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Morning. In the bedroom an hour ago. Mobile phone, simple subjects. Lighting and composition, that’s all.

The chill overcast of early morning gave way to a warm calm. I began imagining that I could hear the budding leaves emerging. Jack and I went off to one of our mutually favourite wandering spots, the old Swallowfield Farm. I set up to take a shot along the mud road beneath a canopy of blossoms and chlorophyll green with a background of bird songs. A helicopter buzzed overhead, from another corner the scrape and bang of heavy machinery echoed across the fields. Now an old WWII fighter plane clattered by, a Yak attack. I know and love that particular airplane but gimme a break, I’m trying to shot some video here! It was joined in a chorus by some goon on a mufflerless Fartley Davidson. Geez Louise! Part of the art of making videos is often the accompanying sound track and my amateur skill level does not know much about erasing and over-dubbing or applying any of the wobble-quavers which the pros can do.

The shot in question. Can you hear airplanes?

That in turn got me thinking about how I’ve arrived at this point in my experience as a photographer. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve become a snapshot artist instead of the fully involved disciple of the medium format film camera and the dark room. I used to spend long hours working in a tiny, chemical-saturated space producing the perfect print, both black and white, colour and cibachrome (Printing from colour slides. It was especially toxic.) I even started a business printing folk’s personal photos, but circumstances prevailed that moved me on. How was I to know that digital photography was coming and monster companies like Eastman Kodak were to become a memory? Finding darkroom equipment, paper and chemicals has now become an expensive challenge. I’d love to go back to it again, appreciating it as the wonderful art it is.

From the darkroom. Cheung Chau Harbour, January 1986. A moment long gone yet saved forever.
There’s something about black and white photos which is elemental for indelible images. This beautiful wistful girl is now a beautiful, sensitive middle-aged woman.
A third product from my darkroom. Simplicity always works and if in doubt, crop, crop , crop.

I watched a biography about Ansel Adams recently. If you don’t know who he was, you’re just not interested in photography but you’ll know some of his work. He photographed landscapes and is famous for his work in Yosemite Park and the High Sierras. He lugged cumbersome box cameras with their glass plate negatives to mountain tops and developed stunning prints which captivated the world. A master of light, composition, depth of field and opportune timing he was also a chemist, perfecting solutions for what was needed to maximize his images. He always used only natural light so far as I know. His work inspired the founding of National Parks yet his work was a simple portrayal of a beautiful world so many of us look at but never see. Portraits, abstracts, wildlife photos were not what he was known for. He inspired me as much as the thousands of other spellbound photographers. He was a landscape artist.

I first took a serious interest in photography as a boy. My camera was a ubiquitous Kodak Brownie, crude, battered and abused as it was. I would carefully load of roll of 120 format, 12 frame film in and tape up the worn case latches to prevent any light leaking in. I can still recall the first photo which thrilled me. It was of a herd of cows resting beneath a spreading elm tree on a hot summer afternoon. By accident I’d caught the light and composition almost perfectly. I’d love to see that little square print again. Time and technology have moved on.

While laying among the lilies, videoing them swaying in the breeze, look what I found right in front of me! Allo, allo!
Sssssnap.
Spider and snake. It is amazing what you can see if you become still and let the world come to you.

Years later I took up serious photography using manual cameras which required every shot be manually calibrated for correct exposure, shutter speed, depth of field, contrast and any necessary filtration. Then it was off to the darkroom. I recall photography with a darkroom being described as having a leash without a puppy. I was never a gadget collector and take pride in doing good work with simple equipment. That of course is product of having limited finances, but no camera, no matter how exotic, can produce a good frame without a skilled person to utilize it. And no camera, no matter how inexpensive, has been maximized by anyone. Modern mobile phones are now sold for their photographic capabilities. Gidgets, gadgets and other toys are extolled as absolutely requisite to make good photographs. Photo magazines are filled with ads admonishing that you won’t get your ultimate shot without yet another product. All I’ll say to all of that is simply: Bullshit! Keep it simple, stick with basics.

Keep it simple. A good image needs impact to catch the eye and depth to hold the eye. Can you find Brio and Jessie in this view?

I am deeply offended when someone says “Your photos are awesome, you must have really good cameras.” No damnit!

Do you want to be an equipment collector or make good photos? You can either peer through some multi-thousand dollar telephoto lens or you can learn the habitat and habits of your subject and get up close for a splendid photograph with an affordable piece of equipment along with all that you experience gained in the process. I recently watched another documentary on the work of Indian photographer Raghu Rai. Thousands of dollars worth of Nikon equipment dangled on straps from his neck while he shot projects with his mobile phone.

The photographer’s dog. Jack enjoys the sun as he  waits on me and surveys his kingdom.

Ansel Adams did not have the equipment to machine gun his subjects and then go to his computer photo programs to determine and manipulate a best shot. Each exposure had to count. In any case, a day out with any camera is still a way to maintain contact with whatever view of the world is important to you. Photography is the simple, yet long-learned art of seeing and then sharing your vision with others. In these days of social isolation it is a wonderful endeavour, even if you don’t want to share what you see. And try as you might, it is an art you’ll never master as much as you’d like. There’s the challenge.

Fawn Lily perfection. This is the shot I set out to make. Everything else happened along the way. (Walk softly and carry a big click.)

Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.”
Peter Adams

The Paintng

It’s coming, slowly and reluctantly but spring will soon be here in full glory.
I am often told that I must have exotic camera equipment. Nope! These were both taken this cloudy morning with my mobile phone. Any type of camera no more makes a good photograph than a brush makes a painting. It is always the nut who holds the camera.

It is vain. It is frivolous. Yet in the window of a local main street art and framing shop, there is a painting which I covet. It is spectacular in its own way, a limited edition copy, well executed by someone who knows and loves the sea well and intimately. He has captured every fleck of sea foam, every glint of light perfectly. The painter Christopher Walker is a renowned Canadian illustrator and this image has my heart. It is small, 24”x 15”, which makes it more endearing and also possible to mount in a boat. It portrays a man in red storm gear rowing a clinker-built skiff a goodly distance from shore. The title of the work is ‘Devotion.’ “Ya bet yer breasthook!” I think. You’ve got no choice. Pull for your life all the while resolved to the living heaving reality all around. It is often referred to as ‘Storm Ecstasy.’

Behind him, a steep near-breaking swell rises high above but he does not look, hearing its slop and hiss tells him all he needs to know. He has to have confidence that his small craft will rise daintily over it and all the other lumps he must encounter on his way to a sanctuary somewhere near the lighthouse. He is resolved that there is nothing he can do about it anyway. One moment of panic may well spell his doom. “Now lean into it,” he thinks, “but don’t break or lose your oar.” That light, to me, looks a lot like Race Rocks, a few miles from Victoria. It is noted for its turbulent surrounding waters and the image is so true I can smell it. I can taste the brine on my lips, feel the wet air on my face and the slap of the sea against my fragile, thin hull. I’ve been in such situations and can see, hear and feel everything including the pull and spring of the wooden spoon oars. Perhaps there is a nice small halibut in the bottom of the skiff. He isn’t out there just for the exercise.

There it is! Every time I pass the shop window I check to see if it is still there and where it might have been moved. You can see it clearly  and wholly online if you look up the artist’s web site without other paintings in front of it.

Designed to warn mariners away from danger, light houses are seldom built to draw them near but onward he rows. This painting expresses tension and peace all at once for the seasoned mariner and a certain terror for the viewer who is a landsperson. I love it. I want it. There is another special nautical painting which, years ago, I did not acquire yet remains indelible in my memory. Now the capitalist craving haunts me again but for the time being this new longing will have to stay in the shop window where it has called to me for the past year. The painting is a metaphor of my life. Read into it what you will. I have a fantasy of my writing desk by a window looking out to sea, my books on shelves at either elbow, that painting on the wall where I can see it along with other art I cherish. Still rowing toward distant marks, tide against wind I yam what I yam. You know the Bob Seger song.

The painting requires only a bit of money but I I have none and there are, of course, debts and bills to be paid first. The job I started a week ago lasted less than four days. I made a simple but grievously stupid error on my first morning. I was easily able to repair it and offered that, but the damage was done. There are no second chances after making a bad first impression. My wagging tail was suddenly tucked where the sun seldom shines. That dark cloud of doubt weighed on both me and my new employer. With a rapidly dwindling trade, due in part to both the global virus dread and the puckered economy in result of regional protests I could clearly see there was not much work for me at the moment. I need the income and I need the affirmation of being able to hold a job. Gone! I must confess my weary body and the incomplete healing from my recent surgery also made it obvious that perhaps my glory days on the job are past. I was able to prove to my younger co-workers that motors can be diagnosed and repaired efficiently without computer diagnosis. Maybe ignoring protocol was what did me in. But then, it would have been something else. So what! Life goes on.

There is no higher art than the wooden boat. Form and function blend to make something beautiful and extremely useful.
An old boat once again becomes the land becomes the earth and maybe will become a boat again one day.
Even a plastic kayak offers an intimacy with the ocean that bigger boats cannot match.
The romance of the sea. This famous boathouse is now gone, strangled by the approach of suburbia, done in with noise bylaws although it was there decades before any newcomer. There’s a waterfront luxury condo there now.

This is a tough week and first things first, I must repair the engine in my truck. Maybe that will restore my confidence. Done. But I feel no better. Suddenly I’ve come down with flu-like symptoms but haven’t coughed up any Corona bottle caps so no worries mate. I was at the doctor’s office last week and everyone with a sniffle is piling in there. I don’t do baa very well. You get old, you get sick, you die. Then the cycle begins again. Old Jack wants to go for his morning outing, which will be a slow and halting procession, for both of us. We each need the air and the exercise and off we go before the drizzle thickens into a steady rain. Spring draws nearer.

One thousand words.

And so in time the rowboat and I became one and the same-like the archer and his bow or the artist and his paint. What I learned wasn’t mastery over the elements; it was mastery over myself, which is what conquest is ultimately all about.”
― Richard Bode , First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living