Picture This

Island Life


Sometimes I come around to these things a little late. Other times I let stuff pass because it really didn’t seem to be worth the time and energy to pursue. What I am vaguely hinting at here is the pretense or presence of opportunity. I often find myself stuck somewhere off in limboland without the slightest hint of a clue as to what I am doing or why I am doing it other than it seemed like a good idea at the time. Art and art things seem to fall into this general life space for me. In listening to and observing other people “in the arts”, I get the impression that many who are there really don’t know where their art comes from, they just get these messages and suggestions from the ether and then write or paint or nail them down. What it comes down to is that voice or that nudging that pushes you to pick up that tool of creation and then do something with it.    I have piles of stuff that are the direct result of that nagging voice- I’m just never sure what to do with what I have, if anything at all.

A few years back I did what turned into a series of photographs that I shot at night. Although I had been doing night photography at various times in the past, I do recall the image that stood up and said, you should probably do a series of night photographs made with only long enough exposures to capture light reflected off the objects in your composition that comes from existing, available light. It was and is a photograph of the reader board on the south wall at the Vashon Theatre that I shot on the way in to see a movie back in those times when you could. When I sat down to review the image, I realized that it wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, and so I went and shot it again- this time with a tripod instead of a monopod so that the camera had no motion, and I probably tried some different camera settings for greater depth of field. I don’t think that it was that moment that I realized I should go ahead with this set of parameters for a so-called body of work. But it did plant the seed of an idea that grew into the night photos concept.

I believe I noted at the time, as the collection of photos in the dark continued to grow, that this was the first time I had started out with a basic premise that would guide the making of that group of photographs. In the past, my body of work had included randomly found images from all over the place. For this endeavor however, the shores of the Island served as one parameter, or maybe perimeter, that focused my efforts. The other was an existing, not added, source of light next to an object or objects of interest- it did not really matter how bright the light was- the function of time over the length of an exposure was the main factor in determining what I spent time recording it. In some ways, it was a step back to a time when photographs made even in daylight required long stretches of exposure time. There was also a similarity in the surprise factor of not really knowing what might show up after the shutter had closed. The big difference was that I could now, through the magic of digital imagery and LCD screens, nearly instantly review what I had just taken, and either make the necessary camera settings adjustments or move on to hopefully more fertile, visual territories.

At the time, I also happened to be going through family crap involving lawyers and a rogue sibling, and I was not sleeping. And so it soon came to me that instead of tossing and turning while imagining misfortunes befalling certain individuals, I decided to get dressed and go outside with my gear and hope that some place I had noted on the Island earlier that day or week was as interesting at night as I had imagined it during the day. Also, there was the wish that I wasn’t taken to be some sort of peeping weirdo with a camera and carted off by a skeptical constabulary. Somewhere along the way-  perhaps more towards the end than the beginning of the process- I came to realize that there was a certain amount of symbolism in these nighttime photos and their creation. In conjunction with the dark times I was going through with what was left of my family and where I saw relatively little hope of any light coming out of that any time soon, I was at the same time making these pictures with light seemingly coming out of the darkness- not necessarily turning darkness into light, but hopefully at least finding something beautiful where darkness prevails. I had no intention of transferring this intention to my family situation, but I liked the fact that I was otherwise turning a bad situation into a visually productive one.

Fast forward three or four years to yet another dark time. As the plague settled in and everything else stopped, I did feel quite lucky to have a large yard that was more than a social distance away from everyone else. The pets were happy for perpetual company as well. And soon I came to be aware that there were plants out there wanting to be photographed. We had been moving some things around and actually doing some gardening for the first time in years, and along the way I kept noticing more and more plants that needed to be recorded. To be truthful, to some degree I had been doing this plant photo thing from back in nursery times on up through the present. But with plague time dictating how the clock was running wild with no particular place to go, it soon became a habit of mine to head out the front or back door everyday and seek out the new botanical spectacle that needed to be ogled with a 100mm macro lens.

Having been to more than my share of gardens over the years, I can safely say that what we have here is not a showplace- yet. A lot of stuff had basically gotten way out of hand- the litany of northwest weeds, morning glory, blackberries and the like. And since it has been nearly forty years that I’ve been here, there has been the basic growth and expansion of biomass that all needed attention. A lot of what we have done in the yard/garden over this past year has been cleaning and clearing, and cleaning again. I am not ready to pretend to proclaim the presence of a garden here at this time. I do not really like the term ‘bones’ as a description of basic garden structure, although there is some structure around. It is perhaps because of this lack of classic garden scenes and vignettes that I decided to go up close to the various flowers and leaves around the yard to see what I could see.

I have continued to be amazed at the magic of the digital camera and all that it is capable of revealing. It is all the more amazing when one gets in close and sees the details of the botanical wonderment. As with the night photographs, I believe I can point to the photograph that got me to thinking of a series and that elusive body of work thing. It was a picture of a columbine flower that suddenly got something stirring in me. To carry on from that garden scene disclaimer from above, the photo in question here was framed to hide the fact that the plant that this flower was attached to had been recently transplanted with it’s three foot tall stalk staked and tied so that it would not fall over. It was a gangly mass of disheveled foliage with some really nice flowers way up at the top. By the time I got over there to photograph it with my tripod, the sun that had been illuminating it through the firs above had moved on, so that there was only ambient and reflected light when I tripped the shutter.

When reviewing the pics of that morning, I came to this particular shot again and was struck by how old it looked. If one squinted, this could have almost been passed off as an old, hand-tinted print from ancient times, and while that was not necessarily the look I was going for, it seemed that there could be more to be mined here in just focusing on very small parts of the garden. This gathering of images would not have to be just about flowers, since for years I was of the opinion that foliage was the key to a garden composition.  And so, as I wandered around each day, and spring progressed as it does, I would find things here and there around the front and back yards that definitely needed recording. It became a habit and a bit of an obsession to the point where I now have a bunch of stuff in the form of digital images that needs somewhere to go. With three high school classmates coming out with books this year, it only seems right that I give that possibility a go. It will of course be pictures of flowers and leaves and parts of plants. But it also needs some words to tie them together and to relate some of the things that were going on when I aimed, focused and tripped the shutter. And since I’m tired of hearing and thinking and sometimes writing about what is going on outside these confines, I will endeavor to stay small here for a while and write about all I have seen throughout this microcosm. That seems like a good idea to me.