Experimenting with life

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m experimenting with my camera to encourage me to look at things differently.  Each week I am setting myself a ‘task’ – use only the 28mm lens, take movement photos, only take images of 2- and 3-wheel transport etc.  These experiements teach me more about my camera and lens, teach me about techniques and thinking about what I want each image to be, rather than taking photos of everything that takes my eye.

Have I missed having my ‘walkabout’ 18-270mm with me at times?  Too right.  Do I want to take a different view sometimes?  Yes I do.  But for now the learning is outweighing the missed opportunities.

I’m not only experimenting with my camera and my vision here, I am also experimenting with life.  So many opportunities are outside my windows.  So many paths available for walking.  Right now, I have chosen a path, and set a particular aim.  Once that aim is completed, then the path can veer in any direction and I will experiment with a new world, new ideas, new beginnings.  My current path was a huge veer from the ‘safe’ path of gov’t official, safe job, busy social life, close to family and friends. I learned many many things on that path,  had wonderful experiences but also found areas within myself that were not fulfilled.  The need to experiment grew stronger and stronger until it was an imperative.  So I took the plunge – safely at first, leaving the way open to return to my previous life.  But the more I travelled down the experimental path, the less the previous life fit me.  I finally left it behind althogether, and closed one of the ‘safety’ doors.  Other ‘safety’ doors remain open – family and friends will always be my lifelines, my beacons if and when the new paths become too dark.

What did this experiment teach me? Adaptability, confidence, self-reliance, independence and more about myself.  What will the next path teach me?  I have no idea – but whatever it is, it will be valuable and I will be glad that I experimented with life once more.

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Art is never defect free. Things that are remarkable never meet the spec, because that would make them standardised, not worth talking  about. Seth Godin


I spend so much time trying to create perfect images, perfect articles and am never satisfied with what I have done.  I am delaying sending work to a professor for assessment because I have difficulty in choosing the right images.  The Seth Godin quote pushes me to think about perfection and standardisation.  Yes, I need an understanding of ‘craft’ to make art.  But I also need to know how to break rules, changes the standard and add a whacking great dose of emotion and feeling into my work to turn it into art.


The fear of being laughed at, of seeming inexperienced or unprofessional come in from the other side to push me to follow the rules, to meet the standards set by others for what is ‘good’.  If I stopped allowing those little voices, or the voice from the ‘lizard brain’ that Godin talks about in ‘Linchpin’ to control me, what would happen?


If I spent less time tweaking settings on the camera, playing with Photoshop  and generally trying to create the perfect image, would there be more images?  Would I have more time to be outside with my camera and using it instead of worrying, smoothing out one more bit of skin, adding or subtracting a titch of exposure?


Would I create a whole bunch of useless images?  Too right I would.  But I do that anyway, even with all the fiddling around. Godin reminds us that Picasso created over 1000 paintings, but how many of these do we know?  The paintings we know from any major artist are far fewer than the ones they commenced and tossed out or painted over.  Thrown out not because they weren’t ‘perfect’ but because the emotion and vision weren’t there.


By searching for perfection, I achieve less, I have fewer images and those that exist meet ‘the standard’.  How many of them have the ‘wow’ factor?  How many of them just CANNOT be created by anyone else who followed the same rules I followed?


I’m giving up on ‘perfect’ and going with basic knowledge plus emotion.

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Reflecting on reflections

The excessive increase of anything causes a reaction in the opposite direction.

The one was taken from a boat inside a cave.  The arrows of light pointing in both directions drew me, as did the reflections.  I love reflections  – in mirrors, cars, water, windows.  They provide opportunities for interesting photographs.  The object doubled, distorted or seen from a different perspective creates new ways of looking at it.

There are times when it is hard to see where the reflection ends and the ‘real’ object begins.

This is the reflection of stalactites and mites above, but to me looks like a new cavern has opened up for me to explore.

The reflections give us opportunities to explore alternate realities, parallel universes perhaps.  Then the question becomes – what is real?  Which one is the reflection?  Are the images within us as real as the images external to us?  Are our visions more real than reality? Do our internal visions reflect a deeper and more real view of the world?

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Jane Reichhold

Haiku has always fascinated me as a poetic form.  Such few words, such strong images.  I write poetry, including haiku; I journal, write short stories; write for newspapers and magazines. I teach writing at university level – and yet the ability to create such clarity in two or three lines eludes me.

Is my vision not clear enough? Have I crowded my ideas with too many threads, too much that I want to say?  The words bubble and fall from my pen, leaping out of my mind onto the paper, but without the simplicity and strength that I aim for.

This seems to me to be an echo of my life.  I seek simplicity, peace and serenity. And yet I bounce from one event or group of people to another.  Finding time for meditation or solitude is hard.  My days are filled with people and ‘happenings’ – meetings, competitions, lunches, classes, friends.  I want not to lose any of these – but to stretch time so that I have more space. My days open and close so quickly.  I am afraid without more space and more time, I will look back on my life and see how quickly it also opened and closed.

If my life closes without me being able to clarify and express my vision, is it wasted?  What is the achievement I can look back on?  Family?  True – beautiful daughters living full and interesting lives – but that is their achievement.  Policies written and implemented?  These change with the changes in government.

Then comes a more interesting question.  Do I have to matter?  Do I have to leave behind a legacy?  Is it enough to have just lived a full and interesting life?  My ego says – yes, your vision is important, your voice is important.  My logic (is that my dark side??) says – no, you are one of billions, no more or less.  Your vision is one of billions, your voice is one of billions.  Why do you expect or want to have more voice or more vision expressed than others?

The flower above is wilting. Its brief life is crumpling.  The bud below it opens, showing glory for one or two days before it too disappears into nothing – into my rubbish bin.  These lovely flowers have had a small impact on my life.  I enjoyed their beauty today.  tomorrow unless I look at this image again, they will be completely forgotten. Why should I ask for more?

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At the centre of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.

Lao Tzu

I have been playing with my macro lens lately.  The more I use this lens the more I love the images that finally appear on my computer screen.  This one is of the cut stem of a capsicum. Such an ordinary vegetable, but when we look closely at the intricacies of its construction and see the beauty of its colour and design, then we can appreciate the complexity that surrounds us. Sadly we seldom look so closely at the ordinary things around us, and so we miss all of this beauty and design.

I am on holidays for a few days and enjoying myself reading and playing with my images.  One of the books I am reading is “Creative Composition” by Harold Davis. This books has some inspirational images and useful advice on composition.  In one section, he speaks about using a Zen perspective as a way of seeing the world.  The images illustrating that section were beautiful, and I wondered if perhaps this would be useful to adopt to improve my images.

Then I began to wonder – do I need a specific perspective to focus my images or my thoughts?  I already have an understanding of miksang and wabi-sabi which seem aligned to the way I view the world and my photography.  Do I need a more structured way of looking at the world?  If so, is this THE one?

The more I considered it, the more I felt that it would be easy to be a follower of a ‘method’, be it spiritual, philosophical or intellectual.  Methods give us structure and rules and analytical tools; design ideas and processes – all good things if I want to improve my images.  However, the more I thought about being a ‘follower’, the less happy I became with the idea.  I have escaped structures and constraints in other areas of my life, why, in this creative area would I now voluntarily adopt any one method?

My vision comes from my experiences, my readings, my writings, understanding about the world around me.  Looking at the intricacy of a simple stem shows me how much complexity there is in the world.  With that level of complexity, I felt I needed to have no limits on the ways in which I view the world or express my vision.

Yes, that means I will chase off down this path, be side-tracked into that perspective and drift seemingly aimlessly. With every new book I read or experience I have I will incorporate something of that into myself and into my work.   But without this openness to information, experience and understanding, then I will limit my experiences and understanding.  If I channel all my new ideas and experiences through the filter of Zen or formalism ,or deconstructionism or….  Will I lose some of the richness that the idea or experience gives me?

If I stay open, willing to be diverted into many paths, willing to explore and  enjoy the complexity of life, then my knowledge of myself grows. I will have the answers at the centre of my being.

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Regaining peace

Peace can be reached through meditation on the knowledge which dreams give. Peace can also be reached through concentration upon that which is dearest to the heart.  Patanjali.

Today I felt frazzled, I could only focus my thoughts on how much I had to do in the next week or so, and I had no ability to be really present.  I hate feeling like this. It annoys me and frustrates me.  It is wasted time.  I wanted my peace of mind back, and I wanted it NOW! But the more peace of mind is desired, the less it comes – the focus remains on the lack of peace.  I wanted to be able to write, to think clearly, be thoughtful and to be creative… but it wasn’t about to happen with me sitting there fussing over it.

I needed to do something to break the frustration so that I could change my state  of mind.  Are states of mind changeable? Yes – they are totally within our own power to manage.  If I choose to be happy and at peace, then that is what will happen.  If I choose to be angry and frustrated with the world, then merely by concentrating on the things that annoy me, I can make myself more and more angry.  The more I concentrate on the bad, the worse the world becomes.  The more I concentrate on the good, the more of it I find.

So today, to break this cycle within my head I used the bouquets of flowers given to me as gifts to try to see into the heart of life, to find the beauty and peace within nature.  I took my macro lens, my gorilla pod and started taking close-up images of the flowers.  The concentration on them, the focus on placement to see what lies beneath the obvious beauty of a flower took my mind into calm and peace.  I needed absolute stillness to create sharp images, I needed a steadiness of hand to focus accurately.

Looking carefully into the heart of a flower took away my breath with its intricacy. I found the striking likeness to the human heart in the stigma of an oriental lily, the softness of aging skin in the petals of a gladioli and the almost maternal  protection provided to buds by leaves and sepals. When I uploaded the images, I was happy.  The flowers lit up my monitor and showed me an inner world.

My love of photography, my desire to see the connections between all living things and the innate beauty calmed me, gave my mind the peace and serenity I craved. Now I could do the things I needed to do.

Knowing that I have the power to change my mind state also means knowing that if I do not use this power, I am choosing to be angry, frustrated, hurt, annoyed, hurtful, nasty – and whatever other emotions float around.  This means that I cannot blame my emotions or my bad moods on others.  I have to take responsibility for them – and for the actions and words I use when I choose to remain in that state.  This is not a happy thought.  It is so much better to be able to blame others;  ‘she made me so angry’,  ‘he pushed my buttons’.  Our dark side wishes to be absolved of this responsibility.  It is not me but the other who made me.

Religions use this process as well.  “The devil made me do it’ “God can stop me from doing this again’.  This externalisation of responsibility is one of the bete noirs of our individual development and of our society’s development as a whole.  If we can find others to blame, we have no need to change and even better, we have no need to even look to see if our behaviour had some culpability in the process.

Taking responsibility for our thoughts and emotions is hard.

All that we are is a result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become. Buddha

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Looking for beauty

The taint of age can be very beautiful. The wreckage of man-made objects is something more beautiful than the new. Rust and weathering adds a patina of . . . well, I call it ‘elegant shit’ or ‘elegant gorp’. – Brett Weston

Searching for beauty is instinctive.  We look for beauty in men and women because they signal healthy breeding processes for the survival of our species. Beauty in nature attracts insects to fertilise flowers and create new life.  Majestic mountains and serene landscapes have been painted and photographed over and over, their beauty inspiring us and being transferred around the world in images that we label as beautiful.

But for me there is equal beauty in the imperfect, the old, the forgotten and the dying.  In these things I feel as if I can find deeper meanings.  The immediate attraction of overt beauty is not there, so I must look further to find value and meaning.

In judging people we have been told so often about books and their covers that we almost never say we want a beautiful or handsome partner.  We talk instead about other qualities – warmth, compassion, sense of humour etc.  But these qualities take longer to manifest, our first attraction is to symmetry, health and beauty.   Often ‘less-then-perfect’ people are unconsciously rejected from our choices, no matter how much we deny this ‘shallowness’ within ourselves.

Unless we are antiques experts, we rarely see beauty in old ‘stuff’.  It’s an old cup, with faded painting and perhaps some crazing on it.  Where is the beauty?  Even more rarely do we see the beauty in bent and broken  items.  They are for the rubbish pile.

But if we slow our judgment processes, we can see beyond the lack of perfection, beyond the cracks and dents.  We can see into the humanity of a person, we can find the history of use for things, imagine the history that has caused the breaks and twists.  Old and dying flowers or trees speak of regeneration in other forms.  Wrinkled faces and hands tell many stories of love and work.

When my camera takes me for a walk, I frequently focus on the obvious beauty of a garden first, but soon I am drawn to the flowers past their prime.  Their shapes are less predictable, their colours softer and their positioning speaks to me of death within life, of regeneration within death.  Walking in industrial areas creates the chance to explore human dreams and their implementation, and the effects those dreams have on the earth.  Debris, pollution, emptied streams  … none of these things are seen as beautiful, but the shapes and forms they create, the colours of rust and metal, the shine of oiled mud, these all have a beauty within themselves.

A deeper part of this beauty is that they force us to examine what we are doing to the world around us.  Dead trees at the edge of a once healthy lake engage and revolt us simultaneously.  Their stark beauty captures our lens, their origin our minds.

This ‘elegant gorp’ has more messages for us and more meaning than simple beauty.

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Influences or plagiarism?

The Reader

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.” – Confucius

My passion for photography has increased over the past 7 years.  I no longer leave my home without carrying at least one camera.  My eyes are continually drawn to things to photograph.  Street photography, landscapes, macros, architecture – there is just so much to photograph, so much that speaks to me of the connections between people and people, between people and their world and my connection to the world.  I have thousands of photographs, not all categorised yet, not all worked on yet, but waiting for me.

As I upload new photos I am cataloguing them with keywords and at the same time setting myself the task of doing the same with one or two batches of the older photos.  From this I can see that themes are emerging.  Clearly I ‘see’ the same issues, the same interests in many places and they call to me to record them. They fit in with my vision of the world.

In the last 6 months I have begun to look at other photographers blogs as well, and am frequently inspired by their wonderful images and ideas for collating those images.  If I have noticed a theme running through my recording of the world around me and then I see that theme made alive in a collection by another photographer, am I plagiarising or being influenced?

One particular series that concerns me now is the wonderful series by Steve McCurry .  His ‘sleeping’ and ‘readers’ series resonates strongly with me because I have so many images of people sleeping and reading in interesting places.  These have been collected over a number of years, and labelled under ‘daily life’.  If I re-arrange them now into those specific areas because I recognise the clear connections – am I cheating??  They are by no means the same images, but by re-collating them, do I run the risk of ‘stealing’ creativity?

If I read a romance novel and write one later, have I stolen the concept of ‘love’, of boy meets girl, lovers have difficulties, lovers reunite and live happily ever after?  Or have I recognised the universality of the theme and interpreted it with my vision?

I have been developing a list of projects I want to eventually put together, when I find more images that fit, and in the meantime, I keep finding more ideas, and the more I read in books, magazines and on the web, the richer my ideas become, and together they will merge with my vision to create something unique.

I want to acknowledge the influences, but not plagiarise.

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Seeing what we see

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.

Jonathan Swift

What do we see as we move through this world?  Each of us will see the same molecules and atoms but we will ‘see’ them differently.  Above is merely a piece of  root from an Australian eucalyptus tree.  The tree has been logged, dragged from the ground, the valuable parts harvested, and this root remnant left sitting in a paddock.  Just a bit of dead wood.

And yet for me, its form was suggestive of an animal feeding, its colouring and shape reminded me of visits to the museum to see dinosaur mockups .  I ‘saw’ it, not with factual eyes, but with eyes attuned to forms and shadows, shapes and light.

As photographers we see the world and interpret it through our visions and ways of seeing.  As people we do the same.  We look at the world and the people in it from our own perspectives, and interpret from our own internal visions.  These visions are wholly personal, and rarely factual.

I can present my vision to others, show them why I ‘see’ this object/person/concept this or that way.  But I cannot expect my interpretation to be accepted as truth.  And in turn, others cannot expect me to accept their vision and interpretation as ‘truth’.  We can only present, not demand; share, not impose.

There is nothing true anywhere, The true is nowhere to be seen; If you say you see the true, This seeing is not the true one.

Abraham Lincoln

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Music and the Monk

I’ve been reading two of Galen Rowell’s books recently.  Both talk about what makes a photograph powerful, because what the eye sees is NOT what the camera records, either in content or colour.  And – with apologies to Mr Rowell – the simple answer is a powerful image connects to a vision within the photographer and the viewer.

I take many photographs as often as possible.  Is it possible to have this much vision, covering such a wide range of things to focus on?  I look over my photographs and they cover a broad range of subjects.  Landscapes and people, macros of flowers and rust, natural and man-made.  Sky and pollution.

Is there a connecting vision that makes my photography a ‘whole’ in some way?  Does there need to be?  I believe that Galen Rowell would answer  ‘Yes’  –  that if I want my images to touch someone, then yes – there has to be a vision that I am pre-visualising, seeing in the view-finder and then taking.

So in looking through my images, I began to ask what it was that I wanted my photographs to express, what I wanted others to see when they looked at one of my images.  How can I relate my street photos of a sea of umbrellas with rusting car bodies, birds with beggars, flowers with bridges?

Finally I realised that my internal vision was the connection.  And that vision is my belief that everything in the universe is connected, that everything shares the same atoms and molecules, whether man-made or natural, whether developing or decaying. Finding ourselves within everything else is important to me, seeing the connections between monks in remote monasteries and office-slaves in cities; the inner heart of flowers and rusting nails. These all say to me in one way or another that everything holds the essence of everything else within it.  I hold the seeds of beauty and decay, of construction and destruction and particularly, that I have connections with each person on earth, I am within them and they within me.

As I see through the view-finder I am in that contemplative, meditative process that connects me – miksang.

if I can express this connection between ourselves and everything else, then I feel that I have created a powerful image.

This is the vision I look for as I raise my camera.

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