Monday 27 February 2017

Exploring Castleton With Mary Oliver

“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it…”
- excerpt from “Don’t Hesitate”
by Mary Oliver

“…all the while I am thinking of the gift
of my seventy-some years and how I would
also if I could carry a message of thanks
to the doors of the clouds.”
- excerpt from “Lark Ascending”
by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver, whose praises I have sung before in this blog, is an American poet who has the access code to my soul. Born in 1935, she is wise and worldly and wonderful. I fell in love with her when I read her advice to people who are grieving: “It is better for the heart to break than not to break.” I was grieving at the time, and her words calmed me.

Earlier this month, I read her 2010 book of poetry, Swan (Beacon Press, Boston), from which the two excerpts above are drawn. As always when I read Mary Oliver, I slowed my reading down, the better to savour and absorb.

Mary Oliver helps me age.

Joining Mary Oliver on my list of favoured people is my friend Lindi. Her blog, Ancestral Roofs (link), celebrates “the built heritage of Ontario.” Witty and erudite, the blog is an excellent read. Mind you, Lindi could make sleeping snails sound interesting, but I digress.

Recently, Lindi posted a blog entry about Purdy’s Mills – now The Mill at Piper Creek – in Castleton, just north of Colborne and Highway 401 in Northumberland County. I had never visited Castleton before, and my curiosity was piqued, so off I went last Wednesday to check out the village and mill for myself.

Tying all this together: as I wandered around Castleton, Mary Oliver’s thoughts and spirit kept me company. Her gentle, loving explorations of the ordinary seemed to fit the village perfectly. It was a grey day, the snow was melting, and winter’s hidden detritus was re-emerging. The village was not yet ready for tourists, which is one of the reasons why I liked it. No doubt, spring will bring out brooms and brushes, but for now, Castleton is happy just being itself. Praise be. I plan to return in the warmer weather, but I can’t imagine that I will enjoy it more than I did last week.

The photos below are an evocation of Castleton and Mary Oliver. And my dear friend Lindi. Thanks to all three.

Monday 20 February 2017

You Can Never Trust A Photo!

“Photoshop is not a verb – it is a noun.
It is a means to an end, not the end itself.”
- Vincent Versace, American Photographer

Late each spring, Toronto comes alive with a celebration of photography: the annual Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival. Brilliant, exhausting, provocative, inspiring, infuriating, and back to brilliant. It’s a marquee event on my calendar.

One of the highlights last year was “Cutline: The Photography Archives of The Globe and Mail”. Located in The Globe and Mail’s old press hall on Front Street West, the exhibit featured a wide selection of images from The Globe’s photo archives. It marked the end of an era: the building was scheduled for demolition, and The Globe’s photo archives were being donated to the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Read more about the exhibit here.

Looking at these photos was mesmerizing, but what astounded me most about them – most recorded long before digital photography and tools such as Photoshop came along – was the amount of manual (occasionally ham-fisted) changes that were made to the photos. One photo in particular, the 1956 “Paper rolls in the press room” (see above link) showed two young people looking up at huge rolls of newsprint in The Globe’s press room. Except…the figures of the two young people had been cut from another photo and glued onto the photo of the newsprint rolls. The photo that was printed in The Globe certainly looked like those two youngsters were standing in the press room, but, no, it was a fake photo. An innocent variation on fake news, I guess.

My point is this: when I hear people moaning away about how Photoshop has ruined photography and made it impossible to ‘trust’ a photo anymore, I laugh and say that you’ve NEVER been able to trust a photo! Ever since the invention of photography, photos have been altered to suit various agendas. The Soviets were masters of it in the Cold War. And check out the story of the famous Cottingley Fairies in the 1920s here.

Which brings me to the Photoshop workshop I took on Saturday at the Spark Box Studio (link) near Picton. Organized by the Baxter Arts Centre in Bloomfield (link) and the Baxter Studio School (link), the course was an excellent overview of this incredibly powerful photo editing program. Kyle, our instructor, certainly knew his stuff and helped me boost my editing skills.

I’ve been using Photoshop seriously for about eighteen months. Here’s an early example of my work. The first photo shows the arrival of the annual Canadian Pacific Holiday train in Belleville in November, 2015.

Next is a photo I recorded about five minutes before the train arrived.

Finally, here’s the combined image, showing the train heading towards the unwise boy who is not paying attention to the oncoming train…except it’s a fake.

The arrival of our basset hound, Edna, in late November, 2015, provided me with a great opportunity to build my Photoshop skills. Here’s a selection of the images I created for Facebook featuring Edna travelling the globe…and beyond. Some of the editing is crude, but gradually my skills have improved.

I hope you enjoy these images, but I’m pretty sure you can’t trust them!