Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Dance

The clematis blossoms are more interesting now that they have faded, the centers are becoming more prominent as the petals hang tattered below the crown. I am using a piece of black construction paper as a backdrop to separate individual blossoms from the usual blur of leaves and twigs. I am also using a ridiculously high ISO ( sensitivity) to make these images. Generally a big no-no in photography where the aim is usually crisp and sharp, I have discovered that the grainy effects that come with high sensitivity are really very interesting in this context. Coming to photography from the graphic arts means that I have access to a whole different way of evaluating what I am creating here. Not only am I interested in the texture of the photograph as an element in design, but I see these photos as raw material with which to work. I am making something, not simply recording what I see.

Once into my photo shopping computer program I choose two images and stare at them for a while until I recognize in one the out-flung arms and swirling robes of a whirling dervish. The white and black, the textured surface, are so graphic and simple. I supply the title and the recognition takes place in the viewers mind.
The other swims into my mind as a bird`s beak, and if so then the trailing petals must be the costume of the dancer. I carefully add an eyeball into the dark slit above the beak and let it be. Once again I want to leave it for the viewer to make the leap from faded clematis to ceremonial dancer and his mask.

Some big thought is tugging at my mind as I work. Even as I create, something is urging me to make a leap as well. I am busy helping clematis blossoms express themselves as dancers, but I am being prodded into recognizing another larger thought as well. The expression, the gestures of the faded blossoms, would they mean anything if there was no humans, myself and other viewers, to recognize them, to give them meaning? Does everything hang on our `unique` human consciousness? Or is this cherished belief just another example of our human tendency to measure everything against our own yardstick? That deer wandering across my lawn right now, a monkey in a tropical forest, the dolphin surfing down a wave in mid Pacific, we measure them against our own way of understanding and being within the world.

The blossoms take these attitudes whether I see them or not. The deer, monkey and the dolphin think as they need, and in their own way. The microscopic life of the word too expresses itself and all of which it is a part. The rocky mantle rises and sinks, the atmosphere swirls like smoke, all dances. What we think as uniquely human is simply another expression of the whole.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Studio Gate. An opening to the creative spirit.

Over the years I have built a lot of gates here in the ‘Big Woods’. Some have rotted back into the landscape and my five rail gate between us and a neighbour down in the valley is on its last legs, propped up with sticks after a tree smashed it during a winter windstorm. Gates remind me of Robert Frost`s well known poem about fences - “ good fences make good neighbours”- except in this case good gates really do make good neighbours. Gates, after all, can open, allowing passage back and forth.

When I set out to photograph my property gates all went well until I came to the ones of my studio that open into the trellised courtyard and cobbled path that leads to my studio doors. They are handsome gates sure enough, but by now I am growing tired of gates per se. How about the function of gates to open a path into another space. I write a blog called Dragongate after all, about an entry point into a creative way of viewing the world and my studio is the main place that my creative work takes place. Apart from my mind, that is.

First of all I open the gates part way allowing a glimpse of the studio double doors. Better. I open one of the doors allowing a view through the building to a window at the rear. Better still. I set the camera and then pause, - a recognizably creative moment has arrived. I am recalling two images I took several weeks ago and am beginning to imagine them into a new form. One was of a tulip which had two petals trailing down showing the sexual parts inside, - the pistol and stamens, - and the other was of a pioneer church in the Burgoyne Valley where I had opened the picket gate but the church door was locked preventing me from opening it for the photo. Here was my opportunity to combine and complete a visual thought.

My problem was related to my question about the church, - what if I had opened the door and all that was visible inside was blackness? That was likely after all because the camera was exposing for the correct light outside, but was that really the idea I wished to convey in my photo? No, but then neither was it that this was a closed and locked off place. Here in my studio what did I wish to communicate? A bare space? Just snapping away was obviously not enough or I would be done by now. Here was an opportunity to explore my feelings about this space and its place in my life. Here was an opening and it also involved the tulip.

The thing about creative work is that it is so sexy, fecund and ripe with possibilities. Even the act relies on intuition, sensation, the flow of the moment. And then there is the stereotype of the artist and his nude model. For this photo I really needed a female nude, a Venus, just inside the door. Now, flagging down a passing woman on the street has some obvious and possibly far reaching consequences so I put my camera aside and rolled out a strip of newsprint. I don`t really need a model because I have the perfect image in my head already and I can draw - life sized.

It is not long before I have spray painted in the modulations of the form, mounted it on some foam board and cut the outline. Propped up inside the door, silhouetted against the window light and with the overhead lighting on to break the darkness slightly I am now ready to make my photo. Click! A fair bit of work for one photo, but I seem to have made a leap forward in my photography this morning: thinking it through, working out my image.

Later when I see the image on the computer screen I begin to think that clever me was working along unaware of what was really expressing itself through my busy work this morning. In Jungian terms the nude figure is my anima, the repressed female aspect of my personality, and it is that shadowy force that lies at the heart of all my creativity. Something powerful was using the gate as a two way path and making a self portrait today!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Take a hike.

                                         Wild geese.

My photography club recently had its first gallery show here on Saltspring and the other night Heather and I went to the opening. A hundred photographs covered the walls, shouldering each other aside in a bid to be noticed. I was sad to see that my own precious pieces were lost in the bravura performance of so many large, bright, beautiful, professionally framed photos. Here was an opportunity for me to understand my own way a little better.

Typically for me I had made my own frames, sawing, shaping and sanding the simple strips from the rough cedar planks I had earlier cut from my own trees, buying large sheets of glass and cutting them down to fit, gluing, spray painting and finally choosing mats and cutting them to frame my photos. The whole process took time but what pleasure to have my art work in tangible form rather than simply a computer screen image. I was doing what ‘tiggers do best,’ not letting my lack of cash stop me from achieving a high level of satisfaction.

The choice of which of my images I would display was difficult: how to fit in with the group has always been a problem for me, I`m usually off on my own adventure. No really edgy photos, I decided, and that cut out a lot! My choice came down to simple, non flashy, carefully composed, contemplative nature images. Small wonder then that they were lost in the shuffle. Here was the nub though, did I want to shine out among my fellows or did I wish to represent myself and my present interests? Really there was no choice to make, although it was painful to see my little creations squeezed so badly. I am on a personal journey after all, and my work will increasingly diverge from the usual standard. That is the most difficult thing, to trust my own passion and follow my own path even as it becomes more and more remote from the main road. That pain I`m feeling, that`s just the sign that I`m moving forward.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


‘The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o`er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.’
‘Elegy in a Country Church-yard’. by Thomas Gray

Three steps from the computer screen takes me out onto a second story balcony of my home and from there I stand watching the day fade slowly into night. This, along with the first glow of dawn is one of the most expressive moments of the twenty-four hour day. It is also difficult to photograph. A slow shutter speed is obvious, - the technical part - , but how to express in pixels the richness of the moment, the evocative, important part of the creative process?

Left to its own devices the camera will try to brighten up the darkness to a ‘correct exposure’ and that I must avoid, but how to catch the scent of flowers, fir needles and drying grasses. How to express the rich sadness that permeates the air as in the above quote from Thomas Gray? Once the image is in the computer I experiment with several possibilities. Perhaps by darkening the image and increasing the saturation of the colours? Or making it into a moonlit black and white? Or the same with a blue tint added? Lighter? More contrasty? Softer? The possibilities are endless.

While manipulating the image on the computer screen I am drifting into a nocturnal musical mood, feeling the mood within myself, and eventually settle on my first instinctive choice of rich colour and velvety shadows. Nocturne.