I was weeping in the car. Another lost day in the mountains. “What are you looking for?” asked my husband. “A thin place.” I replied, “There are no thin places here.” Since returning from Ireland to Alberta in 2020 I had lost something very precious. I had not invested in Ireland as I should have. I let my roots linger somewhere near the surface knowing that I probably wouldn't stay there forever as some were inclined to do. What I didn’t realize was that although I didn’t attach myself to Ireland. Ireland had attached itself to me. I had experienced intimacy with the landscape in a way that the mountains here in Alberta would always defy. In Ireland, most of the landscape was easy to travel by foot, and was. Whether it was a farmer checking on his cows or Tim Robinson, well known cartographer and writer who had extensively explored parts of Ireland and had detailed maps about them. There was no way to know this vast wilderness here intimately. I didn't even know where to begin.
I don’t know that I’ve ever had a place to call home. As a young child my family moved around a lot due to my father’s schooling. Once the schooling was done our family continued to grow so we were always upgrading to a bigger place. In 2007, my family left the city that I had been born in and I stayed behind hoping to move forward in some kind of direction.
I don’t know if I can really only blame the location for not being able to call it home. Tonight I realized that maybe I too was part of the problem. Knowing that I would never be in a location long enough to call it home. For about 15 years I skipped from place to place, never really investing in the people, getting to know the shops surrounding me. I had one goal and that was to get through whatever the main thing was at the moment. Sometimes it was school, sometimes a job, I seemed to be always waiting and the directions were not always straight and the destination changed often.
After moving to Cochrane I decided I was done moving. I wasn’t leaving Alberta anymore, I had done a full circle. Arriving in 2010, leaving in 2016 and back in 2020. Alberta seemed like a good place to settle. Driving to the library tonight I realized I had not made a true effort to call this home. I was still waiting. Was I waiting, because I was still renting? What was the wait for? Why had my heart decided it wasn’t going to commit to this place? For whatever reason I decided, it should be time I start investing truly. How does one do that? How do you truly invest in the town you live in? I don’t know but I intend to find out.
Orange Leaves in the foothills. 2021
The leaves crunch under my feet as I walk through the small wooded area near my house. I breathe in deep. Yes, I had forgotten the scent of autumn. It has a particular scent brought on by the leaves changing colour, and falling down to the ground in deep layers. Light and crispy they are easily kicked up as I walk through. This is a new place for me from a recent move, and its been a while since I’ve inhaled this fragrance. Slightly woodsy, but without the depth of smell that bark has. This scent tends to sit on the surface more. I had forgotten. In Ireland, mostly I walked through grassy fields and rocky surfaces.
Limestone rock and grass, Ireland, 2017
While there are wooded areas, they aren’t a focus, as Ireland was mostly deforested a long time ago. Living in the Burren, we relished the limestone craggy moonlike surfaces, and we were continuously hit with the cool menthol air from the ocean. However autumn lacked the same luster and celebration that it does here in Canada. Why bother celebrating autumn in Ireland? Summer simply slips into fall with a subtle tonal differences. Suddenly as you look around you notice that the leaves are gone, but the grass is still green. How did I even miss it? You wonder.
Alberta rose bush in fiery glory, 2021
In Alberta, this fall in particular the foothills were vibrant with colour. Most of the trees here turn yellow instead of red or orange, but the grasses and shrubs are all aglow with the most spectacular colours that would make gemstones pale in comparison. However, its all for a short while until the snow flies.
Photography tips for finding your distinct story and style: why you shouldn't copy other people's work.
I walked into a gallery recently to view a photographer’s work. Within seconds of being there, I recognized that while the photos were “originals”, they were in fact replicas or knock-offs of Peter Lik’s work. For those of you who don't know Peter Lik, look him up. His photography while beautiful, unfortunately has been knocked off more times than I could count. You can buy Peter Lik lookalike photography everywhere, there are people that specialize in it.
While, I do think that it’s good to emulate people that we look up to, it helps us to develop techniques and try on styles. The problem is that you have to break free from that particular style and develop your own style. Everyone has a unique story, perspective, location and goal for their photography. These are questions that you should ask yourself about your photography/art.
1- What is my location? Where do you live? Suburbs, country, city? These all offer distinct insights and perspectives. What do you notice when you walk where you live? What is unique about where you live? You need to train yourself to start looking at the obscure, the unnoticed, the feelings you feel in a particular place, the mood of a particular place. What changes between the morning or evening? When I lived in Edmonton, Alberta, there were a lot of industrial and agricultural structures and I began to photograph these thinking about how they could be viewed as forms rather than the useful structures that they were.
2- Composition: How are you composing your photos? Peter Lik has a photo called “The tree of life.” Go and look it up. If you were in that location, what would you do differently to compose your shot? Would you focus on the intricacies of the bark? Could you focus on the branches instead of the wiry shape of the tree? Are there lumps and bumps on the tree that could contribute to a more sculptural photo? Are you shooting from the ground, from above? (hello drone!) Are you climbing the tree? There are so many different ways to compose a shot. The important thing is that you begin to notice details that others haven't seen. You must explore your locations.
3- What is the goal of your photography? People who knock off celebrity photographers do it for the money. I get it money is necessary, I am by no means advocating that you starve, but money can’t be the primary goal, (it can be a goal) otherwise it infiltrates your photographs. My aim is to make people feel like they’ve entered a different world. My other aim is to get people to have an intimate experience with the landscape. I do this by composing my photos so that the viewer is experiencing a close-up. Sometimes, it takes people seeing something several times, before they begin to like something different.
These are a few tips to get you started, by all means, look up photographers and emulate their style, but make it your own. We need your distinct perspective on things, life, people, places.
How do you photograph an icon? What do I mean by an icon? I define an icon as something that is easily recognizable, that may be a person, place or thing. Whatever it is, when you see an image of it, you recognize it. I live close to the Canadian Rockies and they are easy to recognize; pristine turquoise lakes, jagged mountains, classic pictures of Banff. I tend to see a lot of images online by professionals and amateurs alike, but the problem I keep encountering is that the images are easy to recognize. While they are awe-inspiring, beautiful and well curated, we see Banff, we see the Rockies, there is no mystery, no allure to draw the viewer in to the image with wonder. Type in Banff or Rockies and you will find many images of the same mountain looking pretty much the same no matter the photographer. I understand that some people admire other photographers and use their photography as a template to bounce from and learn, but once you’ve learned, it’s time to move forward and find out who you are as a photographer. Here are some of my tips for photographing icons such as the Rockies.
1 - Find something that isn’t focussed on. I have a beautiful picture of Castle Mountain and so does pretty much every other photographer that photographs in the Rockies. Its a beautiful mountain, and while you may want to photograph something iconic like Castle Mountain, there are plenty of other beautiful mountains as well that don’t get the same attention. Find something that others walk by and miss.
2 - Zoom in or crop: Most of the time we see images that give the full picture: mountain, lake and trees, but find an angle or part of the view that you want to crop or zoom in on. What this does is abstract the image and gives it a sense of mystery. It also points the viewer to something that they may have missed while taking in that particular view. This is one of my essential go-tos, but it takes some time to get used to focussing on intimate details of the landscape.
3 - Remember that you’re making art not documenting. You’re not documenting every mountain in the Rockies most likely. You’re making art, it needs to stand apart from what others do. One of the things that we would talk about in art school when photographing was that when possible photograph so that its not easy to spot where in the world that photo was taken.