What Makes an Image Matter?

The idea of posting new imagery week after week is perplexing. If I’m creating photos for nothing more than aesthetic satisfaction or social media ‘likes’ then what value does my work have? I desire for the materialization of changing reality through my photography. I’m unsure of what that looks like, primarily because I observe it from so many other greats who have come before me and display or share the stories in ways that genuinely brings change to our world. Immediately, I think of Paul Nicklen who has some of the most mesmerizing photographs of wildlife and consequently has made enormous strides in various conservation efforts.

Of course, I don't expect my work to reach the masses to the extent he does but I can't help but contemplate the insanity of repetitions when my work is currently lacking the motivation to insue action. You might be thinking that in order to make a change one needs to have patience and continually be in pursuit of the next opportunity. I wouldn't disagree and have convinced myself that every time I post something new. The unrelenting paranoia of meaningless work plagues my self-conscious mind. With all this said, the image below of the barn is my most viewed and ‘liked’ piece of work ever and I never would have guessed.

It’s a photo of a barn. I can't say I had any conservation statement to go along with it or an important cause or message that tied in perfectly to bring people into public action. It is merely a quaint image of rural history with no greater voice or vision for the photograph. This leads me to ask the question of whether or not a story or cause finds the image or the image finds the cause? Possibly it’s both. There is the creative part in me that does enjoy making photos that people find beauty in and I’m always flattered by the compliments. My dilemma is why should people care? I don't think beauty is enough to bring longevity to my work and the way social media is set up, brevity is a drug we yearn for.

This year I need to reconstruct the way I create and share my photographs in order for them to have more of an impact. Which means maybe I shouldn't share a post unless there is a complimentary, significant message. I’ll continue pondering this relationship between mere beauty and utilitarian calls to action through imagery. For now, I hope you enjoy the images below while on the road from Bonnyville to Edmonton.

The Voyage to Spirit Island pt. 2.

Engulfed in nearly complete darkness, I lifted the canoe onto the shore to simply drain it out with the internal plea that this wouldn't be foreshadowing to how the trip would go. Somewhat miffed about the sandy, wet seats, we uncomfortably got situated and kicked off from shore to begin paddling toward Spirit Island.

Overall the canoe ride was quite peaceful. We slowly zig-zagged our way along the perfectly calm water in hopes of not tipping over with our cameras. Since I was in the back, I had the responsibility of steering and all I could do to navigate was keep the faintly lit mountains to our right and left in those general directions. It was probably an hour or two into our ride when we started to notice flashes of light above us. We knew there was a chance for a storm in Jasper but after looking at a few sources we concluded it wouldn’t hit us. Another peculiar characteristic of this lighting is that it was silent and seemingly launching from cloud to cloud rather than towards earth. The flashes would momentarily illuminate our desired path but really just created a more eerie ambience. Total silence, complete darkness, motionless water, and aimless navigation all contributed to the sensory deprivation that could have calmed us to sleep if it weren’t for our monotonous paddling.

We eventually arrived at where we thought Spirit Island should be but really had no idea due to the lack of photons. Partially relieved and entirely exhausted we realized about 1.5 hours remained before sunrise. Unsure of what the area offered in terms of terrain or wildlife we decided to attempt sleeping in the canoe for a while. With ease, I managed to fall asleep as we lulled along in the water. If it wasn’t for the gentle knocking occurring from the canoe nudging the shore I could have slept a while longer. The first time it happened I paddled us out again and fell right back to sleep. Apparently, Elliot had to do the same thing but the third time it was just bright enough for us to see the outline of the trees and a dock. As soon as we glided into the dock I was internally ecstatic, knowing that the light was soon to come and I was about to get the image we put in all the work for.

It quickly grew brighter, which allowed us to start scouting out different compositions in hopes of finding something unique. Considering this is a location with millions of photos acquired while standing on the observation platform it wasn't likely that we were going to achieve anything groundbreaking but the pursuit is my favourite adrenaline rush. The light seemed to be optimal as it lit up the cliff faces in the background. In the one image I found a few rocks with intriguing cracks and used those as a foreground but what I really wanted was some of the warped driftwood off to the right. Unfortunately, the angles just didn't line up even after attempting to make it work for at least 45 minutes. Regardless of the light, we shot an abundance of images and I was just hoping that in my exhaustion I remembered to focus and use acceptable settings. I guess that's for you to judge by looking at the technical aspects of the images, yet I doubt many people actually care about that part and mostly focus on how the photos make them feel.

Feeling is an integral piece of photography and far too often ignored by the photographer in this somewhat technical art form. The magical, nostalgic, nuance, atmospheric sensation you are able to portray in a single frame is only half of the experience. Often photographers miss being aware of the emotions they feel while creating an image. Spirit Island is one of those places where I was nearly brought to tears by how wonderful the scene and experience as a whole was. Increasingly I force myself to make a mental note of how I felt at a location, whether I'm pulled over on the side of the road or have hiked multiple kilometres to a mountain pass, the image should erupt emotion from the viewer. This comes into play immensely when editing because it's at that point I can decide to punch you in the face with excess vibrancy and clarity or decide to have a more muted, soft presentation.

I've somewhat strayed away from the riveting story and fallen into photography philosophy so let's resume. After a certain amount of time you can only shoot so many images of the same tree island so I was looking around for different scenes. While Eliot and I were both walking down the path, in search of a new angle, I saw something emerge from the trees. Usually, I'm stoked to see wildlife but the common trend is that whenever I have my long lens I see nothing and when I don't everything seems to present itself. However, in this situation, I was immediately filled with trepidation because it was a bear! We slowly walked back to the dock where our bear spray was as it sauntered down the path towards us. Our gear was scattered all over so we didn't have time to pack it up but we managed to get the bear spray out and a leg in the canoe right as it reached the front of the dock.

Of course, I have to end it there this week. Thank you so much for reading and come back for the third and final part of our time at Spirit Island. If you're enjoying this story and images it would mean a lot if you could share it to social media or just with a friend. Have a great week!

Angkor Wat, What?.

     From Myanmar we flew to Cambodia where our contact wasn’t able to meet with us last minute so we had to improvise as a team. Fortunately we didn’t let it faze us too much and planned an amazing morning trip to the world famous Angkor Wat! Skimming through all the popular photography websites you’re bound to see the iconic reflection photos with the temple in the background. It has been a while since I’ve browsed the various sites so many of the images had faded from my memory but I still had the iconic scene in my head. The problem I have with going to many of these gorgeous locations is that millions of people before me have stood in the exact same spot and have likely made every single kind of image imaginable! Regardless of this bleak reality, I try to think creatively and push either my post processing or composition in a dynamic way so that my work might stand out. It’s not often that I feel as though I’ve made a unique image but I know that I’ve attempted to push my creativity to he next level. It is this process that I push myself into and often find it pretty uncomfortable to delve into.

     Much like my creative process I want to push myself out of my comfort zone to try to excel in whatever I’m doing at the subsection section of time in my life. Currently I’m unemployed and back home, which leave my mind often infiltrated by ideas of how to afford a wedding and paying off the past 9 months of travel. One of these wild ideas is about to commence this week and hopefully it will succeed so that I can embark on other entrepreneurial pursuits. This being said, I am always open to working a regular job but trying to make it as a photographer, videographer, designer, or micro business owner is far more exhilarating! Some people get a thrill from sky diving, motor sports, or a multitude of other adrenaline injecting activities but selling something I’m passionate about to people who care, is my ecstasy.

     I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this blog and I hope you find enough value in it to simply share it with other people who might also see it’s value. Lastly, keep an eye out to see what sort of products I’ve been making over the past week! 

Old Ways.

     One of our last adventures while Celine was visiting was venturing into a historical part of the city to walk along the cobblestone streets observing the small shops selling their trinkets.  Throughout our walk we shared a lot of laughs and good conversation that I had dearly missed while we were apart. It was so refreshing being together, just the two of us, in a quiet subsection of the bustling chaotic city. After looking around and seeing some of the iconic attractions we decided to go for lunch at a quaint restaurant that cooked local dishes. To say the least, the local dishes, that I’ve had before, were prepared exquisitely this time and really were the best quality I’ve had since arriving here. You might think the photos of Celine are of her drinking nice red wine but it was freshly squeezed pomegranate juice that was equally desirable as the rest of the meal. Part of having the local restaurant experience is that there is a language barrier and to our surprise that glass of juice was quite pricey just as the rest of the meal was (in comparison to other food here), which might explain why it was so delectable.  

     After our lunch we went for a walk down a very modern boardwalk, which seemed to juxtapose the old streets we just came from. In retrospect of this outing I’ve been thinking how the ancient architecture and old style of cooking has been preserved and much like the fundamentals of cooking or architecture our ideologies follow the same suit. As a young person I find myself in constant realization that the generations before me have ideologies and ways of thinking that differ greatly from my own at times. This insight often occurs in times of conflict or disagreement. The scenario is often that I think I know best but the old dogma that another may hold contrasts mine so greatly I become confounded as to how society evolved in such a way to produce two significantly differing thought processes. My conundrum is to know when I should pursue my own understanding, or trust the apparent wisdom of the older person, to ensure success in the situation at hand. As I regularly pray for wisdom I wonder if there is a reason why I have differing thoughts or if they are even valid when put up against the ‘tried and true’ ways of previous generations.

     What are your thoughts on advancing ideologies, not including ones from scientifically proven ones? Have you experienced this situation in the work place or in daily life with family maybe? Let me know how you handled this. Also I’m writing this at a time where I’m not currently directly working with anyone where this is happening. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the photos! They are some of my favorites considering I didn’t go with the intention of shooting photos. 

Tangible VS Digital.

     I realize this is an odd title for a blog post that you’re reading online. It also contains digital images that you’ll probably click through faster than they can load. This all being said I really do have an appreciation for the digitized world but recognize its fragility as well. As some of you know, I just had an external hard drive go corrupt as I was backing up files onto another drive. I realize I should’ve done it weeks ago but I never had another drive to do so. Far too often we can take photos on our phones or cameras or have a digital file of an essay that we spent hours on and then within milliseconds it can be gone. Sure there are file recovery programs but it doesn’t always work and for the case of my hard drive I think that may be the uncomfortable reality. To conclude this micro rant I want to simply encourage you to go through your phone or computer and print out 10 of your favorite photos from the past year. They can be anything; selfies, food pics, memes that made you laugh, or maybe even something sentimental. Simply go to your local photo store and get some inexpensive small prints or check out Posterjack to get some grand high quality wall prints!

     The images below are all from a farm that doesn’t have a problem with digital files being lost because it’s within a culture that’s primarily comprised of tangible things. The old hoe that was probably used for decades before resting to rust, along with the decrepit wagon, or even the sheep and horses are all tangible, physical objects interacting with the people and environment around them day to day. In each of the images I made I saw one reoccurring theme; texture. Everything seemed to be reaching out wanting to tell a story of how it was used and what it observed during its years of decay or growth. After exhausting the barely adequate early morning light I sat down on the hoe to watch the sun rise over the hills and listen to the faint sound of bleating sheep. It was serene. I ran my hand against the subzero rusted metal and couldn’t help but appreciate the senses we have. The cold gritty rust I felt, the earthy brown I saw, the fresh morning dew I smelled, and the sheep I could hear were all like a grand performance coming together. What baffles me is that as enjoyable as that moment was, myself and many of you, I’m sure, often try to dull those senses through media on the endless number of screens we see daily.

     Part of me wishes I didn’t have to stare at a screen for as many hours as I do but I also really appreciate technology and how it provides careers or even saves lives. I want to end with encouraging you to dwell in those fleeting moments when you don’t have a screen in the palm of your hand, or those finite times the power goes out or even when you take the brave step to hit the sleep button on your electronics. Take time to merely think. Thinking truly is an art and I think much of our western culture that has become inundated by screens has lost the art of thinking, or dare I say meditating. I’m trying to make it part of my daily routine and encourage you to join too. 

     This post was ironically inspired by the TV show “Black Mirror,” Chase Jarvis' video "6 Things I Do for a Happy + Productive Day", as well as my hard drive devastatingly crashing with invaluable data on it.