Life’s a Blur

planter, blur

Summer Planter

I have a dilemma. My camera is not working properly and a new one is not yet in the budget. I don’t know what to do – try to get it repaired, start setting aside money for the newer version or even more for a better version. When I’m in this liminal space, I need to let things sit for awhile and wait for the right answer to come. I don’t have any big trips coming up and I still have my iPhone. Life is good.

My camera still operates, but I can’t change the aperture. Having limitations is a great way to spark creativity, so I planned a photo walk with my camera and a 50 mm lens. With the camera on automatic, the aperture was stuck at f/1.4, wide open, so very shallow depth of field. I turned on manual focus and dialled it all the way in for extreme closeups. When the lens was pointed towards the big picture landscape, scenes appeared in the viewfinder as a total blur.

I was seeing impressions of spring.


blur, queen street

Queen Street Corner

Abstract impressions can be created by going in close or through intentional camera movement or blur. With these impressions, details are lost and the focus becomes colour and texture, shapes and lines. It’s a different way of seeing. It’s a way to play and break the “rule” of having everything in sharp focus. Life is a blur, after all.
lake, impressions

Lake Ontario Impression

This is one of the many exercises we do in the Going Abstract workshop, which will be offered again this November. See more impressionistic images using blur and intentional camera movement on Flickr.

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Leap into the Void

Leap into the Void

Today, I was reading an essay by Rebecca Solnit from her book, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, where she tells about the artist, Yves Klein, shown taking a leap in the photograph above.

It’s a startling image, taken in 1960. Solnit says that it was one document of a larger piece of work, “an artwork that was too remote, too ephemeral, too personal to be seen otherwise, an artwork that could not be exhibited and would otherwise be lost, so the photograph stands in for it.”

Klein did leap but there were trampolines underneath to catch his fall. Photographs were spliced together to remove the trampolines and create this image.

Klein was known for his exploration of the void, as well as his blue paintings. He painted globes and maps of the world entirely blue to take away any divisions between land, sky, and water, not to mention countries.

This reminded me of one of my favourite short essays of all time by Donella Meadows, Lines in the Mind, Not in the World (please read). The maps we create on paper are not the actual territory. The lines we create to separate ourselves from others are only of our own making. They don’t exist, except in our minds.

I then thought of John Lennon’s song, Imagine – no heaven or  hell, no countries, no possessions. You may say that I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.

Yves Klein, Donella Meadows, and John Lennon were people who took leaps.

What if we were to imagine, just for one day, the world we inhabit as one big country with no lines?

Imagine a world where we were all responsible for doing our part in such a way that everyone and everything would thrive. Imagine everything having equal status, yet different abilities and purposes. It would be up to us to respond in each moment to what’s right in front of us, the best way that we can.

It’s been only a few days since the tragic events in Orlando, Florida that left 50 dead and many more injured, the largest mass shooting in American history. People everywhere are still reeling from the senselessness of it all.

At times like these, the problems in our world seem so large. And, they are. Yet, there are things we can do, one small step (or leap) at a time. Here are a few ways to start. Pick one or develop your own.

1. Treat everyone you come into contact with today with the utmost respect and kindness. Notice if any of these lines – gender, age, race, nationality, status, occupation, perceived religion, political persuasion, or sexual orientation – come up for you. See every person as a child would. Imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes. See their heart. Imagine their life. If they are doing something for you, say thank you. Or, just say hello and smile. Really see them.

2. Observe carefully an animal or plant that inhabits your space. Notice their size, colour, texture, shape, and behaviours. Imagine what their life is like, not from a human point of view but from their point of view. What do they contribute to the whole? Be grateful.

3. While driving or walking, be aware of the ground beneath your feet. Imagine what it’s like to be a road or a sidewalk or a lawn, not from a human point of view but from their point of view. Imagine being trod on all day and the different weather conditions they experience. Notice the wear and tear they endure. What are they contributing to the whole and to you? Be grateful.

Contemplative photography is about taking off the labels and judgments we put on things. It’s about seeing life as it is in the moment and responding accordingly.

A good contemplative exercise for photographers is to see everything as a worthy subject. Notice what attracts your attention and don’t dismiss or reject anything. As a matter of fact, pay particular attention to those things that you would normally dismiss. Photograph those.

How does this practice open up your world? How does it change your experience and, consequently, how others experience you? Every small step, every leap, makes a difference, whether we can see it or not.

We can imagine our way into a world where there is more love by acting as if it’s already here.


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Peony Love – Let Me Count the Ways

peony bud

Here I Come

An important exercise on perspective that I often give in my workshops is to spend time observing a subject and then take a minimum of 24 frames, the idea being that there are an infinite number of ways of seeing something.

Some possibilities we can’t see until we start, but if we stick with it, moving past the point of boredom, we will find something new.

At this time of year in my part of the world, there are many pictures online of flowers blooming. How many ways can there be to photograph a flower? This post was inspired by Anne McKinnell (How to Photograph Flowers), who was in turn inspired by Alex Wild (One Flower 16 Ways)

I decided to photograph a single peony flower in at least 16 ways. I started last week when I photographed the bud that you see above. It was the one in my peony bushes that I knew would bloom first. Then, I was out of town for four days and came back to find the bushes in full bloom. That first peony bloom was already past its peak.
peony lit up

peony perspectives
I’ve been having some trouble with my camera recently, and when I went out to photograph the flower, I couldn’t change the aperture. This limitation forced me to move around more. Finally, I gave up on my camera and got my iPhone. At one point, I used the slow shutter app on the phone.
peony wind-blown
The photographs, when seen together, do show the many different ways we can show a single subject.
peony partial

peony from above

I hope you’ll try this with your favourite flower.

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