There is a joke among photographers that the general public’s taste in images can be summed up in two words: sunsets & kittens. The appeal of the colourful and cute seems to be constant and worldwide.
I took this photo last week at a park on the west side of Saint John. It was mid-afternoon, although the sun was already sinking rapidly. The tide was high and for once there was only a light breeze blowing off the Bay of Fundy. We walked out to a path along the edge of the cove, drawn by the loud booming of the waves crashing against the bouldery beach and echoing against the rocky cliffs. I shot this image into the light, which meant losing most of the foreground detail to the strong contrast. The low sun, partially screened by clouds on the horizon, cast an almost metallic light across the scene. I decided to enhance these golden tones, and yesterday I posted it on Flickr.
And today, I’ve discovered that the image has become a sunset — it has already been added to one gallery of sunset photos — and it has attained a level of popularity well over that of my favourite photos.
I think I’ll go look for some kittens.
Photo taken on January 6, 2011
I am looking at this wide openness, my eyes drinking in the clear light, the bright ribbon of liquid gold winding to the far horizon. And for a moment, a brief instant, this is all I need.
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My cousin recently returned from a two-week medical mission to Mali. Her photos show a loving community that by North American standards has less than nothing. When she returned, her mother asked her what she wants for Christmas. She said she’s realized she doesn’t really need anything.
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At a Christmas party I attended last night, I was not the only who who ate more than I needed, then joked about eating too much. I heard someone telling a story about the frustration of parking at the shopping “maul”. The question “Are you ready for Christmas?” prompted conversations about family expectations, travel plans, food and gifts.
* * *
I already have so much more than I need. I am barnacled with stuff, it has stuck to me over the years like an extra layer of fat. I am holding onto unfulfilled dreams, books half-read, sweaters half-knit, materials gathered and gathering dust. I don’t need more, I need less. I need space and open air. I need to free myself for what lies ahead, to be open to the promise of a new year.
Photograph taken on November 28, 2010
I love the fact that the country is right on our doorstep. In less than 15 minutes, you can drive from Saint John’s city centre to the country. I love driving in the country, following the roads as they wind up and down the hills, looking at mailboxes and barns, wondering about the dirt paths that disappear into unexplored territory.
The road out to Fairfield, just past the eastern boundary of Saint John, is a familiar route. My aunt moved here as a war bride when she married a Canadian soldier during the Second World War. It was quite a culture shock to move from the outskirts of London, England, to a small rural community, but the warm welcome from her new family made her feel at home. My mother and her parents followed, building a house and settling just down the road. Although that was many years ago now, my aunt and her extended family still live in the same area — just over the hill, around the corner and up the road from where this photo was taken.
To the casual eye, it looks like a scattering of houses and farms, far apart and disconnected, but I know it is a tight-knit community, where everyone looks out for their neighbours. Just last week, a new bridge was completed on the main road at Fairfield. My aunt loves to tell the story of how she and her late husband were the first to cross the old bridge. When we were visiting her yesterday, she told us that a neighbour brought her to the new bridge before the official opening last week so she could be the first to cross it again.
This may look like ordinary rural landscape, but love makes it beautiful.
Photo taken on March 15, 2009
When I first joined Flickr in 2006, I merely wanted to share my travel photos with family members on the other side of the world. I was surprised and pleased to see comments on one of the first photos I uploaded, and from then on, I was hooked. I would not be as avid a photo enthusiast today if I didn’t have Flickr to encourage and inspire me.
I chose my Flickr name “Seeing Is” partly because it can be read in two ways (I love puns) as “Seeing is… believing” for example, and as “Seeing eyes”. Having “seeing eyes” has become increasingly important to me. To see means to have vision, to pay attention, to notice and observe and wonder at all things great and small. I’ve always liked the image of the eagle, who sees clearly and far. Here on WordPress and other sites, I am eyeGillian (another pun), referring to photography and also my internal ego-emperor, a reference to the Robert Graves novel I, Claudius.
As I write this, my father is struggling with failing eyesight, and I can see how it has affected his previous enjoyment of driving, hiking, reading and even simple everyday tasks. I remember my disappointment when I had to get glasses at age 19. The thought of what my father must be going through, and the possibility of someday losing my own sight makes me cherish it all the more.
Yet there is something deeper than just seeing. I need to remember the wisdom I read as a child in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “It is only with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”.
Photo taken on November 14, 2010
As a photographer, I have two goals: 1) to show what I see; and 2) to show what I feel. These goals are sometimes opposites.
To show a scene accurately would mean to show it as if our cameras were our eyes, which can see into every shadow and brightly lit area and where everything has colour and sharp detail. That task can be a challenge in itself, because our cameras do not see in the same way as our eyes, so we have to learn how to expose correctly (and make adjustments on the computer if necessary) and use settings that create as sharp an image as possible. All of these tasks are explained in detail elsewhere, but what I wanted to point out is that photography is about making choices.
Because if you take a photo which is technically correct and visually accurate to the scene, it still may be a boring image. What you choose to capture on your camera is as important as how. And what follows why — why am I interested in this scene? what is it that captures my attention, that draws my eye? Once you have discovered the what and why of your image, then all the how of taking photos will fall into place. For example, with my photo of the trees above, here is an approximation of my inner dialogue:
Why: Wow, those trees are really lovely.
What: I like the way the branches make tall windows of light, like stained glass, all shimmering.
How: If I use a short depth of field (wide aperture) and focus on these branches on the foreground, then the tree branches will blur to show the shape of the windows and the shimmering light.
1) Does the photo show exactly what I saw? No, my eyes only blur like that when I take off my glasses. 2) Does the photo show what I felt? Yes. If I have to choose, getting Number 2 right is the best choice.
Photo taken on November 14, 2010
Yesterday we walked beside the sea. We watched a puppy frolic in the park, the waves dance along the shore, and seals basking on the sunny rocks. Besides the treat of seeing seals (too far away for my 50mm lens), we also saw a snake and a butterfly. And we picked 5 kg of rose hips along the way. I was inspired to get outdoors by writing a list of my favourite 20 activities (check out Herby’s post here for other peoples’ lists). As I created a list of things that I could do, and enjoy doing, I realized that I could add a lot more activities to the list, and — bonus — many of them are free!
As I walked, I considered what it means to say that “time and tide waits for no one”. Focusing on uncertainty, trying to peer into the murky future, is an exercise in futility. Of course we would like to know that life’s problems are behind us, but that isn’t going to happen, or at least not while I’m alive and kicking! I need to stop waiting for change, and start creating the change that I want. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. Compared to seeing the future, that should be a walk in the park!
Photo taken on November 3, 2010
If you follow these railway lines the other direction, they head north and west and across a continent. The great Canadian railway project was a great pioneering adventure, a huge achievement in its time, traversing disparate geographies and climates, crossing swamps and rivers and mountains. When the last spike was hammered in at 9:22 am on November 7, 1885, in British Columbia, the country was symbolically unified, and the pioneer age came to an end.
People still go west, seeking adventure, opportunity, jobs. You don’t hear of people going east. East is the edge, the ocean, where the “gold” of boundless sea resources has already been spent. To many people across Canada, the Maritimes is a quaint place to visit but not to live. They may think this is the end of the line, but they are wrong; this is the beginning.
Taken on October 2, 2010
The fog has been constant this past week. This is a stubborn fog, and nothing seems to shake it. The rain came down hard for a short time yesterday, but it was still foggy. I could hear the wind howling last night, but the fog only hugged the city tighter.
And so we are waiting. I am waiting. I am ready for change.
I have been on an extended holiday. When my contract ended at the end of June, I decided that I wouldn’t mind taking a month off. It had been a long time since I’d taken a real vacation. The month became two, then three, and now…. now it’s October. And I am ready, more than ready, for change.
I have a job interview on Monday. Wish me luck.
Taken on September 25, 2010
Despite the wind warning, rain warning and tropical storm warning, all we got yesterday was a stormy day. Hurricane Earl turned east and landed closer to Halifax. Still, locals flocked to Saints Rest, the nearby “big surf” beach to watch the storm surge. And emergency officials followed them, asked them to leave, and closed the access. We were headed that wayto take pictures, expecting a show of impressive waves, and were disappointed at having to turn around. We went to another local park, in a more sheltered area, to find modest breakers rolling up the rocky beach, and a few spectators in bright raincoats. A local who was out walking her dog shook her head. “What is everybody doing here?” she asked. “There is nothing to see. It just looks like any other day.” Yes, I suppose that’s true, but like everyone else, I wanted the excitement of being out in (the edge of) a hurricane… without, of course, the excitement of a near-death experience!
Taken on September 4, 2010
Why are we fascinated by desert islands? I know it’s a popular writers’ theme, allowing for a wide variety of plot twists and outcomes, from good (“Treasure Island”) and bad (“Lord of the Flies”) to silly (“Gilligan’s Island”) and bizarre (“Lost”). But I’m sure the desert island appeal goes deeper than the role of adventure playground. Desert islands also turn up in personality profile questionnaires, such as “what would you like to have with you on a desert island?” Perhaps this hints closer to the truth.
How many of us have stood on a beach, mesmerized by the ceaseless motion of the waves, and felt that time is standing still? Imagine being on a tropical beach with no abrupt change of seasons to remind you of the passing of time. And if you suspend time and live only from day to day, enjoying each moment as it happens — and of course have your basic physical needs provided — then you would have no worries, no stress. It’s an attractive fantasy, as old as the Garden of Eden. But I think the old TV show “Fantasy Island” had it right: you can dream for a while, to be refreshed and learn something important about yourself, but then it’s time to wake up, to leave the island and make the most of your life.
Taken on April 29, 2010
Living here, perched on the edge of the bluff, you can watch the sea coming and going all day. You can watch the container ships, the tankers, the fishing boats and cruise ships following the tide in and out of the harbour. You can watch the harbour seals and porpoises, the gulls and eagles trolling the shallow shores. You can watch everything that moves all the way to Nova Scotia on fine days, but on foggy days you might not even see the beach. And every kind of weather, be it rain or sun, snow or storm, will beat against your windows. And as the tide rises and falls and marks the rhythm of the days and seasons, you will be always be there, watching.
Taken on April 29, 2010
In the Maritimes, we’ve become used to hearing about fisheries quotas, disappearing species, the threat to livelihoods that depend upon the sea. A warm dry July has even brought a (temporary) end to salmon fishing in New Brunswick, as the fish need to stay cool in the deep pools, and they may overheat if harrassed and driven to shallower water. Of course it’s not as bad for us as for Newfoundlanders, who lost 90% of their livelihood when the bottom fell out of the cod fishery. But there are reminders all around us of how vibrant the fishing industry used to be here. This weir, its net bedraggled on the rocky shoreline, is one example of a rich resource people used to take for granted. No more.
Taken on May 31, 2009
This could be a classic postcard image — the red-and-white lighthouse shining out to sea, clinging to the top of a rocky cliff — you can picture it, right? Cape Spencer has all the right elements: lighthouse, cliff, sea. But in order to get that perfect picture I would have to be in a boat on a calm day at low tide in the evening. Instead, I captured an image that showed just what I saw, the sun climbing into the sky on a beautiful summer morning, a cool breeze off the Bay of Fundy moderating the warming temperatures. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking for the perfect photo, because I was there to go berry picking. Several hours (and a 2nd morning) later, we had collected 8 cups of raspberries, 6 cups of blueberries, and 21 cups of gooseberries. I think this photo is just fine.
Taken on July 23, 2010
Yesterday, when we drove by this church in Black River, just outside Saint John, the sky was cloudy and fog was gathering in the creek valley down the road. On the day I took this photo last year, it was a perfect early summer day. We were heading back to town, driving with the windows down and enjoying the fresh salt breeze off the Bay of Fundy, when we saw this little country church. It may be true that travelling via the winding roads and small communities is much slower than taking the highway, but the views are much better!
Taken on June 7, 2009
I love the way the orange train lights up against the blue sky. I love the way the daisies decorate the hill above the train tracks. I love the way Marsh Creek carves channels through the silt that you only see at low tide. I love the view across Courtney Bay in the morning, the sun bright on the water, the fresh day just beginning.
Taken on July 12, 2010
Travelling by water is a luxury. If you’ve booked a berth on one of these towering cruise ships, you will be well fed and entertained as you float from one harbour to the next. The smaller ship (on the horizon), is the Princess of Acadia, our vessel of choice to and from Nova Scotia for our vacation last week. This no-frills car ferry travels in a direct line from Saint John to Digby and back. Still, to choose the direct route across the Bay of Fundy is more expensive than driving around and, depending on your destination, may actually take longer. But we were on vacation, and we wanted to take our time and explore — and it’s a lot more relaxing to take the boat than dodge cars on a long grey ribbon of highway. In some ways, it’s too bad that travelling by boat is considered such a luxury these days when water was at one time the only highway, but I suppose travelling by sea has its own hazards!
Taken on July 1, 2009
Today the sky is that deep blue that draws you outside. The air has that cool after-rain freshness that is perfect for taking a long walk. I feel a need to go for a hike; I’ve been too long at the computer lately, I need to stretch my legs. It’s been too long since I’ve wandered the beach, collecting seashells and watching the gulls dance. It’s time to take a day off, to throw time into the arms of the wind, and let the ceaseless murmur of the waves shut out the rest of the world.
Taken on May 31, 2009
This reflection in a window shows two Saint Johns. You can see the port facilities across the harbour where two giant cranes wait to unload container ships. And the cups and saucers, reflected against the wood of the boardwalk, are resting on a table in the Hilton, where you can enjoy a leisurely meal overlooking the water. But the longshoremen and the tourists, the sailors and the business travellers are perhaps not so far apart. For as long at they are here, they — and all us who live here — are touched by the sea, by its abundance and its moods, by its tides and its fogs. What matters is that we are here, on the bridge between history and the future.
Taken on May 24, 2009
I remember coming down to the Bayshore a couple of years ago. There is a beach here, and access to the breakwater where you can walk (on slippery sharp rocks) out to Patridge Island at low tide. They had started building houses on the bluff overlooking the beach, and heavy rains had carved a channel in the sandy bank, undermining one of the new foundations. I suppose seafront properties are prime real estate, but who owns the properties when the sea takes them back?
Taken on April 29, 2010
One of the first things you notice when you fly to Saint John is the water. Not only is the Bay of Fundy a constant presence, its strong tides alternately hiding and revealing the shoreline, but local waters also include the St. John and Kennebecasis rivers, meeting at Boar’s Head just upstream from the harbour, and a myriad of small lakes and rivers, wetlands and brooks scattered in every direction. The strong impression of green and blue, forest and water, makes it hard for a moment to spot the city itself. With so much water surrounding us, it’s no wonder the land is so green. There is so much potential for life here; life is full of potential.
Taken on July 12, 2008