I’m in a hurry making a salad. The last thing I want to be doing. I reach into the fridge and retrieve the tub of finely grated parmesan cheese. I observe large lumps inside. I shake it vigourously to break up the lumps. I discover that the lid is not fastened, as a fine thick spray of cheese evenly spreads over the sink, the counter, the salad, the floor, my hair, my clothes. Rage au gratin.
We know the old chestnuts. To avoid camera shake use a tripod. To make a car in a photo look like it’s moving, swing to create a blur behind it. Or just add motion blur in Photoshop.
But blur is more than a mistake or a technique.
Because motion is an expression of time, Time is equally the subject. We actually look different in different windows of time. A person in a nanosecond window is hard-edged and distilled. A person in a two-second window is feathery and blended with the environment.
By opening up this window through a photograph, I learn to see myself as less rigid, more flowing and connected to our world. I begin to perceive the four-dimensional cloud we create. I see the literal mixing of our clouds with those around us, and the democracy of space that we inhabit fleetingly.
I sometimes see people as like a series of gopher tunnels or worm holes in wood, the twisting tube of where we’ve been. Through the Spirit Photo series I’m seeing a subtler, mistier and more mysterious vision of our tunnels through time.
A woman on the beach waves a stick in the air. Her big hairy dog is in the water, splashing in anticipation. Another big hairy dog who she doesn’t know is also waiting eagerly. She is repeatedly saying ‘No!’ to the stranger, while both dogs dance.
In my glory days I hitch-hiked about 30,000 miles throughout Canada and the US. A favourite flavour of ride was the back of a pickup. For hours I could watch the past landscape slipping away, peripheral images blasting past me into clarity then slowly receding.
The best effect was when the truck stopped. Then the landscape would seem to come rushing back toward me - even my feet seems to leap toward my face.
This is because a filter in my brain, like yours, compensates for continuous movement so that we can perceive things a little easier. Apparently, without this filter, the blur would be harder to understand.
My camera has a motion-stabilizer that can compensate for a certain amount of camera shake, but it loses its mind when I take longer exposures in lower light. What appears in the resulting images is a superb mix of blur and resolution.
I’m playing now with the relationship between movement of the subject and my own trajectory. When I move, points of light produce jagged parallel lines across my images. The pattern they produce triggers a filter in our minds that can quickly dismiss the image as simply Bad. Extreme stillness and precise focus is often a benchmark of high quality photography, such as the landscapes and still life images of Edward Weston and folks working in large format photography.
In rarer cases, if the mind is open, these patterns can actually send a message about the subjectivity of a photograph. The remind us that the image doesn’t exist apart from the observer, and underline that the relationship of motion is an integral part of perception. You don’t see a lot of paintings that communicate this relationship. This is one case where intentionally taking a ‘bad’ photo can tell us more about our subjective reality than the perfect one.
An atom is a fuzzy cloud of possible paths for electrons around a simmering throb of other events with smaller radii.
Someone saying it this may seem a self-inflated whir of concepts around a relatively shallow core. But it’s a way to understand ourselves, if that’s what we want.
In low light a moving person may appear as multiple ghosts moving along several planes at once. The legs swinging like pendulums criss-cross and create diamonds where they superimpose. The three way pivoting of elbow, shoulder and torso create a picture like petals of a flower.
The cloud of movements we make parallels the cloud of notions that steam around us. Our actions ghost and overlap, so that what people perceive of us is the overlaps our ideas create that differentiate us from the next atom of a person.
Bowfest is the end of summer blowout on the field by the marina in Snug Cove on Bowen Island. I’ve lived on Bowen for six years and know a lot of the people here, so there’s a lot of ‘hi, how are you?’ to do walking through the crush of people.
Knowing people is a minor excuse to take a candid photo during a festival, at least according to me. This year I took photos of friends and other characters in Snug Cove during Bowfest. It’s a simple flavour of island living on the coast of British Columbia. See the slideshow by clicking the Bowfest thumbnail on the home page.
We know that time and light are part of a continuum. If we extend a photographic exposure, the hard edges of the strobing points of reality begin to blend. End-of-day photography produces a cascade of changing light exposing our relationship to time.
I spent the summer and early fall imaging people in front of bright backgrounds, usually water or sky. I wanted to reduce the invasion of privacy that a candid photograph brings. I found that crisp-edged silhouets could say so much by taking away detail that they became and end in themselves. The people photographed rarely knew or had the opportunity to react, and the resulting images are anonymous.
As light changes colour and intensity around sunset, the edges begin to blur. The camera reveals different how the human form appears from differing perspectives of time. It also comments on the motion of the photographer and the thinking of the digital light sensor.
In bright light our awareness strobes in such as way that a crisp photo seems most real, and blurred images seem flawed or incoherent. When I encounter small animals like squirrels and insects, whose movements are so quick and lives so short, it occurs to me that the clock rate of their perception may be quite different. Other witnesses like trees and stones, if they could see, would possibly experience us as blurs rather than distinct forms. And so does the camera.
I’ve become interested in how much of the moving human form remains visible during longer exposures. In some images, only the body parts that overlap one another over successive split-seconds register, and the remaining parts blur into the background. We appear ghostly and fleeting.
Fading light creates several phases. In one phase outlines remain crisp. In another the ragged edges of figure and ground overlap. In phase three people seem to morph into otherworldly four-dimensional creatures. Finally the light becomes so weak that under low lamplight they appear as no more than faint clouds of colour.
There may come a day when we explore other worlds, or rediscover our own. We may encounter beings who look much like the entities in these photographs, and maybe we will recognize them as simply living at a different speed.
When I was younger I was often the first among friends to be able to read the name of the oncoming bus as it wove in and out of traffic in the distance. Now I have coke bottle glasses for reading and design work, and other glasses for driving and distances.
Fair enough. I’m lucky to have survived the nuclear threat of the cold war, to get old enough to complain about my eyesight.
But my degradation is unequal. My left eye already needs a new prescription while my right eye is generally okay.
As I understand it the brain is crosswired so that the dominant right hand is hooked up with the logical and linguistic left side of the brain. We associate the left side and the brain’s right hemisphere with the creative, intuitive side.
After the first Gulf War I remember seeing a US Air Force General being interviewed about the conflict. He had an amazing face. If you held up a sheet of paper across the television screen to cover one side of his face or the other, it seemed he actually had two faces. The right side was composed, interested, confident. The left side looked horrified, his left eye widened as if in horror, the corner of his mouth twisted down in a grim frown, all the muscles registering a completely different message from the right side.
Are we divided in ourselves? Is my left eye choosing to see less of the world because it understands more? I never thought it would happen to me.
I trained in music rather than art. In school they had two programs that we referred to as ‘jazz and classical’ or ‘commercial and legit’. You can already imagine the digs that were traded. I was in the legit program, though it never really conferred that quality on me.
I was never a classical musician in spirit, and came to the whole thing through composition. One day in university I become a classroom pariah. During a debate on the topic ‘What Is Music?’, we generally agreed on the proposition that ‘Music is organized sound’. Where I stepped on the dead limb was my insistence on a certain subordinate clause: “… whether organized by humans or not”.
Eyes rolled impatiently, professor and student alike. And for some reason I just couldn’t let go of it. I went on and on about it.
The subset of their belief was if there was therefore no such thing as ‘music of the spheres’, could animals be capable of music? There was wobbly support for that idea, but is was demoted to moot point because the songs were supposedly instinctual rather than unique messages.
However the topic was tackled, humans had to be the only true musicians.
I focused a lot of energy on music with the goal of becoming a famous musician. I’m not sure what that was all about. I know I wanted to be able to express ideas in an insightful way and have people receive that communication. But I realized later it was the journey of being a musician that was more important than the goal of fame, money or influence, none of which I attained. I did get girls, mind you.
Photography in some of its forms is seen to select and record the world, rather than present a message. In the sense that we ‘compose’ a photograph by selecting a point of view, the medium can be considered ‘Art’. I wonder if my school friends would have accepted that dry leaves under an autumn tree is art without a selected point of view.
But there is an ineffable difference between a photograph and a work of art. I want my photography to move clearly over that line. For all our interest in capturing the human condition in its raw form, artists are pushed partly by the desire to live the life of creating art, and artworks are more byproducts than products.
Of course we need to focus on the product to make our communication known, to cross that line between the banal and extraordinary. But for the work to cross that line, we have to cross it ourselves.
There are better cameras. The crystal clarity and impressive size of large format images grabs the attention and rewards examination of the details. Movie cameras capture and manipulate whole sequences of time. Scanning tunneling microscope turn ticks into tyrannosaurs. But my beloved brush is the 35mm single lens reflex.
The obvious attraction is it’s flexibility and weight. Once you add extra lenses, tripod, filters and other gear to a camera bag, it already has the potential to drag your shoulder out of its socket. Large format and technical cameras are basically a hassle to carry around.
The 35-mil is pretty discrete with a slightly longer lens. The smaller parallax (?) cameras are even less obvious, but they’re also a little like reading a matchbox-sized bible, and I’ve never been a fan of the offset viewfinder.
35-mil images can’t blow up as large with impressive clarity, though programs like Genuine Fractals and the fact that people generally have to stand back from an image to take it all in anyway dull the pain of this a little.
They aren’t cheap, especially if you want professional quality gear. So what ends up happening is you make sacrifices somewhere; lower lens quality, softer body, smaller prints. But you could also say how dismaying it was the Louis Armstrong couldn’t sing like Pavarotti.
I’ve had plenty of disappointments with 35-mil images, usually because I wanted them to be something they weren’t likely to become. When I embrace their immediacy, flaws and flexibility, I’m always reassured that, like the sax player who prefers baritone to alto, this is my natural instrument.