Saturday, November 12, 2011

Learning to See (Part 5)

In the process of learning to see, ordinary days and ordinary events can often take on a significance that is, to say the least, surprising, if not profound, but certainly extraordinary in their connection. Today is such an ordinary day.
The first event was a simple question posted on a blog.
" Where is your next big travel trip?"

Simple enough inquiry, but the implications in the particular context was that one needs to travel to photograph; to find new destinations, grandeous scenery, interesting people, places of beauty, the obligatory sunset or sunrise on a new and more exciting horizon, captivating architecture or the progression of interesting and dramatic lives and events other than those that fill our own seemingly mundane existence. We need the imagery of the imaginary, the visual spectacle of the spectacular; we need to see and record what we don't have or pay homage to the representation of what we do have: the landscape.

The travelling photographer is armed with a vision we envy. He brings us a world out of reach to many. Like The Grand Tour we plan our lives, in part, to fulfil the dream and return with the booty of other places, neatly parcelled in a digital slide show which will be presented to friends and family on our return.
"See where I have been," and we will sit in amazement at the splendor and beauty of it all.

The second event was as ordinary as the first.
Over the past few weeks I have been teaching my grand-daughter to drive. On the morning of her driving test I accompanied her to the testing station. We had a calming coffee in the local shopping centre beforehand, then she left me in the car park while she went for the test.

As always I had a camera with me. My thoughts went back to the question: "Where is your next big trip?" For me, this was it! Standing alone in a strange carpark in a 'foreign' land. My thoughts begun to shift from the ordinariness of the surrounding (after all, there is nothing unusual about a car park surrounded by offices and shop fronts) to the extra-ordinariness of the place in which I have found myself.

People going about their business, cars coming and going, conversations barely audible over the traffic, trade noises eminating from a shop front, machinery humming away in the background, distant sounds blending into city's white noise. I began to notice the shapes and forms occupying the space: colours blending, shadow and light interacting, textures and tones giving visual life to this inner space buried deep inside the city in which I had spent a good part of my adult life. And somehow I'd missed it.

I raised the camera to my eye and started framing and shooting. Each click of the shutter was, at that time, recording the truth, a beauty that can only be seen from where I stood, not only in locality but in time; my time.

My time to this point was filled with assumptions and stories, memories and recall, words, poetry, events, imagery of my past. I could here my father describing a Rembrant, my mother reading from a Bronte novel, my physics teacher describing the magnetic field of a dipole (whatever that is), my sister reciting a rhyme, Christine re-affirming her love for me. All this guided me to frame within the lanscape.

The present was where I found myself, standing in a carpark, waiting for my grand-dauhter, and the taking of photographs became a verification of who I am and what I can see. "I am here. See this picture. That's what I saw. I exist and the landscape exists at the same time" It seemed a strange place to be, as if I was a time traveller and I was recording this simple landscape to take into the future where I could once more travel back and revisit.

But unlike the painter who composes the lanscape from bits and pieces, my landscape was there in all its 'glory'. My task was to select those bits that play some significance in my view of life. Not what is beautiful but what is true - for me. Beauty would follow.

While standing in the middle of the road framing one of many shots I took that morning, drifting blissfully through my own world, a gentleman approached from the curb.
"What are you photographing?' he asked sincerely.
" The truth" I responded, only after the shutter hand been pressed and I was happy I had captured it as I saw it.
"I used to photograph rock art" he added, with some trepidation, moving back to the curb and seeking safety from the traffic and me.

Everyone has a vision of the truth. We can all find it and photograph it as we see it. When that is done, the beauty will be revealed. Finding your truth may be closer than you think.


  1. Tom, once again I find myself moved and inspired. It's not just a single photograph you've shared here today, they are all brilliant and each could stand alone on its own as a true work of art. It's not just the words and thoughts you share, they are all profound and really do leave me with a deeper sense I know more about myself, you and the world we live in. It's how they all come together and leave me sitting in the front room of my house in deafening silence, taking in the lesson as a whole I have found within your work.

    I would love nothing more than to pour a couple glasses of something to enjoy and imbibe, and sit back for a few hours with you here and talk about what this all means. What an astonishing piece, my friend.

  2. Very nice post! It's nice to be reminded we don't need to leave home to photograph the beauty and inspirations all around us! Love that last shot!!!