The Experience Of Seeing

Silverton Street, Dunedin, 2021

Recently, I’ve found myself thinking much more about the structure of a photograph than I used to. Instead of following themes and ideas based around capturing scenes when the light was doing something interesting over a dramatic landscape, I find myself more interested in seeing beauty in everyday objects and creating photographs that ask and answer the questions I have. This train of thought isn’t something new, nor a sudden epiphany but a sudden slow growth of thought that has grown over time.

I began becoming more aware of the space and shape between objects in a photograph some time ago. It was born out of a desire to think about my photographs in a new way, partially out of questions I had about what I was seeing and partially out of wanting to view something differently.

I had been looking at the vernacular uses of photography from the 1960’s and 1970’s and there was something in what I saw that simply made sense. I’ve found that by thinking and looking in terms of snapshots capturing everyday life and subjects that I’ve become much more conscious about the experience of seeing.

Take this photograph I took this afternoon. While some might view this as very boring, personally I found it very interesting the way all the lines, shapes and spaces interconnected with each other and the resulting patterns they made. So, I went about taking a photograph the way I was thinking and seeing.

That’s what I’m thinking about with photography at the moment, The Experience Of Seeing
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South Dunedin Carpark

South Dunedin Carpark

This image is all about empty space and shapes. The theme of space and silence is one I keep coming back to time and again. Often I’m looking at empty space and silence out in the country however the recent Level 4 lockdown was a wonderful opportunity to explore the theme. I find it fascinating to see all the lines and shapes that can included into the frame when you remove human activity.

Southern Motorway

Southern Motorway

I’ve spent the last few days wandering aimlessly around some of Dunedin’s suburbs. I had stuck pretty close to home during the week and come Saturday morning I found myself in need of a decent stretch of the legs. So, the next few days were spent casually strolling through Dunedin streets with no real goal, no real purpose and no real direction apart from to make it back home again. 

I ambled down streets that were near empty and casually gazed into shop windows that were filled with novelty cups and t-shirts that were probably once a Christmas gift. There were restaurants, bookstores, furniture stores, car yards and bespoke gift shops, all of which were closed. I stopped outside a hairdresser and for a moment considered starting a new career as a hair model. I imagined myself on some far distant island, drenched in sunlight effortlessly flicking long locks of hair out of my eyes and over my shoulder like they do on the ads for one those TV programmes featuring celebrities I’ve never heard of. After a moment’s day dreaming I continued on my way occasionally stopping to photograph the empty roads, streets and avenues that I seemed to have all to myself.

Quiet Streets

Quiet Streets

My time in lockdown has been broken up with various walks and strolls through close to empty streets. Occasionally the odd car passes me accompanied with an angry stare from the occupants, people cross the street when they see me coming and my friendly “hello” or “good morning” are met with general indifference. Despite having the feeling that I’m being shunned by society, one of the great advantages is that there are now plenty of vantage points to get photos.

It would usually be impossible to get a photograph from this vantage point on the over bridge on a Saturday afternoon with no traffic or pedestrians. I must have waited for a total of 1 minute for cars to pass before I could get the empty shot I wanted.

I’ve Done All This Before

Suburbia in lockdown

I’m not sure about you, but recently I’ve been suffering from an overwhelming feeling that I’ve done all this before. This inkling of having previously experienced the present situation began last Wednesday when New Zealand’s Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield appeared on TV at 1pm and announced the latest Covid 19 figures. Since then, my deja vu has only escalated. Prime Minister Jacdina Arden appears on TV with Dr Bloomfield most days at 1pm, former All Black John Kirwan is interviewed reminding us to look after our mental health, I have to queue to go to the supermarket (which I’m still banned from doing), I’m now in need of a haircut having missed my last appointment, I find myself checking the supply of toilet more than usual, my cookbooks have been dusted off, I’ve reacquainted myself with Zoom and people cross the street when they see me coming. This abrupt change in direction from my fellow walkers is by far the most unsettling of my deja vu symptoms. 

The latest occurrence of this automatic person swerve happened this morning while out walking in my local neighbourhood. Having gotten several blocks into my walk, I looked up the footpath and around a slight bend to see a lady powering towards me. She automatically stepped into the middle of the road, gave me a look that said something along the lines of ‘I don’t know if you have the plague but I’m gonna assume you do’. Then, moments later we exchanged a friendly hello that suggested we had known each other for many years before disappearing down the empty street. However, the strangest thing about this interaction is the fact that it is especially common.

Later on, as my walk was reaching its termination and I had successfully slalomed around the dog poo on the footpaths, I began to wonder if I should be keeping a pointless lockdown diary to monitor my daily movements for moments of symptoms of deja vu. Take today for example, my diary entry world read as follows;

Diary Entry: Wednesday, 25th August.
Walked around the neighborhood and avoided dog poo. Weather mild.  

The Bead Shop

Lawyers Head in Wind

Of all the things I’ve learnt from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the last 24 hours, by far the most interesting and useful is that the Coromandel has a Bead  Shop. Taras Beads to be precise. After the PM suddenly announced that we were going into lockdown for three days, and while the rest of the country dashed out the front door to restock the booze cabinet and beer fridge before grabbing a takeaway, I raced for my keyboard. You see, I have a very bad track record of buying dud Christmas presents for my wife and a Bead shop voucher would just be the item needed to avoid a 2021 disaster. After a quick search online, I found the Ministry of Health locations of interest list, leading me to Taras Beads, Arts and Crafts. Unfortunately, I discovered that Taras Beads didn’t have a website. This raised a further question; why was a 58 year old man in a Bead shop in the first place? I could only assume that he was wandering with his wife in the hope that they would soon give up lingering around, comparing prices, discussing and haggling and go for a drink. It was 3:00pm after all.

Today’s photo is from my lockdown walk in the wind to Lawyers Head.
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I’ve been thinking about this scene for a while and quite deliberately I didn’t finish it until I was completely sure and satisfied with it. The composition came quite quick, what took me so long to workout was if the image was about the house or the letterbox and hedge. Then, suddenly I realised over the weekend when I went back and visited the image that it was really about the driveway and powerline.
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St Paul’s In Spring

St Paul’s.

A bit of a change today from my usual creative adventures on the Esplanade. This is St Paul’s Anglican Church in Arrowtown, which is inland from Dunedin in Central Otago. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a road trip so I might need to organise one once the weekends become free. St Paul’s in Arrowtown was built at the time of the Otago gold rush in September 1871 which makes it 150 years old. Before it was the built many of the miners wanted a dedicated Anglican Community and once they had raised the necessary funds and found a piece of land, the church was built. It has been holding services in the same place ever since.
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Railing Near The Long Dog

Railing near Long Dog

This is an image from my series titled ‘from the Esplanade – 30 images in 30 days’. It wasn’t included in the initial series of images, however it’s an image that I wanted to give life too. This spot is at the Long Dog Cafe which is at the end of the Esplanade also the entrance to the Salt Water Pool which is currently closed for the winter. It’s also an amazingly stunning spot to start the day at.
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Skater Girl (Day 30 of 30)

When the whether changes and drops in Dunedin, it really changes. A few days ago the weather was warm and pleasant. Then, all of sudden a southwesterly change hit, the temperature dropped and the outlook for the rest of the week is left looking average. Not to be downhearted, today is number 30 of 30. My goal was to photograph and publish the Esplanade each day for 30 days. In real time it was probably more like 35 to 40 days however as they were my rules, I decided they were some what flexible.
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Shadows & Light

Hill Top Glow (Day 25 of 30)

Happy Thursday all. OK, so day 25 of 30 has been a bit overdue, by 6 days actually. I was covering rugby all weekend and then a few very long working days earlier in the week meant I didn’t get anywhere near the Esplanade or my blog. Fortunately, today was a little less manic and I was able to end the day watching the light disappear over the hills of Andersons Bay before the coast was cast into shadows.
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becoming fine??

Along the rail (Day 23 of 30)

I tried to time today’s images so I wasn’t shooting in the rain. However, the forecast for the next 3 days in Dunedin is outstanding for July! If the metservice is correct the temperature is going to soar to a whopping 13 degrees. Remembering at the beginning of the month it was 3 degrees in the middle of the day, 13 and fine sounds terrific to me. Hopefully the surf conditions pick up for a few aqua images as well.
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High Tide + Arvo Drift

Arvo Drift (Day 22 of 30)

The school holidays and high tide on the Esplanade mean one thing. Lots of wet kids! The sea spray that’s created from the waves hitting the sea wall is very impressive and it soaks the footpath and anything near by. Kids have great fun standing and waiting for the waves to it and then try and run out of the way (unsuccessfully) without getting wet.
Lots of holiday fun.
@johncaswellnz #lovindunners #majesticdunedin #johncaswellnz

Window Lights

Window Reflection (Day 21 of 30)

I was on the Esplanade at 8:00am today just before sunrise, as a wonderful glow was developing in the sky. It’s an interesting place in the mornings as somedays lots of people out walking in the chilly morning air. Then, there are days when the place is almost empty. Today seemed to be filled with dog walkers out and about as the morning sunrise bounced off the windows of the Esplanade Restaurant.
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… from a Small City. My daily musings from Ōtepoti to get you inspired. Read the blog, view the photos, embrace the creativity.

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