Roadmarx

January 10, 2007

And soon I heard a roaring wind

Filed under: Story Posts, Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 1:04 pm

pigroot_20070109_05302.jpg

And soon I heard a roaring wind:

It did not come anear;

But with its sound it shook the sails,

That were so thin and sere.

The upper air burst into life!

And a hundred fire-flags sheen,

To and fro they were hurried about!

And to and fro, and in and out,

The wan stars danced between.

The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner -Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Remember what Bilbo used to say: It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to…”;

– Frodo to Sam

Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, to follow the wind. Sometimes a chain of events flows from a single decision, from a single choice, and sometimes that choice isn’t really one at all.

I was heading south, and after two weeks in the North Island, I was looking forward to getting back to the spartan austerity of the Maniototo landscape. I left late on Sunday, a little later than I had intended, but it was all good. It gave me a chance to catch up with two old and very dear friends who live just north of Oamaru.

When I got up on Monday morning, intending to leave early, I was hungry to make photographs and decided that I would come back into the basin over the Danseys Pass, and see what the early morning light was doing with the hills around Mt. Domett. It didn’t quite work out that way.

As I was packing the truck, Kathryn came out and said that she and Ken wondered if I would mind dropping him off in town, an extra few kilometres in the opposite direction to where I wanted to go. I think that was the pivot point. Of course I wouldn’t mind, I said, knowing as we often do, that a simple response, a decision made on the spur of the moment can lead to a whole new journey.

So I finished packing, and Ken and I drove into Oamaru. It was a lovely morning and we decided to have a coffee. (Somehow the whole time scale had shifted to a longer, more languid one). That led to a discussion outside the cafe, sitting in the sun. A local woman sitting next to us joined in, and we talked about Art and film, and my own journey and as a result, I didn’t leave Oamaru until 9:30 a.m.

By now the sky had clouded over, one of those thin lipless skies with very little personality and no sex life whatever, and it lay listlessly above me, vacant, wan and bored, all the way down the coast. That is, until I reached Palmerston.

As I turned inland, it lost its rag and went into battle. The edge of a cold front sliding up the coast was in conflict with the warm front sliding over the hills from the Maniototo. The sky seethed and boiled and twisted in frustration and fury.

I turned off at Palmerston and headed up the Pigroot along the front edge of the conflict. Past Dunback there’s the turnoff that takes you past the goldmine at McRaes and out towards Hyde. The sky had all my attention now; its torment and agony hung and turned and twisted in the air above me. Which road to take? There was no real way of knowing, so I stopped and felt for the answer. It seemed to me as I looked at the signs pointing at McRaes that they were all covered in bright red road-closed stickers, that I should follow the Pigroot. I pointed the truck in that direction.

The road rose and fell, turned and twisted and feinted its way through the valleys and up the ridges, rising steadily higher until somewhere near the summit, time and space and intention all came together at almost the last minute. There’s a sign up there in the tussock on the border between the Maniototo and a Waitaki districts. It’s high and open and exposed and really not a place you want to be when the weather has turned foul. But its wildness and desolation is its beauty.

There, off to my left, the clouds twisted and turned, pushed east by the prevailing Norwest wind, rose and fell in wavelike layers. As I looked, I could imagine Sauron’s troops marching out of Mordor, heading west to do battle with the forces of Good. It was the subtle layering effect in the clouds that intrigued me, which I wanted to capture. I wanted it to play counterpoint to the vast, jaw-dropping spectacle before me. I wanted to reference the idea of layers both visually and in terms of meaning. Life has layers, relationships have layers. In fact the human journey as in many ways all about layers. Here it was, writ large on the sky before me.

But I needed something more. There was something missing. The bare land and this huge sky just were not enough. It needed an anchor point, some visual reference to reality. And then I saw it (or rather them).

In front of me stood two wilding pines, one in the foreground to the right of the picture, the other distant on the horizon and out to the left. Perfect. Again I thought of Frodo and Samwise picking their way carefully into Mordor, Frodo driven by desperation and fear, Samwise by his need to do the right thing. Above and around them the winds of history blowing, too big and too complex for them to control (or understand) in any way.

When we are learning to make photographs, we inevitably have to confront the issues of design and composition. Along with all the other components of design, like line, form, pattern, tone and texture, there are a number of elements that seem hardly worthy of mention and yet are profoundly important. Scale is one of these. Here is why: in landscape photography especially, it is sometimes hard to establish a sense of size and distance. Big picture photography really needs this. If you are to get a sense of the vastness of the space before you, if that is what you’re trying to say, then you need to give a viewer some sort of visual reference to enable them to understand the scale of what is before them. A known reference like a barn or a farmhouse gives them a measuring tool, a visual ruler to enable them to calculate both height, breadth, and distance. It also provides meaning and spatial/contextual contrast. You do need however to use it thoughtfully, because there is a real risk of cliche.

So there it was.

A chain of decisions, a string of events, had led me all the way to two small trees, to Frodo and Samwise.

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61 Comments »

  1. Hi Tony
    Hope 2007 is all good – looking good.
    You’re teasing us here aren’t you? I really need to see this image that’s doing the question mark thing.
    The best
    Andrew

    Comment by Andrew — January 10, 2007 @ 8:31 pm

  2. Hi Andrew – this is an awesome image. I can’t see it on the summary bit on my desktop either but when I click on “more” I get the image in full. I can see it properly on my notebook, however, which has a wide screen. I can tell you (and Tony) that it is a SUPERB image!! No other comment that is not “in the vernacular” will be appropriate for it!

    Cheers

    Comment by BB — January 10, 2007 @ 10:02 pm

  3. I love Samuel Taylor Coleridge and this piece seems to fit this AMAZING photo perfectly.

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  4. It’s all good now – Woooow!

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