Friday, December 29, 2023

Still Life, Close Up




"The force of a photograph is that it keeps open to scrutiny instants which the normal flow of time immediately replaces." Susan Sontag, On Photography



Watering can, sedum, pots: found still life


Photography gives us the power to isolate a scene from its context and by so doing, make it seem self-sufficient: above, a watering can, some plants in pots, and nature poking through and around. Instant still life composition, if you will. This ability to isolate scenes reveals endless subject matter in gardens, which while presenting as unified wholes comprise an array of scenic elements. Any number of them in fact, as it's quite arbitrary where one begins and another ends. But the camera's shutter resolves any ambiguity with finality, peeling off a distinct slice of reality and rendering it a self sufficient whole - a small world all on its own. And in these digital times, compositions can simply be re-framed with the lens until a pleasing amalgam of content and angle emerges. Now, why it is that one collection of objects suits the eye while another does not remains a mystery, a by-product of aesthetics, opportunity, and subjective intent. Also, the technical frame of the camera lens - the rectangular boundaries that can be set horizontally or vertically to bring objects closer or set them further back - causes modes of viewing to appear that aren't necessarily evident in the same way to the naked eye. As a recording device, cameras create a facsimile of reality and in so doing, effect entirely new possibilities.



Cluster of waxy, unopened cones snapped off by a windstorm, from an Atlas Cedar


Releasing the camera shutter determines the take with finality, and the beauty revealed (if any was sought) indeed lies in the eye of the beholder. I haven't reflected on where this urge to assemble objects into still life compositions, or to focus on patterns or details in scenery, actually comes from. But I seem always to have inclined towards it myself (my godmother painted still lifes and close ups, and I was always intrigued by her art) and I still enjoy searching for what appears to be a good cluster. These almost invariably have some innocence, humbleness or even a certain naievete about them, although marks of wear, indications of time's passage, and even signs of slow demise can for me model beauty in everyday things. I've also come to realize that my eye doesn't distinguish still life from close up photography very precisely, so these tend to shade into a continuum of effects. In this post I'm sharing a few of my own takes as eye-bait and to illustrate how even simple things - as often found together by chance as intentionally grouped into an ensemble - can yield, if not outright beauty, then at least compelling visual interest when focused upon and isolated. Of course, the momentary passing light they're seen in matters too, structuring the distinctive impression they leave - for in some sense, the collection of objects or block of patterns actually is the light the picture shows it in.


Snail completing a long stretch across the gap between paving stones


Sometimes you happen upon subject matter by chance, as when I noticed the snail above patiently crossing a deep gulf between paving stones. We only see these snails after a soaking rain, while the ground is moist enough that they can move about without dehydrating. This picture involves an element of chance insofar as it only existed for a moment: here the snail is just completing a prodigious stretch across the gap, drawing its shell back over an extended body in completion of its forward movement. Chance timing, while a great generator of pictures (this scene changed continuously, if in slow motion) is one source of still life, but I also enjoy using certain favoured objects as props in creating garden compositions. I deploy them to catch or model particular effects, as with the watering can in the opening shot in this post, or the weathered teak chairs below. They reliably impart specific impressions of light at a particular moment while displaying seasonal effects. The watering can confirms the nature of the scene portrayed, suggests human engagement with plants and implies something intimate about the garden itself. Back to that continuum of effects I mentioned: the weathered chairs below could be considered more scenic details than true still life.


Weathered chairs with emphatic shadow lines


Quite apart from my reliable metal watering can and the weathered teak chairs, regular garden plants themselves furnish limitless opportunity to frame photos as still life. Perhaps this practice bends or stretches the notion of still life even further, but catching objects at the moment the shutter releases does guarantee fusion into a relationship in the outcome. I instinctively search for clusters of objects combining elements of spontaneity and arrangement, so there is somewhat of a found quality incorporated into the picture (by 'found', I mean that some force other than conscious human intention helps achieve the arrangement, such as time, weather, or the chance placements of nature). The next shot illustrates this blend of intention and discovery: the rocks are of my choosing, but the blossoms are from a neighbour's wandering wisteria that has grown through the fence and into the scene (with a little encouragement from the gardener). I find this recognition game endlessly entertaining, with the added benefit of yielding pictures that embody particular moments. There is, I know, if not an artificiality, then at least an unreality to this, as all growing things are actually in motion and at any point fall somewhere between being born and if not outright dying, then dying back. But, so too are the fruits and flowers that appear in painted still lifes, and even the vessel containing them, captured in the painting's singular moment, likely winds up broken at some point down the line.



Placed rock cluster with found wisteria blossoms


To me, flowers themselves are among the most intriguing garden subjects for still life or close up compositions. Individual flowerings typically result in a brief but spectacular show of bloom, after which the plant's presence recedes to context. Below is a shot of a bearded iris that isolates an intricate bloom with fetching falls against a background of indistinct green tinged with yellow, amplifying the overall impression. I like using this technique of selective focus to create a context that's more colour than form and that has a sympathetic effect by placing the principal object in sharper relief. This makes the background more effect than distinct setting.



A single iris bloom makes a still-life composition


Below is another frame, taken on a different April day. Both the iris above and the tulip below are plants that came with the garden, which occurred some thirty years ago this spring. I've helped them continue to flourish here by periodically dividing and replanting them in freshened soil, and they have responded by reliably adding their simple beauty to spring's slow, captivating narrative. I've come to realize through close observation that here on southern Vancouver Island, with our temperate climate and slow, moist spring, spring-flowering plants often show early, middle, and late iterations, a fact that can be marshalled by gardeners to prolong the sequence of effects for daffodils, tulips, quince and lilacs, thus extending their floral impact far longer. I was unaware of this potential for floral differentiation while growing up in Ontario, where spring tends to come all at once and things flower simultaneously rather than in such distinct sequences. The tulip shown below is in the middle-to-late part of tulip-time on this site, helping push the season into a fifth or perhaps even a sixth week of species-flowering. In this photo, some purplish hints in the indistinct background enhance the delicate pink of the tulip flower. To botanize a bit, here we are playing around with varieties so as to express species-effects.


Tulip flower thrown into relief against a distant background


Another thing I enjoy exploring in plants-as-subjects is the vast array of impressions transmitted over the course of their flowering and finishing, from first appearance to full-on flourishing and even, for certain plants, extending so far as their beauty in running to seed. Below, an annual lunaria has set large seeds that are discernible within semi-translucent pods, shown while the plant is still alive, yet not that long before it expires and begins bleaching to fall grey. Lunaria, known commonly as 'honesty' in England, is also called 'money plant' in Asia, and 'silver dollars' in the USA. The latter two names refer to its thin, dried seed pods having a somewhat coin-like appearance. In 1884, Van Gogh painted a lovely still life of honesty's bleached pods in a vase with other floral elements surrounding it, but they are not made to resemble coins in his rendering. 


Lunaria sets its seed in coin-shaped pods that turn grey when it dies


Camas lilies are native to our slender peninsula on Southern Vancouver Island, a key landscape signifier in spring's slow, spectacular flourish. The quintessential meadow flower, camas thrust up dramatically under the native Garry oaks before leafing out, seeming to appear from nowhere (as bulbs do) sometime between late March and early April, initially strikingly blue-tinged as the blooms appear, but running towards a purple effect as the petals burst open. The shot below captures this briefly blue moment, just before the full floral explosion. I am particularly fond of these dramatic local lilies, reintroduced here to a garden contrived in a setting of mature oaks. Camas under oaks are a vestige of the extensive coastal prairie once maintained by controlled burning of underbrush by the Coast Salish peoples, the original inhabitants of Victoria and its environs. Ironically, it was their luxuriant spring flowering that caused British explorers to describe the first-nation-groomed coastal prairie as "a perfect Eden", never troubling to understand the role of human intention (or its utilitarian purpose, which was starch-yield) that caused the 'paradisial' effect. 


Camas flowers before the turn to purple


Close up and still life both allow us to observe a cluster of objects, or a pattern made striking by angle and light, and catch them in a framed view with the camera. Each represents a distinct moment in time, frozen by the frame. I obviously enjoy this association of objects through the lens, which is something that can be done equally well inside the house as out in the garden. The next still life composition catches an interesting combination of shapes, patterns and tones in filtered daylight, with the added complexity of reflection in a small mirror. The gentle softness of indirect exterior light gives this shot its mellow, peaceful quality.



Mellow light for a cluster of objects intensified by reflection in a mirror


Our house-and-garden combination offers many opportunities to frame scenes that capture elemental forces in changing lights. A decorated house with ample windows in every room admits light that suggests compositions based on clustered details. This capability exists because our eyes today are fully adapted to seeing photographs of fragments of things - parts taken to stand for the wholes they've been drawn from - that are still capable of invoking mood for the absent totality. We are able to enjoy even the discontinuity effected by the lens and the framing of the image, because our eyes are not affected by the arbitrary closure at the edges. We literally view subject matter  photographically when looking into a picture. 



Light and shadow effects as still-life

Our house receives a great deal of sunlight due to its placement on a hill combined with its many large windows facing east, south and west. One effect is that the inside receives changing light throughout the course of a day, modifying the mood in its interior spaces. This allows the framing of many views of patterns and clusters of objects, with scenery often glimpsed through windows as context (as above, looking west).

Recycled stained glass shed window, itself a still-life composition

I find light admitted through window glass endlessly fascinating as a source of images, here a stained glass window backlit by light from the west. This window, one of a pair acquired by chance at auction many years before the shed took shape in my imagination, had a long life prior to landing in its current position as part of another building. I bought the pair of windows based on the fanciful idea that the rather art-deco flower theme would go well in a garden structure that I designed to be observed from the house. As I wasn't actively contemplating building one at that moment, it turned out to be a great choice when the idea finally came to fruition. 


Cluster of chive flowers in a retrieved discarded aspirin bottle


One day I was taken by the simple beauty of some chive flowers in an old aspirin bottle viewed in fading afternoon light, against a backdrop of deco tile in our bathroom. The aspirin bottle was retrieved from a midden in the yard, which served as a final resting place for glass goods in the days before garbage pickup in this locale. I unearthed it while turning over a garden bed. The combination comprises a humble still life of found and grown objects, reflecting nature brought inside and placed in a piece of the inside world that was retrieved from outside purely by chance, having been tossed there some decades prior.


Montbretia's flowers bring a foretaste of autumn's fiery colour palette


Many garden still lifes or close ups convey a background sense of the season they represent - flowers flower in a particular window in the unfolding garden season and imply their place and time in the sequence of bloom. Even the quality of the light itself can be seasonally revealing. The picture above is of Montbretia, which here flowers in later summer and prefigures the fall colour shift. However, seasonality can be made to play an even more explicit role in defining the overall composition. Below is an example of snow's presence truly defining a scene, in a rather sombre way here due to the dullness of the light on that day. This lack of punch in the light actually reinforces an abstract, monochrome quality, making the scene appear almost black and white (b+w photography amplifies lines of force and spatial presence in images) but for the hint of mustardy yellow on the south face of the limbs and the terra cotta chimney intruding below. 


Monochrome light, snow on oak limbs, chimney


Winter of course presents numerous opportunities for close ups, but snow remains difficult to convey with a camera. Most often it simply over-exposes the image, becoming indistinct and almost bland thereby. But unique conditions of light occasionally combine with unmodified snow effects to produce stellar results. In the following photo, the house's end gable defines the composition, the snow drifts softening its overall architectural effect considerably. The result conveys a sense of home as a cozy refuge.


Freshly fallen snow weighs down plants, softening the massive gable end

Just as snow reliably conveys wintry conditions, fallen leaves signify autumn's decisive impact on plants. As the production of chlorophyll comes to an end triggered by the shortening days, foliage-green gives way to underlying pigments that are masked during the growth phase. This picture to me catches the warmth of fall coloration and the sculpting of the leaf as it has dried out.


Nothing says 'autumn' like fallen leaves, here a big leaf maple


Freezing rain in winter can also lend dramatic impact to the appearance of plants, giving even contextual plantings renewed potential to serve as subjects for still life. Seeing the physical world through a glazed coating is visually astounding, rendering the ordinary elements of everyday life freshly intriguing to observe. The aftermath of freezing rain makes me want to go wandering in the wonderland of special effects, seeking after visual interest and knowing that I won't be disappointed (despite heightened personal risk). The next shot is of a clump of ornamental grass inclined under the weight of a thick coating of ice, a structure within a solid that's totally on view.



Freezing rain imprisoning grass in a coating of translucent ice


The next shot, taken after the same ice storm, shows how universal the coating of frozen rain actually is, here emphasized by thin strands of page-wire fencing. Brilliant sunshine reflecting from the glassy coating brings the ice right up to the eye, which notices the rolling quality of the horizontal wire (traces of the spool it came from) more than it otherwise would. I like the simplicity and relative peacefulness of this composition, which takes a moment to come into sharp focus.


Page-wire fencing coated with frozen rain emphasizing forms


One winter day I happened to be working in the back garden, collecting debris shaken loose from our oak trees during the latest windstorm. I was taken by the array of bits and pieces of lichen, mosses and fungi strewn across the lawn, sometimes appearing on a piece of oak branch and invoking the unique colour palette of these wet-season organisms. So I pulled an assortment of random bits together on a garden bench, and from that derived the following shot as a creative clustering of this aerial debris. The picture frame 'notices' it by capturing the concentrated grouping, something our eye wouldn't make appear in quite the same way without this act of isolation. I enjoy its odd shapes and colours immensely - the aquas especially!


Found-debris downed by a winter storm, fungus and lichen now assort


Many garden plants interact uniquely with their environment to create special effects. For example, seasoned gardeners often notice the particular way that rain pools on a foxglove's tubular flowers, forming distinct droplets as gravity gradually draws the moisture towards ground. Something about the flower seems almost to repel the water, forcing it to collect into droplets. You can almost feel it moving downwards despite being frozen into a still picture. These effects are transient, so if you're to catch them you need to keep your camera ready to hand. I like to garden that way myself, with the camera nearby. Then, if something suggests itself to the eye, or the light suddenly turns transcendent, the means of recording the passing effects are ready to hand. As often as not, that will simply become a still life composition. Or, is it a close up? Or maybe a detail?


Raindrops clustering on foxglove flowers

My point is simply that even the humblest of gardens, say an assortment of pots on a deck or a small terrace, offers opportunities to render plants into such still life compositions. Van Gogh did it memorably with many plants, including clusters of picked flowers in a vase. These paintings, now famous, remained obscure in his lifetime  (as did most of his oeuvre), but must have given him intense satisfaction. Look around your world and you'll see such opportunities lying everywhere. Go ahead and compose. It's a way to preserve a fragment of the flow of time for future contemplation. And it's good fun.


Campanula (bell flowers) after a rain


Affectionately dedicated to my long-departed godmother, Molly Parbery, whose still life painting hung on my bedroom wall while growing up.






Thursday, November 30, 2023

Changing Impressions: Light in a Fall Garden



"Change is a measure of time and, in the autumn, time seems speeded up. What was is not and never again will be; what is is change." Edwin Way TealeCircle Of The Seasons



Noon October light illuminates a panel of stained glass inside the garden shed


We tend to think of our gardens as constants, as entities expressing a distinct character that persists from day to day. As gardeners, we work hard to create that sense of enduring character. But within the garden's confines, despite all our efforts at ordering this space, change remains the norm. Change in a garden takes many forms: growth and decay, additions and deletions, our deliberate plans skewed by nature's hidden operations. But beyond these elemental forces another agent of change is always at work, adding transient touches from moment to moment, varying the way objects appear to our eye and the impressions they leave. Time of day, season of the year and, above all, atmospheric conditions modify the light we see things through, affecting how gardens look and feel at any given moment. The sun's mobility, itself varying along a continually changing arc, modifies the light-yield of day and season, lengthening or shortening the shadows cast or dispensing with them entirely when the sky is overcast.


Light varies by day and season, constantly changing our impressions of nature


As gardeners who get to observe their charges in so many different lights, we come to appreciate subtle gradations that modify how the garden appears. Light structures mood in the garden. The simple act of watching turns out to be an enjoyable experience that can be cultivated, even as our hands are busy with seasonal garden tasks. One looks forward to seeing how nature is going to reveal itself each day, especially when the signs at daybreak appear promising. As we grow into our gardens over the years, this practice of observing effects grows on us, ultimately revealing itself as a practical way to live in the moment (as opposed to always living towards the future, so not being in the present at all - which many now seem to do). What better way to live in the moment than to observe its particular qualities as manifested by our immediate surroundings? 


"The garden is never fully under human control. However one may strive after a finished perfect 'product', it must always be illusory – or at the best, ephemeral. The garden resists reification, insists upon process. It is always unfinished. A fixed result may be desirable, but it is always elusive." The Garden As An Art, Mara Miller, 1993


One key to living in the moment is the perception that things actually do appear differently in different lights - and, that the way they appear affects their impact on us. Of course, we have to be able to pause long enough to notice such things, remaining still long enough for an impression to register. If we can do this, then certain conditions will command our attention, and at special moments perhaps lead us to experience feelings of awe and delight. This way of approaching light's effects mimics the turn taken by the school of painting known as Impressionism - recognizing that it's the light of the moment that renders a scene memorable. Viewed from this angle, daylight offers a living theatre for garden viewing, one that can absolutely captivate the eye on special days. Sometimes, when conditions are right, bearing witness to atmospheric changes is like having a front row seat at a show nature is conducting for us. On one such magical day in October 2016, I decided to try and capture a succession of the light's changing effects throughout the course of the day.


Strawberry Tree (arbutus unedo) berries


Changing impressions caused by evolving daylight are there to be enjoyed during all seasons, but fall is a very special time. Certainly not every day is evocative in the way this one would be (some days display an enervating sameness of effect that drains much of the magic, especially say in a dreary November). But other days, and those not infrequently with October's mood swings, generate absolutely memorable effects all day long. The photos below are taken during the third week of October in Victoria, in conditions that were ideal for this form of garden watching: the observer available to the day, a variety of changing atmospheric effects on offer, the day ultimately inducing a glow in everything light fell on. I happened to be working from home that day, so could witness the developing moments. As a result, the scene was always visible and immediately observable whenever I looked up and out. I hope the photos and text capture some of the engaging spectacle on display that magical day.



A misty start after a long night of rain, the garden drenched and green


The day dawned through a light mist, after a night of sustained rainfall. The shot above catches the scene just before nine o'clock in the morning. I'm working inside and looking out through the kitchen windows now and then. One effect of mist is a general softening of things, as it diffuses available light while rendering the air itself visible. I had a feeling this mist would dissolve fairly quickly into open sunlight and was intrigued to watch the transition play out. I decided to record these early conditions, so I leaned out a kitchen window and brought the garden up closer using a telephoto lens. The mist in the shot below, while still thick enough to render the background details hazily, is already being infiltrated by October's golden sunlight.  


Similar angle, sun now starting to rise above the mist, fall colours flooding in


Morning mists occur periodically in fall and winter in our marine climate, which sees the jet stream push clouds and storms in off the Pacific Ocean and across our small peninsula. Mists and fogs are usually associated with an air mass that's come to a standstill, which we experience essentially as a motionless cloud perched above the land. This stillness and the shrouding effect of mist adds an air of mystery to the surroundings (that is, if one doesn't have to travel in it!). Apparently the physical phenomenon of mist is caused by temperature differentials that trigger evaporation of moisture from land (or sea) to air, concentrated and compressed by atmospheric inversion caused by an air mass above holding it stationary. When this happens, especially during parts of the year when the sun's arc is lower in the sky, solar energy has to penetrate the mist for longer before dissipating it. (In Vancouver's West End, fog combined with inversion can persist for days on end, enclosing the visible world to the point of claustrophobic unreality). The mists we see here sometimes blanket broad areas of land, but at other times are limited to lower-lying pockets or sequester over the straits where they complicate navigation. To someone on land, settled in a secure location, the presence of mist adds ethereal effect to landscape, especially as it gradually thins and daylight breaks through. This was exactly the dynamic at work that day. 


                    "Retard the sun with gentle mist;
                                        Enchant the land with amethyst."  
                                          Robert Frost, 'October', 1915



At this point I was busy working and only occasionally glancing at the day's sights through the windows. Light-wise however, things were moving along dynamically. As the sun rose higher in the sky, the light turned more lustrous and golden, and with it the fall palette of reds, yellows, oranges and browns began to make a stronger impression. Bright sunlight falling on a garden drenched with rain adds a kind of pulsing resplendence to the scene, at points making it appear paradisical. Our fall sunshine can be brilliant, but not so intense as to quickly dry the landscape, which means Edenic impressions of verdure and vibrant colour are prolonged. Through the flow of moments the surroundings simply glow with radiant energy. Check below how the fall colours are beginning to smoulder as the sun's rays fully break through (there's only the faintest hint of lingering mist in the distant background now).


Suddenly the mist dissipates, sunlight is dominant, and fall colours blaze


The sun's appearance renders the world into blocks of contrasting light and shade. Periodically I look up and notice that the shade line running across the back garden is retreating slowly eastward as the sun gradually rises further above the roof, bathing ever more of the ground plane in intense fall light. 


Rising in the southeast, the sun casts angled light on oaks, lilacs and shed front


From my seat at an island counter, generously sized kitchen windows play the role of framing views that appear astonishingly rich and vibrant. The thought occurs how fortunate we are to have such direct visual access to the garden from inside the building, and how rare and unusual this degree of wall-porosity actually is in a world of houses designed to face inwards. Ample windows make walls seem semi-transparent, tipping the usual distancing effect towards one of connection. I quietly thank the building's designer for so creatively linking inside to outside, affording me a pleasurable sense of immediacy without ever having to leave my seat.


View-framing window with scenic ensemble

Shade and shadow effects balance the sun's progressive illumination of the scene

Come time for morning break, I stop working to make tea and then wander about to inspect the changing scenes framed through other windows. I am intrigued enough to continue recording more of these engaging impressions, rendered rather dreamily through the wavy lens of old glass.  It's towards eleven o'clock when the next photos are made.


Window scene looking south across a tangle of shrubs


Mossy green limbs of Garry Oak, looking south-east through living room windows


After another work bout, I decide to head outside for a breath of fresh air and to sample the changing impressions from closer up. The day registers as awe-inspiring autumn at its entrancing best: echoes of summer's forceful energy are tinged by the faintest hint of winter's approach in the sharpening plays of shadow and light. While the front garden (down slope in front of the house) is now fully illuminated by high sun from the south, the back garden still reveals broad areas locked in full shade. The contrast between zones is stark, the oak trees and garden furnishings casting intriguing, mobile shadow patterns into the sunny parts of the scene. The fact the sun is much lower in the sky during fall equinox lengthens the shadows cast by objects. There are also fewer hours of sunlight now, so the daily progression of changes is more compressed and rapid, sensitizing us to its movement. That shortening day, with its less intense solar energy, is what triggers leaves to stop manufacturing chlorophyll, in turn prompting their gradual turn from lush green towards the spectrum of fall colours. The sunlight however, while less intense, remains brilliant, but not in the blinding, colour-fading way of overhead summer sun. Look at the shadows cast by oak limbs on the bay tree in the next photo, imparting a slightly fanciful quality to the scene.


Brilliant sunlight coupled with deep shade effects and sharp shadow lines


High overhead, bathed in full sunlight, a tableau of moss and lichen covers the oak limbs like a shaggy carpet. This secretive world returns to visible life when fall rains swell its array of inhabitants back to prominence. As I observe them now, glowing in glorious sunlight after soaking rains, the thought occurs that as gardeners we really should be cultivating this world of plants much more consciously for their subtle seasonal effects. While they may be a little lost in the colour-orgy of full-on autumn, by November their presence will assert itself in welcome ways. I'm reminded again what that canny garden-maker Francis Bacon counselled so long ago now (Of Gardens, 1625): "there ought to be gardens for all months in the year, in which, severally, things of beauty may be in season". Here on our suddenly damp west coast, mosses, lichen and their ilk should qualify for more attention in our fall gardens, as they are both beautiful and coming into season as the leaves disappear.



An intriguing domain of lichen and mosses that recedes to a trace in summer


Come mid-day, I'm briefly free to again observe the moment's changing impressions. The sun is now more fully overhead, the direction of its light gradually contracting the scene's shaded zones, shortening shadows and further scrambling their effects. At this time of year though, given the elevation of the house on a ridge on a hill, parts of the scene do remain shaded through most of the day, emphatically so in the day's intense sunlight. These effects, akin to painter's chiaroscuro, are central to the magic and mystery of the season's changeable light.


Lilac's yellowing leaves through diamond-paned glass

Shadows contracting slowly, light intensifying elements of the composition

Fruiting cotoneasters displaying seasonal red and orange colours

The afternoon segment of the sun's daily rotation brings subtle new effects in train. Moving into the southwest now, it casts sharply angled light from a gradual change of direction. Come mid-afternoon, the shifting direction of light causes the garden to appear quite differently. Specific combinations of elements within it seem to beckon the eye at this point. For reasons I don't comprehend, the pictures are now virtually composing themselves. Perhaps this sort of light makes every possible scene into a picture?


Scenes seem to suggest themselves to the eye now

The tiny pink flowers between oak and 'glacial erratic' are escaped cyclamen

As the afternoon wears on, changing sun angles continue to subtly modify scenic effects - I am shooting across the direction of sunlight in the next photos, so trees and shrubs appear back-lit by sunlight coming from the west, causing a glowing aura to appear along their limbs. 


Strong shadow line along the curve of boxwood,  golden aura edging tree limbs

Sense of peaceful repose, fall colours still glowing in the later afternoon sun

The sun is now fully in the southwest and descending rapidly towards the horizon, but its rays still just clear the treed backdrop to reach deep into both front and back gardens.


Caramel leaves and mossy limbs through wavy glass

Lichen and moss backlit in later afternoon light from the southwest

From time to time throughout the day I've also noticed the earth's fall scent rising from recently moistened ground. This earthy redolence is perhaps amplified by our mucking about in flower beds at this time of year, digging out dwindling plants, mixing in fresh compost, and replanting grounds with renewed hope of good results next year. This distinctive scent is also conditioned by the exotic smell of caramel-toned oak leaves brought down by the night's rainfall, some now dried sufficiently to scrunch again under foot.


Neighbours' maple smoulders next to box and bay


Near the end of the day's direct overhead light, the remaining rays have the effect of liquid gold on the house. Now about to slip behind the tall fir trees of Marigold Park lying to the west and so become diffuse before the long twilight, the sun splashes a final play of this golden light across the south wall of the house.


Last beams of golden light splash against the building as the sun descends westwards

This magical fall day would conclude with a long period of more indirect light effects, which also commanded my attention but which, at my skill level at least, are less susceptible to rendering effectively as photos. So, echoing the abrupt way the sun disappears at day's end in fall, my photo-essay draws to a close here too. My eyes were obviously beguiled by the day's effects, an experience I was open to despite being occupied by working from home. It afforded me the opportunity to see and record the garden light show as I observed it throughout the course of the day. 


"Our vision these days is attuned to the virtual rather than the visible, to images rather than appearances, and to representations rather than phenomena." Robert Pogue Harrison, On the Lost Art of Seeing, in Gardens: An Essay On The Human Condition. 

Making oneself available to being engaged by such effects is apparently becoming harder for people today (many now are indifferent to their actual physical surroundings, other than as contexts for the immediacy of selfies). There is a clear preference for the distractions of the virtual world over the actual physical world's changeful appearances. I gather I'm rather old-fashioned in this regard, if anything trying to sharpen my sense of direct engagement with season and landscape from minute to minute. But I should acknowledge my own sleight of hand in this mode of presentation, as I am in fact using images (hence employing a tool of the virtuality I just lamented) to try and convey the potential of being present in person to precisely such effects. I leave it to you to judge whether that worked or not - my intention was only to share my home garden in a way that reflects the day's unique effects and encourages further observing. 



Books For Looks:

Circle of The Seasons - The Journal of a Naturalist's Year, Edwin Way Teale, 1953.

Of Gardens, Francis Bacon, 1625.

Gardens - An Essay on the Human Condition, Robert Pogue Harrison, 2008.

The Garden As An Art, Mara Miller, 1993.