Newsletter #170: July, 2019
© Chris Harris. All rights reserved.
This is my 170th consecutive monthly photographic newsletter. Enjoy!
1. Self-imposed Limitations
2. The Beach at Orlebar Point
3. The Malaspina Gallery: Layers of observation
4. Seeing in Black and White
5. Evening Light in the Gallery
6. The Ebb and Flow of Life
A Self-directed Artist Residency, Part I
“A desire to see more”
In 2018, I began to seek out new avenues of visual inquiry; new modes of expression. What and where was I going to photograph, I wondered. It was then I became aware of websites which offered artist residencies around the world. The idea appealed to me; to find a place that truly resonated, to go there for an extended period of time, and to challenge myself visually. I wanted to break through as many visual barriers as possible. I wanted to see deeply and perceive the richness in all forms of life; richness that we so easily pass by in our rush-a day life.
On an overcast day in April, while walking along a beach on Gabriola Island with friend Dennis Ducklow, I felt an emotional tug. That evening I proclaimed to Dennis, that I was going to return to this very spot and do a self-directed ‘artist residency’. I was so excited, and soon booked an AirB&B.
My cozy AirB&B home. Perfect!
For the two months prior to arriving, I racked my brain for a visual plan. No ideas came to mind, and eventually I said, “great”; that’s the plan. No plan! I just came to see where seeing would take me.
I purposely took different routes to my shooting destination
Going slowly and observing was my only requisite.
Much like an archaeologist, I wanted to explore deeper layers of observation. To do this, I limited myself to two small areas to photograph for the entire 17 days. One was a 300-meter strip of beach near Orlebar Point, and the other was a 500-meter strip of beach around Malaspina Point. This location included a sandstone cavern which has been carved by surf and salt.
The Beach at Orlebar Point
I came here most days but always at different times of the day. Unlike being in the mountains where I have mostly photographed for the past 35 years, the foreground landscape by the ocean changed constantly with the tide. It was so dynamic; the light, the weather, the turbulence of waves, and the ever-changing tide-line, stimulated a new and different enthusiasm for landscape photography. I felt I wanted to come here every night for the rest of my life!
In retrospect, what I found interesting in my approach to photographing this beach, was that my expression was purely representational; never once did I lean toward Expressionism or Abstraction.
The Malaspina Beach
Responding to the elements of this beach resulted in a completely different approach. Rarely did I look out to sea; instead, I looked inward, both physically and emotionally.
The elements of this beach seemed more complex. My response was visual minimalism. Within the convolution of seaweeds and boulders, I searched for simplicity in line, shape, colour, texture, and areas of contrast.
The Malaspina Gallery: Layers of observation
The eroded cavern on the south side of the point is known as the Malaspina Gallery. Here the network of small cavities known as ‘honeycomb’ are most likely formed by a salt-weathering process. It became a fascinating place to observe my layers of observation.
The ever-changing colour of the sea made for a beautiful backdrop to the ‘honeycomb’ sandstone
Whenever I entered the Gallery, I was overtaken by the strongest desire to communicate through the language of pattern and visual design; what is usually referred to by photographers as composition.
I had to contain my excitement as I used my tripod to slow myself down; paying utmost attention to the juxtaposition of every element.
After 3 or 4 days of coming to the same place to photograph, I always wondered, would I see anything new? When would I hit a visual dead end?
I refused to give in to that thought. I continuously returned, and I was always rewarded by seeing what I had never noticed before.
It was during this experience that I became aware of the many layers of observation. Just as there are always more words to express ourselves verbally, there are always more visual elements by which to express ourselves as visual communicators. There is always more to see.
Also, of interest, you will note that every image in the above series of six, is composed of layers. Maybe majoring in archaeology was finally being put to good use; carefully digging through layers of observation!
In retrospect, this experience in the Malaspina Gallery made me realize how quickly we move from subject to subject as photographers, and how little we actually see of each.
Seeing in Black and White
I enjoy visualizing the world as black and white because it takes me away from reality, providing greater opportunities of expressive interpretation.
I find textures often appear more exciting in black and white, so in the above image I tilted my camera upwards to capture a highly textured sky.
Here I tilted my camera downwards because in simple compositions, tonal contrast becomes much stronger.
To fully take advantage of both simplicity and contrast, I used a 400mm lens and made a double exposure of the spit of land on the upper right side of the above image. The abstract below is the new expression.
Evening Light in the Gallery
I sometimes visited the Gallery near sunset to catch the evening light. One evening the cavern and surrounding water lit up with the warmth of a cozy cabin. Here are three images I made that evening.
The Ebb and Flow of Life
Over the past 35 years while photographing in the Chilcotin mountains, I never saw more than 5 people other than those in my own party of explorers. On Gabriola Island, I was surrounded by a vast ebb and flow of life, all enjoying the natural world in their own way.
While I remained focused on my work, I enjoyed observing all that was happening around me. I interacted with many which provided perspective and context to my self-imposed assignment. The following images provide an insight into that ebb and flow.
At high tide, teenagers jump from above the cavern roof
Paddle boarding at sunset with a well-behaved companion
A BC ferry passes by the Entrance Island lighthouse
Unlike my book assignments, I came to Gabriola with no visual plan. I came in search of something; I might say I came in search of nothing, but found everything. I just let my inner-self be the guide.
After several days, ‘nothing’ began to take shape; a visual narrative began to unfold. After 10 days, I looked back at my images and saw insights into subject matter, light, perspectives, and styles of image making. Not only had I gained a new Sense of Place in British Columbia, I had gained a new sense of who I was becoming as a photographer.
I also realized how photography helps me live a more observant, meaningful, and rewarding life. I was acquiring a Sense of Place, a Sense of Self, and a Sense of Artistic Expression. Through photography I was becoming an artist.
I’m excited, and I sense more ‘artist residencies’ coming soon!
A Self-directed Artist Residency, Part II