Tag Archive: possibility

“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.


Beauty 2

They’re pylons, generally seen as excrescences on our landscape, marching across hills, through farmlands, carving their way into wilderness.  Not seen as beautiful – necessary, ugly, perhaps dangerous with their radiation.  Visual pollution.

These pylons in Guangdong have been beautified – given multi-coloured coats of paint.  Why?  Does it change their essential starkness?  Someone, somewhere, thought that even this sign of modernity could be made more beautiful.  And in doing so, gave a little light relief to travellers on a long road trip, maybe changed the perspective of some.  Someone cared enough to spend money on painting pylons.

This caring, this expenditure, says something important.  Even the ugly, the plain, the utilitarian, can be given a coat of beauty.  And in doing so, greater beauty is created.  The spirit that created this idea is seen.  The essence of the object is changed. Possibilities have been seen.

What else can make these objects beautiful?

Their role in our lives.  Our perceptions. Carrying power to remote areas, giving light and heat to houses, generating power for industries that help feed workers and their families.  The promise of  future work or comfort for rural dwellers.

Even if these robotic soldiers of progress can despoil our landscapes, their lines of connection have to be eradicated from so many images, they pose danger if misused; they still have a beauty in strength, promise and use.  Someone somewhere saw this, wanted to change our perspective, wanted to create beauty from utility.

Looking at ugly, plain, utilitarian, practical with other eyes can show us a different beauty.


“The greatest danger, that of losing one’s own self, may pass off quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, that of an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc., is sure to be noticed.”

Soren Kierkegaard

As a photographer I am conscious of framing.  I look for natural frames, for delineations, for that ‘golden mean’ and I think about how things will be framed on my computer or on a wall.  These frames are used to define and separate.  I use them to make clear my vision for a particular image – this is not that, it does not merge into the other, it is separate and therefore clear. It has boundaries and clarity.

As people, how do we frame ourselves? Do we create clear frames around ourselves and our vision?

My weakness is not establishing these ‘frames’ to delineate me.  As a partner it is too easy for me to submerge myself within the ‘other’.  I call it ‘making the relationship work’, but in reality it is a loss of self, a denial of my value within the partnership.  As a mother, my body  became not my own, but an incubator for the life of another, then after birth, a source of nourishment dedicated physically to another.  At work, I worked within a system that required times and plans and set communication processes; later I became a repository for others weaknesses and fears, helping them clarify their lives.

These all demands I accepted, believing that this was my role in life, my work.  In that process I began to lose the framing that made me ‘me’ and not the other.

As children we are taught to put ourselves last, to care for others, to be considerate and thoughtful.  We are taught to fit in, to conform, not to stand out for fear of ridicule.  Rarely do our parents teach us to put our own needs first, our own self ahead of others – it would be rude and selfish.  So how and when do we start to learn about creating boundaries for ourselves?

For me, this is the most difficult lesson to learn.  I can frame and re-frame things to create difference and separation for others and in my images.  But making myself clear and distinct, my vision clearly expressed… these are the hard parts.

I need to find the parts of me that are me, and separate them from ‘other’.  ‘Other’ is not just people, but expectations, societal obligations and norms.  Some of these are so deeply ingrained that I am not sure if they are ‘me’ or ‘other’.  Separating these parts is a process of analysis, of examining each belief, thought and action to see where, why, how I decide to do or not do, be or not be.

The cost of not doing this sad, and sometimes, destructive work is the loss of me, the loss of self.  I would be just an anonymous undifferentiated  cell, not respected, not valued, merely useful.  Is this enough?

No, I will keep working, keeping framing.

Meaning and creation

Our obligation is to give meaning to life and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life.  Elie Wiesel

Creating an image is easy – just point and shoot, paint or write.  But will such an image speak to others?  Will it speak to or for us? Unless we see the meaning in our images, then they can neither speak for us or to us.  We must see a meaning before we create the image or it becomes pixels on a page.

What does this image mean to me?  I have no idea of the relationship between the couple – are they married? Neighbours? Siblings or cousins? Old friends?  I don’t know.  Are they talking deeply about philosophy or chatting about the effect of the weather on their yaks? Again, I don’t know.

Therefore I have to create the meaning for myself.  What attracted me enough about this couple to take the photo?  The intensity of their conversation.  Clearly these are not strangers, circling each other to find common ground.  Their body language speaks of a closer relationship.  For me they seem to have created a space around themselves to have this discussion. Whatever the conversation, it has an importance to them.  And so, I feel the importance of this exchange, even if I do not understand it.  I can relate to it in remembering similar conversations I have had.  So – we have a connection of sorts.

The weathered faces also speak to me of a difficult life, endured and survived.  My life has not been as physically difficult as theirs, but I can relate to parts of their lives, from my childhood, from being a parent, from surviving my own difficulties. Again, I can see connections between their lives and mine.

When they see me with my camera, do they see connections between us?  Probably not.  They see a stranger, someone from a  world unlike theirs.  But if we were to sit and talk, we could establish those connections. We could establish common ground over family, over food, over difficulties we have met and managed.

But for now, to give my image meaning, I have to imagine those connections, create them, give this couple a story that may or may not be true.  If I can create the image effectively I may be able to pass my connections and understandings on to those who look at this image.  Will they see the human connections between themselves and this couple?  How can I create meaning for others from this image?  How can I make the human linkages clear?  If I can create meaning in this image, then I have managed to move my images from the passive and indifferent, to the meaningful and connected.

Tunnel Vision

From Xi’an to Tianshui there are 36 tunnels, ranging from 100m to 12 290 m long.  The journey through the tunnel interrupts reading, or seeing the countryside.  Our eyes become focused on the lines, the lights and looking for the end of the tunnel.  When we reach that end the world changes.  We’ve traversed from one side of the mountain to the other, new vistas open before us – or another tunnel.

If we stop looking for the end of the tunnel and focus on the tunnel itself, then we can see other things.  Each 20m on the right hand side has a box fire fighting equipment; about 1/4 the length of the tunnel is a pedestrian escape tunnel, and at 20m intervals there are lit signs directing which way to travel – forward or back – to the nearest exit.  half-way along there is a car exit, into the tunnel beside.

The long tunnels have air movers on the roof to take away the build-up of exhaust gases.  The longest tunnel had a section growing plants under artificial lights.

All of this thought and technology goes into building tunnels, and yet all we want to do is be out and on the other side of them, looking for the new vista, the new experience, out of the dark, away from limited vision, leaving the old behind.  We don’t realise the importance of the tunnel, the things it can teach us and show us if we look.

I see this much the same in our lives.  We hit bad periods, dark tunnels in our life, where we feel closed in, lose our creativity or inspiration, bad things happen to us, we can’t see ahead of us and all we want is for the dark to go away, for a new life to appear before us.  We want this tunnel to end NOW.

But working our way through that tunnel is important.  Looking for what it can teach us or show us is important.  If we focus on the end of the tunnel, then we miss what the dimmer light can show us, we learn nothing about the construction of the tunnel or the reasons for the things within it.

Without the tunnels we would be slowly edging our way round the edges of mountains.  The tunnels take us to the same place more quickly, more directly.  We may need to suffer through the dark lengths of them, but the emergence into the bright light energises again.

The tunnels will finish, we will arrive at the destination and we will have learned more about the tunnels we must pass through.

Looking for the possible

When this plate of food was presented to me, I thought the black strips were nori, or seaweed.  But, the taste was very different and I had to ask.  Walnut flowers, I was told.  The hills behind the restaurant grow wild walnuts and the flowers are used for food. The walnuts are used as walnuts, and the shells are carved into intricate shapes and made into vases and bowls.  Everything can be used.

I would not have considered eating walnut flowers before.  The possibility never occurred to me.  How do we know what is possible, how do we find the possible?

I seem to spend so much time looking for the impossible.  I look for perfection in myself, for achievement in all areas, to please others, to … the list is endless.

But how often do I stop to see what I already have that is possible, that I can achieve, but have never thought about?  These things are already there – just waiting for us to see them, to realise they can be used, or can be part of our achievement or growth.

How do we see them?  How did the first person to eat walnut flowers ‘see’ them?   We need to look carefully around us, or inside ourselves to see what is already there, waiting to be used.  What experiences and knowledge do we have that can be used to add to our growth?  What skills and talents have we neglected because for some reason we – or others – thought they weren’t useful?

When we test these possibilities, we may find some do not work, but others will work and they will encourage and inspire us to keep testing these new possibilities.

Walnut flowers taste good.