Writing, photography and constructing stone walls require similar skills. Traveling for the last few weeks in the birthing land of the English language and then wandering about the streets of Paris, I found myself pulling meaning from my surroundings, as if selecting stones to build a ubiquitous British field fence. Each stone dovetailing into the others, dry stacked, connected by air and gravity. The finesse of the work built upon repetition, judgment and the meaning of the work. Stones were everywhere in the British landscape. And images and linguistic gems. I kept the muscles of my eyes and my ears strong and my brain alert for the right "stones".
Taking photos in an unfamiliar setting required a roving eye framing and re-framing bits of the landscape - calculating the light, the distance and the angle, the passage of characters or the juxtaposition of elements.
My camera didn't have a wide enough angle to capture the full breadth of a Monet mural in the Musée de l'Orangerie, but the moment that this Asian gentleman stepped into the room and twirled to pose for a photo with his dapper hat and cane, I knew that that was the photo that I wanted. Within a fraction of a second other people entered into the frame of the camera's lens and the photo would have been spoiled. Picking a precise moment with assurance is like selecting a rock without wasting time considering which of dozens might fit.
Once and awhile I see in black and white. The black taxis lined-up by the Nottingham Train Station under the arch of the canal bridge looked like they might make a nice black and white photo. Judith, my sister, noticed the taxis too and remarked on the image. I felt like I was seeing a little slice of city life. Rocks are mostly just gray, but the quality of the shadows of a stone wall creates texture and contrast, just like the elements in this photo.
Out on the Yorkshire dale in the first photo, the sweep of the hills with their scattered stones and green grass make the big picture, but the stone hut and the wall is what catches ones attention. In this photo, the image that you see was a reflection in a fairly small rectangle of canal water. Above it on the bank three men in orange safety vests worked repairing the equipment of a power station with yellow cranes arching over their heads. There were buildings to either side, some sky beginning to darken and a length of water. The little wavy image pulled all of the bright colors into its borders and like the stone fence, focused my attention.
Admittedly this photo could have been an ad for htc phone, but in reality, it was just my daughter avoiding having her picture taken. This isn't the photo that I was aiming for, but I really liked the way it came out. The gray sky was a perfect backdrop. Sometimes the right "stone" is the one under your hand.
Gathering words necessitated capturing snippets of conversation or watching for written communications that expressed odd, absurd or beautiful sentiments. Sometimes I took photos of words, so as to not let them vanish from my memory. I was particular, weighing each expression as to its heft, its worth.
CHIP BUTTY? Did you pick out CHIP BUTTY? The sound of this menu item was hysterical, but then what is it? I had to ask the waitress at Jayne's Place, a "transport cafe" in Nottinghamshire. (Yes, I was driving on the wrong side of the road sitting on the wrong side of the car when we pulled into this truck stop for lunch.)
CHIP BUTY is a dish with fried chips (potatoes cut like apple slices) in a hamburger bun. I loved that I speak English, but that I couldn't translate English to English.
UNIVERSALLY REGRETTED. "...Died here on the 22, Feb 1811 in the 49th year of his age UNIVERSALLY REGRETTED." Captain Thomas Gordon buried in a cemetery in Edinburgh has one of the most poignant inscriptions that I have seen. Why, I wonder, is this lovely sentiment not used more often. The inscription made me wish that I had known him, heard him speak, seen his personage. The next time I have the opportunity to write an epitaph, I'm going to consider if the person might be worthy of such dear words. UNIVERSALLY REGRETTED.
Private Grounds. WHAT? Maybe these are the waters that Jesus walked across. The absurdity of this sign made me laugh out loud. We were waiting for a ferry to cross over a lake on our way to Hilltop, the home of Beatrix Potter. I think that she too, would have thought the sign funny. These grounds would require hip boots, waders or, if the water were quite deep, a diving suit. Actually, if using a diving suit, the grounds likely would be private. Who else would be down there with you?
And, lastly, a conversation overheard on the street outside Pancras Train Station in London:
"Are you afraid to come to my apartment?"
I think that this line would be a good start to a short story. While I was waiting at a light, a young women held the arm of an attractive guy. She looked into his eyes with bright flirtation. He carried her pack, having just picked her up at the station. They had obviously met before and she was visiting him and trying to impress him with her delight in seeing him again. Her hand caressed his butt. Her eyes did not stray from his. He led the way off the curb as he said, "Are you afraid of my apartment?"
He looked so serious. The question seemed worrisome. Until he laughed and then she laughed. And he said, "I did clean it up."
(Ah, the drama of young love.)
Building with stone. Taking photos. Gathering words. Worthy work. Pleasing results all.
|Stone wall in Windermere, the Lake District of Scotland|