Softly drawing out memories

Have you ever been in an art gallery and heard someone “explain” a piece of art to a companion? If you have, then you might remember a touch of annoyance at what was clearly a wrong explanation. Later, when I think about such incidents, I’m amazed by the way exactly the same image can draw different reactions from people. That is a lesson for me, when I create images. What I show can be totally different for different people. The grass flowers in the featured photo evoke in me a sense of their softness. I have memories of walking through fields of kans grass (Saccharum spontaneum) and feeling the soft bunches of flowers brushing against me. To enhance that feeling, I made it into a high key photo, so that your eye cannot easily focus on the edges. The soft morning’s backlight cooperated with me in this. I also remember the touch of coolness in the air. But what does this image convey to you?

Images contain much more than the single purpose you might have in mind. This is why images are obscure ways in which to convey meaning. When I took the photo of this spotted owlet (Athene brama) nesting in a hole in a concrete block I though it showed the adaptibility of all living things. Today I think of it as a study in contrasting textures, the hard shadows on the man-made structures contrast with the soft fuzziness of the shadows on the owl’s feathery coat. In order to emphasize texture, I desaturated the colour of the bricks. Who knows what I might see in the image a week from now?

I look on people’s memories as an ally in the making of images. When I spotted this cliff covered in moss on a bird-watching trip, I took a few photos so that I could study the identification of mosses later. But someone else said “Ooh. It looks like a rainforest in miniature.” Sure it does. He leveraged his memory to make a photo. But then a bunch of other bird-watchers came along and started taking the same photo and saying the same thing. That’s how association works in our minds: creating recognition, triggering mimicry. That’s something that politicians and advertising work on very much better than poor sods with cameras. But today I can turn those same images into a question: do you really have to see the contrast between hard rock (!) and moss to recall the softness of running your hand over a moss covered wall? Or does the lower image, with no rock showing, do as well?

Spiders are among my least watched photos: too many people have an aversion which triggers instantly. I love the colours, although I’m shaky at their identification. But spider webs? They are among my most liked photos. Sharp focus is needed to capture a spider web. To me this is a fairly good spider photo: the light was just right to glint off the strands of silk in the web, I caught the colourful spider in sharp focus, and there is still enough of its environment to tell you how this wood spider strings its large web between trees to catch insects which fly about two meters above ground. Do you see the softness of spider silk when you see this photo?

A small and dangerous world

We spent a couple of nights last week in an extremely wet part of the Sahyadris. I’d expected the room to be full of mosquitos. It wasn’t. I discovered why only when I turned my macro lens on the lovely brick wall that the architect had designed. It was meant to be a substrate on which moss would grow. Indeed it does. But my camera caught more than moss, as you can see. The canyons between the bricks were walls of silk.

Mosquitos, and other insects were decimated by the microscopic predators which live in the environment that we have built for them. My macro lens barely caught a glimpse of the spiders; they are less than a millimeter across (you can barely see it in the photo above). I won’t find it listed in a field guide. If I want to identify it I will have to catch an expert. I wonder where they used to live before humans began to build an ecology specially for them. We worry so much about feral dogs and the loss of cheetahs. We have no idea what havoc we play on the ecology at these sub-millimeter scales.

A miniature world

Autumn's new life

Autumn is supposed to be the time when life shuts down, trees dry up, the land turns barren. Demeter is supposed to withdraw from the world to mourn for Persephone. These are stories and suppositions, which my new macro lens puts a lie to. A dried bush (see the featured photo) becomes home to mould which germinates and begins to spread its spores. This world is spring, as far as the mould is concerned.

After a long spell of continuous rain, I walked to work on a sunny morning and stopped to admire a six century old rubble wall. In hollows and cracks in the stone, between the flakes of mortar, and against the sometimes-dry-sometimes-wet stone, new life is burgeoning. “Winter is coming” is a slogan for life in this miniature world.

This is a green and brown world which I had paid no attention to earlier. Now that I have a macro lens, I look continuously for new subjects to photograph. What a difference a new tool can make to your whole worldview!