Caught By A Rainbow

The days in December have been dark, and wet. We haven’t had the inconvenience of ice and snow, and for this our commuting selves are grateful, but the absence of sunlight, of any kind of light, can get to you after a while, and leave you staring at the sky, and at the hour by hour weather forecasts, hoping for a break in the clouds.

I grabbed an hour or so the other week when the forecast looked auspicious, or passable at least, that fitted with the daylight hours, and other work and domestic plans. I had an hour, a whole hour, to head up the nearest hill, camera in hand, and breathe for a while.

As I climbed, you could see the break in the weather that I was enjoying. Although I was bathed momentarily in strong winter sunlight, across the other side of the river, huge dark clouds were looming, rolling and filling the skies.

A rainbow followed, cutting through the sky, arching across what sometimes feels like the whole of central Scotland from way up here, stretching out in front of you. I stood, transfixed by the rainbow straight ahead.

I have no picture to show you – I couldn’t catch it.

It caught me.

As I stood and watched, transfixed, a bird of prey flew across and stopped, and hovered.

For a few moments the sky was full.

For a few moments the sky and the world and the time were full.

There was nothing but this: the land stretched out ahead, the sleet showers looming, the arc of the rainbow, the hovering wings of a bird of prey.

And then the light changed, and the rainbow faded.

The bird flew on.

And in the aftermath I said a quiet thank you for the intensity of this moment, reflecting, picture-less, that this, this, is why I take photographs.

The Opening

Perhaps it always only ever takes but a moment –

Just the fraction of a moment for something to catch your eye: some movement in the trees, some fragment of poetry, some kindness in a stranger’s smile, some chord in a song, some way the light falls –

And there it is again, that reminder, that possibility of things being different – wilder, thicker, deeper and eternally more true –

And the invitation to walk right on in.

Back to the Source

There are lots of different ways of thinking about photography.

Sometimes these ideas and theories grab my attention, other times they leave me feeling vaguely baffled.

Sometimes I think it’s not really photography that I’m interested in at all, only what it is that I notice as a result of walking with a camera.

And that, for me, is and always has been the natural world.

You don’t need a camera for this of course but the practice of looking out has certainly changed things for me, making you more likely to notice patterns, movement, light.

To notice and appreciate the look of the natural world, in all its different guises, over and over.

Ripple Effect

It wouldn’t be easy to put into words the various factors that took me to here.

It includes a wish (that no doubt many of us share) to move beyond the slick, glossy screens of digital technology, where things are so quickly swiped, clicked, liked, forgotten.

It includes a wish to learn to sloooow right down as part of the practice of photography.

It followed on directly from trying to learn more about the ‘proper’ functions of a camera and finding it frustrating to fathom what we’re asking a chip to do, when it’s expressed in the language of film that had real, tangible, chemical qualities ~ a physical reaction to light ~ and wondering if I would better learn by seeing how the real works, rather than the copy of it.

Perhaps there’s more to it than that.

Perhaps there’s less.

In any event, some or all of these things have got me experimenting with film.

I anticipate there might be further ripple effects.

ripple effects
ripple effects

Being Alone in Photography

Being alone is, for me, a necessary condition for slow, deliberate photography.

Although there are some people that I can happily walk with (well, one or two if I’m honest), walking with photography in mind is a different beast entirely, and is best practiced alone.

Alone offers the space and most importantly time: to mooch and meander, to notice without aim, to bend down, shuffle round or lie down on the warm earth, to watch and gasp in wonder without needing to explain why you’re taking so long, and what it is you’re looking at when there’s nothing apparently to see.

This kind of aloneness, walking with camera in hand, is, for me, a gift, and probably the main reason I am hooked on the practice of photography.

It is not just time out, but also time in: to really notice, to appreciate and wonder and connect, to be alone to be reminded, over and over, that you are not.

summer work
summer work

~~~

Reflections on being alone, as part of a new project sharing photographs based on a single word (a word a week, from David Whyte’s book Consolations). The word this week was alone. More on the project from the announcement post by Kim Manley Ort.

Behind A Photograph

It’s a moment that passes in the blink of an eye, one click of a button, but what else is going on in the taking of a photograph?

Perhaps some mix like this.

Gratitude.

Wonder.

Getting lost in the detail of pattern, texture, colour.

Remembrance: other seasons, other times of noticing this flower.

The chance to be still, to be outside, to breathe more deeply.

Patience.

Practice.

Acceptance: your photo can never hope to match it.

Commitment: again and again, out there, noticing.

The feeling of the earth: damp, warm, scratching, stinging, magnetic, supportive.

Familiarity.

Intimacy.

Love.

It’s a moment that passes in the blink of an eye, yet all that before it, within it, and taking you out there again and again and again.

Gratitude.

Practice.

Patience.

Love.

(Prompted by Kim Manley Ort, musing on photography as a cause of health.)

Listening to What the Earth Says

I have been exploring a bit about different approaches to taking photographs.

Sometimes this kind of learning and exploring makes me feel wide eyed and excited, but sometimes it leaves me tied up in knots and feeling more confused than when I started. Having got into one such tangle by the end of the week, I decided just to go for a walk, down to the lagoons as I had but an hour or two before the light went, and to try holding two different questions in my mind:

  • What is it that the earth is wanting to show you?
  • If you listen, what might it be trying to say?

Photography like this is easy, it’s more like a conversation than anything, just watching and noticing and responding with a nod of the head and a smile and a thank you.

spring equinox, lagoons

Later that evening I was looking into the work of a poet, William Stafford – I’d seen his name in two side by side posts in my feedreader and it seemed like too much of a coincidence.

The first poem I found was called ‘In Response to a Question: What Does the Earth Say?’

The last verse goes like this:

“The earth says where you live wear the kind
of color that your life is (gray shirt for me)
and by listening with the same bowed head that sings
draw all things into one song, join
the sparrow on the lawn, and row that easy
way, the rage without met by the wings
within that guide you anywhere the wind blows.

Listening, I think that’s what the earth says.”

And I think really if I aspire to anything in my photography, or writing, or indeed my life it is that, listening with the same bowed head that sings.

bulrush reflections

The Benefits of Practice

stichwort in bright sunshine

The benefits of practice are not, for me, to get to Carnegie Hall.

It’s not excellence I’m seeking but the familiarity of practice:

Even in times of change and upheaval

time

you find it’s what you wander out in search of even when you’d rather not

the cuckooflower

realise that the noticing has become deep ingrained, a part of your routine, and a part of what you must do to re-establish it

ribwort plantain

simply, part of who you now are, and what you will always take with you.

like a dream

(Reflections on moving, and the gift of macro photography as a core part of my practice.

Thanks for all the good wishes – the move went as smoothly as these things possibly can, and we’ve been blessed with sunshine for the first week of being here!)

Getting Intimate With a Landscape

I learned about the idea of intimate landscape photography a little while back, (from photographer, essence of place teacher and friend Bo Mackison).

I am most definitely intrigued by the concept of this style of photography, which in very shorthand form (from Bo) =

photographs that typically do not include a horizon line, or when the horizon is present, conveys only a hint of where the image is photographed. The grandeur of nature is captured in a smaller space. Less is more.

But what also intrigues me is the notion of getting intimate with a landscape.

Although I hadn’t really thought it about it as such before, I can see that this is something I’ve been learning to do for some time now – in fact, probably for as long as I can remember.

I guess the elements of my practice would include:

  • walking – the pace lends itself to familiarity, to intimacy
  • repetition – walking in the same place, over and over, to get to know it really well
  • eating picnics – sitting on the earth to eat is surely one of the simplest and best ways to get close! I try and practice this in all seasons
  • photography – learning to notice and appreciate different colours, textures, patterns, lights, from a whole range of angles. I guess this depends on how you practice photography, but I love to get down on the earth to watch water, or wildflowers, or the light on a path, and again, this is a simple but powerful way to feel – literally – earth connected
  • living in Scotland – I am so lucky with this, there are wild and beautiful places aplenty where I can walk, and often meet no-one, except occasionally one man and his dog

I’m sharing some photographs below of a recent walk in one such quiet place.

As I like this way of expressing the mood and feel of a walk, a place, a day or even a picnic in many photos rather than one… you might be seeing more of this style 😉

First: the classic landscape view looking up the path to the hills – a scattering of snow on top

wald path

The path is dominated by the dyke and fencing that run alongside it. First, looking up:

dry stane dyke

and here, back down again

path down the hill

Shifting perspective lets you see the landscape in a different way – like looking at the hills reflected in a puddle

puddle hills

Or bending down and noticing the path itself, as well as the hills beyond.

the path

I hope you like the photographs – feedback and thoughts about preferences are always welcome!

~~~~

The photographs are from the Wald Path, that cuts through the Lowther hills in South West Scotland.

I wrote about a summer version of the walk, including wildflowers in bloom and a sunny picnic! here: Plugging Into the Source.

For more on Bo’s explanation and illustration of the photography concept, please do check out her work on intimate landscape photography here.

Like a Wave

It is fashionable to bemoan the modern practice of photography, to see it as an addiction, as a distraction, as something mindless that distracts us away from the moment, that stops us from being truly present, and prevents us from remembering.

Of course, some photography is practised that way.

But like anything, be it writing, or playing the piano, or climbing up a mountain, it depends on how you do it.

For it is perfectly possible to take photographs in a way that doesn’t make you more likely to forget, but rather: more likely to remember.

It is perfectly possible to take photographs in a way that doesn’t distract you from the moment, but takes you further and further into it.

I mean, it is possible that you might just have stopped by a beach in winter, and noticed the falling of the light.

car park light

It is possible that you might meander by the shore just looking through the lens, just watching and allowing, just clicking and pointing, just letting the light fall, just watching and allowing:

clydeblue

It is possible that you might just watch until the time and the day and the details of the moment get lost within the colour and the light, within the splash of blue and kiss of winter, within the light

shifting

moving

playing

dancing

always shifting on the shore

until there is nothing more that you can do but watch and gasp and point and shoot and click and zoom and watch allowing

seagull

until you are no longer taking a photograph of the landscape but are fully present in the landscape, part and parcel of the scene, simply clicking and allowing,

light on the sand

and letting the light move through you,

like a wave.

~~~

Prompted by this Guardian article on our ‘addiction’ to photography.

The photographs are from the beach at Girvan, on the Clyde coast.