The Eastern philosophies of Zen and Taoism have been a steady source of inspiration to me. Combining Buddhism with a deep respect for nature, these schools of thought teach us to see things as they truly are and to live in harmony with the world around us. They show us the balance of opposites. They remind the artist that beauty is not an inherent quality of an object, but is an experience. Beauty must be sought to be seen. Obviousness, excess and contrivance require no real thought or creativity. Imperfection, though, involves the viewer in the process of creating beauty, because within imperfection is found the allusion to perfection.
This flawed beauty can take many forms: Early morning mist and the mirrored surface of a lake, gone as soon as the day breaks and the wind picks up. The persistent struggle of nature against the urban world. A late summer splash of colour and the fallen leaves of autumn, reminding us of warm summer days and heralding cold winter nights. These are everyday scenes that come together in a moment, and cause us to stop for a moment and look. The Japanese call this mono no aware. I call it, ordinary perfection.
Ducks at Sunrise:
Sometimes, usually in the spring or fall, the sunrise over Lake Ontario is accompanied by a fine mist. It’s not quite fog, but it’s enough to soften the edges and hide the horizon line. The effect doesn’t last. Too early, and you find yourself in the pre-dawn darkness. Too late, and the sun is well up and the mist is burning off. On one such morning, I dashed out the door with my camera, eager to get to the shoreline and shoot the sunrise. I heard quacking and found these mallard ducks. I followed them along the shoreline for a while, taking several shots. This one is my favourite. And while I was shooting, I was just shooting. I wasn’t thinking about the drive into the office or the work waiting for me there. Later on I realized that’s the real Zen.
Rock and Water:
Stone and water is one of those timeless subjects full of symbolism and metaphor: Hard and soft; unyielding and flowing; the small but persistent erosion from the waves. Taoist literature is full of these metaphors. But what I like about this picture is the rich blues of the sky and the water, the warmth of the sun on the left side of the rock, and the remembered sound of gentle waves – just ripples, really — lapping against the shore.
Bench and Wildflowers:
A broken bench in the park, surrounded by tall grass and wildflowers. Zen teaches that nothing is permanent. Taoism teaches that the Way is eternal. How can both be true? Here, a park bench has been vandalized, broken and seemingly left behind in a secluded section of the park. Each spring, the wild grasses and flowers rise up anew, surrounding the old wood and rusting steel with their greenery.
Daisies and Old Wood:
Sometimes it seems that the artificial world is unyielding, and it is nature that must give way. Here, wild daisies are just about to reach their peak, against the backdrop of a weathered barn door. Looking closely, we can see unopened buds on the stems. Can you imagine the daisies proudly showing their bright yellow and white flowers? Can you remember when the barn door was new and smelled of fresh-cut lumber?
Coreopsis and Fencepost:
I like the many contrasts in this photograph: The organic curves of the plants against the straight lines of the fencepost. The soft, yielding textures of leaves and stems against the hard, coarse stone. The colourful greens and yellows of the living plants against the greys of the inanimate stone and wood. The plants are young here. It’s early in the season, and we can look forward to their full blooms in the months to come. (And butterflies, too, because this is a butterfly garden.)
The Garbage and the Flowers:
Remember that line from Suzanne, the Leonard Cohen song? Here, the scene is a weathered pier some 40 years old. Its asphalt is weathered and cracked. It is littered with cigarette butts and the excrement of waterfowl. An unlikely place to find beauty, but look at that cluster of daisies!
Field of Gold:
This scene was totally unexpected. It’s a vacant lot in an industrial area. I was walking along early one evening, on my way back from taking shots in a different neighbourhood. I thought I was done for the day. But as I looked at this field, I was immediately stuck by the way the yellow goldenrod stood out from the dark wall of trees behind. I like this photograph for its own merits, and also as a reminder to simply look around every now and then.
A small stream runs through Humber Bay Park, and these stepping stones were placed there so people could cross it. Hardly anyone ever does, though, and the stones have become home to various grasses and weeds. They’ve become a perfect little microcosm; a kind of natural bonsai. These miniature islands remind me of the rocky, tree covered islands that you’ll find in so many of our northern lakes.
Multi-coloured leaves lie scattered across the ground in a quintessential autumn scene. No one could create a more perfect arrangement than that of their own natural falling. Autumn is a season of letting go; of saying goodbye to warm summer days; of collecting the harvest from the fields and orchards; of seeing the hours of daylight grow shorter. To me, no other season expresses the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, a sense of serene melancholy that is difficult to express in English.
Three Geese at Sunset:
I began with a sunrise, and so I will end with a sunset. Again, this is an image full of metaphors from the trite to the profound. This composition continues to move me in inexplicable ways. Is it the muted colours; the random yet balanced arrangement of the geese; the implied drama of the cloudy sky? Sometimes it’s all of these. Sometimes it’s the calm expression on the closest goose, which seems to say “I am here,” no more and no less.