Creative Challenges

Every now and then I like to set myself a creative challenge. I should disclose that these challenges are seldom well-thought out, but tend to be based on a suggestion picked up from elsewhere or a random thought which seems like a really good idea. From this somewhat vague beginning I’m off on a journey which may last mere moments or months, depending on the situation.

Recently I attended a workshop on taking photos with a smart phone. It is easy to take for granted the ease and speed at which such photos can be taken then mentally discarded or left to take up space in the cloud – quite a contrast to what was involved in taking and printing a photo previously. Now instant gratification of the impulse to record a moment is within our grasp, but I was interested to learn a bit more about framing a shot and to work on quality rather than quantity.

The course was informative and interactive, and also provided insight into some of the many tools available these days to tweak shots and highlight aspects of a photo. It created a heightened sense of awareness too – on a brisk walk into Blackheath at lunchtime I felt as though there were photo opportunities everywhere. And what better way to embed these skills than to take some photos. Perhaps every day for the month of May. This was decided on 30 April, the day that I completed the course.

Early on in May I was blessed with some stunning sunsets and one morning, whilst thinking about some issue at work, I passed a beautifully painted doorway that I’d not noticed before. Even in a distracted state it seems my mind was scouting about for photo opportunities. But what occurred to me on reflection was that this collection of moments is as much about what isn’t captured as it is about what can be contained in the briefest wink of time.

There were the stunning palettes of sunsets that changed incrementally with silent grandeur when I took the time to be still and admire them. And the graceful dance of autumn leaves eddying this way and that, a meandering waltz towards the earth. The bare branches reaching skywards, as if with outstretched arms waiting for a cloak of spring leaves and blossoms. Or the clarity of the night sky, and the gradual progress of the moon.

It isn’t always possible to capture a moment that seems to hum portentously, nor should it be. Often it is enough to simply experience it, for the moment to leave the lightest of impressions on our minds, something to be called upon and reimagined as required. A perpetual reminder to be present when you can, to be ready for the delights and surprises that await your attention.

[Photo: frost on leaves spotted during a morning walk]

 

A Convict in the Family: Links Across Generations

Echoes of history are evident in the travelling exhibition A Convict in the Family, currently on display at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. This exhibition from Sydney Living Museums features photographs of the descendants of convicts, usually in their own home, with items symbolising their ancestor’s crime.

The crimes that resulted in the life changing act of transportation are varied, and it is sometimes bewildering to see modern representations of these thefts. A retired academic sits at a kitchen table, looking directly at the camera, with a single gold ring representing his ancestor’s crime. Clothing was a popular item for theft, with coats, dresses and handkerchiefs featuring in several photographs, along with lace. Lots of lace. But not all crimes involved property, such as the convict transported for vagrancy.

In some of the photographs there are interesting links between the convicts and their descendants. The occupations of the descendants vary, but performing arts and public servants feature quite a bit. One of the descendants of James Ruse is included; Ruse was transported for breaking and entering, and was given an early land grant and the opportunity to establish a productive farm. His successful efforts were rewarded with additional land grants, and his legacy is noted in the photo above, taken on the Parramatta River. The excerpt is taken from his gravestone, which he partly carved before his death:

MY MOTHER REREAD ME TENDERELY WITH ME SHE TOCK MUCH PAINES AND WHEN I ARIVED IN THIS COELNEY I SOWD THE FORST GRAIN

This exhibition made me think deeper about these unconventional beginnings of European settlement in Australia, not least of all because like many other Australians I have a convict or two in my family tree. Theft of jewellery, a steel watch chain, a single handkerchief (valued at three shillings) and a wicker basket with nine pecks of beans – all of these crimes were serious enough to ensure a trip across the seas.

There is a link to a summary of the exhibition here, including an interview with photographer Mine Konakci. The importance of understanding your past in order to have a stronger sense of belonging is evident throughout the exhibition. The video interview includes many of the photographs and is well worth a view.

Do you have a convict in your family tree?

[Photo: taken on Parramatta River, Parramatta]

Micro and Macro Moments

I tend to go through phases where a thought or idea settles upon me like a fine mist; light yet with a perceptible weight. A recent thought has been about the small moments or phrases in writing that can represent much more than a handful of words otherwise might.It is the challenge of reflecting something much bigger in a concise manner.

The example I had in mind came from a short story that I wrote a few years back. It is the story of a man who is down on his luck due to either behaving badly, or spinning enough of a yarn to give the impression that something inappropriate had happened. A line towards the end reads: ‘He could smell her skin, the coarse soap scent of her.’ Reading this line years after writing it, I can still conjure up the image of a woman on an isolated property, surrounded by too much space and sheep and loneliness until the swarm of shearers arrive.

In all likelihood this line has resonance only for me, but it comes at a time when I am interested in detail. Today I went along to a photography exhibit at the Blue Mountains Heritage Centre at Blackheath. It was called Moments in Nature (from the Macro to the Majestic) and it featured the work of three local photographers: Jenny Gill, Sue Wildman and Shelley Oliver. The photos included a wide array of exquisite, close-up shots of insects, plants and a stunning spider web after a storm, as well as magnificent sunsets and sunrises, locally and further afield. Highlights included ‘Taking a Break’ featuring five zebra finches on a branch by Sue Wildman and ‘Held Safe’ by Shelley Oliver, which captured the image of a stone Buddha’s head entwined within the roots of a tree. Jenny Gill’s macro images of star fish fungi and the cavity of a sea urchin provided a different perspective.

It reminded me that there are benefits in both approaches; the broad, overarching perspective as well as the very small, detailed viewpoint. To rebalance myself I headed to the end of the road and lost myself for a while in the wonder of the Govett’s Leap lookout.

Govett's Leap, Blackheath

Govett’s Leap, Blackheath

What do you do to regain a sense of perspective in your creative life?

[Photo: insect up close, spotted in Sydney]