Down by the River

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composite photo-drawing of old building by water

All good stories begin with a river. The river is life and also death. It is motion and passage as it flows by us. It can feed and it can poison. Sometimes in the story, there is a body in the water or close to it. I’m pretty sure this image, a combination of photography and drawing, has such a story within it. It just needs to be revealed.

Turbulence

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black and white composite photo of ocean wake

Rolling waters create a sublime instance of the emerging shadow of the subconscious. Does the light struggle out of the darkness or is it being consumed by it? It is impossible to tell, which is only right because this turbulence is a dance that spans most of our lives.

Much of photography wrestles with the idea of symbols that emerge from the subconscious and require our attention.

 

The Other in Landscape Photography

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Landscape Photography / vancouver island / Western Canada

Dark photograph in black and white of a large tree

My main motivation in writing this blog is to explain photography to myself and, hopefully, to others of a similar persuasion.

Much of contemporary landscape photography concerns itself with grand vistas and spectacular locations, but I prefer the landscape of small things — that is, the landscape of whatever is close at hand, often within walking distance of where I live. Granted, I live on Vancouver Island where there is no shortage of subject matter or variation in weather. The world is a funny place in 2019. Much of what a photographer does with the landscape is a mixture, in varying proportions, of inspiration, technical ability, materials, and the desire for some kind of commercial recognition ($). Adobe Stock and Getty Images have millions of landscape photographs on file between them. Many of those images are of said spectacular locations depicted in highly saturated, plastic colours. They look “amazing.”

There are some great individual pictures on these sites but en masse, I find them a little disturbing. These are commercial websites, so you have to know you are being sold something (albeit through the intermediary of a marketing department somewhere). What you are being sold is a narrative — that a good life is filled with breathtaking places and “amazing” (mostly) young, stylishly-dressed people who know what is important in life (experience, not possessions) and may meditate every morning. The much-dreaded term, mindfulness, rears its head.

My experience with the landscape had been a little different. Most often, I prefer black and white to colour. My main motivation lies in an attempt to seek something of a connection with the “otherness” of the external world. Most of us are urban dwellers and we have become increasingly estranged from nature unless it is seen through the filters mentioned in the previous paragraph. In the end, our urban smugness may extract a heavy toll on the planet.

Slow time with a camera in a stand of trees, often alone, is an attempt to bridge the gap — to understand the natural world is largely indifferent to us, and realize this is a world that does not rely on humans for definition or meaning. It simply is and is governed by its own conventions. It does not need to be “amazing.”

Much of the landscape work presented on inkriver is dark. It is a simple response to a natural property of Vancouver Island, with its deep green, foggy forests and fields of twisted Gary Oaks, with its Arbutus trees twisting up towards the light, and its crisscross of dense underbrush. The picture at the top of this post is backlit and about three stops underexposed. I have not done a lot to it — darkened the sky and adjusted the curve to try to hold minimal detail in deep shadows. It favours mood above technical rendering. I am guessing it would not make it as a stock image. That may be its strongest asset.

The Tyranny of Heaven

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semi abstract depiction of heaven, with strange creatures

It’s an odd name for an odd piece. While the geography may be fictitious, the constructs of heaven and hell provide both a framework and an interpretation for existence inside the bookend events of life and death.

Heaven may not be all it is cracked up to be. It is not exactly the Magic Kingdom.

It is more concerned with order and surveillance than eternal tranquillity. The creatures in the upper left corner stare back. They are angels who have removed their wings and left them to glow at the bottom of the composition. They are not in the image of human. They are something entirely other than us. The red sceptre to the right is the staff of sole authority — the church or some similar agency operating inside the temporal realm. Heaven seems a foreign place in which to spend eternity.

Hell, of course, is a different kettle of fish. Dionysian in nature, it subverts the individual identity into the chaos of souls.

In the end, it is hard to know which is worse.

 

Ghosts on a Beach

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Pinhole / Uncategorized

pinhole camera picture of people on a beach

Human shapes move like ghosts through the sands at Willows Beach in Victoria’s Oak Bay. The day is overcast, grey, cold but the sea is quiet. I modified my Nikon with a homemade pinhole attachment that is much less accurate, and therefore much more appealing than the commercial attachment. Pinhole photography values mood and suggestion much higher than detail. It is an equally valid role for photography.

Morning Sunlight Enters a Dark Forest

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Landscape Photography / vancouver island / Western Canada

Photograph of sunlight coming through a forest

This is winter on Vancouver Island. We have not seen any snow but there has been lots of mist and fog that creates spectacular lighting when the sun illuminates it selectively. The forests here are green and dark and lighting is highly selective during different parts of the day. Sometimes, as in the photograph above, the light creeps in quietly. At other times, as in the photograph below, it commands attention.

Sunburst of light behind dark trees

Death is in the details

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The search for meaning is one of the driving forces in photography. We believe the picture we are making will explain things to us in such a way that we have an improved understanding of ourselves, our place in the order of things. Pictures of what might be called the grand scheme of things (you will know them by the setting sun) show how small we are. Getting closer to a subject shows detail that would otherwise be missed if we did not stop to make a photograph. The photo on the left shows the effect of time on last year’s leaves. They have been encased in dried muck and appear almost mummified. The picture on the right shows the handiwork of insects and natural processes. The pictures force us to think about the passage of time and the change it brings. Nature morte, indeed.