“Tell your own story, and you will be interesting.”
- Louise Bourgeois
Ant on snow gum. Snowy Mountains. Photograph copyright © Len Metcalf 2019
“Tell your own story, and you will be interesting.”
- Louise Bourgeois
Ant on snow gum. Snowy Mountains. Photograph copyright © Len Metcalf 2019
“Light is my inspiration, my paint and brush. It is as vital as the model herself. Profoundly significant, it caresses the essential superlative curves and lines. Light I acknowledge as the energy upon which all life on this planet depends.”
- Ruth Bernhard
During the summer break Cyan and I did a four day walk at the top of Australia. We walked a bit on track and most off track. We camped very high with majestic views out from our very tent door.
We got into some peak bagging. Which in the past I have often joked about as ‘Peak Bragging’. The basic idea is you summit lots of mountains just because you can. So later you can brag about it.
We actually got 11 peaks. Not all named. But in doing so we ticked off the following named ones:
It was something very special to do with my son. He enthusiastically joined me in the challenge and being younger and fitter than me easily kept up with my slow pace. It really was another dry run for our Cradle Mountain walk this July. Carrying similar loads of cold and wet weather gear, alpine tent and stoves.
Cyan romped it in. His dream to walk to Lake St Clair from Cradle Mountain is now only months away. Nearly two years ago he rang me from Cradle Mountain to ask me if we could do that walk. Well. We are finally ready. And we will do an early winter traverse before the snow sets in. I can’t wait. The ferry is booked and we are going. Just a few more things to buy in preparation.
I used to bushwalk with my father. In fact they were my first walks. We didn’t do many multi day walks so the ones we did do are very very special to me. I only can wish we did more.
The accompaning photograph today is from this trip in January with my son. The view from the tent. Well almost. You know me, a few extra meters to get a better shot.
Looking west from the main range Kosciuszko National Park. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2019
“I often think of my work as visual haiku. It is an attempt to evoke and suggest through as few elements as possible rather than to describe with tremendous detail.”
– Michael Kenna
Cyan and I are walking into the wilderness this Sunday for a couple of days. Getting in some bushwalking practice for our trip in July this year in Tasmania. If there is some reception there may be a post or two. Don’t be surprised if there isn’t a few for a few days. I don’t think I have walked the main range since I was twenty. I first walked there as a teenager. Will be nice to return.
Snowgum and snow. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2019
“Look at lots of exhibitions and books, and don't get hung up on cameras and technical things. Photography is about images.”
– Fay Godwin
Will be at Light and Shadow Gallery today. Please drop in and say hello. Here’s the blurb from the gallery newsletter.
“Len's exhibition commenced several weeks ago and visitors have been appreciative of his images. They are sensitive, intimate and sensual images of landscapes, still life and nudes taken by an experienced and sensitive photographer witth a nuanced eye for light and composition. Len is primarily a teacher of digital photography and I can imagine just how good a teacher and mentor he would be. As usual I curated the exhibition and I believe this is one of the best exhibitions so far in the Gallery. His exhibition is up until mid January so please come along to the LS Gallery in the next month.
Masters talk this Sunday 16th December
Interested in taking better photos? Want some tips to create an outstanding print? If yes then come along to listen to how its done by the experts this Sunday 16 December at the Gallery.
1.00 The Magic of Black & White Photography - Len Metcalf discusses key ingredients in creating a successful monochrome photograph. He takes you through capture to print.
1:30 The Fine Art Nude - Len Metcalf talks about his search for beauty and meaning in his work with the human figure. He discusses his philosophy and what he saying with his work. Len talks briefly about the processes involved when working with a nude figure.
2:00 The Technique of Photographic 'Painting' - local photographer Peter Damo talks about why and how he creates his encaptivating and multi-layered prints in which up to ten images are superimposed to create an ambiguous, challenging image”
- From the Gallery newsletter
Thredbo River, Photograph copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
“Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs”
- Ansel Adams.
I want t trust photography but I know I can’t.
I do tend to trust photography but I know I shouldn’t.
I want photographers to tell me rather than to mislead me. To me it feels like lying when I am lead to trust a photograph to find out later I can’t.
We miss so much context when we view photography on the internet. It’s no different to texting jokes. We need to explicitly tell people we are making a joke in a text because we don’t have the other visual clues to pick up on. The wink, the smile. So we include them in our messages to make up for that shortfall. With our photography we need the same clarity attached to the work.
Do you still believe in photographs?
Snowy Mountains, Kosciuszko National Park. Photograph and text copyright ©️ Len Metcalf 2018
“I’m not an activist by any consideration, but I do think it is terribly important that people do have visual material of these places, that they do have some inkling of what they are like. If people don’t know, it’s very much harder for them to feel for these places.”
~ Peter Dombrovskis
Camped on the shores of Lake Jindabyne last night. Today Cyan will ski up from Dead Horse Gap towards the Ramsheads before starting our way back to Sydney.
As I sit by this dam I wonder what it was like before it was built. Kept thinking that as I crossed Guthega Dam wall too It is really starting to decay in places. The bit of river you look down on that rarely gets a flow.
This photograph was taken o the Black and White Workshop I ran down here years ago. There is another one next month if you would like to join me, this time run out of Katoomba. http://www.lensschool.com/workshops-tours/digital-black-and-white-workshop-2018
Lake Jindabyne, Photograph and text copyright ©️ Len Metcalf 2018
I rarely photograph the grand scenic. Perhaps I rarely find them creative expressions and tend to think of them more as documentaries of my presence in the landscape. Occasionally I do. Mainly because I am often so attracted to the scene they are my starting point for a session with my camera. They do come in handy.
This photograph shows were we are camped. We are on the third ridge in the photograph.that runs down from the right hand side. A bit hard to be certain on the phone. It is stunning. Not like in this shot taken three years ago on a White in White week.
Today is sunny again, rain is expected tonight and snow in the morning.
I can hear the birds, the wind and the river. Occasionally a vehicle echoes across the valley from Guthega.
Photograph and text copyright ©️ Len Metcalf 2018
"Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better."
- Andre Gide
Dead Horse Gap, Kosciuszko National Park. Photograph copyright ©️ Len Metcalf 2018
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
Snow gums in Kosciuszko National Park. Photograph copyright ©️ Len Metcalf 2018
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
~ Rachel Carson
“The important thing is, you have to have something important to say about the world.” – Paul Strand
Photograph copyright ©️ Len Metcalf 2018
When I was younger, photography with my large format camera was a relentless search for the perfect composition. If I didn’t consider the visualised image to be good enough the camera would stay in my pack and I would move on. There were so many disappointments. Lots of frustrations. Lots and lots of looking and walking. A lot less photographs.
Something shifted. My attitude changed. I relaxed, grew old, and I slowly started to embrace imperfections as part of my work.
Now, I enjoy my work being imperfect. I am searching for a more emotional connection rather than that perfect view of Mother Nature.
What a relief it is.
Now when I am flooded with images of perfect photographic work by others it bores me. It feels like it has lost its soul.
It is that in my search for beauty I found honesty and reality.
Thank you for taking the time to enjoy it. Special thanks to all of those that go out of their way to write to me. It is greatly appreciated.
Berridale Boulders on the Monaro Plains. Photograph and text copyright ©️ Len Metcalf 2018
It is really important to figure out whose art you like, which artworks you love and who are your heroes. Start a hero file and collect art you love. This may be as simple as a folder on your desktop, either a physical one in your study, or a virtual one on your laptop and fill it with art you love. Years ago I would cut them out of magazines. Today I could do screen grabs or save online images. If it’s an artists work that’s unknown to you, make sure you keep a reference to their name.
Some artists may have a blog you can follow. I use an rss reader and look through hundreds of entries each day, to find something interesting to read and artworks that stimulate my imagination.
I have collected a few films along the way too. Sebastian Salgado’s "Salt of the Earth" brings me to tears each time I watch it.
My biggest collection of art is in the form of books. I am obsessed if I am honest with myself. The to-read list is huge. Mostly I buy monographs and I hunt down particular collections that stimulate my visual appetite.
Why do I collect the work of other creatives? To stimulate my creativity, study how they work, get a glimpse of what is going on in their heads, to educate myself in our common visual language and to search for ideas worth playing with.
It was only the other week I had my head buried in Michael Kenna’s book on Japan, when I noticed that he often tries similar compositions in different locations at different times of the day. Noticing this vindicated my own work habits and routines. So now when I notice myself doing similar work to what I have done before I no longer need to give myself a hard time over it.
I bought his book ‘Holga’ recently too, and like the ‘Japan’ book it is one I am savouring by looking through slowly and carefully. Lingering longer at each photograph. Really looking. Ralph Gibson, apparently, recommends studying for twenty minutes per photograph. Now that is really looking isn’t it? Once you look, then you can really see what’s going on.
Another way I do this, is by visiting galleries and seeing the original artworks. I don’t think you can really appreciate a Mark Rothko until you stand in front of one and feel its unbelievable power.
Identifying and studying your masters is an incredibly valuable part of your learning journey.
I have added comments to this article on my blog, with the inspiration to create a community dialogue there. Who are your creative heroes? I would love to hear.
Snow Gums in the Snowy Mountains. Photograph and text copyright ©️ Len Metcalf 2018
Postscript: It has been pointed out that Pinterest is a really good way of collecting and organising your heroes and inspirations. I have been using it for years. I keep clips of art that inspire me in collections called "boards". It keeps a link to the orignal source which is valuable when you want to know where you got it from or who the artist was. If you install a plugin on your web browser you can save them by just clicking on the red dot that is placed over the artworks while you are browsing.
Yesterday Cyan and I walked the Coastal Track in Royal National Park in Sydney. The oldest national park in Sydney and the second oldest in the world apparently. We did 27 kms in two half days. Not bad for a fifty plus father and my eleven year old son. I was pleased.
Royal National Park is stunning. The views are breathtaking. The visitation is intense at times.
Hopefully next week we will do another walk somewhere else. Canyoning perhaps, Cyan hasn’t full experienced Canyoning yet despite our gentle starts. Will be nice in the heat waves that are coming. We are preparing to walk the Overland Track in Tasmania on his request. Can’t wait. Amazing father son time. Yes there was lots of camera time between us. Lots of special talks that I will hold onto for years to come.
Cyan tells me I don’t winge or complain. Though I do have one major one that really bugged me on the walk. So if you don’t want to read me offloading best to stop here.
I couldn’t help but think about the plastic raised walk ways they are currently installing on the walk. Kilometres of it. Sterile and modern. A sanitized nature experience. Plastic in a National Park, what are they thinking. I can see it now, cheapest path per meter I suspect. It looks like a asphalt freeway snaking it’s way through the bush. Feels totally out of place. It disconnects me from the earth. No natural grounding with the soil. I couldn’t stand it. I really hope it doesn’t catch on and spread through other parks.
I was also honestly horrified at the damage the contractors had done in installing them too. One would think the main reason for installing them was for erosion control. Yet a few sticks dropped in the old path seemed to suffice. Plastic left overs dumped beside the track. Loads of supplies helicoptered in and placed onto and crushing beautiful plants with an open space right next to them.
Pathing a track like that is an opportunity to reroute the track to more visually interesting routes and ones away from roads. To let old pathways regenerate. We walked for 500 meters next to a bushfire road on the raised plastic track just two meters from the road. Unbelievable.
Winging over. I imagine many of our tourists are thankful for the beautiful walkways that make the Walk feel safter and more defined. Just not my cup of tea.
Sawpit Creek picnic area Kosciuszko National Park, an area with gorgeous walks and beautiful trees. Oh. Yes, it is meant to be all soft and moody. ;) Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
Creativity can be such a head game. Hundreds, if not thousands of ideas swirl through the head of a person endlessly. Yet it is what you do with these ideas that sets one person apart from another.
It it is a misconception that they need to be completely visualised before starting. They don’t need to be fully imagined. By starting with them, in the process of creating them, you figure out where they are going. They tell you where to go next too. It is a process and a wandering journey, yet one without the clearest route or destination. So the destination is a book or an artwork, a performance or series. Rather than a fully visualised and meticulously planned journey.
I am trying to apply this approach to my writing as it works so well with my photography. I wish I had the confidence and foresight to do this with my drawing and painting. But no one pointed this out at the time, for it was something I had to learn along the way.
So how do I use this knowledge? Well, it is easily summed up with the words ‘Just start’. They say a journey of a thousand kilometres starts with a single step, and you can now see why this ancient proverb is so meaningful.
It is definitely an art to stop worrying about the final form and just getting in there and starting. Letting the process of making inform you of the direction to continue in.
I write down as many ideas as I can, one bounding off the other. They come in spurts and pour out in a flood. I try to record them all without judgement. Latter, I wander through them and grab the one that inspires me at the time. That becomes my start.
When I wander with my camera the same thing happens. Lots of ideas, slowly one surfaces and becomes the starting point. Hours latter I finish, the act of creating has lead me somewhere I hadn’t imagined.
You don’t need a finishing point, what you need is the starting point. It’s ok to start with the vaguest idea. The key is to just start.
One tree, the Snowy Mountains near Jindabyne, Australia. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018