Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Geese – it matters if they’re coming or going

Or at least it does to some people. I took the following shot just a couple of weeks ago at Caerlaverock, near Dumfries. It shows a flock of Barnacle Geese coming into land after a day out on the marshes.

Barnacle Geese, Caerlaverock

To me, and to those of us observant enough to notice such things in the UK I think geese are about autumn. They’ve spent the summer breeding up in the Arctic somewhere and now they’ve flown south for winter – so their arrival is a sign of autumn. I don’t think I’ve ever considered them a sign of spring – unlike the first house martin – now that’s a sign of spring. But for the scholar of Japanese haiku it does matter which way they’re flying – and departing geese like these would be taken as a sign of spring. Arriving geese would be a sign of autumn and seem, as far as my limited experience goes, to be a slightly less common as an allegory.  If I wanted these to be autumn geese they would need to be flying into the camera – clearly arriving.

Unlike this duck – a wigeon to be precise. Now he’s definitely late autumn or winter.

Male Wigeon, Caerlaverock

So what’s my point? To be honest it’s fairly simple. In this course we have a series of exercises that ask us in one way or another to photograph seasonal landscapes – to show how the landscape changes with time. Which is fine – but our western sense of seasonal change is a relatively blunt instrument compared with at least the traditional Japanese sense of the same. By exploring these associations I can provide myself with a toolkit for seasonal comment and in doing so perhaps use photographs to convey time (and perhaps even more) in a single image.

Are these images landscapes though? A short discussion I prompted on Flickr suggests they might well be. The first qualifies unequivocally in my books – it illustrates land and sky and has a clear seasonal reference in both our, and Japanese culture – so it’s difficult to argue it’s not a seasonal landscape. By implication then the wigeon must also be a landscape, since it features one of the three primary landscape elements and a seasonal reference, and so must this:

Autumn leaf

For me this prompts a whole range of possibilities within landscape photography that I’d not really thought about too deeply until the last couple of weeks. I shall just need to be very careful how I present them.

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