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January 05, 2012 … I can see clearly now.

As I mentioned yesterday, Mary and were attending the wedding of our niece, Cecilia to Mark at the Terrace Downs resort overlooking the wonderful Rakaia Gorge. Of course they had professional photographers in attendance, and I am sure they did a really great great job. Nevertheless I could no more leave my own camera behind than fly.

Since the advent of universally accessible digital cameras, I suspect most professionals are resigned to, rather than welcoming of, the presence of enthusiastic amateurs. They will tolerate almost anything except the amateurs getting in the way of their own shots, or presuming to take control of the group shots. I avoided both traps, but still managed to make 350 images anyway.

Images rarely leave my control  without at least some rudimentary post-processing. I like to ensure that exposure and white balance is approximately right,  horizons are horizontal, verticals are truly vertical, and so on. I like to delete those shots that should not be seen, or that add no value, and reduce albums so that they contain only the ones I am happy to show.

At first cut, I reduced the number to about 90, so on top of the long drive from Methven to Queenstown (of which more tomorrow), I have not had a lot of time to prepare today’s entry. The wedding is, of course, a family matter, but for those who really must see what the bride wore, and with the permission of the bride, I shall throw in just one shot from the celebration.

Prior to the ceremony, we had some time to fill, so we drove on some of the nearby roads to get a feel for the Methven district. It was a fantastic, sparkling Canterbury day, with light clouds, and a slight breeze, just perfect for a wedding.

We set out from Methven to the West, following the signs which pointed to the intriguingly named “Pudding Hill”. We didn’t quite get there, because we didn’t turn when we should have. However, we did find ourselves at the end of a (gravel) road somewhere in roughly the same area, at a place in the bush where a pretty little stream flowing down from the mountains and out of the foothills  was diverted into one of the many irrigation canals that so typify the region. The water that didn’t go down the concrete channel, ran down a wide shingle bed in what must have been its original course. A weir made of rusty girders provided the possibility of an interesting picture.

Behind the crystal clear sheet of water flowing over the edge of the rusty brown steel, was a growth of bright green plants, apparently thriving in what must surely the most adverse circumstances.  There must be a deep truth to be extracted from this somewhere, but it eluded me.   ... I can see clearly now

Oh well, I liked the picture.

The wedding

As promised, here is the bride and groom. The professionals must have sniggered at the sight of the Cecilia’s uncle, in a suit, lying on his belly in the grass to get the low angle. On the other hand, the last time I did something like this was in Wellington railway station as a train departed, and I had people rushing to see if I needed CPR.

(I forgot to tell you that these images are “thumbnails” and if you click on them, you see a bigger version)

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January 04, 2012 … vanishing point

My niece, Cecilia, is getting married today, at the Terrace Downs resort, at the foot of the Southern Alps, so Mary and I travelled to Methven yesterday.

By an unnoticed slip of my stupid finger on the online booking screen, I had us arriving late in Christchurch at 7:30pm. By the time we collected the rental car and got on the road, the sun was very low in the sky, and, as you might guess, directly in my eyes as we drove the endless straight roads across the Canterbury plains.

Distant trees were dramatically silhouetted against the hazy sunset, almost inked onto the background. Sprays from the vast array of large irrigation devices provided glittering backlit showers that seemed to mimic the flowing white seed heads of the toi toi*   that lined parts of the road.  There were many images that I would have loved to catch, but we had places to be, and I had to pass them by, keeping them only in my memory for some future visit.

Though it is unmistakably New Zealand, Canterbury is quite different in the character of its landscape from the rest of the country.  It makes no apology for its flatness, after all it has the mighty Southern Alps just to the West if you really need hills. It asserts its character in vast paddocks of grain, canola seed, clover, and other crops. Neatly trimmed but powerfully built hedges provide long and sturdy shelter for livestock and crops against all but the strongest of storms. Its braided rivers, such as the Rakaia, carry some of the water that feeds it and much of the world. Mankind has hijacked deeper sources by way of bores down to the deep aquifers, and distributed it through fast flowing irrigation canals to the various farms where (with appropriate permits) the farmers can spread it over the otherwise thirsty land.

In the distant days of my youth, drawing classes started with basic competence in perspective (something which is lacking in many of the amateur art works that seek a buyer in coffee shops around the country). The notions of convergence and vanishing points were instilled early, which may explain why I am more of a draftsman than an artist. State highway one, from Rolleston to Rakaia, was an object lesson in perspective. Though we were running late for the kind man who was waiting to book us into the motel at Methven, I had to stop and try to capture that vision of convergence.  Hedges, trees, power poles, road marking, and even the consecutively diminishing cars on the road all conformed. All seemed to be rushing to or from that distant black hole that we call the vanishing point. I don’t watch “Star Gate” on TV, but perhaps there is a  portal to some other place.

We reached the tiny town of Rakaia just before 9pm when the last store was about to close, and fearing a similar state of affairs in Methven, bought some basics (baked beans, pita bread, good red Shiraz wine) in case we needed it when we got to our resting place for the night. We did. It was good.

* toi toi – a native grass vaguely similar to pampas grass

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January 03, 2012 … hidden gems

I love to look at other people’s gardens, though I am not, by nature, kindly disposed towards the concept of gardening. More specifically, I am averse to the work necessary to produce them. Mary is more horticulturally inclined, but the nature of her work does not leave her with as much time as she might like to spend in a garden. Thus, our house tends to be surrounded by low maintenance pebbles, grasses, trees and flaxes.

Ah, flaxes! It’s that time of year when flax is in full bloom. I think of them as a tavern for tuis … a place where these sometimes musical, often raucous birds can drop in on the way home from work for a quick drink before heading back to the nest for babysitting duty. We have a good variety of flaxes around the house, and at this time of year, they are just at the peak of their flowering season. This tends to make our garden “Tui Central”.

New Zealand’s native birds are, for the most part, not very colourful, some might even say, drab. It’s as if they anticipated the adoption of black as the national colour. At first glance, it looks as if the tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelaniae) is a slavish follower of that national obsession, despite the absurd white ruff at its throat which led to the early settlers naming it the “Parson bird”. But on close inspection, the tui is not black and white at all. When it sits still for long enough, you can see that it is a shiny luminous dark blue-green, with a brown patch across the saddle, and some grey behind its neck. In the flax flowering season, it is further decorated with a bright orange patch above its beak where it has promiscuously acquired the pollens of a myriad nectar producing flowers.   And that brings me to the focal point of today’s image. One of the ornamental flaxes (I think it is Phormium cookianum  – Black Adder) has nearly black leaves, beautiful deep coloured flowers, and nestled within each blossom, a liquid pool of nectar.

Mary was in the garden, and the sun glinting on the liquid diamonds  caught her eye. When she pointed them out, I thought there might be an image there.  A blustery wind was bouncing the stems around quite vigorously.   Though I tried to achieve a good depth of field, the need for a reasonable shutter speed prevented a complete solution. I try to avoid the use of flash. Yes, I know the anthers are not in focus, but I was aiming to focus on the nectar. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

Alternative story

Of course not everyone is interested in flowers or birds, so a bonus alternative image today depicts a Southerly front advancing up the harbour from Wellington towards Petone beach. That’s Matiu/Somes in the middle, and the Korokoro stream at the Western end of Petone Beach in the foreground.

I felt sorry for the passengers of two cruise liners berthed at the port, somewhere just behind that cloud.  Chandris Lines’  70,000 tonne “Century” carries 1,778 passengers, while Saga Cruise’s comparatively tiny Maltese registered “Spirit of Adventure”, at a mere 9,400 tonnes has just 352 pax.

The day had started well enough though mostly overcast, and it suddenly turned vicious in the afternoon.  Oh well, I guess most of them had already explored whatever shops were smart enough to be open on this statutory holiday.   On to the next port.

(… and so are we … the next few days focus on a wedding in Methven and a trip to Queenstown. Who knows what opportunities may arise?  However the timing of my posts may get erratic. Thanks for all the positive feedback.)

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January 02, 2012 … at the end of the day …

When used by managers and politicians, the phrase “at the end of the day” often means “I’ve let you have your say, but when it comes down to it, my opinion is the only one that will be actioned”.   However, my image from yesterday is more innocent in its title.

It is literally taken at the end of the day. We (Mary and I) live on the Western Hills of the Hutt Valley with splendid views to the North, East and South. During 2011, I produced a lot of images that were well received from exactly this spot. They were, in truth,  presented on a platter by the ever changing light and weather, and the splendour of the landscape.

Yesterday was, for the most part, grey with occasional spits of rain, and a fairly steady Southerly wind. I was cleaning up after dinner (Mary had done all the hard work) and I happened to glance out the window. Amidst the greyness, a piece of the hill opposite was literally glowing. A long shaft of light found a way through the cloud to strike just one small area of the hill. I liked the contrast with the mist and cloud.

Domestic duties were instantly abandoned in the hope of catching a picture .  I dashed upstairs to get a viewpoint unimpeded by trees, neighbouring houses or transmission lines. Happily, the sightline from that window gave me access to the “hotspot” though I had to position it on the edge of the image.

The picture below is from my bedroom window and looks down the Hutt River towards the estuary , and to Eastbourne beyond. At the crest of the road over the hill to Wainuiomata, the sun lights up the green hillside and reflects some of its red-gold colour back to the river. Mist and cloud lingers over the Eastern hills, and the stiff Southerly breeze is still giving that hammer-glazed look to the water.

For any former “Huttites” the bridge in the foreground is the Ewen bridge and the long whitish-grey building up from that is a teaching block at Hutt Valley High School. Slightly to the right of that, at the foot of the hill, is the railway workshops, a pale shadow of its former self.  The next bridge downstream is the railway bridge at Moera, and beyond that, the Waione Street bridge where the road though Petone crosses the estuary.  A solitary white heron has been lurking here for the last month or so.

It’s not a salon-buster, but that’s often the nature of the “photo-a-day” discipline. At the end of the day, it’s a picture, and as the light faded, I completed the previously abandoned domestic duties.

... at the end of the day

A personal note:  to all my friends, old and new, but especially to my former WYSIWYG News readers, thank you for the warmth of your response to this exercise. It is enormously encouraging. But please do feel free to critique.

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January 01, 2012 … Everything old is new again

Introduction, re-introduction, and justification

For sixteen years beginning in February 1994, before the word “blog” was known, and long before the mainstream news media saw any virtue in having a web presence, I posted via an email list and as a web page, a weekly compilation of news items from New Zealand.  Called “WYSIWYG News”, it was also posted on the now moribund Usenet forum “soc.culture.new-zealand”. Targeted at expat Kiwis, and indeed anyone else with an interest in New Zealand, it reached a peak in about 2003 with 4,500 email subscribers, a hundred or so who interacted with it on usenet, and an unknowable number who looked at the web site. 

As a preamble to each issue, I wrote two or three (sometimes more) pages of what I characterised as my “purple prose”.  These were my reflections on events and places in my life. Mostly they were descriptive pieces extolling the beauty of  our wonderful country, and occasionally  they covered more personal events or family events, graduations, weddings, births, and deaths. I enjoyed writing them, and to my surprise, received a steady stream of encouragement to do more.

Over the years, the mainstream newsmedia finally understood that there was a market, if only they could find a business model, for their product on the web, and the original news-based purpose for the existence of WYSIWYG News was eroded. When I finally closed it in 2010, there were still 1,300 subscribed recipients, many of who wrote kind things and encouraged me to continue the purple prose part of the exercise. I needed the break, and so, nothing has happened until now, and what follows may, or may not meet their expectations. As before my main expectation is that I should have fun doing it.

Much has happened in my life since the cessation of WYSIWYG News, including the birth of Otis, my third grandson, and sixth grandchild.  Of direct relevance to the resumption of my writing, I have now retired, and except for what is probably a one-time contract in the first half of this year, my working career is now over.

Prior to that, with the aid of the Hutt Camera Club, and attendance at the regional and national conventions of the Photographic Society of New Zealand, I reignited my dorman passion for photogrphy (and spent a lot on equipment on the way). But before I go there, for the sake of any old friends who may be rejoining me, I should tell you that the family is all well, and I am revelling in the business of being retired. So now, with the introductions and pleasantries behind us, what’s the purpose of this blog?

Well in the first instance it provides me with a platform from which to resume writing, an activity I greatly enjoy. An audience is a prerequisite for most authors including me. I hope that those who read what I have to say will tell me what can be done better, and let me know if they enjoy what they see and read. Of course affirmation is always a pleasure to receive, but constructive criticism is where real learning and development occur. Please feel free to express your opinion.

What will the blog be about? Anything that takes my fancy, but as in the days of the original purple prose it is likely to arise from things I see and experience, in my family, in my travels, or anything else I feel like. It is unlikely to be political in any partisan sense, nor indeed technical.

It is no secret that I am a theist (not an atheist), and a Christian, but that will manifest itself in the way I live and the attitudes I profess, and certainly not in any deliberate preaching. Please don’t waste your time or mine trying to change that. I shall simply not engage in that conversation.

A major difference between this venture and the old WYSIWYG news is that my writing and my photography will be tightly integrated. Each daily post will contain one image (sometimes more), and it will be related to the writing. Sometimes the image will illustrate the points made in the prose, and sometimes the prose will attempt to interpret the image.

What kind of images will they be? Always safe for work and family. Usually they will be representational, and sometimes they will be impressionistic or experimental.

In the year just ended, I joined a group of friends, and strangers who quickly became friends, and we each attempted to take at least one photograph every day for a year.  I missed four days in 2011, but learned a lot and had a lot of fun doing it. I had so much fun that I looked for a new way to do it all over again, and to combine it with the pleasure I take in writing, so the idea of a daily blog with at least one imbedded image. Each day’s image will have been made the previous day so that I have had time to reflect on, or explore the image. Ok that’s all the preliminaries, now let’s get on with the real thing. A normal day’s episode is more likely to be as long as the following section. 

New Year’s Day, 2012

New year’s eve in Wellington 2011 was wet and windy. Long Southerly swells rolled up the harbour to burst against the sea wall in the North West corner of Petone Beach. Further to the East , the seas were less well-formed, more confused, just a tumbling mess of muddy brown water laden with the silt from the fast flowing Hutt River Estuary.

I love the photographic opportunities presented by such days. Shades of grey and receding planes as various parts of the landscape are obscured by the advancing rain, can make some very nice images. Yesterday was particularly difficult to photograph anything looking to the South since the rain and salt spray were coming almost horizontally from that direction.  If I stood up in the open, my camera lens was immediately obscured. After I dried and cleaned the lens, I tried again, shooting from the driver’s seat of my car through the open passenger side window. I was still getting wet, but less so than if I were outside.

... seing the silver lining

From this partial shelter I caught this hardy fellow skittering past on his sailboard. The mysterious grey island in the background is Mokopuna, at the North end of Matiu/Somes Island. On a clear day, the city would be plainly visible beyond,  but not so yesterday. I enjoyed the vivid colour on his sail as a contrast to the nearly monochrome scene behind him.

The reason I chose this image to begin my new year journey is that,like me he saw the opportunity to get something positive out of a circumstance that everyone else seemed to be complaining about.  Summer picnics and barbecues were cancelled, but this windsurfer was putting the “bad” weather to good use.  Every so often he would attempt some acrobatics on his board, usually with humiliating results. Each time he would struggle to remount his board and lift the sail to resume his waterlogged flight across the churning water. He was having fun and so was I.

Despite never having been on a surfboard in my life, I felt a bond with him. We were each seeing an opportunity to extract something positive from something that presented as a negative. It seemed like a useful pointer for the year ahead, the first in my newly acquired role as a retired person.

I am still learning how to be retired, and I suspect I shall encounter some setbacks and anxieties.  My challenge  will be to find a way to see the positive opportunity in each such problem

Happy to year to you all.