Karlu Karlu

“Build pockets of stillness into your life. Meditate. Go for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations. Without this essential stage of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken.

Most important, sleep. Besides being the greatest creative aphrodisiac, sleep also affects our every waking moment, dictates our social rhythm, and even mediates our negative moods. Be as religious and disciplined about your sleep as you are about your work. We tend to wear our ability to get by on little sleep as some sort of badge of honor that validates our work ethic. But what it really is is a profound failure of self-respect and of priorities. What could possibly be more important than your health and your sanity, from which all else springs?”

- Maria Popova


This photograph was a breakthrough.   A personal milestone in new asthetics. 

Cyan was seven weeks old as we returned from our year in Darwin to return to the Blue Mountains to be closer to family.  We missed dad though.  He passed when Cyan was two weeks old, and they never met.  I love to believe that a bit of Murray is in Cyan.  Every so often my son reminds me of my father.  It’s so beautiful. 

Driving down the centre of Australia was an experience.  Even though we were taking our time it was too fast.  Each evening I would disappear for an hour or two of golden light and photograph.   

With only one session at these beautiful rocks I was overwhelmed trying to photograph it.  The better photographs came after the light faded, golden colours retreating, and I finally relax and see. 

When I try too hard nothing much happens, because I am not really present. It’s much easier to be present, for me, in less iconic locations.  It’s too easy to get sucked into the bigger picture and the icon itself.

Recently, I took my own advice, and started back on my tree project and presence washed over me with ease.  So to avoid the mundane image snapped, work on something specific.

So why is this photograph a milestone for me?  Surely you can see in this 13 year old photograph plenty of ‘Len’. It’s lenitive, as Tash likes to say, meaning ‘to soften and to soothe.’  Taken on film with my beautiful view camera, the now sold Ebony 45SU.  A camera I miss, yet I don’t long to use it again. 

Well, the milestone is subtle. It’s the moving grass.  At the time the wind picked up as soon as the last direct rays of light subsided.  The desert wind wouldn’t be still enough for my long exposure.   I was so disappointed after taking it, thinking how Gaia’s breath had taken something away from my work. 

Years later I printed this image. As per usual it went to my wall for contemplating its asthetic value.  A simple answer to a simple question. “Well, Len?”  Hmmmmmmm. Time passes. It comes to me easily.  “Yes I do”.

My disliking for the breath of wind turns out to be the magical ingredient that elevates this photograph for me. It is the defining photograph, the one that shows to me that subject movement can be a thing of beauty.  The only other moving subject until this was water. 

My idol, Peter Dombrovskis, always had still subjects. Seemingly happy to wait for the perfect moment to capture stillness.  Actually, he rarely waited long, for he believed that there would be something special to photograph wherever he was when the light and conditions were perfect again. 

So Gaia’s breath of gentle wind was actually my blessing. 

It has taken years to fully embrace this idea that beauty isn’t just in the stillness I imagined. Yes, stillness is important, just as movement is also important. Movement has its own beauty.   A freedom, a sense of new. Exploring.

I love them both equally. 

I get to return there next month.    I wonder what I will see and what I will create?  What an exciting thing to look forward too.

Karlu Karlu, the Devils Marbles, Central Australia.  Photograph and text copyright  © Len Metcalf 2019



Artist | Writer | Photographer | Educator | Adventurer