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!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Close Encounters

Seeing familiar things in a new light has always fascinated me. From the time I first took close-up photos of flowers and insects, and then bark, pebbles, grass, even flaking paint and specks of rust, I could not wait to process the films. Mostly, the results were disappointing and out of focus as my lens could not get as close as I wanted and still produce sharp images, but occasionally there would be an arresting image where just enough was sharply focused, leaving the background soft and surreal. I was hooked! The most wondrous  gift I ever received from my husband, apart from my four beautiful children, was my Nikon macro lens a couple of years ago.

Balloons & Stars

Since then I have photographed every imaginable object and subject with that lens! Zooming in on ordinary everyday objects like flowers, toothbrushes, baby pacifiers, fruit and vegetables, textured fabrics, kitchen implements and even hair clips and floor boards, I have discovered a wealth of creativity right under my nose - and without even having to leave home!

Bright Toothbrushes

I love the way macro photography can transform the familiar into the alien and uncover detail I never believed existed.

Red Stamens of a Poinciana Flower

It's as addictive as travelling to exotic places! Everywhere I look, I see something that I could explore with my lens. It's also challenging and mind-expanding as I find I am always thinking outside of the box in trying to achieve an insight into something most people would find mundane and ordinary.

Hush Baby

And no subject is ever finished with. I constantly revisit the same flower or a favourite spot in the garden, an angle of a willing subject's face or a particular feature of one of our many pets.

Watchful Aslan

There are so many variables that can change the resulting image - the time of day, the light dancing off the leafy branches and illuminating the fine markings on a tiny petal that I have not seen before, a gentle breeze causing a soft breath of movement that gives the image a dream-like quality, that magic few minutes just after a shower where everything is fresh and new and reflections abound in tiny raindrops...

Dandelion Magic

Opportunities for creativity are everywhere! Macro Photographer Robert Thompson says: "The subject material is infinite; the creative potential is limited only by the imagination."

Take time to smell the flowers

Working with macro has dramatically changed the way I view my life.  I am now so much more aware of the intricacies contained in the detail that we so often miss. It has made me look just a little closer at the facial expressions of the people I photograph, at the tiny lines and creases, and how the light plays across their features making them unique, giving me a glimpse of the beauty in all humanity that is so often hidden behind the masks we choose to wear.


If we take the time to pay attention to the detail in our everyday lives, we will realise just how incredible the world really is!

Coloured Silence

Sculpted Eyes

Pastel Lily Stamens


Clydesdale Muzzle

Leaf Art

Pink Baubles

Monday, April 19, 2010

We are all broken

Over the weekend I read a book that spoke of the unfathomable depths of depression and the feelings of helplessness and despair associated with those suffering from mental illness and those trying to deal with loved ones who are suffering. It also touched on the feelings that sufferers of mental illness have of being all  alone in their pain, of not being understood, of not being accepted, of having this dark secret that they have to bury deep within. What came through so clearly to me in reading this book, is that they are not so different from the rest of humanity.

We are all broken in some way. We all hurt. We all carry secrets within us that we are afraid to speak of lest everyone we know think less of us. We all feel guilty and powerless at times. We're not omnipotent. We don't control the order of the universe. We could all go back and change the things we have done, the decisions we have made, the unthinking words we have uttered in anger or insecurity, the people we have hurt or pushed aside. With hindsight, we could have handled things better, made other decisions, said something more appropriate, not acted in the way we had. And we are all touched in some way by illness, whether it be an alcoholic parent or grandparent with dementia, a sibling with depression, a child with ADHD or anorexia, a friend with cancer or a partner who has suffered a stroke. There is no shame in any of this. It is all a part of being human.

African philosophy recognises this and speaks of 'ubuntu' as being a quality all humans should strive to achieve. People with ubuntu are 'approachable and welcoming', accepting of others and their shortcomings,  prepared to use their strengths on behalf of the weak, the poor and the ill, without taking advantage of them. At the same time they are not threatened by the strengths and talents of others as their own self esteem and self worth is generated by knowing that they are part of a greater whole.
How wonderful if we could all strive to possess this quality of ubuntu, if we could all believe that we are connected to each other and therefore responsible for being hospitable, compassionate, understanding and caring towards those in pain. 

As parents, we have a responsibility to impress upon our very fortunate children that they are indeed privileged to be in a situation where they are loved and cared for with unimpeded access to education, and that as such, they have a responsibility to others in their communities, and the world, who are hurting. It would only take a few minutes of our time each day to do something good for someone we know to be in need, whether it be a few encouraging words, extending the hand of friendship, or just a warm smile at the right time, just something small to show we care.

Mother Teresa believed in humanity and in small acts of love leading to great changes. Her life was focused entirely on bringing dignity and compassion into the lives of the broken, the destitute and the afflicted of Calcutta. In this hardened, cynical world, she believed that great things can be achieved simply through expressing love for others, often saying that a smile is the beginning of love. 

Lately, I have been heartened by the humanity I see expressed every day by so many ordinary yet inspirational people who are members of Twitter, the leading on-line social community. I initially joined at the strong suggestion of various business colleagues who maintained that it was a way to gain strong exposure for my fine art photography business. I'm not so sure of the value of Twitter as a way to market individual businesses, however I am very sure that it is a wonderful place for people to find friendship and inspiration and to create awareness for causes that help and inspire others. 
Something else I recently came across was the concept of a 'Human Library', first founded in Denmark as a way to help dispel prejudice by utilising face to face conversations with people from very different cultures or circumstances who have experienced discrimination. The concept has taken off and these living libraries have been set up all over the world - an idea where simple human contact has the power to overcome something as strong as prejudice.

We are all broken in some way, but, in Mahatma Gandhi's words, "love is the strongest force the world possesses, and yet it is the humblest imaginable." With love, we can all find our way to healing, and with love we can show those who are suffering, a little compassion and understanding to enable them to see that with love they can begin to swim up from the darkest depths of their despair and suffering. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Monet's Garden

"More than anything, I must have flowers, always, always."

Claude Oscar Monet was perhaps the greatest contributor to Impressionist painting. His artworks showed a masterful use of colour and explored a large range of subjects, but he is best known and loved for his magnificent waterscapes and floral landscapes.
His passion in the 1890's was the creation of his gardens at the house he purchased in Giverny. He designed and built an elaborate water garden as well as a flower garden, both of which have been immortalised in over 500 paintings. "My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece," he once famously said, "Everything I have earned has gone into these gardens."
His very extensive gardens incorporated every shade of colour and variety of bloom ~ a painter's palette of flowers.

Later he added an arched Japanese style bridge which he built himself at one end of the pond, and which proved to be an endless source of inspiration for many of his paintings at that time. Water lilies were his favourite flower subjects and he painted them often as light filled blooms against a world of blue and green, a surreal sea of colour broken by the intricacy of the delicate flowers.

To achieve the characteristic play of light and colour in his work, Monet painted with a broad brush and applied layer upon layer of colour, sometimes as many as fifteen or twenty layers. He varied his brushstrokes to get the different shadows and textures and used colour to produce the highlights that make his paintings so distinctive.

I still remember with great clarity the very first time I stood in a gallery and gazed in awe upon an 'original' Monet painting. The Indianapolis Museum of Art had as part of its collection of European Painting and Sculpture, a swirly, moody oil painting of Monet's ~ 'Charing Cross Bridge'. The painting reflects Monet's fascination with the dense fog of London, capturing the city buildings along the Thames River and the railway bridge dissolving into shifting veils of rose, blue and violet fog. Close up, the painting is filled with radiant dabs of many hued paints. However, as I stepped back and looked again at the painting, the individual colours all swirled together in graceful curls and I could actually feel the glowing haze of the English fog.

Like Monet, I am fascinated with flowers and the natural world, but unlike Monet, regrettably, I cannot paint. I have tried to recreate his play on light, colour and texture in my macro photography work by utilising a very shallow depth of field and harnessing the natural, ambient light to diffuse the colours into a soft, surreal, scape with only a small area of sharp detail to provide a focal point for the eye. However, it is a constant learning process and I have much yet to explore.

If you have not already discovered the magnificent breadth of Monet's work, I urge you to do some exploring at your local library or art gallery, and perhaps even take a trip to the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris where a set of Claude Monet's large canvases depicting water lilies are displayed on the walls of two oval rooms that are completely covered by the works, allowing the unique experience of being incapsulated by the nature that inspired Monet.

"Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand it as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love." ~ Claude Monet

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fascinating Reflections

People are always captivated by reflections and none more so than photographers. Using reflections in photography can produce beautiful images with stunning and artistic impact. The use of reflected light vastly improves both the quantity and quality of the available light and is an effective way to capture diffused light, usually the most sought after light in photography.

As a photographer, I have always been captivated by water. The many ways in which light plays with water, reflecting colours, accentuating textures and highlighting movement, provide endless artistic opportunities for the fine art photographer.

Along the Esplanade

Water is most reflective when the sun is low in the sky, early in the morning just after dawn, or late in the afternoon until twilight. Exploring the line where water and land meet can inspire some of the most beautiful images where the colours in the sky melt into their reflections in the water. Sometimes when water is still, it is a mirror, reflecting a perfect image of the subject. Other times, when there is movement across the water, the resulting distorted reflections have an almost surreal feel, providing the viewer with an added dimension to the image.

Where the Sky meets the Ocean

Reflections in the glass walls and windows of buildings also inspire stunning images showing two aspects of reality at the same time. I love the juxtaposition of the old and new where intricate old buildings are shown reflected in the mirrored exteriors of modern skyscrapers.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Reflections of London

Many wonderful images are possible in the most unlikely and ordinary places. It's just keeping an eye out for the extraordinary play of light on the ordinary surfaces all around us.

Reflections of Indianapolis

Pelican & Yacht sharing the Creek

Friday, April 9, 2010

University ... or not?

I have a daughter who has just started studying Medicine at University. She has known with a certainty for at least the last two years that she wanted to be an Emergency Physician. She has already found that although she is passionate about the human side of medicine, she does not particularly enjoy the focus on straight science during the first few years of study. Thankfully she is good at science and the clear vision she has of her future is what will keep her plugged in during the seven long years of study.

My second daughter finishes her 12 years of schooling at the end of this year and has no real idea of what she wants to do once she leaves school. She has always hated the confines of the four walls of a classroom and felt that there was so much wasted time in the school day. I have felt almost as though I have dragged her through school right from the first day when she cried and cried when I left her with all the other 5 year olds but greeted me later with a huge grin and the words,"Great, I never have to come back here. All they do is teach you to read and write, both of which I can already do, so there is absolutely no reason to come back!" She is a free spirit who loves animals and children and is happiest when she is caring for a rescued duckling or out in the paddock on the back of her horse. Yet, everyone expects her to go to University next year. I am not so sure.

Some people are lucky enough to know what they want to do early in life. My youngest daughter at 14 years old knows that she will be a 'famous cellist'. She has been certain of this since she first pulled the bow across the strings at the age of 9 years. It is all she wants to do and nothing anyone says will change her mind. She has her path mapped out and is aiming to audition for a scholarship to study performance music at Julliard, New York City or Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester once she completes her schooling. She has music in her soul and I know she will not be happy unless her life is music. She is very gifted, very passionate, and very determined. Perhaps she will make it. She is already well on the way in her mind!

Though these lucky few know what they were born to do, the majority of young people are like my second daughter and have great difficulty in putting their strengths to useful purpose. University does not always provide a solution. Unless the subject of their learning is close to their heart, it might be better to find a job doing something they like and do their learning in the workplace. And if that includes University down the track, then it will be something they choose to do rather than studying for the sake of studying or because they are trying to fulfil others expectations for them.

Lanterns at Seville University, Spain

Learning is on-going and life-long. In many situations what we need to know, we learn as the need arises. This can be much better motivation for study than just learning what the syllabus requires before we even get to the job or position we are studying for.
Some wise words on the subject from Confucius ~ "Some are born with knowledge, some derive it from study, and some acquire it only after a painful realization of their ignorance. But the knowledge being possessed, it comes to the same thing. Some study with a natural ease, some from a desire for advantages, and some by strenuous effort. But the achievement being made, it comes to the same thing." 

Saturday, April 3, 2010

We are all connected ~ I am because you are

Over this Easter break I have been thinking about how the whole world celebrates certain special days every year, and how on those few days we are all connected for a short time. We all too often think of ourselves as being individuals, separate from each other, and of having complete autonomy over what we think and do - and yet everything we think and do has an effect on others. We are in fact all connected, simply by being human.

Evening stroll in Shanghai

Africans call this concept of interconnectedness - 'Ubuntu', which has its origins in the Bantu languages of Southern Africa. There is a Zulu proverb that says, ‘umuntu ungumuntu ngabanye abantu.’ Simply translated, it says: ‘People are people through other people', and it acknowledges both the rights and the responsibilities of each citizen in promoting individual and societal wellbeing.

Street in New York City

Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains it in the following way: "One of the sayings in our country is 'Ubuntu' - the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity. A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed."

Saint Mark's Square ~ Venice

There is a spiritual as well as practical dimension to 'Ubuntu', reflecting the idea that we are all part of a long chain of human experience or universal consciousness, connecting us to previous and future generations. 

Spanish Steps ~ Rome

Imagine what we could do if the power of 'Ubuntu' were to be universally harnassed - this simple concept has the awesome potential to bring about harmony in our chaotic world. All it needs to start is for us, as individuals, to accept our interconnectedness with the billions of other human beings who share our planet.
I am because you are!

Commuters ~ Hong Kong