An ordinary person's thoughts on the complexities of art & life ...

An ordinary person's thoughts on the complexities of life ... or just ramblings from the mind of a working Mum with far too little time to think!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Making room for Charity

Growing up as a privileged white-skinned child in apartheid era South Africa, I was always aware of the thin line that separated my life from those of the millions of underprivileged children who inhabited the same land.
I never understood the politics back then, but I knew it was inherently wrong and that I wanted to be a part of the positive change that must surely come about to right such inequality.

I was an extremely idealistic teenager, and as such suffered much disillusionment and disappointment when I discovered just how difficult and dangerous it was to effect political change, even on a micro scale.

At university, still in Africa, I realized that the only person I had any control over was myself, and that the only way I was ever going to change anything, however minute, was dependent on how I communicated my ideals and beliefs to others and how persuasive that communication was.

I also realized that leading by example was the only way to influence others and that even a tiny, seemingly insignificant act of kindness could be the catalyst for change.

It is so easy for us to look around at the massive scale of suffering in the world and to be totally overwhelmed, concluding that as individuals we are powerless to do anything to change the situation. So, we do nothing.

We see images of children dying of cholera in Haiti; malnourished, sick and dying victims of the constant war in Sudan; refugee families living in overcrowded tent camps in Afghanistan; AIDS sufferers and orphaned children in Africa; child slaves in India; flood victims in China; displaced tsunami survivors in Indonesia; homeless people on the streets in our cities; people we know and love dying of cancer; friends battling to cope with depression or the demands of caring for mentally handicapped relatives; lonely old people left to die in run-down retirement homes ….

The list goes on – there is so much suffering in our world and in our communities, so many areas that are in dire need of our small contributions of love, time or money.

Charity comes in many forms, starting with a simple smile, kind words of encouragement or getting together with friends to host a morning tea for cancer research. We can all do something to change the world. It is not difficult, or time-consuming, or even expensive. It is just something we have to commit to, something we have to make room for, because it is the right thing to do.

The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis or AIDS, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbour …” ~ Mother Teresa

It is up to each one of us to notice what is happening around us and to do something to make a difference. And it is also up to each one of us to teach our children the importance of showing kindness and charity to those less fortunate.

The challenge in our full and frantically busy lives, is this: 
Have I made room in my life for charity? 
For, to quote a well-known proverb: 
There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Images in this post are dedicated to all those who have been touched in some way by cancer.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The beauty in change

A couple of weeks ago, I celebrated a major birthday. Well, it would be more correct to say, I tolerated a major birthday and tried very hard to ignore the number as everyone around me celebrated on my behalf!
I can’t even say that this birthday crept up on me as I have watched the years fly by as my children grew from babies into teenagers, knowing that my life was flying by at the same rate.

However, since this birthday, even though it is only a date and could not possibly have changed anything, I have felt older and oddly melancholic about the thought of growing even older and changing both physically and mentally.

Today my wonderful eldest daughter, a gifted writer whose work I have published previously in this blog, presented me with these words she had written. It is beautiful and insightful and I had to share it.

There is Beauty in Change
by Kathryn Hubbard

There is a certain beauty in growing old with someone. Or even just in growing old, at all. To see their life reflected in their face - in their eyes - in every joyous crease, in every delicate wrinkle, in every absent-minded gesture, in the low click of an arthritis-afflicted finger - reminiscent of a lifetime of use. 

To think that they have lived a life - a long life - full of hardships and moments of intense joy, to know that they've lived through it - overcome it - to see a certain hope in the loss of youth, the gain of age.
In the words of Oscar Wilde, "Some things are beautiful because they do not last", and that may be paraphrasing, but the essence of the sentiment remains the same.

I would like to grow old. I would like to see those around me, grow old. I want to see the echoes of youth reflected in their wise, ancient, eyes. To see the shadows of the past in every fold of delicate skin, refracted in the silvered strands of hair. 
Theirs is an ageless beauty, not of form but of soul.

And even so, there is a beauty in the form as well. That we can age, can change. Life is only precious because it can be lost. 
Youth is only treasured because it is fleeting. 

I think perhaps that is the reason that we die. What meaning would life have otherwise? We die so that we can treasure life. We die so that it means something. Otherwise, one day after the next would become some meaningless montage of bleak eternity. And why bother actually living if you live forever? The taste - the desire - for life, to live it, would vanish. 
The reverence - the beauty - of life would be lost.

Perhaps, the only way to find true joy - true happiness - is to be faced with the possibility of loss. Homer wrote in 'The Iliad' that the Gods envy us our mortality; they envy the beauty we see in every passing day because we know that it may be our last. True beauty is only so because it is fleeting, because it cannot last. 
That is what makes it so utterly beautiful.

The thought that the world changes from one moment to the next, that it will never be the same again, is...beautiful. Herodotus wrote that "Man can never step into the same river twice; for it is not the same river, and he is not the same man". 
There is something achingly profound in that simple statement, something that hits close to home.

If it is our experiences that shape us - that change us - then indeed, we will never be the same from even one moment to the next. Every action, every word, every thought, changes who we are. As individuals - and indeed as a race - we are absolutely fluid and mutable. 
And the beauty in that leaves me breathless.

This is the experience of humanity as a whole. This is our purpose in life, to see this, to know this, to be this. And every change is documented in the history of the world as it morphs along with us.

It must be exhausting to be eternally the same. I don't think we fully appreciate just how amazing it is that we can change - how freeing. We have no obligations to be the person we were even five seconds ago, and complete capability to become whatever we want to be. It is our own limitations that hold us back. 
It always has been.

I believe we suffer because if we did not, we would not know happiness. We wouldn't even know it existed, nor would we treasure it if we did. You cannot find beauty in something that cannot be lost. Love, itself, centers upon that. You do not love something - someone - if you don't fear losing them, if you don't consider the possibility. It is the very essence of taking something for granted.

It is sad when people cannot see the beauty of life itself, that some take it for granted, believe that it will always be there, waiting for them to grab a hold of it.

But life does not wait, it changes. We change.
And that is true beauty.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Lake

Photographing flowers in macro has become a bit of an obsession of late, so when a free hour came up one afternoon during the week and I was conveniently in the vicinity of the Botanic Gardens, I decided to use the opportunity to empty my mind and shift my focus from the abundant Spring flowers, to the lake.

The lake, situated to one end of the gardens and surrounded by tall Bamboo plants on one end, and a walkway bordered with native trees and shrubs on the other, was a hive of activity at this time of day.

There were ducks swimming amongst the water lilies and lily-pads, dipping their heads deep into the water to snap up some underwater delicacy, and tall elegant white birds strutting lazily through the still water, occasionally stopping to ponder their reflections.

Colourful dragonflies and butterflies seemed to be floating on the gentle breeze, with no particular destination in mind, every now and again settling on a bright green lily-pad or water dragon for a quick siesta.

The surface of the lake was a gigantic mirror, reflecting a kaleidoscopic mosaic of colours and shapes from the world above, and lying on my stomach at the edge of the lake gave me a perfect ‘ducks-eye’ view of this wonderful microcosm.

Whenever I step out into nature with a camera, I am always overwhelmed by just how photogenic everything is. It would not matter which corner of the world I find myself in, there is always something to photograph, and something new to learn through the viewfinder.

It is almost as if the camera acts as a microscope, isolating the subject and laying everything out in exquisite detail ~ making every secret visible.

Upon analysis, I believe that my eyes see differently when I am thinking about photography. I definitely ‘look’ much more actively and my eyes seek out the light, shadow and colours and notice almost unconsciously how they interact with what I am looking at.  

Looking through the viewfinder, there is a tangible sense that life is ‘here and now’ and that all that matters is what I am looking at and experiencing at that particular moment in time.

These experiences lead me to believe that a passion for artistic expression can greatly expand the boundaries of our visual awareness of the world around us and offers us a way to connect with what we see and feel to get more out of our everyday lives. 

I see it also in my young daughter who has chosen to pursue music. Her understanding and perception of the world has been influenced greatly by her study of music and she is now able to connect her audience with that depth of understanding and feeling through her expressive playing. 

The pursuit of art in any form orientates our world in a whole new way. Photography has definitely taught me how to see!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


People often ask where I get my inspiration from for art photography, especially when, unlike portrait, wedding or even fashion photography, there is usually no brief or clear subject.

Inspiration is a intriguing concept. It refers to an unconscious and sudden burst of activity in a literary, musical or artistic endeavor, but as a word, it is often misused. 

Literally, the word inspire means “breathed upon” - in the case of the ancient Greeks, by the Gods, and in Christianity, by God and the Holy Spirit.

I have always believed that inspiration comes mostly from within, a combination of individual personality and imagination, and of how we perceive and feel about the world and then relate to it.  In other words, everything has the potential to inspire us creatively if we are able to feel something for it.

Acclaimed Photographer, Andre Kertesz understood this all too well. He said, in this now famous quote:
“Everything is a subject. Every subject has a rhythm. To feel it is the raison d’etre (reason for existence). The photograph is a fixed moment of such a raison d’etre, which lives on in itself.”

Many artists wait for inspiration to come to them from an outside source and in the process of waiting they miss opportunities and ideas for creativity that are right there in their everyday lives.

I can honestly say that I have never waited for artistic inspiration. At times when I am stuck for an idea, I find that if I clear my mind, then look around me with an open mind, I am able to find the “inspiration” I need. 

When all else fails, I pull out my camera and just by the process of looking through the lens, the chaos is eliminated from the scene and ideas soon crystallize.

Art is all around us, even when at first it is not at all obvious. Last weekend I found myself in a situation where I had the ideal opportunity to prove this to myself.

My daughter had asked me to shoot a few images of her show-jumping training at a pony club course that she had booked for a couple of hours. When we arrived, the skies were heavy and threatening, and before she could even get her horse ready for the jumps, the heavens opened and it started to rain.

As soon as it started to rain, I left her organising her horse at the float and walked over to the partly undercover spectators' area looking out towards the empty arena. Within a few minutes of reaching the cover, the rain had become a deluge, continuing without abating for the next 45 minutes. 

And there I was - stuck - with no umbrella, no-one to talk to, no book, no laptop, no blackberry - only my camera and apparently nothing to photograph. And I am absolutely hopeless at sitting doing nothing ....

I looked around at the rusty metal chairs, the ancient graffiti-covered containers, wire cages containing crumpled soft drink cans, ant-eaten wooden poles, broken-down fencing, old sheds and rampant weeds, and thought here was my opportunity to try to turn the boring and ordinary into art.

The next 30 minutes provided one of the most amazing experiences as I looked at all these very ordinary objects through my lens in a totally new way, making the most of my isolation and the soft, flat light provided by the heavy rain!

Art really does imitate life. Every moment, every person, every object, every thing can inspire creativity if we allow ourselves to be open to the source of inspiration that is there within all of us.

Albert Einstein often stressed the importance of imagination and of trusting our feelings. He said: 
"I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."

He also said: "Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts."