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Monthly Archives: November 2010
It must’ve been around five years ago that my eldest daughter presented me with The Alchemist for Christmas. Little did I know at the time what a profound impact that small, rather short book, would have on my life. I know that that may sound a bit cliché, and if I were hamming it up for an infommertial, perhaps it would be, but I’m not, and the sentiment is profoundly sincere.
Let me pause here for a minute to say, that if you haven’t yet read The Alchemist, and you’re the type of person that doesn’t presume to be all-knowing, that questions fate more often than submits to it and that suffers from an unquenchable drive to follow their dreams, then do yourself a favour. Find a quiet corner of the universe to hole up in, and allow yourself to be drawn in to an allegory that will challenge your perceptions of freedom of choice.
Ironically, that The Alchemist has gained such worldwide recognition is in itself, inspiring. Paulo Coelho first published the book in 1988, in Brazil in his native Portuguese, where it received little notice. After an initial print run of only 900 copies the publisher decided not to reprint, and It wasn’t until it was published in Spanish, that word-of-mouth began to spread like the sands of the Sahara, and has now been translated into 67 languages and sold over 65 million copies in more than 150 countries.
The story revolves around a young shepherd boy named Santiago, who believing in a recurring dream, sets out from Andalucia in southern Spain, across the Sahara to Egypt, in search of a treasure. Despite a series of setbacks, his persistence and open-minded outlook, push him towards his final destination, or so he thinks.
Although I read The Alchemist long after my formative years, not only did I read it with gusto, but Santiago rekindled my sense of hope and forced me to re-examine my own attitudes with regard to that which is inevitable or simply a lapse of focus. I remember wishing I’d had this book to read while in my teens, and after putting it down thinking that it should be compulsory reading, for every high-school student. On the other hand, maybe teenagers lack the life experience and humility to recognize that life doesn’t just happen, that you need to step way outside your comfort zone to where the real opportunities lie, and that the path to your dreams may not be as straight or free of obstacles as you expect it to be.
This much I can say, The Alchemist can and will speak to you regardless of your age, regardless of your gender and regardless of your station in life. All that is required is a free spirit and a willingness to believe in yourself.
At the risk of dating myself, I remember when loading film, be it 35mm, 120mm or sheet film, was a tangible expense to consider, for every photographer; amateur and professional alike. Not only was there an up front expense for the film, but the lab costs could also be substantial. Now, I’ll be the first one to laud the convenience of digital photography, but the perceived savings have, in my opinion, had a negative effect on the quality of most photographs generated. I say most, because like any tool, in the hands of a knowledgeable craftsman, technological improvements can push the creative boundaries and improve the consistency of the final work. In the hands of those less critical, we end up with more saw dust on the floor than picture frames on the wall.
In the olden days… it was not uncommon for professional photographers to expose Polaroid film to confirm exposure and composition prior to proceeding with film, but the results were, despite all the experience in interpreting a Polaroid, still a bit of a guessing game. Instant digital feedback, however, has arguably helped to improve the results that many photographers are able to produce today. We are now able to make small adjustments to composition and exposure that, in the past would’ve been overlooked.
Earlier, I wrote that shooting digitally has brought with it a perception that it’s FREE. Consequently, the average consumer with a digital camera has adopted the point and shoot approach literally and many computers are drowning in virtual rubbish. Now before anyone accuses me of sounding pretentious, let me be clear and write that I too generate photos of family and friends that will rarely be shared let alone submitted to any contest, but it’s not just the quality that should be improved, it’s also the quantity that should be reduced.
This is true even among Professional Photographers. I’ve photographed my share of weddings and when I hear the outrageous number of digital images now being produced during an average eight hour wedding, just because we can and it’s FREE, I can’t help but shake my head. I know that styles have changed and that a journalistic approach, demands more images to choose from, but certainly that shouldn’t be at the expense of quality. Clients and customers alike seem to be fixated on how many exposures will be delivered rather than on the quality and content of those images.
Here are a few simple questions that I ask myself each time I raise the camera to my eye. Would I rather spend thirty seconds walking over to pickup that candy wrapper now, or spend fifteen minutes in front of the computer removing it later? Does what I see through the viewfinder tell the story or will I need to sift through a hundred images later to pick out the two or three that do? And finally, will I ever share this photograph, or is everything so dark and blurry that I’ll have to use words later to explain who was in the shot. In short, would I rather spend more time with my family and friends, or sitting by myself in front of the computer screen?
Having said that, don’t confuse variations on a theme with throwing darts, blindfolded. There’s a carpenter’s adage that encourages one to measure twice and cut once. As photographers we might consider something similar, to the effect of, look twice and expose once.
I spent this past Saturday, cutting down trees. I know that may sound like an unusual way to spend my leisure time, but it’s all part of a larger picture. A very dear friend’s father, purchased a 50ha. property of abandoned farmland, about an hour north of Toronto, some forty years ago, and for the past thirty, we’ve been planting trees, mostly conifers such as pine and spruce, in the spring and thinning them in the fall.
Most gardeners will understand that planting is only half the job, the other half being to nourish and maintain the plantings. Bearing in mind that a forest is a very complex ecosystem and that a stand of trees does not a forest make, the exercise of reestablishing a healthy tree cover, requires attempting to compress a process that would naturally take hundreds of years, into a much shorter time frame.
It’s necessary to plant the small saplings, rather densely to encourage competition, suppress other grasses and shrubs and to encourage them to reach for the sky quickly. Hence, it’s necessary to return a few years later to begin the process of eliminating the trees that are stunted and damaged, and to give the others some elbow room into which they can put on some girth. Secondary to allowing the trees more room to grow, is that removing some trees also allows sunlight to reach the forest floor and other species of trees to take hold and, thereby, initiate the diversity that is fundamental to a “natural” ecosystem that will sustain a variety of plants and animals.
The pay back, as you can imagine, is way down the road. In fact, although I am seeing the blossoms, I will never live to see the ripe fruits of my labour, but that’s OK. I’m enjoying the process far too much to care. And then, there are the photographic opportunities.