“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
- John Muir
Ballachulish, Scotland. Photograph copyright © Len Metcalf 2019
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
- John Muir
Ballachulish, Scotland. Photograph copyright © Len Metcalf 2019
“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”
- Kahlil Gibran
My first real job was at a tiny magical creative outdoor centre called Chakola. That special place, Derek the Director, the amazing people who worked there and the encounters with thousands of people changed my life. I was young, headstrong and wide eyed, like a dry sponge ready absorb so much knowledge about people. At the time I started, I thought it was about me teaching rock climbing, my passion at the time, but it turned out to ignite my passion for teaching and facilitating groups. Teaching leadership and teamwork, environmental values, art and even teaching people to teach. It was a very special step in my journey.
On the hand drawn map of Chakola there was marked a very magical tree, the ‘hugging tree’. The map was hand drawn and featured many references to Winnie the Poo which was a popular series to read to the young children. Particularly the story about Poo Sticks that always had them giggling at the cheeky innuendo of Christopher Robyn and Winnie the Poo racing poo sticks under the bridge.
Chakola was an outdoor adventure centre that was being run by Derek Lucas in Kangaroo Valley at the time. Thousands of children passed through its doors in a bid to introduce them to life skills and the environment through education in the Australian bush. Outdoor Education became my first real educational speciality.
There were many magical places such as Sacred Gorge and Hidden Valley, which was my favourite. It had a seemingly hidden entrance that was in the middle of a dry piece of Australian bush. We would crawl down a hole and with some scrambling we would come out in a small wonderland of rainforest in a sandstone slot bellow. I must dig up and scan my photography of that spot. Taken well before I understood that photography is about light.
We used to run an activity with the young kids called ‘Xploring’, if my memory serves me correctly. I would take my group of eight to ten year old children out into the bush, and spin a stick, just like spining a roulette wheel, except we would head in the direction of the stick for our exploration. An xpodition if you may. You see a stick has two ends, and I carefully wouldn’t specify which end to follow until I picked the direction that would help our journey. The area was full of cliffs so we would eventually hit the top of one and then follow it along always leading us the the same entrances. The entrances to magical worlds, of dark caves and miniature slot canyons. We would pull a torch out from our pack and start our journey into the unknown bellow. It felt like a true exploration for the kids.
We would always pretend it was the first visit ever into these magical places. No signs of our visits were ever left. We had stories to tell at particular locations, invented by outdoor leaders before us and handed down through a process of apprenticeships.
With these stories and planned discoveries it would be easy to have the children enchanted in the magic of the forest. How special a place it is, how it is full of magic and it’s importance in our lives. We would sit silently and let the magic envelope our whole beings as we listened to Mother Nature that held the space softly all around us. Often lyrebirds would oblige and sing beautiful songs just for us. You could hear the river and the rustle of leaves in the gentle breeze.
We felt connected.
Afterwards we would walk along the river bank and pass the magical hugging tree. It was one particular tree. It was small enough I could put my arms around it, but larger than the arms of the children. The bark was smooth and cuddly. Gentle and almost soft. We would tell the kids that by stopping and giving it a huge long hug filled with love, they would be blessed with good luck provided by the appreaciating tree. That the tree would suck up our negative energy and replace it with positive.
The children one by one would take turns for thier hug. They would close thier eyes and fully embrace that gorgeous tree. You could see them taking a deep breath, sigh with relaxation and a letting go. For a short time the tree embraced them with comfort and love.
Despite what you may believe, I witnessed the power of that tree, of beautiful hugs and hugging trees, hundreds of times over. It was so special and each hug filled with magic. Yes, there were those that didn’t commit to the hug and therefore got little, but that’s life isn’t it. You only get what you put in. Those that put in the biggest hugs got the biggest rewards.
Hugs were special at that place. Very, very special.
I can only guess how many children hugged that tree, hundreds, thousands, perhaps a couple of thousand. It was a tradition, one that had been passed along for years, perhaps twenty or thirty years. I don’t know when it started or when it stopped. I doubt the tradition survives today, or even survived the years the centre specialised in corporate training. But I do hope that tree has, imagine the stories it can tell of the countless people who hugged it.
Hugging Tree, not the original one for me, but one highly suited for a good long hug. Something I still do regularly. The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2019
Trees are the answer to so many questions...
What can I do today to address global climate change? Trees are the best carbon sinks known. Planting helps to reverse our carbon footprint. Reforestation will reverse the changes we have caused.
What is the most comprehensive metaphor for life? The tree of life is as old as our ability to reflect on life. Considered sacred knowledge. What can you learn from trees?
What can I do right now to address my anxiety? Go for a walk in a forest, ground yourself to Mother Earth, take deep breaths of oxygen rich air from the plants, hug a tree and relax. The greener the forest the greater the reward.
Namibian plans. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2019
“The role of art for me is the visualisation of attitude, of the human attitude towards life, towards the world.”
- Josef Albers
For some trees are a fantastic metaphor for life. For others they become a magestic symbol of strength. Yet, for me, they are so much more. They are life. Our lives are so interconnected with them on so many levels. They are our source of fresh air, our nutritients and our food.
How easy is it to forget that the meats we eat all consume plant matter for thier growth. That bread is the seeds from tall grasses. That the overwhelming majority of nutrients we ingest are sourced from the sun via plants. From a tree, wether it’s from a grass, a vegetable or the largest soaring giants of the plant world.
Where is the line between a tree and another plant truely defined? Our scientific classification forces them into boxes. Yet they are all plants that form a complex ecosystem that we are inextricably apart of.
How easy is it for us to forget in our modern world where our foods are processed and packaged for convenience. The connection to thier root source is easily lost. And with that loss is our disconnect from the importance of nature.
I feel blessed to be able to be so connected with trees and thier vital role in our lives. To have increadible empathy towards them is such a special gift. The forests needs more champions to fight for thier plight.
We cant rely on science to save us, we need to wake up and solve our problems ourselves. Trees are our answer. It is so blatantly obvious. It has been for such a long time. When will we truely start. Soon I hope, soon.
The Otways, Victoria. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2019
“Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.”
– Ansel Adams
Reflections. South West Rocks. Abstract Photography Workshop. Photograph copyright © Len Metcalf 2019
“I do what I think best in order to express what I experience in front of nature.”
- Claude Monet
Trees are one of the most important answers to reverse the approaching storm of climate change. While reversing population growth, educating women and moving quickly to renewable green energy sources are key political and social steps, planting trees are an important practical help that is easily accessible to everyone.
Reforestation of the lands we have stripped of them is going to take a huge effort. We have been denuding the forests for too long, totally unaware of the effects. We have stripped whole continents of trees and left deserts and open fields of grass.
Reforestation will return the water and the whole ecosystem we took away. It can be done. What Sebastião Salgado has done with his family shows us clearly the power of planting and reforestation by just a handful of people. “The Salt of the Earth” is a heart wrenching documentary about his journey. It’s amazing what one photographer can do.
But the best thing about planing trees is that it’s accessible to everyone. We can all be apart of planting. Whether it’s taking the carbon offset path when we book a flight or planting in your back yard. Size doesn’t matter, what does is your enjoyment from what you plant and the rich oxygen she will give back to you.
While for me it’s a spiritual connection to the wild forest, for Mother Nature it’s her breath. For humanity the production of oxygen is our life source. We should worship, nurture and fight for every single tree, let alone any surviving standing forests.
Macleay River, near South West Rocks on last years Abstract Photography Workshop. This years one at Port Stephens is starting to fill, http://www.lensschool.com/workshops-tours/abstract-photography-workshop-2019 Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2019
“Photography can never grow up if it imitates some other medium. It has to walk alone; it has to be itself.”
– Berenice Abbott
New Growth at the Blackheath Rhododendron Gardens. Photograph copyright © Len Metcalf 2019
“Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.”
– David Alan Harvey
Every time I visit Cradle Mountain in Tasmania I go and visit this very tree. She’s an old friend now. Each time I photograph her to honour her beauty.
I would love to tell you about the wonderful conversations we have. It is silent, there are no words. Just feelings. Very personal. The conversation is purely emotional. It brings me great peace knowing she is still there. It’s magical. Grounding. Calming. All it takes is for me to take a few moments to connect. Then the conversation just flows gently and easily.
I stop to wonder why she lives in what feels like isolation to me. I wonder if someone planted her.
I adore her shape. Round. Magestic. Graceful. Powerful. Gentle. She has been neatly trimmed by wombats I suspect.
To get her to look this beautiful I lie in a ditch and have my camera as close to the ground as I can get. Every time the grass gets in the way of the perfect composition. Yet, the grass adds something rather special.
It is a wet yet grounding spot to connect so personally with the earth.
I look and think the photograph is the same as last time. But I need to look closer and I can see the changes, and once I really look, there many. It is so different.
She ages of course. With grace. Each year getting wiser and stronger. The longer she lives the more likely she will live to a ripe old age.
It’s the new year and I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of those that tell me how wonderful these inspirations are they are to them. Each one inspires me to continue. To keep writing, of course to keep making art and to keep sharing personal stories from my life. May this year bring you great joys. Many beautiful artworks. Many special experiences. May it be full of peace and calm. Excitement and joy.
With love xxx
Old Friend, Cradle Mountain, Tasmania. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
“In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”
– Alfred Stieglitz
A photograph that is in the exhibition at Leura in the Light and Shadow Gallery with Max Dupain.
The works on exhibition beautifully complement Max’s work. I am proud to hang with such a legend of photography.
The gallery is open today, and then will close for the New Year weekend.
It will open again on the 4th January 2019 and resume its usual opening hours of 11am - 4pm Wednesday to Sunday.
The exhibition will be open for the whole of January, and has been extended from the original 8th January closing date.
King Ferns in the Botanical Gardens in the ACT. Photograph copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
Tim Parkin and Charlotte Britton took me to Scotland for a a night so that they could pick up the keys of thier new home, step inside after exchanging contracts and measure up for new carpets. Basking in the glory of the purchase of your home is very magical. So my second visit to Scotland was a whirlwind. Of course it was on and off again rain, but mainly misty light rain.
After the night in a local bar and hotel, that had crampons and ice axes on the wall and photographs of Chris Bodington on the walls I knew I was in a special place that would always be close to my heart. Glencoe. This would be quite a walk from the Murray Clan lands of my ancestors down nearer to Glasgow at Bothwell Castle.
That morning after a wonderful tour of the property, meeting the previous owner and the neighbor, I was able to photograph their garden and the forest at thier back door.
I had my presentation for the On-Landscape, A Meeting of the Minds Conference, clearly in my mind. I had decided to tackle head on Joe Cornish’s off the cuff remark about not understanding photographers preoccupation with ‘negative space’. I decided to call my talk ‘The Space Between’, where I was aiming to explore the Japanese concept of Ma and the German Gestault concept of Figure / Ground, as this is a key obsession in my own work.
Negative Space was on my mind as I wandered the walk through the lush pine forest.
This photograph was just before I returned to the house after two hours of wandering and photographing. I felt very blessed, being the first knowing that so many photographers who will visit Tim will photograph this very forest. I wondered what others would see.
Tim’s Dream is to build a camera from the wood in his backyard and to photograph the area. I can’t wait to see the results.
I posted this photograph on Facebook and Ann-Marie commented that it was a negative space Christmas tree. She is right, not that I saw it as that when I took it. I was though, very aware of the shape of the space between the trees mirroring thier own shapes. She clearly understands what I was playing with in this artwork.
I hope it brings a smile to you. For those that celebrate Christmas please enjoy my best wishes. Cyan tells me he will have trouble sleeping and will be first up for the gifts. For me it will be with my family.
For those of you that don’t please accept my best wishes for the end of the solstice. The three shortest or longest days in the year.
Scotland Pine Trees. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
“The first time, I usually skim off the outer layer and end up with photographs that are fairly obvious. The second time, I have to look a little deeper. The images get more interesting. The third time it is even more challenging and on each subsequent occasion, the images should get stronger, but it takes more effort to get them.”
– Michael Kenna
I have talked a lot recently about my love affair with Fuber Steps in Katoomba. Revisiting the same spot over and over to explore its many moods and visual delights. I am not sure it gets harder each time though. For me I find something new with each visit.
It’s like discovering something new about a friend. Each time you meet a little bit more detail is gleaned from thier life. Trust grows. You take a bigger risk and share a bit more of yourself to them as you relax in safety. The bond between you grows a little deeper with each meeting.
Then there are the moods that swing in as well. Some days we aren’t as connecting as on others because we have worries and stresses. Perhaps they are in a different mood. It’s not always a smooth graph of growth. It jumps and has it’s good days and not so good ones.
Each time I revisit the same place things are different. The light, the weather, the moisture and my own moods. I react differently to the same place each time. My work grows.
If you haven’t really tried this then I recommend you give it a go. Somewhere you are prepared to get to know better. Or perhaps even a place you already know well. Push yourself past the thought of ‘I have done this’, and seek to find the ‘oh my, I hadn’t noticed that before’.
As it gets harder, try harder. Go at times you haven’t been before. Stay longer. Walk slower. Wander more.
Furber Steps, Katoomba, NSW. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
“Every viewer is going to get a different thing. That's the thing about painting, photography, cinema.”
– David Lynch
We were heading out to the glow worm tunnel. I was with my first Photography Masterclass, well after they had finished thier intensive year studying. Dot, Shirley, Anne and Paul. The mist was thick as we drove along the Newnes Plateau. I drove around a corner and suddenly the forest I had known my whole life was gone.
I was devistating, heart broken and overwhelmed with sadness.
A few photographs came. Not many. Just enough to capture that intense feeling. The other one with the black cockatoo in it is still one of my favourites.
We drove away... The sadness followed me that day as I processed my feelings and thoughts.
Why do I get so upset with the logging of a planted pine forest in a managed state forest. Years later I now get it. Managed is the wrong word. The trees were planted, they grew and then they were removed. The forest stripped bare with no aftercare or management. Left is a wasteland to fend on its own.
What happened to the native species that that were displaced. The soil too acidic to support the regrowth of the original natives. Where did the rest of the eco system go?
Where is the replanting, the reforestation?
They say a sand mine might come. At least Sydney’s second airport didn’t go there.
How has it come to this? A world where we discard our forests and wilderness and continue to use expansion and growth as a mantra to economic success and survival. Yet we all know we are dependent on these places for our fresh air.
We cant continue to expand. We can’t continue at the current population growth. We can’t continue to prop up our economy with growth.
Well, that is what this photograph is to me. It says something different to everyone. That is the thing about art isn’t it.
The other photograph, for those of you that haven’t seen it yet.
Newnes Plateau. Newnes State Forest. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
“Allow yourself the freedom to step away from perfection because it is only then that you can find success.”
– Chase Jarvis
This is one of those photographs that I had to let go a whole lot of perfection emotions so that I could find the space in my heart to eventually love it.
We had driven over the border from NSW heading west from Broken Hill into South Australia. A day trip, driving down unmarked roads. Just exploring. Seeing what we could find. This particular road was virtually unmarked. We bumped into a farmer just before or just after this stop. I have no idea how anyone could possibly work that land. It was so dry and barren. Grazing was probably the only possibility. He was more than happy for us to photograph as long as we stuck to his road and turned around at cattle grid.
I spied this tree and hill out the window as I drove. At one particular point and angle the shape of the hill formed a perfect curve. I could see the picture in my mind. So we turned around and went back for a photographic stop.
The problem is I couldn’t stand in the spot that made the hill a perfect curve. Other bushes either came into the photograph or I ended up in a gully.
This photograph was the best I could do. A photograph with a wavy hill.
Because I had imagined something different, I judged it harshly. Severely. I can even say I disliked it.
I had to let go of my image of perfection and in particular the image I had created in my minds eye. I ended up with something very different.
This is an ongoing lesson for me. One that I regularly revisit. Perfection isn’t something I should chase nor is imagining photographs that may not exist. For if I do, my camera doesn’t come out enough to bring me happiness into my life.
Lone Tree, somewhere in South Australia. Photograph copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
I spend a lot of time talking about this photograph taken in Cradle Mountain, Tasmania in my presentations at camera clubs. It has taught me a lot about photography. It all started when I quickly cropped it square to drop into one of my presentations.
During the presentation at an un named camera club a louder older male in the back corner suggested that it would be better if I chopped off the sky. It pushed a button and I almost snapped. I posed the question about whether it really was appropriate to talk that way to a guest speakers, nor to someone whom hasn’t asked for foto feedback. Is it the usual way club members are given suggestions? Usually, people pick on others for their own self esteem, not really wanting to help the person. If they were coming from a helping perspective they would be structuring thier words in a helpful way rather than one that inflicts pain.
My reaction was latter vindicated by two lovely older ladies who thanked me because that person really did need putting in thier place.
Later I looked at my square cropped image. Hmmmm, yes the balance wasn’t quite right.
Here is his suggested crop.
Unfortunately it changes the feelings of the image for me. That wasn’t right either. This crop may do better in club competitions where impact counts in a judging scenario.
So I went back to my original and it immediately took me back to the intense sadness I felt while taking this photograph and at that spot. That extra sky evoked the sadness I wanted to expresss.
These days when I talk about these images, I make a strong case for shooting in the aspect ratio that I plan to show them in because cropping after the fact changes the feelings for much of my work.
On Monday night I was talking about this image again and someone asked why I was sad for the dead tree.
Because it’s dead is the straight answer. The longer one is about why is it part of a whole stand of dead trees. Where are the new ones growing at its base to replace them.
At first I thought it was die back. Something in the soil. A fungus perhaps that was killing them. Drought perhaps.
Each subsequent visit to Cradle Mountain sees me returning to this tree and this stand to pay my respects and unfortunately I am always overwhelmed by the flush of sadness that flows through me. Five years later and still no trees for regrowth. Still sad. Lonely. Dead.
I visit this skeleton each time I return and pay my respects. I am deeply sorry for what my fellow humans have done, and how selfish we are as a species.
This year it dawned on me that they were a victim of fires. In Tasmania the trees and forest doesn’t regenerate. Not like the Blue Mountains where a fire is the start of new beginnings. In Tasmania the trees die and don’t grow back. It was the burnt branches I stepped on that made me twig to it. They reminded me of the newly burnt forest in the Tarkine I had seen a few years before hand.
I really don’t know what killed this tree or the stand around it. I can only tell you my educated guess.
The original photograph expresses this sadness for me. It’s about the lonely dead tree, not the playful button grass that grows at its base. The tree here isn’t some hero, it’s life was lost, and I am full of sadness for it.
It is a stark reminder for me that climate change is real and that many more trees will be lost in the coming future. We must plant the ones we have cut down to halt the imbalance we have caused with our relentless population growth and reliance on fossil fuels for our modern convenient lives. We need to be planting millions and millions of trees.
Sad dead tree, Cradle Mountain, Tasmania. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
“ I think good dreaming is what leads to good photographs.”
– Wayne Miller
I am definitely a dreamer. Day dreams. Fantasies. Imagining things. Designing things. Drawings and notes of ideas. Hundreds of journals full of them. For me I have had to learn to live with an over abundance of ideas. Can’t possibly do or make all the ideas that flow out of my imagination.
The point is that they keep coming. I enjoy them. Cultivate them, so they keep coming.
Why is that important? Well, they are an expression of creativity and being an artist means being creative as much as possible. Living a creative life.
How can you make your life more creative? Dream is just one way.
The show in Leura continues to do well. Thank you to everyone that has gone and particularly to those of you that have told others (and myself). It’s open again tomorrow though to Sunday 11am - 4pm. I will be there all Sunday too if you want to visit me while I am there. There will be an artist talk on Sunday at two pm. Come and say hello. Light and Shadow Gallery Leura.
Furber Steps. Katoomba. The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
“Photography is a craft. Anyone can learn a craft with normal intelligence and application. To take it beyond the craft is something else. That’s when magic comes in. And I don’t know that there’s any explanation for that.”
– Elliott Erwitt
Its been a hectic week, one of preparations for another exhibition. I don’t know why I end up in last minute shows. I much prefer booking them in a few years in advance with plenty of time to curate them. This one was curated by the gallery director. So hard to let go of that aspect of your work when you spend your life creating meaningful bodies (series) of works. I regularly create images to go into particular series.
Anyway, it’s printed and now at the framers. Am now so glad I didn’t take my usual route of framing them myself. Have even made some greeting cards.
The exhibition is important because I hang with Max Dupain. It is a similar honour as to hanging with Hans Strand and Art Wolfe in Germany at the Art of Wild Gallery. Or in the Museum of Photography in India. To hang with such masters of photography is in itself a huge accolade. Such a boost of self esteem. Am so proud.
Hopefully you can make it. It opens on the 1st December in Leura. My home town. Another little great Omen. Actually Max Dupain lived just down the road in Castlecraig in a Walter Burley Griffin home. Just a few hundred meters away.
1st December - 8th January
Light and Shadow Gallery.
Wednesday to Sunday 11am - 4pm
Shop 2/ 19 Grose Street, Leura 2780, NSW AUSTRALIA
I am going to be in the Gallery on Sunday 16th December if you would like to talk to me personally. I will find some other dates to be there too.
Hopefully visitors will buy some of my work. For that is the ultimate destination of it. Someone’s wall. It is proving to be an art investment.
Narrow Neck is showing there. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
“The harder you work, the luckier you get.”
– Ansel Adams
Exploring trees at Leura Cascades. I was photographing waterfalls, and it wasn’t going as well as I would have liked. Something clicked in my thoughts. Work the trees Len, they are what’s important to you at the moment. They have been for a very long time. For the rest of my mts week I worked trees. Beautiful that they are. So my tree collection keeps growing. Tomorrow I will share my favourite.
Leura Cascades. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
“A river is the only living thing that never dies; there is no force in nature so impressive... it is a symbol of the mystery and beauty of the world.”
~ Charles Whitman
I am in no way convinced that rivers never die. Humans are exceptionally skilled at killing rivers. We suck the life blood out of them to grow our crops and feed our ever growing population. A dead river is an incredibly sad sight and they are becoming far to common. The once science fiction tails of water wars become closer to reality.
I am running a black and white workshop this week. Today’s morning shoot blesses us with a wee drop of moisture and hopefully some more tomorrow. Mist forms over Korowal and teases us with its presence. The warm moist air rises and condenses when it hits the colder air above. A few minutes later it’s gone and hopefully we created something beautiful in its short lived presence.
Today I feel lucky feeling the cool drops of water on my skin. Discussion of drought reminds me of the reality of climate change. I walked past drought relief collection points wondering why we aren’t funding the planting of trees along our barren waterways and raped lands. Where has the big picture planning gone Can no one see where we are dangerously heading. Of course many can, but not enough to make it an economic and political priority. Sigh
The cool rain drops are beautifully refreshing and my thoughts are washed away in yet another search for beauty.
The Lake District, United Kindgom. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
“It should be stressed that when I make an image I don’t consult a mental list: Have I included ambiguity? Is it beautiful? Is it simple enough? Passion and instinct take over and it is only afterwards that I ask why an image worked.”
- David Ward
Passion and instinct… Shoot with feeling… Compose and photograph efficiently and analyise slowly…
Somewhere in Namibia, Our lunch stop in full sun… Luckily not too hot as we were the first tour group of the season for our guide. Can’t wait to get back in 2020 for my Portraits of Namibia Tour (people, animals, places).
Last night I presented on Monochrome Squares at Dee Why RSL for the Camera Club, tonight it will be on Composition at Manly Leagues Camera Club. So I thought I would post a panorama to remind myself I don’t always see the world as square.
Somewhere in Namibia. Photograph copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
“Art is a line around your thoughts.”
- Gustave Klimt
Sunshine caught is some beautiful winter trees along the banks of the Macleay River near South West Rocks. Photograph copyright © Len Metcalf 2018