January 23, 2007

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul

Filed under: Thinking about Photography and Art — Tony Bridge @ 6:38 pm


Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures. ~Henry Ward Beecher

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavour. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do.
Henry David Thoreau-Walden

It had been the best of days, it had been the worst of days, but it was coming to an end.
By five o’clock, I had had enough; I had to get away from my computer screen, to get some perspective, so I went for a walk around the town, to get some air and to clear my head. Ranfurly is a small place, so it didn’t take long to get around it. At last, it was time to ease off, so I took a break at Forry’s and sat in the sun with a beer. Time to rest, to reflect.
Ranfurly really exists for one reason; to feed the needs of its rural community. As I looked around, the fact seemed both simple and striking. There before me was the evidence; the pickups with their tawny mud-caked wheel arches and galvanised-grey sheep/dog cages on the back, the down-at-heel farmers’ cars with their liberal coating of white and grey bird droppings, the chest-out, self-absorbed chuffing of a Toyota Diesel passing idly by.
I sat there in the sun, eyes closed lost in time and space, feeling the warmth of day’s end on my face. As the drink lost its chill, the foam on the top withered and shrank away in disgust. But it was a time of peace and I really didn’t care.
As I was enjoying the moment, a shadow drifted across my face and flicked the sun’s conviviality away. At the same time the wind brushed my face with a touch that was both colder and moister. It had turned around and was coming from the south, up the street. Somewhat startled, I looked up. While I had been snoozing, things had changed. The air had chilled, had taken on a slightly ominous quality. The weather was on the move again.
To my right, up the street, lurking on the periphery of the view was the edge of a large, fat cumulus, growing ever more impressive, strutting across the sky. It was trying to move west, but the remainder of the warm front basting me was holding it back. With nowhere to go, it began to pile upwards, climbing over the top of itself trying to scale the ramparts.
I took a look, then went back to my flat and began piling gear into the truck. I headed out onto Allison Lane, along the dividing line between the two fronts, feeling the tension build inside me as I went. The Norwest wind was still fighting a rearguard action as I went, retreating in a dignified manner back over Rough Ridge. But its time had obviously come. I started photographing and made 10 or 20 photographs. But I still was in the wrong headspace.
Because I didn’t want to miss a thing, I missed everything.
Too many choices, too little engagement.
It was when I climbed the gully at the top of Maniototo Station Road that things changed. Something tapped me on the side of my soul and I looked back. And there it was. A point I had been working towards for three months.
Down the gully, on the flat, a line of shadow was skirmishing its way east, and then falling back. As it fell back to the west, a gap appeared in the ranks and the sun briefly illuminated a small white farmhouse and a line of silage bales. The blue of the sky was covered in an arch of threatening, heavy cloud. I made perhaps 5 photographs then the moment had passed.
The remainder of the trip, which took another 2 hours or so and another 350 images, was the icing on the cake. I took perhaps 6 to the next stage. I will probably only use one of them for exhibition. But all the way home it was this one image that had my attention. Somehow I knew that it was a moment of recognition.
Sure enough, when it came up on my screen and I applied the processing edits I saw in my mind as I pressed the shutter, there it was, a sense of something defined, the summing-up of something that has been in the back of my mind and trying to claw its way up from the depths of my subconscious ever since I had moved into the district and begun to look around. I knew it; I recognised it, and it stared straight back into me. Its name is legion.
But I am still trying to explain it to myself. Each day I bring it up on my screen and circle around it, hoping it will give away a little more. Each day it does. Then it abruptly shape-shifts into something else, into another potential Understanding. It is an image that at present is asking more questions than it answers.
It may be years before it settles into place.
In the meantime, however, I will perch comfortably on a quote by the English author, Lewis Carroll, and watch unblinkingly, while I wait for it to show its true self:
I have had prayers answered.. most strangely so sometimes.. but
I think our heavenly Father’s loving-kindness has been even more
evident in what He has refused me.



  1. Tony, I think the image is asking you whether you are identifying the district itself, or identifying WITH the district. You have a decision looming about whether to stay in Ranfurly or pursue opportunities elsewhere. While the decision remains unresolved, the image is talking to you and making you think about what the Maniototo, Ranfurly, its people and its landscape really mean to you. And where you belong… (back to the sense of place thing again). From what you’ve said, it sounds like you are having an amazing experience as Artist in Residence so I can understand your dilemma.
    Either way, it’s another gorgeous image and I enjoy it.

    Comment by Bluebell — January 24, 2007 @ 5:52 pm

  2. Hi Bluebell:
    Whew! Thank you for that. I guess you have a point. It is an issue for me- do I stay or do I go? The experience here has been both difficult and exhilirating, but in no way boring.
    Thank you for your perceptive comments- and the consequent sleepless nights!
    Arohanui e

    Comment by roadmarx — January 24, 2007 @ 7:59 pm

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