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!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Everyone needs a place of solace

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and souls alike.”

These words were written in 1901 by American wilderness explorer and influential environmentalist John Muir, one of the first advocates for the conservation of the earth’s natural resources.

A self-described student of nature, Muir’s absolute love of the wonders of nature inspired his devotion to the conservation and preservation of wilderness areas. 

In his elegant prose, he summed up his argument for the preservation of the forests with these words: 
“The battle we have fought, and are still fighting for the forests is part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong, and we cannot expect to see the end of it . . . So we must count on watching and striving for these trees, and should always be glad to find anything so surely good and noble to strive for.”

It is a truism that the simplest things in life often make us the happiest. 
John Muir believed that in every walk with nature, we receive far more than we could ever seek.

I too believe that ...
Each time I venture out into a garden or park, walk alongside the river or on the ocean shore, wander through the mangroves or rainforest, or just sit on the wooden bench beside my magnolia tree – in fact anywhere where I am surrounded by the soothing green hues of nature - I can literally feel the stress and tension dissolving and I always emerge with an overriding sense of peace.

One morning last week my good friend Lyn and I decided to escape the stresses of our currently chaotic lives for a quiet, soothing few hours of photography at Nielsen’s Native Nursery in Springwood. We left bright and early, cameras in tow, confident that the drenching rains from the night before were well and truly over.

However, this is Australia and it seems we have, quite deservedly, attained a reputation for wild and unpredictable weather patterns this summer, culminating in devastating floods throughout most of Queensland over the past couple of months! Needless to say, by the time we arrived at our destination the rain was absolutely bucketing down and looking as though it had no intention of easing!

We waited for a while in the car for the rain to abate, then decided to dash into the undercover café for a hot breakfast while we considered our alternatives.

Breakfast was divine! We sat in the café looking out over a rainbow of flowering native trees and bushes, savouring our morning expresso and eggs and bacon and listening to the joyful music of the rain on the roof. 

As the rain eased to a light sprinkle, an inquisitive water dragon posed very conveniently on the edge of the waterfall in the pond beside the cafe, inviting us to take his portrait.

The showers continued all morning, but we managed to dash out during the breaks to photograph the magnificent native plants as well as a few exquisite water lilies and some vividly patterned tropical fish in the aquarium.

I love the way gardens like this link us to the earth and connect us with the simple pleasures of nature.

Whether it is a tiny potted garden on the balcony of a high-rise apartment, a small green corner at a shopping mall, a suburban park filled with ancient shady trees, or the huge green expanse of a national wildlife park, being exposed to the beauty of nature and the natural cycle of life, death and rebirth fulfills and inspires humanity in a way that nothing else can.

It is almost as if we are witnessing the divine act of creation taking place each time we see a tiny bud unfold slowly into a glorious flower.

Or glimpse the perfection of raindrops lined up along the edges of the red rose’s petals like a priceless diamond necklace.

Or breathe in the distinctive scent of the magnificent Eucalyptus trees with their silvery grey leaves and the strange pink blossoms that symbolize Australia so very eloquently.

Or experience the heart-warming feelings of sweet anticipation and old-fashioned goodness that wash over me when I see the aptly-named Nodding Violets hanging their heads from their slender green stems and the pretty pastel hued Hydrangea blooms.

Or stop and study the delicate wings of finest porcelain belonging to the tiny angels masquerading as white Peace Lilies.

Wandering through the plant lined avenues of the nursery with the scents of the many native flowers mingling and floating on the rain-filled air ...

... accompanied by the screeching of the flamboyant Rainbow Lorikeets sampling the sweet nectar in the smorgasboard of native Grevillea varieties in flower ...

... and that absolutely unbelievable brilliant green hue that provided a perfect backdrop to everything we photographed ...

... I knew that this would be one of those special times that hovers in our hearts for a long, long time, giving us a place of solace to retreat to when life gets stressful.

All images in this blog post were taken at Nielsens Native Nursery on 16 February 2011. Thank you to the staff of the Cafe for the wonderful breakfast and for minding our camera bags while we wandered around having so much fun!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Supreme Moment

“In every piece of work beauty is achieved through the convergence of numerous factors brought into union under the rules of due proportion and harmony.”

And so it is with photography. It is the interplay between many factors, such as light, shadow, time of day, season, colours, framing and expression, plus the unique way in which the photographer perceives what lies within his/her viewfinder that must all come together to produce the raw material for an outstanding image.

And then, there is that one moment in time when the shutter must be depressed to move the image from ordinary to creatively brilliant!

Plutarch, in his epic work ‘Moralia’, states: “In all works of art, beauty is, so to speak, the product of a large quantity of numbers that achieve a single ‘kairos’ by means of a system of proportion and harmony.”

‘Kairos’ is the ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment – the supreme moment in time – and there is nothing in this world that does not have its supreme moment.

Finding and communicating that moment is what all artists strive for.

French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson discovered this early on in his brilliant career as a photojournalist. Considered a national treasure by France, he became one of the finest and most eminent photographers of our time.

His extraordinary black and white photographs are shaped by a passionately empathetic eye and an intelligent mind that unerringly focused on the very heart of his subject.

“Inside movement there is a moment at which the elements in motion are in balance,” Cartier-Bresson wrote. “Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it.”

“Photography is not like painting,” he said in a 1957 interview with the Washington Post. “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative.”

How do we recognize when that moment occurs?
How do we achieve that brilliance in our work?

It seems that it is not something that can be taught. It exists in the photographer’s mind, and like the sweet spot in the tennis player’s racquet, once you discover it, it will catapult your work into another dimension.

As with everything of an artistic nature, finding the supreme moment is a combination of constant practice and experimentation.

Great photographers always say that they tend to take pictures all the time, that their camera accompanies them everywhere, and that they are most comfortable looking at the world through a viewfinder.

This continual practice develops an intuitive muscle memory, much the same as perfecting a technique on a musical instrument, which enables the development of extremely fast reflexes both physically and mentally. After many, many hours, it seems everything comes together and you stop asking yourself if now is the time to press the shutter. You just know it is!

Taking pictures of anything and everything has always been something I have enjoyed doing. Even now, I continue to find photography so incredibly exciting and rewarding.

It has shown me things beyond my imagination, revealing to me the incredible beauty, mystery, power, strangeness and diversity that is life. 

Photography has introduced me to another world, a world that I know I will spend the rest of my life in, chasing those elusive supreme moments that Cartier-Bresson seemed to capture so easily. 

All photographs in this blog were taken yesterday afternoon at the Roma Street Parklands, an area that is in the process of recovering from the devastating floods that inundated Brisbane a month ago. I am continually amazed at how fast Nature can bounce back. Many floral displays were damaged or destroyed but everywhere I walked yesterday, there was new growth and regeneration.