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AOTEAROA (April 2015)

As I alluded to in my previous post, I’ve just spent a month in New Zealand – or Aotearoa, as named by the Maori people who colonized the islands just less than 1000 years ago.  The country's had a strong presence in my imagination since high school, with it's recent colonization and unusual natural history.  When people finally arrived on this very isolated landmass from Polynesia around 1250 A.D., they found it swarming with birds – small and large, airborne and grounded.  One type, the Moa, was probably the largest bird ever witnessed by humans, standing up to 12 feet tall and weighing up to 240kg.  Another, the extraordinarily massive and deadly Haast’s Eagle, prowled the skies hunting creatures that included the great Moa, and eventually, probably humans as well.  These species competed with the early settlers, and didn’t last long after their arrival.  Before this time, in finding so remote an island group, birds had secured for themselves a gargantuan ocean oasis free from mammals, (excepting 2 species of bat) and other predators, who weren't able to to cross the vast seas surrounding it.  The fact that it's at once so remote (it lies practically at the centre of what some geographers call the Water Hemisphere), so large, and so temperate, is what makes it so interesting for me.  It always seemed like my kind of place from afar.

  Upon my arrival in Auckland, I was greeted by my friends Mikayla and Andrea, who had just spent 2 months in the Solomon Islands doing research for National Geographic.  After a couple of days acquiring some camping gear and supplies, we hit the road in a cheap rental vehicle, keen for adventure.  After about a day of travel, we became entranced by the landscape, even laughing at times about how absurdly beautiful it was.  Starting off in the Bay of Islands at the northern tip, jumping off waterfalls and snorkelling in some lively waters, we started making our way all the way down south.  This excursion included beach camping on the Coromandel peninsula, swimming through big waves, gazing at colourful geothermal pools near Rotorua, volcano hiking near Lake Taupo, hanging out in cool cities like Wellington, ferry riding, hiking in enchanted Middle-Earthian forests, dipping into lakes, tramping through giant mountain ranges, and of course many hours of driving, which was enjoyable enough in such an otherworldly location...

Before all this, part of me (only a small part) thought it might not have the same impact on me as my summer experience in Australia had, if only because of the sheer contrast I felt after being immersed in the drab Canadian winter immediately before that.  Such a notion was instantly swept away upon leaving Auckland, as so much of what I had my mind blown by in Oz (particularly in Tasmania) was not only matched but amplified here.  I recalled an Australian friend, who shortly before my departure from Tasmania told me that in many ways NZ was "Tassie on steroids”.  While I would definitely still say that there are tons of highly unique features of southeastern Australia, he certainly wasn’t off by much in summing it up that way.  

Like in Australia, the plethora of fascinating textures is endless, at all scales.

After spending an excellent final handful of days based in Queenstown, which is arguably the country’s most lively and interesting town (despite it’s tiny size of 13,000), I split off with Andrea and Mikayla, who flew to their next destination,  Indonesia.  It was a bit rough to travel solo again after being part of such a socially amicable adventure-team, but on the upside it gave me a chance to turn inward and focus (in 2 senses of the phrase):  

Moving down to the southernmost tip of the South island to the small city of Invercargill, I hopped on a tiny airplane to the very isolated Stewart Island, a place that is just about as far south as it is possible (for people of ordinary means) to get on on the planet. In a sense, Stewart (or Rakiura as it is traditionally known) is New Zealand's version of Tasmania, at least in terms of relatively small size, scant population, and endemic species richness.  Here I had the opportunity to spend days hiking alone in pristine coastal forest without seeing another soul, taking my time to seek and collect wild specimens that I could photograph at the micro-level.  My dream of exploring 'inner space' in a remote antipodal corner of the planet was now very much realized.

Feathery animals, feathery plants – the islands of New Zealand are home to hundreds of temperate pterophyte species (spore-producing vascular plants), including many types of fern and fern tree. It’s hard to avoid the image of the fern in New Zealand, especially the 'silver fern' (Cyathia dealbata), which is the country’s more prominent national icon (along with the elusive Kiwi bird of course).  From an ordinary perspective, these types of plants appear to have fairly minor differences, but under the microscope their true diversity becomes a lot more apparent.   In the identification of many fern types, frond or leaf structure seems almost less indicative of species than the morphology of the sorus (pl. sori), which are the plants' spore producing structures.  At least when you look at them up close…

(The images here are made up of samples collected on Stewart Island, as well as some specimens from the botanical gardens in Christchurch and Wellington )

Overall, my time in this part of the world was perhaps the best experience I’ve had to date.  I absolutely could have stayed a lot longer given the means, and indeed there were many places we wanted to see, hear, feel and smell but didn’t have the time and/or money to. Back in Auckland, after a whirlwind tour from the southern point on my own by bus, plane and train, I sat in a crowded downtown hostel, somewhat melancholically wondering what I was going to do back in Tasmania for another full month without project funding.  My travel-mates, now in Bali, were hinting that I should come join them, sending me images of its exotic luxurious wonders, and even more enviably: its baffling affordability.  After a good deal of reflection, I managed to break through the stubborn denial that it was too late to change my plans and find my way there, realizing it made more sense than bumbling aimlessly around pricey Australia again for several weeks on end, spending all my remaining cash solely on sustenance.  After an anxiety-ridden and sleepless night in that hostel, I miraculously found a cheap last-minute round-trip ticket to Bali that fit perfectly within my flight plans, and required minimal cancellations.  I thanked the Gods profusely, and very excitedly prepared for this next, highly unexpected chapter of my travels.  I have never set foot in the tropics.

I’m launching this blog post onto the 'nets from Lembongan, a tiny and  beautiful island off the coast of Bali, Indonesia.  You can bet that I’ll be taking a pile of photos here and sharing them when I bounce back to Oz in mid-April.  

Until then, peace and love to everyone out there!

TERRA AUSTRALIS (March 2015)

From mid-January through till the end of February I was in southeast Australia.  Aside from the need to escape winter and my lifelong North American working existence, the idea of travelling to this part of the planet had always appealed to me as a potential photographic pilgrimage.  

My time there spanned little over a month, and I still feel as though I’ve barely glimpsed the smallest morsel of this vast island continent (I plan to return next month before my travels are finished), but it’s already revealed a seemingly infinite myriad of texture, form, colour and movement.  


 From any distance – whether it's miles, meters or microns – the Australian landmass and its diverse lifeforms possess an astonishing beauty.  

 

After landing, my immediate experience of the country was the intense urban bustle of downtown Sydney in its busiest time of year.  Not a huge difference from Toronto or Montreal where I’ve just come from, but a welcome change regardless, especially since it’s summertime in this hemisphere.

Access to a view of the awesome harbour from its famous bridge during peak season offered me a great opportunity for a  boat time-lapse shot: something I’ve been wanting to capture properly since I began shooting slow-speed video.  I assembled a short movie of the footage, together with a view of Pittwater Bay (just north of the city, viewed from the house I stayed at my first 3 nights in the area).  

 

After exploring the areas around Sydney, I took a flight to Melbourne, Australia’s other major metropolis. I had a truly excellent time and made a pile of new friends, but the city didn’t seem to have the same potential for anthropological movement-capture as where I had just been.  However, like Sydney and its surrounding areas, Melbourne did contain plenty of interesting samples to use for microscopic imaging – further proof that even in a concrete jungle, beautiful and complex natural life is all around us if we look closely enough.  Inner-space travel for the win!

Luckily, despite the same partial lack of vehicle that I had experienced in New South Wales, I was able to tour the countryside of Victoria a bit, getting a lift from friends, in addition to shelling out a few precious dollars to guides.  This state is no less beautiful than its neighbour to the north.  I wish I had more time and money to see more  of it...

By mid February it was time to head down to a large island that has fascinated me for years: Tasmania.  It was once known as Van Dieman’s Land, its label shortly after it was mapped by Europeans, and through its decades-long phase as a notoriously brutal penal colony in the early 1800’s. Before this, it’s believed that it was once known as Lutruwita, which it may have been called for thousands of years by its original inhabitants, whose ancient culture remains as scarcely more than a faint echo emanating from the past.  The history of the island is mysterious, at times terrifying, and heartbreaking, especially the story of its aboriginal population.  I highly recommend reading about it to anyone interested in history or anthropology.  

Tasmania is also astounding in a geographical / ecological sense.  Besides its unique marsupial animals, which are more or less well-known, it has a rich biodiversity of lichens, fungi, and non vascular plants (some of the oldest-known multi-celled land dwellers) or that it houses the largest tract of cool-temperate Gondwanan-type rainforest in the world (an ancient type of environment similar to what dinosaurs once crashed through).  It’s also not as well known that Tasmania makes up the planet's largest exposure of dolerite (a subvolcanic rock forming magnificent cathedral-like columns), and that its citizens breathe what is arguably the freshest air in the world.  The list of unique features goes on.

Although my summer in Tasmania is over, I’ll be returning in April, because I haven’t gotten enough of it!  There are still plenty of areas I feel I need to see, in order to feel satisfied in my hunt for esoteric imagery.  Unfortunately, I recently found out that I’ve been turned down for a grant, which would have supported me in an intensive photographic study of a highly inaccessible major forest in the northwest of the island.  Still, when I go back, I’ll be trying to get as deep into it as I can, as there are thousands of incredible locations and environments I have yet to discover.

 in any case, I’m excited for the opportunity to see more.  For now, the land of New Zealand has been beckoning me.  (I’ve recently arrived on the North Island!)  From what I’ve seen and know, it could easily be my new ‘favourite place in the world’.  Like Tasmania, I’ve been fascinated by its history (both natural and cultural) for many years.  I’ll be here for a month – and this time, I’ve got a vehicle to share.  I’ve regrouped with some excellent and talented explorers, who happen to be close friends of mine... we’re going the road less travelled.

I can't wait to show you what we’ve been finding here. 

New post will be out in April.  Until then – take care, internet hive mind.

LOG FRAME PROJECT (August 2014)

 This month concluded the end of a 13 week public display of my most ambitious photography project yet:  a 12" micrograph print series mounted on hand-carved wooden frames from a reclaimed maple branch.

 In order to slice the 130lb log I purchased an antique two-man 5' crosscut saw off of craigslist, and worked at it gradually with various friends until I had 17 flat ring disks, which I then hollowed out using a drill and rotary tools.

The project is meant to be a meditation on the tree of life, suggesting both the diversity and unity of forms on its branches, cut up into single frame slices of time.


Here's a video I produced documenting the various stages of the project: 

 

I'm hoping to make more of these frames in the future, if I can get the proper tools!

  For now, I'll just focus on taking more pictures...