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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.

Fish Dreams

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This is an older piece but it is one of the projects that still lurks in my subconscious. It has to do with perception and trying to imagine what creatures other than humans might think about the world. I don’t think it is entirely successful because the images seem a bit disjointed to me visually. It was experimental work. It might be interesting to revisit the theme/project at some point. The text reads:

Somewhere in the aerial regions above death arrives on a spring breeze.

Lost now in parched earth we are buried, dreaming of out silent blue home.

Where we dream the dream of fishes, that there is life above the water sky.



A life of their own

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Landscape Photography / Uncategorized

Photograph of winter snow on Salt Spring Island

There are winters on the West Coast that pass without any snow, so when it does come it is seen as special. The world becomes quieter. Cities unprepared for snow slow down to a crawl. The world seems to be a happier, more contemplative place.

I grew up in Newfoundland and snow like that in the photograph above was referred to as January snow — large snowflakes that drift to earth in the absence of wind. I made this picture on Salt Spring Island at a friend’s property. For me, the picture contains a sense of peace. It wasn’t necessarily there when the photograph was created but it exists in the picture. We often think of photographs as reflections of ourselves and our lives but photographs have a life of their own. They can sometimes tell you things that have nothing to do with who was in the picture or where it was created.