To celebrate the new year, and in the interest of simplifying and strengthening my web presence, I have decided to prune all my neglected webpages, blogs and abandoned projects strewn across the internet. All I need is my website, and my current and archival photos displayed on Flickr.
But somehow I could not delete this blog. Tin Can Beach refused to be abandoned, despite my neglect over the past three years. Besides, I have been searching for a way to start blogging again because — as focused as I have been on photography over the past few years — I realize that I miss writing. So I’ve changed my mind; I have decided to come back, to pick up the thread of my Saint John stories and photos. After all, it’s not really that much of a stretch: I may have stopped publishing for a while, but I have never stopped exploring.
Welcome back, friends.
photo taken Jan 1, 2015
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!
By the way, I received some good news yesterday. Remember that photo contest I was shooting for here? Well, my photo won third prize — check out my winning entry here. Woo-hoo!
Photo taken on November 3, 2010