Friday, December 31, 2010

And in the end....

Images from the shore on the last day of 2010:


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It was cold but beautiful today, and I went down to a favourite spot along the shore to make some pinhole images, using expired instant film. I sunned myself against the rocks as I waited for each exposure to develop, just enjoying the quiet day. The pace of making the images was perfect, and I realized that I'd like to explore the possibilities of both pinhole and large format more extensively in the coming year. Just a great day all around!

Daily Practice 365/365

Title: "Full Circle"
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For the final image of my Daily Practice project, I went back to the site of where it all started. I wanted to have a sense of closing the circle, so I took my 4X5 pinhole camera, expired Fuji FP100C45 film and went down to the same location I went to on January 1st, a favourite spot of mine. The wonderful thing about making instant images with a pinhole camera is the way it slows down time; especially in the winter when development times are longer. I felt a great sense of calm and serenity, sunning myself against the rocks of the shoreline while waiting for each exposure to develop. The experience today was quite sublime.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Daily Practice 364/365

Title: "Vague messages from a shadowy world"
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In this penultimate image for the Daily Practice project, I've returned to a common theme, shadows. This morning I was sitting on the studio porch, admiring the quality of the morning light, and the shadows being cast on the sides of the house. I'm continually attracted to make these images by the quality of the light at particular times of day, the way it is enhanced by the shadows, and also by this idea that shadows represent a slightly off-kilter alternative world. I always get a sense that there is a story to be heard, of daring or mundane events, told in a way never experienced before.  It reminds me that when I first started printmaking, I had coopted a cast of figures and shapes from ancient rock art, creating compositions with them that only in retrospect I realized enacted scenes of confrontation. I sense a certain tension between the organic shape on the left of this image, and the strong, rigid geometrical shape on the right. Hopefully it will all end peacefully.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Daily Practice 363/365

Title: "Yearning for change"
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There's something about a body of water receding beyond view, the sun glistening on its surface with foggy hills far off in the distance. It tugs deeply within the soul, creating a yearning for what is around that bend, what is really unknown. Yet when looking at a scene like this, a sense exists that truly spectacular adventures await; a feeling that can be captured each time one looks at such an image.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Natural Inclinations

Title: "At the hands of the casual sculptor"
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If this was a sculpture, what might we say about it? Well, there is the interesting decision to use two very different materials - rock and wood. The textures of rock are often on the cold side, while the textures of wood add warmth. Both are etched with lines, the flat rock races at the top having almost a grid, while the driftwood has many different, often parallel, short lines. There is the interesting repetition of the arched shape of the rock in the centre left in the arch of the driftwood in the centre. The mass of rock predominates over the mass of wood, but there is a tenuous balance between the two. Overall, the sculpture succeeds in conveying the sense of a dialogue between rock and wood, where each is equal to the other.

Daily Practice 362/365

Title: "A reflection of all things past"
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When my dad came back from his morning walk today, he was telling me about some sad news he'd had over the past couple of days. Friends of his had gone to pick up their mother on Christmas morning only to find her dead in her bed; another friend had had a mini-stroke on Christmas evening. As he turned to go into the house for breakfast, my dad remarked "these are the things that happen to your friends at my age" (he's 79).
As the year comes to a close, we typically look back for memories or to get some sense of context for our lives. On Christmas eve, my sister-in-law shared stories of Christmas' when she was a girl growing up in Slovakia, and also memories of her formative years living on her grandmother's farm. These memories often seem to come sharply to us, as if we stumble upon them in the foggy mists of lost and half-remembered times past, thoughts that came to me as I caught this reflection of the sky today.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Daily Practice 361/365

Title: "Multiples"
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I'm always fascinated by the shadows cast by sculptural objects. It was the blue colour of the wall and the shadows cast by the ornaments that drew me to make this image. It was only afterwards that I found a total of 7 shadows cast by the three balls. It must be the "new" math!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Daily Practice 360/365

Title: "Whispering to the clouds"
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This time of year offers the opportunity to delve into the secret life of trees. The intricate paths of both main and secondary branches is generally hidden from view during the summer months, yet it is these paths that tell of the life of each tree. Contemplating these twists and turns inevitably leads one to consider the paths of one's own life. I find that like the tree, I accept all the consequences life has offered with equanimity, since they have woven as rich a structure for me as life has woven for the trees.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Up on Blueberry Hill

Title: "The Christmas Ramble"
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This qualifies as being in the right place at the right time. As I climbed the path to the top of the park, these people were placed just so, out with family and dogs for an afternoon ramble. Although the park is officially called "Anderson Hill Park", locals refer to it as "Blueberry Hill" (why I'm not sure, since there is no evidence of any blueberry bushes).

Daily Practice 359/365

Title: "The two shepherds"
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I come from a religious family, but am not religious myself. But I love the Christmas story, that idea of an epic event heralded to the most humble of people. While I reject religion, I am thankful to have been raised with values such as treating others as you would like to be treated yourself. Today we have family with us, and it is this opportunity to share a meal and laughter that embodies the holiday season for me.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Lifting the Shroud

Title: "From unknown depths"
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Looking at this image as I'm composing this post, I'm struck by how well it reads as an abstract composition, with three distinct bands of varying tones and shapes. Viewed larger, the representational interpretation will undoubtedly be more dominant, but it will definitely be strengthened by those abstract elements. It makes me realize that there isn't an absolute division between abstract and representation, but a sliding gradient from pure abstract to pure representation, with very effective mixes of the two existing in the large space between the poles.

Daily Practice 358/365

Title: "Deep from the well of knowledge"
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I was just leaving the house to go for a little jaunt, when I spied the crown of the oak tree across the street. I love the curving sweep of the top of the crown, defined by all the intricate lines of the branches. It acts as a nice geometric form against the more organic shapes and tones of the clouds.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On the surface

Title: "Underlying all reason"
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No matter how busy the world, there always exists small, quiet spots for contemplation. I see here the two sides of water: the way it reflects the world we are most enthralled with on its surface, and the clarity with which it reveals what lies below. Surface reflections are not real, no matter how they may seem to be; what we see as we go deeper brings true meaning.

Daily Practice 357/365

Title: "Culmination"
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A furious invasion from distant shores, repeatedly pounding and degrading the beach. One feels helpless, in awe, invigorated, mesmerized. A overwhelming demonstration that we have only the most tenuous of leases on this world.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Marks of having lived

Title: "Dark stain on the soul of time"
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There's a delicious dialogue happening between those thin, fine lines which look as if they were delicately drawn with the finest nib, and the large stain the engulfs some of the lines. I just like the way this image invites the mind to slow down and become quiet.

Daily Practice 356/365

Title: "Stream of Consciousness"
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I love this location because there always seems to be many compositions open to interpretation. I like the interface between the solid and the liquid, the aging lines etched on the rock surfaces, the shades of green in the water, particularly when it is in shadow. Each composition is made as if in a stream of consciousness, a never ending narration without breaks, full of meaning.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Remembering what went before

Title: "A path of memories"
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If my memory is serving me well, a year ago today I met the lovely JM Golding in person, after a protracted correspondence of sorts on Flickr. Jacki was visiting my town as part of a family vacation prompted by the acceptance of her wonderful toy camera images into a gallery show here. She wrote to me suggesting we meet up, and we spent an afternoon together exploring the coast and this local park with our cameras in hand. It's an interesting experience to take a fellow artist to some of your favourite locales, and to observe how that person views the landscape that is so familiar to you. Whenever I walk in this park, I remember the time we spent here - I was focused on the trees and bushes for the most part, while Jacki was watching for interesting reflections in the pools of water, which made me start to consider the possibilities of those reflections as well. We've maintained an active correspondence on art and life since that day which I've really benefited from. Yesterday I found myself in the same park, with fond memories of a year ago inspiring this image.

Daily Practice 355/365

Title: "Riding the King Tide"
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The extremely high "king tide" occurring at the moment because of the sun-moon alignment, combined with very windy conditions has resulted in beautiful ocean vistas along our south coast. This morning was relatively calm by recent standards, yet one gets a real sense of the awesome power of the ocean when the tide is this high. Every day along the coast is the same, and different. It seems an apt metaphor for life.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Primal Urge

Title: "Raw emotion"
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There's a sensation of answering a primal call, looking out at the surging sea with the bitter cold wind blowing in your face. A tension exists between the exuberant feeling of being alive at that moment and the desire to seek shelter and warmth.

Daily Practice 354/365

Title: "Walking out after all thoughts have gone before"
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Thoughts without a thinker, a mind without thoughts - just the rawness of being human, visceral appreciation of being alive.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Daily Practice 353/365

Title: "The awakening of curiousity"
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In his book Creativity, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about indicators of future creativity in childhood. Children cannot be creative because by definition creativity involves changing a way of thinking or doing things, which first requires mastery of the old or conventional ways. Children can of course show tremendous talent, and if there is a concordance between that early talent and what they go on to become known for in later life, we have a tendency to mistake that early talent for creativity. As an example, Csikszentmihalyi cites Mozart: as a child Mozart was a piano prodigy, but it was only after he learned conventional music and learned about composition that his creativity was born. So what is the best indicator in childhood of the potential to go on to a creative life? It is a prodigious curiousity, which may or may not be on the subject that a person ultimately becomes creative in. It's a need in the child to explore and understand some part of the world around her or him. It makes sense that prodigious curiousity is an indicator of creativity, since being creative involves understanding the world by changing our way of thinking about it. And it makes sense that art is a natural outlet for creativity because it provides a way to express new thinking about the world.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Daily Practice 352/365

Title: "Releasing pre-conceptions"
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Making art is all about challenging yourself, questioning the rules, even quesioning the physical laws of the universe. It is impossible to observe without causing a change, in both the world and oneself. Making art is about defining how you perceive the world, it's about understanding yourself and how you see yourself within that world; creating something new that blurs the lines between the real and perceived to achieve a unique view.

Friday, December 17, 2010

More stories from the shore

Catastrophic aftermath
Witness the violence of the sea, the brutal force that throws all together, shattering life and limb.

Daily Practice 351/365

Title: "Transcendant life"
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As my daily practice project comes to a close (but not my daily practice itself), I'm starting to reflect on what I've gained. This image illustrates one of the gains, because (1) I am more aware of my surroundings, and the play of light and shadow, and (2) I always have a camera with me, and am far more likely to document these little moments. That being said, there's much more to learn. Besides the pattern of shadow on the wall, what caught my eye in particular was the quality of light, both direct and indirect on the wall. I wasn't happy with the image as it came straight out of the camera, and do not have the requisite post-processing skills to really achieve the look as I remember it. So I have more to learn on that end of things. But something else I've learned from my daily practice is to consider the raw image as simply a starting point from which I will bring the image to a resolution. In this case, I decided to emphasize the patter of shadow, how it moves from middle left to top right and is anchored by an architectural detail. These are some of the elements, besides the quality of light, that made me decide to make an image in the first place, and I like how those compositional elements are resolved in the final image.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

By the light of the moon

A series of "moon drawings"

Daily Practice 350/365

Title: "Random periodicity"
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Our lives are usually governed by periodic events, the things we come to rely upon. But what makes each day interesting is that one random event, completely unpredictable, that overlays the routine and makes it seem fresh again.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

History in a Glimpse

Title: "Colour coded message"
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The intersection between painting and photography, where each informs the other.

Daily Practice 349/365

Title: "Caught in a reflection"
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Just one of those days that was busy - my dad arrived for Christmas, and we were sitting in the living room talking. One of Z.'s cats seemed a bit leery of him: the last time she'd seen him he'd packed her into a carrier and took her to the airport for transport out to us. I glanced over from my chair, and caught her reflection in the living room door. She was keeping a careful watch from the hallway, and the low light provided this impressionistic image.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


it was bitterly cold at the shoreline today, and
the kelp wisely huddled together to keep warm:


The endless sea

Title: "The giant's footsteps"
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I think it's interesting that we are so fascinated by water; it generally hides so much more than it reveals. Perhaps it's our ancestral link to water, or the role it has played in human exploration and travel, or our childhood memories of summers at the shore. As kids, we would leap from rock to rock, trying to get as far out into the water (without being in the water) as we could. Oh to be a giant, to leap from rocky outcropping to outcropping, disappearing beyond the horizon.

Daily Practice 348/365

Title: "Thick as thieves"
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I've written before of my love for the inter-twining lines of kelp on the shore. I always see a drawing lesson in these images - here the lines vary in thickness, change directions, cross each other, run on out of the frame, vary in tone, create interesting negative spaces. I may go on to other subjects from time to time, but I always come back to kelp.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Daily Practice 347/365

Title: "Awakening to the world"
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I think of this image as a metaphor for those times when one has been in a funk, when suddenly it begins to lift. I'm thankful that the weather here is often changeable - from storm to sun to storm at this time of year, which keeps things lively and interesting.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Found Still Life

Title: "Carefully considered, but uncontrived"
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I was at an artist's talk a couple of weeks ago given by my friend Dave Aharonian for a show of his at the Lúz Gallery. The show contained two bodies of work, both printed in platinum: beautiful, isolated views of the west coast landscape, and figure studies in the rainforest. An audience member commented that the figure studies seemed contrived, and asked whether the photographer had placed the models in these positions. Dave replied that he worked with professional models who usually came up with the poses themselves. Actually, I was surprised by the question because I've long felt that most figure in the landscape images suffer from the "garnish" syndrome as I've come to call it: the model seems to be draped like a garnish over some feature of the landscape. One of the strengths of Dave's work is how he successfully integrates the figures into the landscape, and the interesting thing about the images he had in this show was the disparity in the scale of the landscape (huge) compared to the figure (quite small and in some cases almost unnoticeable).

I was struck by the sobriquette "contrived", since it is difficult to imagine any figure work (other than the voyeuristic, à la Miroslav Tichy) that wouldn't be posed (and thus contrived), nor most still life studies. Indeed, in the case of still life paintings, art history is rife with explanations of the symbolism in the elements chosen and in their placement within the composition. Modern artists often work very hard to construct still life compositions that look random and natural (although they by definition are not). One of the joys I find in photographing the local coast is the rich source of "found" still life compositions. The objects and their placement is to some extent random, although subject to the forces of wind, sun and ocean surges. As a photographer, I have to be aware and looking, and make considered choices in composing images from these seemingly random collections of flotsam.

Daily Practice 346/365

Title: "The meaning of solitude"
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I'm sure that I'm drawn to photograph the landscape because it demands quiet contemplation, something that I revel in. Although I am generally alone when I'm out photographing, I'm not lonely; I seek the healing solitude of the landscape. It is no accident that people, or even evidence of people, are absent from my photographs. I go out into the landscape to balance the time I have to spend with people. I'm not talking about loved ones, or close friends, but the people that daily life and work constantly bring me into contact with. I most likely am particularly attracted to photographing seascapes, because they seem even more desolate and untouched by humans than even the surrounding landscape is here.
Another problem with including people in landscape photographs is the way people in a photograph, regardless of scale, draw the viewer's attention. I personally feel that all landscape photographs offer narratives to the viewer, the best doing so in an indirect, and undirected way. When people are included in the frame, the narrative becomes very narrowly focused, the viewer either deciding exactly what the humans are doing or speculating as to their purpose in the image. When Emily Carr, the grand doyen of Canadian west coast landscape painting first came back from Europe and started painting the local landscape, and defunct west coast native villages, she was advised to include figures in her paintings. She did this for awhile, but soon came to the conclusion that they detracted from what she was attempting to portray with her uniquely impressionistic paintings of rain forests and totems. Her later paintings of only the landscape are definitely more mysterious and powerful.
One thing that is certain is that viewers will definitely stop and look at a landscape photograph that includes figures (such is the strong draw on our psyche). Whereas the straight landscape image may be glanced at in passing, the way most people simply move through the landscape day by day. So the challenge for the landscape photographer is to create images that are so compelling, they are impossible to walk by.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The endless line of reason

Title: "Multiple plot lines"
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I am always happy to come across these multilayers of lines within the landscape. I imagine the stress lines in the rock to be ancient narratives, which have become overlaid by the more contemporary narratives plotted by those sensuous curving lines of kelp. The curving lines are more complex than the straight lines in the rock, mirroring an increasing complexity in language and vocabulary from ancient times to the present. Within the ancient narratives, we may stumble across little jewels of wisdom that seem prescient; within those lush curving lines of narrative we may find intellectual stimulation, or titillation, a feast for the senses but not necessarily greater wisdom. The lines seem to be conversing across time, integrating their narratives rather than remaining aloof and separate.

Daily Practice 345/365

Title: "Primal comfort"
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Staring at a fire, and warming ourselves with the heat of a fire, is a comfort we never tire of. There is something about firelight that keeps a winter night at bay, unlike the artificial lights we usually rely upon. No matter how sophisticated and complex our society becomes, we never lose the response to this most basic of comforts.

Friday, December 10, 2010

To be everywhere is to be nowhere

I've recently been reading a book by Nicholas Carr titled The Shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains. It is a well researched book that offers a great deal of insight into how the explosion of internet use is changing how we read and think. Carr references many research studies, one of the ones that struck me in particular today was a study carried out by Gary Small's group at UCLA. The study compared two groups of individuals: those who were veteran internet users, and those who were relatively new to internet use. Using an MRI, Small's group showed that when asked to conduct internet searches using a popular search engine, the experienced group showed broad brain activity, using a network in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex extensively, while the novice group showed little activity in this area. What was quite striking was the change in the novice group's brain patterns 6 days later, after doing 1 hour of internet searching a day: the brains of these individuals had re-wired to extensively access the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Given that neural plasticity changes usually take several weeks of repetition before they begin to take hold, this quick change in brain activity after 5 hours of internet use is staggering.
Carr goes on to write that according to a number of experts, reading web pages on the screen overloads working memory and decreases cognitive function because we are constantly interrupting our reading to make split second decisions whether to follow the various links that are offered on the screen. A number of cognitive scientists quoted in the book agree that the rapidly shifting attention the internet demands improves our multitasking skills, but "the more you multitask, the less deliberative you become; the less able to think and reason out a problem" according to Jordan Grafman at the NINDS. According to David Meyer from the University of Michigan, a leading expert on multitasking "except in rare circumstances, you can train until you're blue in the face and you'd never be as good as if you just focused on one thing at a time", adding that multitasking "is learning to be skillful at a superficial level". Carr concludes that Seneca summed it up best in his Letters of a Stoic, remarking that "to be everywhere is to be nowhere".
The more reading I do, the more I realize that if I want to retain (or regain) the ability to read and think deeply, I will have to balance book reading and research (and similar off-line activities) with on-line activities (and choose those on-line activities more carefully). In terms of my continuing art practice, I think that careful, thoughtful consideration of art books will be a more productive and enriching use of my time compared to looking at lots of images on internet sites like Flickr. The number of images on Flickr is staggering, and there are many links and side paths beckoning constantly. I hadn't read this section of Carr's book before I decided to leave Flickr, but I can see that I had an intuitive understanding of why continuing with Flickr would be counter-productive to my desire to continually improve as an artist. 

Daily Practice 344/365

Title: "Work day morning"
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This morning the whole world felt freshly scrubbed, new and exciting. I caught this view on the walk in from the parking lot, the warmth of the sun on the concrete wall offset by the dark shadows.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Flood

Title: "It all came rushing back"
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There are times when fuzziness in memory is not amusing - you can't remember someone's name, you feel it's on the "tip of your tongue" but the harder you try to remember, the more frustrated you become. Remembering cold, hard facts leaves no room for empathy. Yet many of our childhood memories are woven from things that really happened, those we imagined happened (or were exaggerated in our minds at the time), and those we only have the vaguest recollection of. We usually don't mind this imprecision, in some ways perhaps we welcome the opportunity for embellishment that the fuzziness offers. I look at this image, and I am immediately transported back to childhood walks in the forest; not one walk in particular but an omnibus impression of them all. There is a great deal of comfort in this memory.

Daily Practice 343/365

Title: "The Epiphany"
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There's something about those pink-tinged clouds that make me think of the angels and cherubs that populated the sky in the large scale religious paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries. When I walk out from work as the darkness begins to fall, these little signs hold great emotional content, although their precise meaning is obscure.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Images of the surf from yesterday:


Daily Practice 342/365

Title: "Between storms"
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There was the most tremendous wind storm last night, followed by heavy rain. As I drove to work this morning, the sky to the south and east was clearing, offering this dramatic vista down at the bay. But to the west, the sky was dark with rain-heavy clouds.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


The wind was blowing in towards shore this evening: