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The power of photography.

A while back, the good folks over at local multimedia company Build Films asked me to write a piece for them about the power of photography.  This is the published article, crossposted here to my own website for your own reading:

Yoho cooking shelter at Takkakaw Falls - first snowfall

Alone, witnessing winter’s first snowfall in Canada’s Yoho National Park.

Here at base camp, the waterfalls are running thinner than I’ve ever seen them; the glaciers above that feed them are returning to their frozen state.  The unseasonably warm sun of a few days previous has relinquished control to winter’s first snowfall, and won’t return in strength for many months to come.  We stoke the fire in the drafty, but still much appreciated, shelter a little ways from our tent to warm our bones and dry the clothes on our backs; clothes which we also slept in the night before for extra warmth.  These memories and more are triggered when I look back on this photograph of a moment I otherwise might not remember so clearly.

There is a deep power in a photograph’s ability to freeze time and bear witness to life’s fleeting moments as they arise and pass.  For me, this act of seeing is an extension of my awareness practice: noticing moments that will never exactly happen as they are again, capturing them as seen through my eye, and sharing them with others in hopes that they might glimpse what I see too.

Nothing in life is static.  Things constantly shift through the sands of time; complex interactions coming together in beautiful harmony in a way that will never exist again.  With a camera we can capture a moment as we see it, and use the resulting photographs as a form of expression to share our unique view of the world with others.

Think about a time when you were in a crowd of people who all raised their cameras at the same time to take a photograph.  Perhaps that moment was on a popular trail, at someone’s wedding celebration, or when a particularly brilliant sunset broke through the clouds.  In each of these cases I am willing to bet that everyone’s resulting photographs were very different, and I for one appreciate seeing all these perspectives beyond my own.

A camera is a tool and we all wield it differently.  The photographs it produces are a result of our unique selves mixed with the expression possible that comes with pursuing mastery of the tool itself.  They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I daresay a picture can go further than that and express something which words cannot.

April 14, 2017 - 5:19 am

Roger S. - Oh, very nicely said! I fully agree that the camera retains for us moments that will never happen in the same way. This is the beauty of photography.

Life Behind Bars – Part 3: Friendly territory around the Salish Sea.

(continued from Part 2: Four corners of the Haida Gwaii by bicycle)

Ferries provide access all the way down British Columbia’s otherwise inaccessible coast.  From the Haida Gwaii, this was the peaceful expressway to access southern British Columbia without making a huge diversion inland.  Port Hardy, at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, was the port of arrival for the push to southern Vancouver Island and ultimately Vancouver, and it was also where my cycling partner hopped on a bus leaving me to ride solo again.  This time however, I was rolling into familiar territory with plenty of friendly faces on the horizon.

Vancouver Island is much bigger than the island designation in its name tends to lead people to believe.  In fact, the island is about the size of the Netherlands, and here I was, setting out to pedal entirely across it.  The first 230km were a challenging bit of wild road: while beautiful, it was narrow with limited visibility – for a cyclist with a fully loaded bike, this was a nerve-wracking experience in trying to stay alive and to avoid getting clipped by vehicles speeding by.  Beyond this, one crosses an invisible line at Campbell River which delineated the beginning of my gradual return to civilization as I ultimately pointed my bicycle towards my urban destination.

Separating Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia is an island-dotted area known as the Salish Sea, and this is where my meandering path through to Vancouver would take me.  Between water hopping on the ferries and rolling on the packed earth, bike touring was a great way to see this part of country even amidst the challenging weather.  After many weeks of wilderness, this final leg felt like a victory lap: full of fresh food, drink, and many pit stops with old friends (and new ones who reached out to host me on Instagram) along the way.

BC Ferries - West Coast Inside Passage

The Inside Passage from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy is a beautiful, full day journey with BC Ferries.

Dark depths, white surface

Dark depths below a bright surface hint at the abundant life these waters hold.

Northern Expedition Victoria - Life preserver on BC Ferries

The aptly named Northern Expedition returns south.  This route covers so much ground, yet there are very few signs of human activity along its route.  It really feels like an expedition amongst predominantly untamed wilderness.

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March 29, 2017 - 8:37 pm

Allison Storseth - Enjoyed reading! Thanks for sharing David 🙂

March 30, 2017 - 4:00 am

Karenia - It is such a treat to be able to get a full sense of your travels through pics and words, balanced out with the stories we share on our wanders 🙂

March 30, 2017 - 11:57 am

Mark Reimer - Looks great Dave!! I’m heading out to Vancouver Island in a week for a little tour on my bicycle, but sadly I only have under a week. Still, this photos are getting me even more excited.

March 30, 2017 - 4:06 pm

David - Have a great adventure out west Mark – short and sweet is still sweet! 😀

Presenting…Pecha Kucha!

On February 23rd, 2017, I will be speaking at Pecha Kucha Winnipeg – an event organized by the Manitoba chapter of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada.  Amidst simply trying to conquer my stage fright, I will be centering my talk around the subject of “Contemplating Contemplation”; weaving in stories and insights garnered from the several months of traveling around remote parts of western Canada by bicycle on my Pedal Powered to the West bike tour.

If you’re a creative who happens to be in Winnipeg with some free time that evening and are looking for inspiration, please come and join us at the Park Theatre.  The doors open at 7:30pm and the show will begin at 8:20pm.  Otherwise, my presentation will be recorded and posted online sometime thereafter.  I will post a link to it on my website when it is available, so if you’re interested feel free to subscribe to my newsletter so you don’t miss it!

Update (March 7th): If you were unable to attend Pecha Kucha at the Park Theatre, my presentation is now online for your eyes and ears here.

Pie Chart of My Hopes and Dreams

A pie chart of hopes and dreams that I had for the bike tour.  I’ve always recharged my soul and found inspiration in the wilderness, so my hopes were to find time to focus on photography, writing, and contemplation on the road.  Notice that small slice of my mind that was focused on responsibilities?  It’s not that I didn’t acknowledge them; I just didn’t realize that meeting basic needs and covering miles consistently would consume so much energy and time.  Amidst the experiences, there was little time for contemplation or any sort of creative thought on the road…hence my talk will revolve around how easily we can take for granted the time we might have for these higher pursuits as a reminder to us all not to squander the opportunity we have with our lives.

March 4, 2017 - 2:27 pm

Rachel - Cool! Sounds interesting. Please post a link when it’s available online!

Mountain moments.

It is tempting in life to want to see it all; to cover as much ground as possible and leave footprints in a long list of places.  This breadth of experience does have its merits, but it also has its sacrifices: namely, depth within each experience.  Personally, I increasingly value the depth side of experience and choose adventures that are more in the slow travel category these days rather than trying to see the entire map.  There really is a big difference between passing through a spot and spending some quality time there.

When it comes to the natural world, or any place for that matter, you can return to the same location and every time it will be different.  There are so many variables – the seasons, the weather, the flora and fauna that are constantly adapting to the environment – and the complex relationships that bind them all result in an infinite number of moments continually arising and falling away.

The next time you see a photo printed on the wall, try thinking to yourself:

The place depicted in this captured moment exists right now as much as it did when the shutter was released, only now its existence in this instant of time it is different.  It might be frozen, or perhaps it has grown, or maybe decay has taken over and things have undergone a transformation into something entirely different.  Whatever the case, the one thing we can be certain of is that as time marched forward it has changed.  All of the elements depicted within the frame have moved on from this momentary confluence that has been immortalized in a photograph and exist somewhere else in space and time right now.

Over the years I have experimented with all sorts of multimedia: photography, video, audio, animation…the list goes on, but I always return to a foundation rooted in a synthesis of images and words.  There is a deep power in a still photograph’s ability to freeze time and bear witness to life’s fleeting moments as they arise and pass.  For me, this act of seeing is an extension of my awareness practice: noticing moments that will never exactly happen as they are again, capturing them as seen through my eye, and sharing them with others in hopes that they might glimpse what I see too.  Despite the many other forms of creative expression that I have played with, I just keep coming back to the classic pairing of photography and writing for this reason.

This past year, I returned to two particular places in the Canadian Rocky Mountains – Kananaskis and Yoho National Park – at two different times – mid-July and late-September.  While the locations were constant, returning at different times offered an opportunity to glimpse the relativity of one moment in time with another, resulting in a deeper experience and understanding of the connected ecosystem.

In the 17 days that I spent camped out in the mountain valleys, I got chased out of the alpine by thunderstorms, basked in the sun in my hammock, and huddled around a wood-stove in efforts to dry off after three days of unexpectedly heavy snow.  I witnessed the brief flowering and subsequent hibernation of mountain meadows.  I watched the animals cautiously reclaim the trails as the summer throngs of humans returned to their cities.  The common thread in all of this would seem to be noticing the constant change and dancing with it, because base camp took on as many different forms as the environment in which it rested.

Here are a few slices of time from both of my 2016 ventures into the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Tent view in Kananaskis

Driving from Winnipeg to the mountains takes about 17 hours.  If you push through it in a single day you usually find yourself setting up camp after sundown.  It’s a long day, but worth it if you get to open your tent to this view in the morning.

Tent camping in Kananaskis

Home sweet home in Kananaskis.

Looking back on the South Buller Pass Hiking Trail

Patches of green fading away with elevation.  This is the view looking back on the southern access route to Buller Pass in the summer.

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February 13, 2017 - 7:39 pm

Allison Storseth - Thank you for sharing! I really enjoyed reading (and viewing)

February 14, 2017 - 1:39 pm

Robyn - Wow David! You really capture the feeling of the mountains well – like, the best! Really, it’s hard (I’ve tried). Keep it up and I look forward to when you return. 🙂

February 14, 2017 - 3:32 pm

Karenia - This may be my favourite photo essay of yours yet.

The heart of internal work.

We need to see the beauty in things again.
When we wake, we need to hear the birds outside our window and see the sun shine light on the darkness that came in the night.
When we look in the mirror, we need to see ourselves clearly through the fog of self-judgement.
When we go about our day, we need to remember to watch for positivity in the shadows of our bright differences.
When we come home, we need to appreciate who and what we have.
And when we go to bed, we need to remind ourselves that tomorrow is not a given and one day we will not wake to have a chance to do it all again.
We need to see the beauty in things again.  Try to remember, each and every day.

I share this as we move through one of the darkest times of the year; both in terms of light and in terms of spirit.  Statistics show that the third week of January is the suicide peak of the year.  These days the most common disease we face is that of mental illness, so much so that I cannot think of a single person whom I know intimately that has not gone through bouts with it at one point or another.  It is so prevalent, yet eerily untalked about; often medicated instead of dealt with at the root.  And so, I’m posting this to participate in Bell Let’s Talk Day.

Acknowledging these struggles and wanting to do something to alleviate it, for the past couple years I have been a part of efforts to help people take care of themselves amidst their own individual struggles – from teaching a workshop to strangers at a yoga festival last year to leading an intimate workshop with 25 returning students in a tattoo parlour just up the street from my home the other day.  Contrary to the rather glossy forms of learning meditative practices these days, the real work is done quietly each and every day before the sun rises; in a dedicated practice of turning the gaze inward and slowly moving along the continuum of gross to subtle to work with mental states.  The following photos were created to visually illustrate the latter.

This piece of writing and this set of photographs are of a personal nature to me.  As both a teacher and life-long student of the meditative practice, I aim to cut through the fog of disillusion that rises in the mind to see the world more clearly…to see the beauty in things again.

Self-care is so important.  However you do it, the important thing is that you do it.

Candlelit mediation - jnana mudra

Jnana mudra: the traditional gesture of wisdom.

Meditation - shadow self

Through stillness and focused awareness we are able to peer into the shadows of our minds and work with whatever we find there.

Yoga drishti - focus

Despite physical movement, the heart of meditative process (which includes yoga and the asana that is popularized these days) is 100% internal: first the moral and ethical principles, then the training of the mind with focused action of the physical body, and then working at the mental level.  We cannot skip the process and jump into dealing with mental states.  First, we need to train the mind.

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February 7, 2017 - 5:09 pm

Allison Storseth - I wholeheartedly enjoyed this piece. It’s easy to get into a rut of sadness and anger… a cycle I feel I have been falling into repeatedly lately. Thanks for the fantastic reminder to be grateful for all we have everyday

February 8, 2017 - 10:59 am

David - I’m glad you enjoyed it Ally. I hear you and you’re not alone. Keep your head up my friend!