I never thought I would say that I feel at home on the ocean, but after a few sailing trips – Boston Malaga on clipper Stad Amsterdam in 2014 being the culmination – anytime I meet that vast body of water, I’m Okay.
Never mind the roaring terror of force ten at night. Or huge ocean waves picking up a thousand tons of steel and sails like it is a simple yacht.
It is the vastness, the magnitude that caught my heart and sometimes my breath.
Whenever I meet the ocean, I am happy. The beauty of the light, the colours, the movement. Superb. And best of all is that sudden glimpse of a tint somewhere between green and blue. When the light shines through the crest of a breaking wave like sunshine through a glass of wine when bringing it to your mouth. More alive than anything, uncatchable.
And there is another thing. I am aware – like a physical presence – where I am in relation to the edges of that ocean. The magic of touching the waterline and knowing that the next stop is Antarctica. Or seeing the Pacific for the first time and being aware that I am touching on the other half of the world, the never before seen part of it.
I am also aware that both my father and my grandfather had a relationship with the ocean. One as a sailor, the other as a very inquisitive artist. I have a bit of both.
So when I look at the ocean, I’m Okay.
I really love emptiness. It must be because of all the signals I receive throughout the days and weeks, overpoweringly present, like a crazy child yelling in my ear while I am just trying to focus on this one thing that is important. And I’m not talking “business important”. Just the thing that makes sense to me, right now, as a person, a human being.
The good thing is that I see “empty” more and more as a way to express myself. Walking along a beach I seek the softness of nothing special, instead of roaring waves, towering cliffs, vibrating crowds.
I was in Burnie, Tasmania, and my compagnons (all lovely people) were busy talking about opportunities, futures (there are more than one, as we all dream a slightly different scope) and how to connect so that it would be valuable.
I just saw this beach.
Perhaps I was just tired. Of all those signals. Or more basically, of flying in early after a night of not having slept enough. Or just bored and trying to find something worthwhile.
The good thing is that I get to express myself.
Not so bad …
Home is where the heart is. Or where you hang your hat. But most of all it is where you go back to when you want to see both how it is as you remember it and what is actually becoming of it. Permanence and change. But in a manner that feels like home will be forever.
It’s not. Change is.
That’s not bad. Change is normal and we better get used to it. I mean, as a species. Not that we really do. We like to stick to what we know, as that’s safe. The herd feeling comfortable. Fight or flight … or often “it will go away and all will be good”. Sticking our heads under the covers, hoping the bogeyman doesn’t exist.
Mostly it is in our heads that that creature roams. Thoughts about what was could be popping up at the strangest moments, disturbing our sleep. We are all scared. And it is logical, as we all do this for the first time. Living. We shouldn’t forget that, with a lot of people trying to make out as if they know better. Yelling in the dark.
I’ve now been “away” for more than a year and – wonder oh wonder – it is the strangest things that visit my Sunday conscience: I wonder how those walnut trees fare. I must have visited them a dozen times in all kinds of weather and light. Always amazed about the almost abstract lines. Typically a great object to capture in black and white. I wouldn’t mind going there right now and have a look. I just hope nobody cut them down.
I’ve had that experience once and was shocked. Literally. A tree in the middle of a forest. Cut down. The only one in a mile. No logical reason, no link to what is “logical”. Just destroyed.
Oh well, change is normal.
Ask any of my friends and they will recognise that I have always been interested in history. Especially in the era they call “contemporary”. Most of it is centered around war. History that is, not the contemporary part specifically. And where most people with the same interest will dive into the major events, battle, combat, I like the edges, the envelop. That what is around what was seen as important. Soldiers resting in some village far behind the lines. Life in the cities. Mundane things happening.
I also recognise links to myself and the world we live in. Current US politics may seem unique, but are mostly a repitition on a theme. Just not very “American”. And the logical richness of increased requirements for military capability throughout the continents is also a common theme, once you step away from all the drama and emotions. Most technology spurts are linked directly to armies asking for “more” and “better”. In the end it is all about what drives us. Looking back, “war” is not incidental. We just learned a better, more economic way: deterrence. I hope.
Sometimes history touches me almost physically. As a kid I used to play around the abandoned wreck of a Sherman tank, mainstay of the allied troops in WW2. Later I learned that the vehicle was actually a training object for the army. Molotov cocktails thought to be able to stop advancing steel. And even more later, I was inducted into using a similar wreck to learn how to use “improvised devices”. And nowadays I read about IED’s. History and present time touching.
Somewhere on the timeline of this historical mess I used to shoot 8 inch grenades – by proxy, as I was an officer – at targets, being trained in the exquisite art of killing at a distance, without discrimination: artillery. And guess what? The targets were Sherman tanks. Or the rusted remnants of it.
So it was a pleasure to walk into one of those targets, now a centre piece in a museum. All of history going full circle.
When you think about how important the weather is for us, it is rather amazing that most people don’t think about how it comes to be. Of course we all have that weather app (or if you are like me, you have about five of them as they all tell a slightly different story for today’s weather).
And we read about – better: skim over – climate change, El Nino and all other things we take for granted. But most of us don’t look any deeper. It rains today, bugger.
Any sailor and any pilot will have a different view. We are deeply interested in the weather, now, in an hour and for the duration of the trip. And we want to understand where that weather originates, what makes it happen. Because we know that with the slightest change of factors, the weather changes also.
It’s not magic. It is all about systems, lows and highs, cyclonal and anticyclonal movements, air movements, air density, humidity, wet bulb temperatures and a bit of a guess. The last is what the weatherman does. And if he or she is good, that’s magic.
Melbourne is a bit awkward. We are close to the roaring fourties, have an awful lot of water around us and have a desert – or better: an overheated dry land mass – starting less than an hour’s flight away. That’s why you read things like “four seasons in one day” and “if you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes”.
It makes for beautiful skies though. So sitting in my fav seat and just staring out of the window is never dull.
One of the strangest phenomenons of Melbourne CBD is that it feels like a village. You just don’t get the feeling of a “big city”, let alone a “metropolis”. Suburbs are like side streets, outer edges like suburbs. And CBD feels like … what? A small town at best. Cozy, warm, faces you think you recognise from last week’s shopping.
I have been looking at this for quite some time and am not sure I got it right, but I think it has something to do with scale. Everything is in proportion. So you look around and you have small buildings and big buildings. A skyline that looks “normal”. Until you realise that every building is 100+ meters tall … If you would take any one of them and transport them to Amsterdam, it would immediately rank in the top ten tallest buildings. And stick out, well above the skyline.
But there is another dimension at play: small village politics. You read a general complaint about how a certain street is “still not taken care off” in the local paper, really just news at suburb level at best, and a few weeks later the constructors move in. Some counsil member feeling personally responsible. Or perhaps, and I know this is bleak, having created the whole thing anyway to enable this one company to make some money. And it somehow feels right. That’s what happens in a small community.
4,5 million people sounds to me like a small state. So I expect “state style management”. Not the cajoling I remember from small villages in the home country. But then again, it is effective. And whatever, Melbourne is the most livable city on earth. For the sixth time in a row. So they are doing something well. Really well.
When asked and when actually having taken notion of what I do photographically, most people will say that I’m a landscape photographer. The light touching far away ridge lines, the perspective leading the eye into the picture. But I see the light also in smaller detail, sometimes captured and mesmerised by small waves of glimmers playing over the tiny heads of grass stalks. Spickle spackle catching my eye. And the wind creating this slow movement, undulating, like waves rolling into some coast. Catching, above all, my imagination.
I’m always a bit at loss when I see other people just walking by. As if that detail doesn’t exist. At best someone stops and looks at what I’m doing, not seeing. Hesitatingly questioning my actions.
No bloody use trying to explain.
But sometimes I see a smile, a nod. That’s … golden. We are sharing these little glimmers of light. Seeing the beauty of what’s around us, right at our feet.