mail service that provided a fresh roll of film with each set of prints. The cost was probably about two dollars. Every frame was a carefully considered captial expense.
Even then I was more interested in composing an artistic image rather than accumulating contrived mug shots like everyone else. Yeah I was always weird. Having a talent for sketching I slowly evolved to painting with watercolours. Then I began photographing scenes so the light remained constant for my paintings. I eventually discovered the darkroom and became a madman locked away in a tiny compartment, hot and fumey, as I learned the art of photographic printing in black and white, colour and cibachrome. Over decades I’ve catalogued thousands of stock images. It doesn’t seem so long ago that when submitting a magazine article, one was required to provide slides with the manuscript. No one was geared up yet for digital images.
Now digital photography is standard technolgy and film manufacturers like the giant Kodak are gone. There’s a generation now which doesn’t at all understand the Simon and Garfunkle song about Kodachrome. The great thing about digital images is that people can freely treat photography as any blend of science and art they chose. Some old arguments can be put to rest. The one that used to inflame me was that the photographer didn’t take the picture, the camera did. My retort was to ask if it were the brush or the artist who painted a picture.
With the photo programs now available anyone can manipulate their images to suite needs and whims. It is easy now to prove that photos can indeed lie. There is no more chemical trickery required to process film and prints in carcenogenic darkrooms and there is no concern about cost each time you release the shutter. One other joy of digital photography is the immediacy it provides. The shot I’m posting of the swallows, taken through a blurry plexiglass window, was a digital file number ready to share with the world within two minutes of taking the shot. It’s a technically weak image because of the plexiglass, but it was available in seconds. Nevertheless, the basic principles remain, no matter how easy it is to collect images. The first is that light travels at a constant speed. The second is that no camera can ever determine composition, envison what your creative imagination can see nor determine what lighting will best produce the desired final image.
Good photographs cannot be attributed to what sort of equipment you use. For the past few months I’ve tried to limit my photography to one simple pocket camera. I’ve used an Olympus T-2 which is a pretty basic camera. It is frustratingly slow some times and is not able to handle certain light conditions well but it can produce some great photos and takes me back to working the basics. There is no hope with this little camera of machine-gunning an image and hoping to find the best shot later. Even mobile phones can produce great photos if the photographer understands lighting and how the camera lense works.
It is simple. Because the speed of light is a uncompressible constant, a correct exposure requires that only a specific amount of light can be used to make a proper image. So if an aperture is opened to a value of f4 for an exposure time of, let’s say, 1/60th of a second, the same exposure value can be made at f8 for 1/30th of a second, or half the light for twice as long. An advantage of a slower speed and smaller aperture is greater depth of field in the image. The slower shutter speed however means that the chance of blurring the image due to camera movement is greater. Faster shutter speeds offer shallower depths of field but also facilitate sharply freezing a moving subject.
If I’m trying to be technical I should explain briefly about f-stops. They are simply a way of expressing a ratio of the diameter of a lense aperture to the focal length of that lense. If a lense is 100mm long, an f-stop of 4 means the aperture is open at a diameter of 25mm. F8 would be a diameter of 12.5mm. We need to be able to control that opening in order to control depth of field and to control the speed, or amount of time the lense is open, to shot moving objects. Some older cameras were considered fast if they had a shutter speed of of 1/500th of a second. Now cameras can freeze action at speeds measured in several thousandths of a second. Digital cameras can provide shutter speeds so incredibly fast that we can see the progress of things in freeze-frame like the progress of a bullet piecing the skin of a balloon.
Another explanation is to regard a camera as a crude copy of an eyeball. The shutter is a copy of the pupil opening and closing in response to the amount of available light. A great way of understanding this is to check out ‘F Numbers’ on Wikipedia. They provide diagrams and math equations. Most photographers simply keep their cameras in auto and let the camera do the thinking but until you understand the unholy trinity of aperture, focal length and shutter speed, you own’t be in total control of your photography.
Some photography classes required students begin by using disposable film cameras until it was understood that the photographer makes the photo, not the camera. That is why I never display technical information about any photograph. Shutter speeds, f-stops, lenses, filters, ISO and any other techno-gibberish are irrelevant, even perhaps detracting, to appreciating an image; in my opinion.
Expensive high quality cameras, and the myriad of available lenses only reduce the effort required in achieving a specific image. Most modern cameras are so loaded with optional functions that the process of taking good photographs can be quite bewildering. Don’t worry about all those sales features, just stick to the basics.
A poor photographer might have difficulty making good images with an expensive Hassleblad and a good photographer can take winners using any camera.
Photography is the art of seeing, it is as simple as that. I’m always happy to answer questions on this subject but first open your eyes to really see what’s there. Take plenty of photos until you began to understand the process for yourself. This takes us back to walking and thinking.
For me, the process of walking and thinking while taking photographs can be very cathartic and uplifting. To be able to break down the world around me into single, simple moments of focused observation and clear interesting images helps me re-establish my tiny place in the universe. When I come home without any images I know I’m having a bad day. Of course taking a dog along almost guarantees some good pictures.
The most indelible images are the ones which you never manage to get into a camera. For example I was whizzing along a highway in Mexico, with heavy trucks behind trying to push me even faster. There was no daring to stopping. Then, in the gathering night, I saw an amazing sight in one fleeting moment. A brickmaker had fired up his kiln and the golden glow of that inferno will be forever imbedded on the hard drive in the back of my skull. The fire-tinged outline of each brick, the sillouette of the workers, the reflected light on a huge stack of waiting firewood and some children’s faces, it’s all there, a full stop. Whatever works for you, take some time to stay in touch with the planet that sustains you. It’s a wonderful place. Class dismissed!
The trailer! It’s mine now, bought and paid for. Yep, more damned stuff! Two weeks ago it all seemed impossible. I’m cashless for the moment but I’ve got a huge component in the progress of my dream. I’m posting some grab shots taken of it on the way home. For now I’m scheming the best way to arrange versatile accomodations inside to suit my needs. Then I’ll be hitting the road. Meanwhile ‘Seafire’ needs plenty of attention. I can see a very busy summer ahead.
By the way, a final note on the art of seeing. Remember that washed-out photo of tiny birds sitting on a lifeline after a morning rain? I forgot to mention the most wonderfully obvious thing of all. The purple martins are back!