Thursday, December 28, 2006

Oh Dear, I have done it again! Incredibull!

Kia ora tatou:
I have done it again.
I have moved Roadmarx (again).
Frustration with some of the features available to me (or rather, not available to me) led me to look for better solution. I think I have found one (maybe). I experimented with going to a full website, but that didn't allow comments (it would have looked cool, however).
As you will see when you get there, all the old (well, most) Blueprintx posts have been imported, along with the comments. Blogger 2 comments can't be brought in (at the moment). I love reading your comments, so please don't post them here. Do so on the all-new, singing and dancing blog.
You can find it at
or here
Same place actually

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Ex gratia

Kia ora tatou:
2006 has been a monumental year for me in all sorts of ways, both personal and professional. It has been a year of transition, of leaving a comfortable if unchallenging life to one which has moments of pure terror and unbelievable exhilaration, of wonderful companionship and extreme alone-ness; it has been and is a transition which is still a work in progress and has yet to find some sort of concrete conclusion.

Throughout that time I have kept afloat, buoyed by the warmth and generosity of friends both here and abroad. I have been fed, sheltered and shared the lives of people in the remotest parts of Aotearoa and South Africa and constantly humbled by the kindnesses I have experienced. I have seen unbelievably beautiful landscapes and shared stories of great price. Your aroha and friendship has made this year a truly humbling experience, and your comments on this blog( to which i have not been nearly diligent enough in replying) have both encouraged and informed me.

Without you all I doubt I would have made it this far or achieved what little I have.

I am deeply grateful. I am truly humbled.

And I thank you all.

Christmas is a time for families, for togetherness and for those of us with Faith, a time of celebration. But it is special, a once-in-a-year event of great wonder. May I wish you all the very best for the season and hope that you have great happiness.

Of positive and negative space

The camera will never compete with the brush and palette until such time as photography can be taken to Heaven or Hell.
Edvard Munch
Photography has always reminded me of the second child.. trying to prove itself. The fact that it wasn’t really considered an art that it was considered a craft.. has trapped almost every serious photographer.
Richard Avedon

It had been raining and it was going to rain. We sat in a comfortable trough between the voluminous skirts of one front and the impressive splendour of the next. For the time being the weather was charging its batteries, taking stock, lining itself up for the next charge across the district.

The road took us up to St. Bathans, to that unique little corner in the Maniototo, which lurks almost furtively, an armpit under the well-muscled shoulder of the Cambrian and Dunstan Mountains. Like so many places in the district, St. Bathans is in a process of self-reinvention. Ignored for years by everybody except by the local farmers, the once-bustling goldmining town is on the comeback trail, and the developers are moving in, clearing the scrub and pegging out the sections. Soon, like so many out-of-the-way places in New Zealand, St. Bathans will boom for 3 weeks a year during the holiday season, then fall silent for the remainder.

Turn right, drop down the hill, and you are at the Blue Lake, a massive water-filled hole in the landscape that is incredibly deep, a disturbance in the rhythm of the land. It is an artificial construct that bears testament to the enthusiasm of Man, to his greed for gold, the universal currency. Fertiliser runoff has discoloured the water which is now more green than blue and when the wind blows, the surface of the lake seems to tremble, as if fearful for its future. It is a place of silence and contemplation, one of those rare corners in the landscape that has its own wairua, its own sense of self. It is a place to think, to dream, to take stock, a place where past, present and future sit, one on top of the other, a place for considering questions and seeking answers.

Today it was disturbed.

As well it might be. When we pulled up at the water’s edge, and the truck motor died, the serene silence was broken by the too-loud voices of townies. Their expensive fizzboats were out of the water, squatting self-satisfied and smug on their trailers. Their conversation was loud, too loud, discordant and banal, a litany of irreverence in the deepening stillness of the place. I didn’t want to hear about the winches on their four-wheel-drives or their plans for later that day. I definitely didn’t want to know about their relationships, the clothing that that had just got at Kathmandu (at an apparently amazing price) or what they would be doing for Christmas. Surely these were things that could be discussed later. The calm in this place was worth much much more. Their insensitivity was a discordant and distinct negative in a positive space.

I noticed Alex glance across at them, a slight frown on his face. They were grating on his nerves as well. I suggested we walk around the lake edge and explore the canyons I knew were further along. Getting out our cameras, we picked our way along the lake edge, our shoes grinding softly in the soft quartz. Jack, the irrepressible pub dog, had found us, sensed an adventure and decided to come along. Maybe he found the boaties’ conversation and self-absorption boring as well. He snuffled and shuffled and bounced his way over the moraine, disappearing for a time as his nose took him along invisible lines of enquiry, than reappearing suddenly, his curiosity satisfied.

The lake was calmer around the corner, the silence beginning to get its confidence and serenity back. The voices had faded to sound-bites, snatches of the mundane flicked our way to remind us that they were still there.
We came to a small canyon carved in the quartz by the gold sluices, whose rotting pipes protruded, rusty and festering from the cliffs, a poignant reminder of an abandoned past.

We turned up one, the only sound the soft grinding of our feet in the pebbles. 20 feet in, the silence thickened and built up around us. The canyon walls closed in and stood shoulder to shoulder with us in the quietness. Alex pushed on, as young men do, and climbed to the end, looking for his own images and a view out across the lake. I checked he was OK, then turned to look behind me.
On either side, the crumbling cliffs closed in, sharing a warm, supportive companionship. Their gritty texture and soft amorphous lines seemed somehow reassuring, somehow protective. I was in a positive space.

Then I noticed a line on the ground, a runnel formed by rain runoff from the cliffs. It took my eyes on a line that led me out to the water, across to the cliffs on the other side and beyond into the sky and the remainder of the storm sliding across the gap. The contrast between the comfortable cocoon in which I nestled and the world out there was startling.

A snatch of self-important conversation muscled its way into my conversation with the cliffs.

They were still out there.

I turned my mind to what lay before me. There was a problem to be solved. It was a matter of positive and negative space.

In every image there are two things to be considered; positive and negative space. The subject (bird, plant, building, mountain) that forms your subject-of-interest occupies a space in the picture-frame, the positive space. Usually it has visual mass and a distinct presence. We can refer to it as occupying positive space.

The area round it, that is not-subject, is the negative space. And it cannot be ignored, for it and the positive space are complementary. The one impacts on the other, the one affects a reading of the other. Shadows are a case in point. They are often ignored and trip up the image, yet they can be positive spaces in their own right. As an exercise, take your camera and make a series of photographs of shadows, noting how they interact with the not-shadow areas of the image. Take the time to consider the amount of shadow you want to include, the amount of lightness and the feeling that adjusting the ratio brings to the image. A good way to do this is to defocus your camera, so you are considering indistinct shapes, and therefore are better able to see the difference between light and dark, between textured and smooth, between subtle and strong. You build an image by working with both positive and negative space, balancing one against the other according to the statement you want to make.

Back to the cliffs.

I realised that I was enjoying the relative companionship and shelter of these big brawny cliffs, my minders for a time, mates at the pub sharing friendship and a common destiny. They were a positive space for me on a number of levels. I pulled back to 24mm on my lens and let them come in close and dominate the frame. The runnel provided a linking element that took my eye back to the lake and beyond, in this case the negative space. The wide-angle pushed the distance, the negative space further away. Then it was a matter of balancing the exposure to hold highlights and shadows, to complete the statement.

By then Alex was finished. He and Jack appeared (animals are attracted to Alex; he understands them) at my shoulder, wanting to get back. They both watched me for a moment, waiting. Time to go, I said. Jack scarpered around the corner and vanished out of sight.

As we came around corner the towards the carpark, the conversation had moved on to the economics of running a 200Hp outboard motor.

Friday, December 22, 2006

An inconvenient Truth-why you need to see it

Kia ora tatou:
Last weekend, I went to see Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth. I am still somewhat in shock after seeing a potential future for the planet, our planet, laid out so graphically and chillingly.

I spent a couple of days trying to find the flaws in it. I want to see the flaws in it! But so far, zip.

And it has me thinking about my position on windfarms. So before I shoot from the lip again, I want to do my own research and think a position through.

In the meantime, read, Roger Ebert's review in the Chicago Sun-Times. Then go and see it for yourself.
And someone tell me (please) how and where he has got it wrong!

BY ROGER EBERT / June 2, 2006

I want to write this review so every reader will begin it and finish it. I am a liberal, but I do not intend this as a review reflecting any kind of politics. It reflects the truth as I understand it, and it represents, I believe, agreement among the world's experts.

Global warming is real.

It is caused by human activity.

Mankind and its governments must begin immediate action to halt and reverse it.

If we do nothing, in about 10 years the planet may reach a "tipping point" and begin a slide toward destruction of our civilization and most of the other species on this planet.

After that point is reached, it would be too late for any action.

These facts are stated by Al Gore in the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." Forget he ever ran for office. Consider him a concerned man speaking out on the approaching crisis. "There is no controversy about these facts," he says in the film. "Out of 925 recent articles in peer-review scientific journals about global warming, there was no disagreement. Zero."

He stands on a stage before a vast screen, in front of an audience. The documentary is based on a speech he has been developing for six years, and is supported by dramatic visuals. He shows the famous photograph "Earthrise," taken from space by the first American astronauts. Then he shows a series of later space photographs, clearly indicating that glaciers and lakes are shrinking, snows are melting, shorelines are retreating.

He provides statistics: The 10 warmest years in history were in the last 14 years. Last year South America experienced its first hurricane. Japan and the Pacific are setting records for typhoons. Hurricane Katrina passed over Florida, doubled back over the Gulf, picked up strength from unusually warm Gulf waters, and went from Category 3 to Category 5. There are changes in the Gulf Stream and the jet stream. Cores of polar ice show that carbon dioxide is much, much higher than ever before in a quarter of a million years. It was once thought that such things went in cycles. Gore stands in front of a graph showing the ups and downs of carbon dioxide over the centuries. Yes, there is a cyclical pattern. Then, in recent years, the graph turns up and keeps going up, higher and higher, off the chart.

The primary man-made cause of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels. We are taking energy stored over hundreds of millions of years in the form of coal, gas and oil, and releasing it suddenly. This causes global warming, and there is a pass-along effect. Since glaciers and snow reflect sunlight but sea water absorbs it, the more the ice melts, the more of the sun's energy is retained by the sea.

Gore says that although there is "100 percent agreement" among scientists, a database search of newspaper and magazine articles shows that 57 percent question the fact of global warming, while 43 percent support it. These figures are the result, he says, of a disinformation campaign started in the 1990s by the energy industries to "reposition global warming as a debate." It is the same strategy used for years by the defenders of tobacco. My father was a Luckys smoker who died of lung cancer in 1960, and 20 years later it was still "debatable" that there was a link between smoking and lung cancer. Now we are talking about the death of the future, starting in the lives of those now living.

"The world won't 'end' overnight in 10 years," Gore says. "But a point will have been passed, and there will be an irreversible slide into destruction."

In England, Sir James Lovelock, the scientist who proposed the Gaia hypothesis (that the planet functions like a living organism), has published a new book saying that in 100 years mankind will be reduced to "a few breeding couples at the Poles." Gore thinks "that's too pessimistic. We can turn this around just as we reversed the hole in the ozone layer. But it takes action right now, and politicians in every nation must have the courage to do what is necessary. It is not a political issue. It is a moral issue."

When I said I was going to a press screening of "An Inconvenient Truth," a friend said, "Al Gore talking about the environment!!" This is not a boring film. The director, Davis Guggenheim, uses words, images and Gore's concise litany of facts to build a film that is fascinating and relentless. In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.

Am I acting as an advocate in this review? Yes, I am. I believe that to be "impartial" and "balanced" on global warming means one must take a position like Gore's. There is no other view that can be defended. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, has said, "Global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." I hope he takes his job seriously enough to see this film. I think he has a responsibility to do that.

What can we do? Switch to and encourage the development of alternative energy sources: Solar, wind, tidal, and, yes, nuclear. Move quickly toward hybrid and electric cars. Pour money into public transit, and subsidize the fares. Save energy in our houses. I did a funny thing when I came home after seeing "An Inconvenient Truth." I went around the house turning off the lights.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Upcoming One-Day Seminars

Kia ora tatou:

A number of people have mentioned to me that they would like to spend some time brushing up on their technique and getting to grips with digital photography (or just building on what they already know).

For that reason, and since I will be in Christchurch most weekends this January working on weddings, I propose to hold a series of one-day seminars looking at some of these aspects. So here with, may I present(tahdah)

The Summer Sunday Workshops.

They are as follows:

January 14. Digital basics. Venue: Castle Hill Basin. Time:0600 ( no, I am not joking)-1600

In this workshop we will look at issues of lens choice, exposure, use of the histogram, and implications of ISO. We will look at issues surrounding shooting in JPEG or RAW and how to get the best possible file for later processing. We will look at how to analyse a scene, and what corrections to apply for a later working-up of the file up for a finished print. Basic technique is something we all need to revisit from time to time, so there should be something here for everybody, whether you’re an absolute beginner or more advanced. You’ll need to bring lunch, your equipment, and a tripod.

January 21. Digital Darkroom Basics. Venue: to be advised (but somewhere in/near Christchurch). Time: 0900 to 1600.

The seminar follows on from the digital basics workshop. In this workshop I will talk about processing files (with particular reference to Lightroom), the difference between raw converters and how to prepare your images for either print or projection(there is a difference).We will look at issues such as sharpening, saving and archiving. I will attempt to demystify Lightroom and show you how to develop a workflow using it. If you have a laptop, bring it along. The seminar is aimed at all of you have find the darkroom (or should I say Lightroom) side of digital photography a fraught process. This would be of real help for those of you who are looking at submitting images for projection in competitions.

January 28. Previsualisation: a creative approach to the landscape. Venue: Arthurs Pass. Time: 0500-1600

This workshop follows on from what we learned in the previous two (not that you need to have done the previous two to take part in this one). Following on from what we discussed in the previous two, I want to spend time working with you in the field, considering a live subject (if you can consider the landscape alive!),considering what it is he want to say about that landscape, identifying the features that you want to include, and thinking it through to the finished image, whether that be print or projection. In a previous post I talked about the concept of previsualisation; in this workshop I want to show you how to approach the subject and a methodology that will guarantee predictable results. You needed to bring equipment, lunch and money for coffee!

Workshops one and three are limited to 12 participants; workshop two is limited to 20.The fee for each of the 3 days is $100.

These seminars would be great preparation for the upcoming April and July workshops in the Maniototo, which will focus on creativity and developing personal style.

If you would like to be involved, e-mail or phone me (021 227 3985)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.
-Ansel Adams

Considered logically this concept is not identical with the totality of sense impressions referred to; but it is an arbitrary creation of the human (or animal) mind.
-Albert Einstein

Kia ora tatou:

A number of you have posted, asking if I would share a few of my secrets involved in making my images, or more specifically, what techniques I use.

Well, there aren’t any. Sorry, but it’s true. For quite some time I have focused in these posts on why I make images, rather than how. It all starts there. If you don’t know what it is you are trying to say, then realising an image will be a fraught experience at best. As the quote above suggests, the best place to put the effort in, is in developing a philosophical base for your work. Then all the technical decisions fall into place.

I will however attempt to unpack my working method for you. I hope this helps, and that it generates sufficient questions for it to become an ongoing discussion. Please feel free to ask questions or make suggestions. So here goes.

The first thing is to say( in case you haven’t noticed), that I am firmly digital. Don’t get me wrong, I still love film. In fact I am about to do some revisiting of working with it again. There are some understandings I need to revisit and explore. More about that as and when it happens.

If you are digital, there is a price to pay. Computer time. There is no getting around it. If you shoot film, and here I am referring to colour, everything is pretty much done when you press the shutter. You unload the film and hand it to the lab. They process it, using a carefully defined and controlled process (C-41 or E-6) and voila, there you have it, the finished product. They can print it for you or you can use a scanner and make your own prints. Either way there is not a lot of computer time required. So you need to ask yourself: how do I feel about spending time on the computer and acquiring the knowledge to do it effectively? If the answer is in the negative, then stick to film. If, however, you are prepared to put in the time understanding your computer and the software you need to get the best out of your image, digital could well be the way for you. Time and time again I have seen people buy digital cameras, thinking it would make their lives easier (and save them money) only to be disappointed with the results and frustrated because they feel the whole process has got away on them. To make successful images using a digital camera, you have to be prepared to put in the time on the computer. There is no simple or easy path for the digital photographer. When you “go digital” you become the lab.

I’ll come at this from a different direction.

A long time ago, in a previous life, I read a book called The Negative by Ansel Adams. That led me to reading the follow up book The Print, also by him. This opened my eyes to the concept of pre-visualisation. Let me explain this term. Ansel is credited with the invention, or more correctly, the development of what he calls The Zone System. As a Realist and member of the F64 school he was concerned with developing a method of exposure, development and printing that was extremely predictable. In fact all the members of F64 (Weston, Cunningham et al) took this technical/philosophical standpoint. It needs to be remembered that they followed hot on the heels of the Pictorialist movement who regarded technical precision as an impediment to conceptualisation, that the feeling generated in the photograph was more important than the technique, that the latter was by and large irrelevant.

In Adam’s Zone System the underlying idea is that of being able to pre-visualise the finished print before you press the shutter. This means you need to understand every aspect of the process; camera, lens, film, exposure and development choices, and paper/developer combinations, not to mention post-production techniques such as toning, matting and presentation. Bit by bit, during my 20 years in the darkroom, I came to understand and know more about each step of the process. I learned that German lenses gave a greater subtlety in the mid-tones than the more contrasty Japanese lenses, that Agfa APX 100 worked brilliantly in a studio but was difficult to use in the landscape, that T-Max 100 could be made to do tricks and stand on its ear depending on my choice of developer (Xtol, TMax or TMax RS developer) that Forte paper required very high dilutions of selenium toner because it was so silver-rich. In other words, I put a lot of time into understanding each component of the process. That way I could achieve what I was trying to say. Whatever that was. I thoroughly recommend reading The Print and The Negative. Ignore all the stuff about developers, film choice, and so on (unless of course you belong to the arcane and shrinking darkroom fraternity). Concentrate instead on the overall picture Adams in trying to paint, the idea of understanding each and every component of the process so that you can make informed choices when you go out into the field.

Digital is no different. The technology may have changed but the process remains the same. You still need to understand the characteristics (and character) of your lenses; you still need to understand the unique flavour your sensor (read: Digital Film) imparts to a subject; you need to understand the look your choice of raw converter or processing software will bring to the file; you need to understand how your choice of printer, ink and paper will affect the finished look of your image.

As you can see, darkroom and lightroom, digital and film, have a lot in common.

There are two significant components to making a digital print.
  1. Capture
  2. Production

To my mind Capture is about 30 percent of the process. Camera, lens and exposure techniques are about a third of what you need to know. The remaining 70 percent is about understanding what to do when you get the file into your computer and the impact of decisions you make in this part of the process. This takes time and practice and trial and error.

But especially time (Photography is, after all, about Time).

I intend, as and when, to put up a series of articles that explore each step of the process. Today I will share a few techniques I use to ensure I have the best possible file on my card for later processing.

Photography is all about information. It always has been, it always will be. This means selecting an appropriate focal length, appropriate depth of field, and making an exposure that will yield the greatest amount of information. For that reason, I will always shoot in Raw.
  1. I rely heavily on the histogram to give me that information. I usually make a trial exposure then analyse the histogram. My camera offers me the choice of either luminance (read: Light/Dark) or RGB, enabling me to see the information captured on each channel. I always use the latter, because I have learned that if I use the luminance histogram, scenes with a predominance of one colour can clip (over-expose) without my being aware of it. The RGB histogram helps me see that and helps prevent that from happening. Canon sensors have a real tendency to over-respond to red wavelengths of light, so if I am working with a sunset or brightly coloured flowers I take extra care in checking the red channel on my histogram.
  2. I regard the LCD on the back of my camera as a way of checking composition rather than exposure (I use the histogram for the latter). Since most information is recorded at the right end of the histogram I will bias exposure so that the histogram is as far as possible to the right without clipping. (It may look weird but I know I have as much information as I can get. I can always discard information; I can never add it in.) I might add at this point that I shoot jpegs quite differently. Shooting a jpeg is like shooting slide film; the tones on your file need to duplicate as accurately as possible those in the scene. And a tenth of a stop is significant. If the scene is high-key composed of predominantly light tones, then the histogram on the jpeg file should lean to the right-hand end of the histogram; a predominantly dark scene (coal miner standing in his mine) should lean left. A scene composed of a broad range of tones should be roughly in the middle.
  3. A digital image, in spite of what some might say, has a brightness range of 5 stops, which means it is very similar to slide film. Care and precision in exposure are critical if you are to get the best possible print at the end of it all. Time and effort at this stage of the process (and making a photograph is a process) will save you time, effort and frustration later in the process.

As an example, years ago, in my darkroom days (which I gave up when I found I was allergic to the chemicals) I discovered that while I enjoyed the darkroom I really didn’t enjoy spending hours and hours labouring over a print made from a badly exposed negative. I guess I was a naturally lazy printer. When I realised how easy it was to make a print from a perfectly exposed and developed negative (and believe it or not there are degrees of perfection) I put more and more time into exposure and development. Making prints then became a matter of refinement rather than rescue. A good friend (who shall remain nameless – some of you know who I’m talking about) never worried much about the niceties of darkroom technique. Near enough was good enough. And his negatives were appalling to behold.

Over the space of 18 months to 2 years he evolved his printing techniques into an art form. His mastery of making prints in the darkroom grew enormously. Necessity is the mother of invention.

His concepts were sharp but his techniques were fuzzy.

Ka kite ano.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Alex Speaks

Alex (16, and new to photography) wanted to post this image and make his own statement about it. He would appreciate your comments.

Personally I do not believe in God, but after taking a picture like this I can't help believing God exists. When we reached the top of the hill and had a look around, I realised that this would be the only chance I would ever have to capture this, because there would never be another moment exactly like it. At no other time will things look exactly the same as as they did when I pressed the shutter; the light, the clouds and very soon the landscape. For me it's worth a 2 hour drive up rugged tracks just to be able to get a picture like this. To put 176 wind turbines in a landscape this heavenly is murder.

Micro-exhibition: A Requiem to the Lammermoors

Tawhirimatea kept his promise, and he continues to do so to this day. Sometimes he is content to listen to advice from his parents and forgive his siblings. On those days the weather is fine, clear, and calm.

But sometimes he is reminded of the pain his parents endured when they were separated and the longing they still have for each other. On those days he sends tornadoes, hurricanes, and cyclones to bring havoc to his brothers' lives and to hound their children.

-Maori myth

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
Pablo Picasso

How can anybody in their right mind to do this?

Yesterday my son Alex and I drove up onto the Lammermoors. He is 16 and, like young men of that age, will take any opportunity to get behind the wheel. Besides, I was looking forward to teaching him the arcane art of four-wheel driving. I was more than happy with having him at the wheel; he's a good driver and having him do it gave me the opportunity to take a long look at a place about which I have been feeling fairly ambivalent.

There's a reason for this.

When I first arrived in Ranfurly, I was asked if I would mind documenting the Lammermoor range before IT happens. Those of you in New Zealand will know what I'm talking about; those of you offshore will not. What I'm talking about here is a wind farm, and not just any wind farm. I am talking about 1 76 wind turbines, each one 160 m high, littering and desecrating a landscape that is really quite extraordinary in its raw sere beauty.

As I said, my thoughts on the whole concept of wind farms have been ambivalent.

On the one hand, I can accept the need for more power generation, and I will readily concede that wind farms are a relatively eco-friendly way of achieving more power generation. I will concede too that hydroelectric possibilities in this country are increasingly fewer, that all the good sites have been taken and what remains is really only suitable for generating smaller amounts of power. I will concede that wind farms are more eco-friendly than coal-fired power stations (although I would have thought the technology was there to minimise emissions) or nuclear power plants. Wind farms, to my mind, offer a relatively (I use that advisedly) low-impact method of generating more power. I accept that it will bring more money and job opportunities and to the Maniototo-for a time at least.

On the other hand, I cannot help feeling that the quest for more and more generating capacity is a route in quite the wrong direction, that the Lake Hayes project is yet another desecration of a visual heritage we are allowing to slowly slip away. They will spend somewhere in the vicinity of $1.6 billion despoiling one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand, a truly heritage area. They will no doubt have to build extra transmission lines to cope with the electricity being generated. More visual pollution.

I noted with horror that our supposedly “green” government is weighing in on the side of the wind farm, making it plain to the local district Council what the final outcome of all the submissions should be. And why would they not? They are Meridien's chief shareholder; they get a handy slice of the corporate profits. It is to their advantage to encourage greater generating capacity.

It seems to me that there is another way. Instead of building more dams, more wind farms and more high tension lines to carry that generation to houses, surely the intelligent thing would be to encourage self-sufficiency.

Imagine if, instead of spending that amount of money building Propeller City, they were to issue it in the form of nil interest or suspensory loans to enable individual households to install solar heating, and where practicable, small wind turbines. Better still, issue it through local councils so any repayments would be made through rates. That way, when the house sold, payment of the loan would continue. It would be tied to the property rather than the individual. Am I missing something here?

Imagine if they were to subsidise double glazing, effective installation, and passive heating technologies for homes. What if they were to subsidise eco-friendly lightbulbs? They could do it by placing a tax on regular lightbulbs to help subsidise the cost. God knows, they do it for alcohol and tobacco! Better still, why not encourage individual enterprise? Why not make it easier for people to sell excess capacity back to the utilities? Give everybody the opportunity to become a generator in their own right. The power demands of individual households would drop, thereby relieving the load on the generating capacity. Am I missing something here?

As I said, until yesterday, my thoughts and feelings were of two minds.

Yesterday, that changed.

Yesterday we came up onto the Lammermoors, and turned off onto a flat area beside a huge rock outcrop. We got out and looked around, standing in silence for a time, listening to the whispering grasses and the southerly wind plucking fitfully at our hair and clothes. What do you think? I asked Alex. He stood there for a time, absorbed, considering his answer (as he does) and then he replied:

It's beautiful. It’s really beautiful.

As we looked across the vast moor, across the Great Moss Swamp, I told him about the wind farm, about what was proposed. Again there was silence, while he thought about it.

I don't get it, he said. How can they do that to a landscape like this? It’s just awful.

We stayed there, attempting to absorb the vastness before us.

In the late afternoon light the folds and wrinkles of the land were beginning to take on a greater definition. The approaching cold front was playing a counterpoint to the softly-lit landscape. Dark brooding clouds shot with patches of almost leprous white were prowling along the eastern boundary of the Rock and Pillar Range, while the sun played hide and seek behind the front edge of the coming storm.

We photographed on, as the light sculpted the landscape, following the day to its end, working under the deepening frown of the incoming cloud bank until the light sank away and contrast had gone. Then we drove home.

As we came down the escarpment, my feelings crystallised and I knew where I stood on the wind farm proposal.

I have been late coming to the party, and the cynic in me suspects big business and economic imperative will have its way.

But I have to do what I can. For our children's sakes.

How can anybody in their right mind to do this?

Update: Yesterday the government released its draft energy strategy to 2050. We all have until 30 March 2007 to have our say. They say a country gets the government it deserves. They are asking for our feedback. Whichever side of the energy debate we stand, we have the opportunity to have a say. You can access it here.

If you are interested in tidal energy schemes, you might want to check out Crest Energy's resource application to install 200 tidal turbines in the Kaipara Harbour. You can read about it here.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Four pictures; one day

Many Photographers are concerned only with the subject and they seek to render it as it is. Often they fail to observe that the lighting and the atmosphere adorn and transform even the most humble and commonplace objects.

Leonard Misonne (1870-1943)

As a photographer you enlarge or emphasise certain moments, making it another reality. In the photograph you can scrutinise all kinds of details, you can see things you would normally not pay so much attention to.

Rineke Dijstra (1959-)

The weather was shuffling the cards. After days of warm Norwest winds, the whole district knew a change was on the way. Everybody was talking about it. The whole district was holding its breath. As so often happens here in New Zealand, weather is a sure-fire topic of conversation. You can use it when you meet someone for the first time, or as a space-filler when you short of something to say. It's a Kiwi thing. Up here in the Maniototo weather has a much greater significance, a much greater importance, plays a more significant role in the life of the district. It's a rural community and life on the land turns on the whim of the weather.

What was coming became obvious late on Thursday evening. The sky was sinking into a kind of grey mournful torpor. The wind had died away, and the light was taking on a grim sombre appearance. Down at the end of the valley the storm was gathering, sizing up its foe before it struck. Then, as day and night changed guard, the storm raced into town. I went to bed and lay there, listening to it plucking spitefully at the building.

By morning it was gone. A blue hole had opened above the district, and only the remnants of the previous night's ferocity prowled along the hills surrounding the basin. But there was more in store. We all knew that.

I couldn't help myself. I hadn't made a picture in a week and my 10-plus-a-day rule was well and truly broken. I needed to get out, to be along the land, to look at what had happened, what was going to happen. I packed the truck, so keen to get out that I didn't bother with breakfast. Somehow I wasn't hungry. The expectation more than filled me up.

The truck slithered and slurped her way along the yellow gravel roads out towards Wedderburn, occasionally waggling her behind coquettishly in the soft slushy surface and revelling in the fine yellow mud that quickly coated her flanks and wheel arches. I had driven this road often but always in the opposite direction. Now, in the early morning light, I saw it in a completely different way. I've noticed that. You can drive the same road for years and everything looks the same: drive it in the opposite direction and you get a completely new take on it. For that reason, when I'm exploring, I frequently check my rear vision mirrors; the perspective can often be quite surprising.

This particular leg took me out and across the flats at the head of the Valley. Instinct suggested I should take the narrow road to the telecommunications repeater on the top of Little Mount Ida. By the time I got up there, some 1500 feet above the valley, the Norwest wind was picking up. It was arm-wrestling the remains of the southerly storm and, from where I stood, I could look out across the entire valley and see almost out to Cromwell. It was breathtaking being this high and this close to the Hawkdun mountains The sun was doing its best to make a statement, but the high cirrus cloud held it in check. Nonetheless I managed to make a number of pictures before hunger and the soft light drove me back into town.

Although I had things to do, my weather eye was on standby. As I often do I walked down the end of the street and looked to the south. I knew something was coming. Then I saw it; a blue black presence along the bottom of the horizon, and drifting curtains of rain. Above me the hole in the sky was slowly but surely beginning to close. It was time to go out again. There was something new in the weather that I hadn't seen before, that I wanted to capture.

I headed west across the valley towards the Rough Ridge Range, all the time watching what was happening to the South. Cumulo-nimbus clouds were gathering above the Rock and Pillar Range, giant roiling masses piling up thousands of feet, the advance guard for a storm that was only a matter of hours away. The light was beginning to shuffle in fitful patches across the landscape; the effect was both ominous and eerie.

I worked my way south photographing as I went, until somewhere near Patearoa I ran into the front edge of the storm and the rain on my windscreen turned me back towards Ranfurly. As I came into town, I could see a wall of rain slowly but surely advancing like a line of infantry towards the town. I drove out the other side and climbed onto the hill above the golf course, where I could look back across the town and watch it come. The wind was already beginning to shake the truck as I got out. Above the town, a huge blue black cloud was shambling along like some mythical Oliphant, dragging curtains of rain behind it, a thing of vast and terrifying beauty, a beast of war. I watched it ain awe, then, at almost as an afterthought, reached for my camera. I managed about six exposures before the first heavy drops of rain began to strike me in the face.

As I retreated, the full force of the hailstorm threw itself at the town. Within minutes there was a layer of hail 2 cm thick blanketing everything.

It was 4 pm; time for lunch.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Wairua-the exhibition

Kia ora tatou:

Firstly, a big thank you to all of you who made it out to the opening of the exhibition in Darfield on Friday night. It was a real joy to see you all (some of whom I haven't seen for quite some time) and have the opportunity to chat with you. For those of you who didn't and can make it, it is on until December 13 at the Selwyn Art Gallery in Darfield, Canterbury.

My thanks as well to those of you who e-mailed me afterwards, giving me some feedback about the show and your impressions of it. It has been really positive and very helpful.

For those of you who couldn't make it at all and those who are too far away to come, it represents, I suppose, a roadmarker of sorts for me. All of the work is very recent, the oldest of it made no longer than last April, but it represents a milestone in my photographic journey.

A number of people have emailed me asking what was in the show. Rather than put all the thumbnails here, I have done the obvious- made a new blog which discusses it in greater detail and shows all the work. You can reach it here.

Ka kite ano

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Andrew Spencer Speaks

The first member out of the box is Andrew Spencer, who has sent in this really awesome image.
Please comment freely.
He writes:

To me Kaikoura is about a big ocean, big mountains and a big (sometimes not friendly) sky. I am always on the lookout for images that portray this for me and currently the sky features a lot in my images. For me the sky helps capture the size and the untamed moodiness of this place.
When I saw the Morrie parked on the foreshore it worked perfectly with what I’m trying to capture lately. It was sitting in a little pool of light all on it’s own but surrounded by a huge angry sky. In a bold act of defiance the little Morrie is saying ‘just you look at me’ to the weather gods. It inspires bit of light and strength to me.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Your turn.....the mutant ninja pretzel strikes back

Kia ora tatou:

A number of people have quietly (and not so quietly) commented to me that it would be really great if some blogees' ( that's you) work made it onto Roadmarx.
I agree.
Couldn't agree more.
What a great idea.
Let's do it.
So let's see who is up for the challenge.

I propose a semi-regular post called XXXX( your name) Speaks.

The idea is this:
  1. You email me an image. Resolution 600px maximum along the long side at 72dpi. black and white, colour, sky A on landscape B, chickens in tutus. Whatever.
  2. You write a small description about the image( between, say 50 and 200 words), saying what and why.
  • What you were trying to say.
  • What led you to make the image.
  • what influences might have used in making the image.
  • Why you made it.
  • Maybe even what you thought of it.
No how's or where's unless it relates to your intention.

I will post it( if at least 3 of the conditions of #2 are met) and then others can comment.
I will post it whole, unabridged( sorry, bad pun) and uncorrected.

It has been great to see discussion occurring across the blog between you and as I want to make this a community, it would be great to feature your work as well and have comment from the other members.

A note of caution: I do not moderate comments as I believe in civil liberties( or is that civil liabilities), and for that reason have removed moderation.
This means any comment will go up and I am unable to remove them immediately. But since this is about support, I will delete anything deemed ignorant, offensive, negative or abusive. lte's be kind to each other.

Finally, I reserve the right to turn down any offering on the grounds of taste etc. Judges decision is final and any complaints will be ignored.....


Let's be having you then.......

ka kite ano

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Metamorphosis Chapter 33

For over two billion years, through the apparent fancy of her endless differentiations and metamorphosis the Cell, as regards its basic physiological mechanisms, has remained one and the same. It is life itself, and our true and distant ancestor.
Albert Claude

It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet.

Franz Kafka

Kai ora tatou:

In what seems like another life, I spent a week with master landscape photographer, Faye Godwin. At the time I wasn’t really into landscape; it was one of many genre choices for me. But I loved her work and the opportunity to learn from her was not to be missed. In the end, it really affirmed that what I was doing was the right path for me-at the time. What she did talk about, however, was the importance of getting to know your subject. In the case of landscape photography, it meant going back again and again, seeing it in different lights and weathers, peeling the layers off the onion. Only then would we be able to get to the essence of the subject. The thought stuck and, as I began to put more and more time into studying the works of the masters, I realised that the Greats inevitably seemed to do this. For Ansel Adams it was Yosemite, for Eugene Atget it was Paris, while Edward Weston favoured Point Lobos. They all seemed to have a place that spoke to them.

Then earlier this year I discovered Haast, in particular the Okuru Estuary. With the time and opportunity to visit and revisit, I began to see new things. At first I photographed the obvious and some happy meteorological accidents, but later as these possibilities exhausted themselves, and things got tougher and tougher, I had to find new ways to photograph the estuary, or rather, to look deeper. I wanted to dig beneath the surface and consider what I was seeing, to fit into some sort of framework. So I kept photographing, studying, analysing and reflecting on what I saw on my monitor. Time and again, I would be convinced that I had “done” the estuary, only to come upon a new line of approach. The estuary became a kind of litmus paper the direction my photography was taking. It was only later that I began to realise that it was an indicator for where my life was at and by extension, where I was at.

It helps, from time to time, to take stock. Last week I got out my photographs of the estuary, arranged them in order of date, and mulled them over. Then I went to the Coast to interview someone for my new book.

Once again I went to the estuary, trying to stay as open-minded as I could, to respond to what presented itself. I took the Leica lens and a tripod. I wanted to keep it simple, to remove as many technical decisions as possible. One lens/focal length, one ISO, hyperfocal distance focusing. I wanted to listen to the Moment.

I went down to the edge of the water at sunset. The tide was in, but the wind was blowing and, frankly its restlessness wasn’t what I was seeking. I wanted to find a point of infinite stillness, a moment of exquisite unity, where time and space held their breath, that precise but difficult-to-define point of crossover between night and day. That meant letting go and listening to the rhythm of the light, the movement of the air and finding the Centre of the Moment.

The Point of Balance. Once again I was brought face-to-face with a mediaeval concept I learned about at university, the concept of mésure (moderation and balance). The idea at that time was that everything should be in balance; light and dark, good and evil, pride and humility, that excess in anything was the path to destruction. That learning has had a huge influence on how I design my photographs and informed my arrangement of the picture space. I needed to feel for the moment and bring the elements before me into a state of balance. The yin/yang symbol, a visual metaphor for the Tao, says the same thing. There can be no absolutes, only degrees of relativity.

As I studied the scene and began photographing, searching for that point of mésure, the wind dropped and the light faded. Sky and water began to come into some sort of tonal balance. Before me the colour had faded away and what was left was a monochromatic blue landscape. The water had faded to a deep blue-black and the sky was a dusky blue. The only land was a a thin-lipped strip across the river, with a few tentative houses clinging to it. What intrigued me was the thin cloud hanging almost invisible above the village. Then, as day faded into night, as so often happens, there was a last flicker in the sky, much like the final flare before a light bulb burns out. For a moment a shaft of light struck the white holiday home across the river. It glowed incandescent and alive. Then it sank into the growing gloom.

As some you know, I have studied martial arts. For a number of years I studied a form of Wu Shu, commonly (and incorrectly) known as Kung Fu. I put it down while my children were little.
Lately I have returned and have begun to seriously study Tai Chi Chuan in its martial form (not the feel-good, watered-down form you see in Pilates or city parks at 6am). A fundamental concept is balance and the idea of finding the Centre then moving around that point, to put it one way. It sounds very simple; it is fiendishly difficult to achieve, because it is not just physical. And there are many years of training required to get any degree of competence. Mastery is a goalpost that keeps moving further and further away. Even the simple act of breathing contains a lifetime of study. In many ways Tai Chi bears an extraordinary similarity to the act of photography. There are infinite levels of understanding, and you have to focus to the point where you become what you are doing.

I continued on into the gloom, lost in Time and Space. As the balance between sky and water narrowed, I made more pictures. Directly before me the incoming tide was now covering a log in the water. The exposures had moved out to 30”, flattening and soothing the restless water. I moved the log into the frame. In the deepening shadows it had become a mysterious shape, a metaphor, a Doorway for the Dead. It sat there in the tide like some sort of key to a deeper mystery, raising one knowing eyebrow and challenging me to seek to know more. Then the remaining light, which had held on to the very last, sputtered and went out. It was time to leave.

When I edited the images a couple of days later, I was intrigued. In some way I have yet to define, my understanding had altered, had metamorphosed. It was as if a number of disparate but parallel threads were knitting together. The photographs had the simplicity I was seeking, yet they asked more questions than they answered.

As I edited the images, looking for the best way (if any) to crop them, I found myself moving the horizon closer and closer to the upper frame edge, compressing the sky into an ever-narrowing area of the picture. I began limiting the information along the top of the photograph. It felt right. It felt accurate.

Just now the future is full of uncertainty and possibility, and I am peering over the horizon of today, like the navigators of old, hoping to spy landfall soon.

Arohanui e

Welcome to son of Blueprintx

Kia ora tatou:

Welcome to the new, upgraded blog. To bring you up-to-date....
James, my web designer, has had some major issues getting my website loaded to my server, so the upgrade is on hold until he gets it all sorted.

I have been wanting to do a lot of work on my blog, to give it a newer, fresher look and lose a lot of the negative space in the old one. My daughter talked me into a gmail account, which is only by invitation (Google have bought Blogger) and that gives me access to the new Blogger Beta, which is way more sophisticated. At sometime in the future I will be able to integrate Blueprintx and this one.

Why Roadmarx? Well....

In a previous post I referred to the idea of our photographs being Roadmarks on a journey. A number of years ago I read a sci-fi novel by Roger Zelazny, in which the main character follows a series of road marks on a mythical journey. The marker posts by the roadside are more than symbolic, and he has to learn to decode them to understand his journey.

So it is with our photographs. Every image we make is a form of marker post, if we are able to decipher it.

I am deeply grateful for the comments contributed by those of you who posted. As I understand it, you want more of the same, my philosophical posts, but for me, from time to time, to put in some technical stuff.
So be it. I hear and I obey.

Thanks for your support and encouragement. I would hope that what I offer is of as much use as your comments are to me.

Ka kite ano

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Kia ora tatou:

As a number of you know, I have been working towards an exhibition( well, two in fact). The first opens on December 1 at the Selwyn Gallery in Darfield.

Those of you can make it( I know it's the party time of the year) are invited to come along and share the work, most of it from my travels this year, and have a glass of wine to celebrate. I am feeling pretty good about what is coming together.

If our only contact has been an E-friendship, I would love to meet you in person.Please make sure you introduce yourself.

If you are on my newsletter list, you will also be getting an e-invite.

Coming up soon, a technical post. I have to- Lost Pixel is on my back!

Ka kite ano


It is my intention…to present to the public, from time to time, my impressions of foreign lands, illustrated by photographic views -Francis Frith (1822-1898)

The physical object to me, is merely a stepping stone to an inner world where the object, with the help of subconscious drives and focused perceptions, becomes transmuted into a symbol whose life is beyond the life of objects we know and whose meaning is a truly human meaning - Clarence John Laughlin (1905-1985)

The storm sneaked into town around mid-morning on Wednesday behind the shirttails of the anticyclone that had been with us for a week now. It wasn't one of those summer storms, the ones that take a deep breath, draw themselves up to their full height, flex their biceps and tower imposingly before venting themselves. No, rather it was one of those furtive southerly storms that creep up on you, the sort where the first warning of its arrival is a tentative gust of wind and a few spots of rain. You look up somewhat surprised from your cappuccino, realise with a sinking feeling you're not dressed for it, and retreat for cover. Once it knows it has your attention, that you recognise it , it unloads itself upon you.

Within an hour the drops of rain head turned to sleet and then thickened out into softly drifting snow flakes. I retreated to my flat, wound up every heater I could find, and turned my back on it. Had it been one of those big-bosomed, buxom opera singer storms, I might have ventured out into it, to dance with that and the light. But it wasn't imposing, it was a Gollum storm, snivelling around in the background, causing trouble in a sneaky, underhanded sort of way. It didn't deserve to be noticed. Until the next morning.

All night it whined and wept, shook and wrestled with the town, doing its best to get under roofs and inside unwary spaces and looking to kick over anything not tied down. In the end, tired, I turned my light out and left it to its own devices, to do what it would. It didn't stay long; it wasn't a storm with guts, with any sort of perseverance. It soon tired of its spiteful game and went on its way.

I was out of bed and on the road early the next morning. I had to go down to town (in this case, a 1 1/2 hour trip to Dunedin) and then be back by midday, so I decided to leave my camera equipment behind. Big mistake. The air was settled and still, scrubbed squeaky-clean ,and the hills appeared as if they had been steadily closing in under cover of the storm. While my back had been turned, the rag-end of a spiteful winter had scattered itself across the hills along the horizon. The clearing cloud above the Kakanuis was still holding back the early morning sun but it was getting in nonetheless, along the gap above the Pig Root, and in the crawlspace above the Danseys Pass. For a moment or two, I wondered whether to go back for my cameras, then decided against it. I was running to a schedule and needed to get down to the coast. Perhaps later.

I got back around 2 p.m, and by now the snow was gone from the plains, retreating slowly back up the hill under the relentless thrust of the incoming warm front. I knew if I didn't get out amongst it, I would miss out on an opportunity to make something of the event that was moving on. I packed my equipment and headed east towards Kakanuis, knowing it was time to make their acquaintance.
Down towards Kyeburn then back up the Ridge Road towards Naseby, out towards the Danseys Pass. Then, on a whim, I decided to follow the somewhat tentative gravel road up towards the Kyeburn diggings. The road ahead obviously hadn't seen a grader in quite some time, and Hinemoa shivered and shook on its uneven surface. Ahead of me, off to the right, I saw the first of the clay cliffs that break so abruptly out of the landscape. Up behind them, the snowdraped Kakanuis shimmered and resonated in the early afternoon light. The contrast between the two were so visually surprising that I stopped to look, to take notes, to analyse. Like an insistent dog the scene was barking at me, demanding that I take notice, that I pay attention.

In the viewfinder the scene was even more surprising, and the results on my LCD only served to amplify and delineate what was in front of me. I must have made around 50 images working left to right, exploring, tuning, feeling my way to the Moment. And then it came.

My friend Freeman Patterson maintains that a great image has no less than two and no more than five significant compositional elements. I'm still thinking that one through. The iconoclast inside me, who rebels at any rule and looks for a way to beat it, feels that there may be a way round it. But I haven't found it yet. This image contains four distinct compositional elements, (if you include the gorse on top of the cliffs as part of the cliffs) ranging from the soft relatively featureless clouds at the top of the photograph to the textured grass along the bottom of the amateur. The smoothness of the snow-covered hills contrasts with the clay cliffs beneath. It's a composition that, 24 hours later, still satisfies me.

Over a glass of wine (or three), Freeman and I talked one night in Africa about how some images can be roadmarks, marker pegs like the small stone ones that used to line the Roman roads, that told you how far it was from and to the next town. These are points of significance, indicators on a journey. Londinium 24 miles (or whatever the Romans used to measure distance). From time to time, if we keep at it, we will all make roadmark images, photographs that tell us we've moved on, that we have come to a place we don't really recognise, and yet which we know is significant. Freeman maintains the subconscious is always three to five years ahead of the conscious, that the photographs we are making now are the result of a process that began that long ago.

I cannot help feeling that the image I made out on the Kyeburn Road is a Roadmark, a pointer to a process that has been underway for some time; that in some way it is trying to tell me something.

What that is I have no idea.

But it has my attention.