There comes a time in the deep cold of every Canadian prairie winter, when the need to be in the presence of new green growth becomes a necessity. Something fresh, urgent, reassuring in its promise that spring will eventually arrive.
Back in January, I happened to receive some bulbs for growing indoors – forcing – and had a few dozen of another variety in storage in the back of the fridge.
Recalling how my mother would use beautiful glass marbles when forcing bulbs, I decided to give it a try using my collection of sea glass. With a sunny south-facing windowsill available, I arranged the glass pieces in some small vases, set the bulbs on top, and added water.
It took a couple weeks to see many signs of life. First to appear were tiny roots, and as the days have ever so gradually gotten longer, so have the leaves, finally opening to flowers.
Over the years I have revisited various still life photography subjects and ideas.
A recent photo workshop introduced me to some new ways of looking at still life art. I have decided to make still life studies a larger part of my photographic practice. The process is enjoyable, as it requires that I spend time with the subject, paying attention to how I can shape the light and shadows and achieve a desired effect within the composition.
My goal in this still life arrangement was to explore contrasting materials. By using glass pieces to play with layered light and colour, I was able to create textural details that compliment the natural forms. I prefer to work with available light and found that this simple still life subject photographs well in small patches of winter sunlight. Once the green leaves emerged from the bulbs, I began documenting their progress.
Of particular interest were the white tendrils of roots, threading down through the sea-glass. I have more work to do in exploring their visual potential, particularly as abstracted elements in different kinds of light. These reaching forms, hidden then revealed by the glass, bring to mind the idea that some of the most important stages of growth happen unseen. This winter has been a season of quiet change as I have been integrating and internalizing the lessons of the past year. From processing tremendous loss to focusing on my creative growth, I have been sending out my own delicate roots and tapping into new possibilities through my personal work.
I have been hard at work updating my website, and you can find more of my still life photography here with a small selection of prints available in my shop.
Last year’s marathon road-trip to California offered the welcome opportunity to experience some new atmospheric landscapes. The stark terrain of Idaho felt particularly surreal, after the rolling prairies of North Dakota and forested mountains of Montana. I have recently had a chance to sit down and edit my photos from Craters of the Moon National Monument.
The geology of the Snake River Plain in Idaho includes a fascinating array of volcanic features, and photography at Craters of the Moon was full of inspiring details.
The calderas and lava flows are the result of a periodically active volcanic rift zone. The last eruption took place around 2,000 years ago, making this a relatively ‘young’ place. Only well-adapted species can survive in the harsh conditions of the region, and it is home to several distinct ecosystems rich in plant and animal diversity.
I found the tenacious, twisted trees to be especially striking in the soft light of dusk. Surrounded by dark scree and rubble, the bristling green growth seems almost improbable. Yet trees, shrubs, grasses and lichen are everywhere, scattered sparsely across piles of basalt. These hardy species use what little soil their roots can find in the rocky ground, and over time can establish diverse communities in unlikely places.
The colour palette and texture of the volcanic environment shifted throughout the day. Golden grasses and blue-green sagebrush in contrast against lava flows. Fast-moving clouds in pearlescent shades of blue and pink, disappearing over distant mountains.
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” – James Baldwin
Fair warning, this is not a happy post, and beyond a shared mood, the text has very little to do with the image.
It has become increasingly difficult to focus on what is right in front of me. There is a deepening, bitter edge to each day, and I know the root of it is a pain which is being experienced at personal and collective levels everywhere. So many aspects of the social contract have been broken, or worse, are proving to have never existed at all. The events of January 6th were unsurprising but still a shock; after an hour or so of live coverage, I felt my mind retreat, curled into the fetal position where I sat, and fell asleep. I take pride in not looking away from even the most jarring images, but I’d hit my limit. On so many levels, it was a day of terrifying white nationalism and grotesque systemic racism on full display. And we can expect more of the same because the hatred espoused by racists is rooted in fear and pain, which they will continue to avoid addressing.
I don’t know about you, but I find myself marvelling at layer upon layer of heartbreak and frustration. Are we still in the midst of a pandemic, bracing for the consequences of holiday gatherings and travel? Did my neighbours have yet another string of visitors every day this week, despite lockdown rules? Have members of my local government been taking tropical vacations while telling the rest of us to stay home, in the midst of a particularly dreary Canadian winter? Has the weather been unusually warm and dry, both here in Manitoba and back in California, indicating yet another record year as climate change grinds away like a foregone conclusion?
I look for the good news. The unassuming heroes and helpers, the small signs of progress. I know that there are reasons for cautious optimism, and I am doing my best to cling to hope instead of hate. Part of that process is to occasionally let the weight of everything fall out of focus and acknowledge the pain. We’re allowed to feel hurt and angry right now, so as to better regroup, refocus and move forward, because we have a long, long way to go.