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Times of Change

These are times of change.

But then there have always been times of change and it is certain that there will always be times of change, both in our own lives and in the world around us. I can only imagine what the citizens of Rome felt as they watched their seemingly impregnable civilisation fading away and weakening, becoming more and more vulnerable to the hordes from the north.

Change is hardwired into the circuitry of the Universe and, in spite of our best efforts to deny it, to pretend that we have finally reached the shores of an inland sea with sandy beaches and palm trees, where everything is tranquil, where the tides are small and the waves lap gently on the sands and there are no cyclones or tsunamis, change is inevitable and inexorable.

The awful truth is: Change is necessary.

Change is, if you like, the flood which sweeps down the river, scouring out the debris which has built up on the riverbed and under the banks, surging into and cleaning out the stagnant backwaters which have been slowly drying up, where thick green algae has taken hold in a corner of the life of the River, its relentless journey to its demise in the sea, its intimate part in the cycle of nature, of birth and death and rebirth.

It is rather like the metaphor of the three little pigs. The first little pig built his house of straw and stood there proudly, admiring his handiwork and enjoying his new construction. Then the Big Bad Wolf came along, and huffed and puffed and blew the house down. And then, of course, ate the little pig.

The second little pig, who seemed to know a little more about construction methods, built his house of wood. Of course the Big Bad Wolf came along, raised an eyebrow, smiled grimly, wound up the pressure, knocked this one down as well and of course ate the second little pig.

Of course we know the rest of the story. The third little pig used advanced construction techniques, and retreated from the world inside his own cave, a place where he felt secure, which, his ego convinced him, was impregnable. The Big Bad Wolf came along, did his level best to flatten the building (without success) and, faced with the challenge, resorted to climbing down the chimney. The little pig put a large cauldron of hot water on to boil and of course the Wolf fell in and was consumed. The little pig had won; his future was secure. He had survived his time of trial, and could now sit back and relax.

Or could he? Nowhere does the story specifically point out whether the big bad wolf was the only one. One assumes, that since he was part of the great Cycle of Nature, he had parents and perhaps siblings (he had to come from somewhere). Perhaps, when the word of his demise got back to his family, they may have taken it rather badly and come to investigate. Then the little pig’s security may not have been quite as tight as he thought it was.

And this is the message of the story: change is inevitable and a part of life, of the Great Cycle. Sooner or later all of us who were born into this life will leave it. We will change from one existence to another. It is what we do with the time between Birth and Death that is important,
the way in which we use the time we have. And even within that time change is occurring. We are growing or we are not growing, we are enlarging or diminishing. When I was 21 I was 1m94. Now, at 57, I am 1 m 91. Somewhere along the way 30 mm have disappeared. I am not as tall as I once was, therefore in one way I have diminished physically. In another way however I have grown. Their 30 mm has been substituted for understandings about life. I have changed. There are many ways in which I am different to the young man of 21. That is change has occurred in subtle shifts, the daily adjustments they come from replacing ourselves on the cellular level in the moments of abrupt change in major events transform our lives. We can no more avoid change in our lives than we should try to tell our cells to stop reproducing.

Sooner or later, no matter how we try to avoid it, the Big Bad Wolf (read: Change) will appear out of the Darkness, the vast void which our fragile egos have no way of ever understanding or approaching, to bring about transformation in our lives.

It is interesting to note how we are subtly encouraged to take the side of the pigs. They are described as little (note the use of lowercase text), as small, pink and therefore helpless. They are to be pitied. We side with the third little pig whose adaptability, diligence and wisdom (and superior construction methods) saves him from the Big Bad Wolf, from oblivion. Presumably he will be able to sit outside his front door, staring out across the Inland Sea… And waiting for something to happen.

I have somewhat of a soft spot for the Big Bad Wolf. To make sure we see him as evil, he is described as bad (his title is in uppercase text to reinforce the point). Notice how he appears out of the darkness, out of the Great Unknown and causes trouble. He rises from the dark well of the Great Conscious and brings about change. Once he has come, nothing is the same.

All around us the world is changing, the river is in flood, sweeping, scouring, cleaning out and constantly renewing. But then it has always been doing that. If we stand on the edge of the riverbank and stare fixedly at what is in front of us, we have no idea of what will float into our
field of vision next. We mistake what is in front of us for the real thing. The hand which points at the moon is not the moon itself. If, however, we allow our gaze to flow upstream to the River’s headwaters in the mountains, where passing storms rain upon the hills, creating the rivulets which become creeks then streams and ultimately the river itself, we began to sense that the river itself is formed by the winds of change bringing rain to the mountains, bringing life and death. If we allow our gaze to follow the River downstream from where it flows into the sea, we can observe how the River changes, and how its dies and yet becomes part of something greater. We allow our minds to follow the evaporation from the ocean back through the atmosphere to the mountains and we are able to complete the cycle, to understand. And, in understanding the metaphor, we grow ourselves and move closer to the Centre. Our understanding changes us, whether we see it or not.

For life to continue all things must change.

All photographers write metaphors, write stories, only we do it with pictures. The story of the three little pigs is a fable, a story with a moral. It is a metaphor which attempts to offer us a way to live our lives. It is an encapsulation of a certain wisdom. The metaphor is a mirror we can hold up and use to reflect upon our own lives. We can then use it to perhaps make decisions about what we do in the future.

Photographs can do this. Photographs offer us the opportunity to reflect upon our own lives. In my workshops I offer this thought: every photograph we make, have ever made or will ever make is a mile marker for our own unique life journey. It tells us who we are, what we hold dear, who we would like to be, where we are and what we believe. Our photography is the record of our journey on the River, and more importantly than that, is the kind, objective friend who allows us to see where we are on the Great River.

The art of photography is the art of framing, of making choices. It has been said that there are only two decisions in photography: where to stand, and when to push the button. When we photograph, we make decisions, both at a conscious and subconscious level. And the results,
once we learn to decode them, will tell us much about our journey and ourselves.

In early 2006, my remarkable wife of 30 years decided enough was enough and brought our marriage to a close. It would be some time before I could develop the honesty to truly face my part in its closure. The Big Bad Wolf had arrived, or so it seemed at the time. A cyclone had blown into my life and swept much of the stale security of it away. As I sat there, alone and frightened, clinging by the skin of my teeth to a job which I had long outgrown, it dimly began to dawn upon me that the Big Bad Wolf was offering me a scary opportunity, the option to leave the backwaters and get on the River again, an opportunity to Trust the Process. About a month later I quit my very secure job as a secondary school teacher, and set out to work for myself. Could I do it? Feel the fear and do it anyway, I would say to myself time and time again, as I confronted myself in the darkness, alone and frightened. I put my stuff in storage with a friend, and set out on the River.

About six months later I found myself back in my hometown of Ranfurly, in central Otago, ensconced as artist-in-residence. I had no idea at all what I would photograph, only a brief to produce an exhibition at the end of the six-month period. Then one day the answer came.

It was a Sunday morning when I walked out of my little flat, with no particular intention in mind. I glanced up at the sky and something bit me. The sky was roiling and boiling as a strong cold front went head-to-head with a retreating warm front. The game was definitely on. The inner voice yelled at me to get my camera gear, and I hurriedly obeyed. The same inner voice sent me South, as fast as I was willing to go, to the small village of Waipiata. I passed through the village, following my intuition, and then it happened. As I rounded a corner everything I needed was there before me. The clouds were swirling and snarling angrily above the Rock and Pillar Range. I made a series of photographs and then headed back to my computer.

As so often happens, when you are in the right space and going with the River, things seem to flow easily. The image resolved itself in perhaps an hour and a half. Understanding it took longer. In Io Matua Kore, the ancient Māori spiritual teachings, Tawhirimatea is the God of the Winds. He is an angry god, a vindictive, vengeful troublemaker, who appears from the darkness. It was his anger and energy which led to the Separation; the parting of Ranginui (male/Sky/father) and Papatuanuku (female/earth/mother), who had lived for so long in the closest, most loving embrace-and had held their children in a secure but stifling and cloying darkness between them. It was Tawhirimatea’s troublemaking which brought about their separation, which brought Te Ao Marama, the moment of enlightenment into the darkness, into Te Po.

That is the story on one level. Tawhiri and the Big Bad Wolf have a lot in common (In fact I suspect they both drink at the same bar). On another level Tawhiri represents the winds of change which are continuously blowing through our lives, which arrive from I-Know-Not-Where and depart for other places. As I sat there, looking at this new work, I saw Tawhiri looking back at me. Change was blowing strongly through my life, moving me to a new place, taking me on the journey I had been seeking at a soul level for so long. As I looked at the photograph, it occurred to me that as a metaphor it was eerily apt. Like the sheep in the foreground, focused on the grass in front of them, I had no idea of the storm that was about to blow through my life. The willows along the river banks in the background were my house of straw, my belief that I could maintain the status quo no matter what.

But the storm had come, and frightening, uncertain and scary though it was, it was better to be out on the River, riding the stream, than rotting away in a safe backwater. The Big Bad Wolf was actually my friend. Tawhiri was, in his own objective unattached way, on my side. For the rest of my time in the Maniototo I made photographs of the weather, of the skies and the four winds blowing through my life, each one different, having a different effect, but all part of the whole.

At that point I began to make photographs for myself rather than others, to see them as postcards I was writing to myself.

For the next four years Tawhiri, the Big Bad Wolf, would blow me around the world, changing me all the time, growing me and teaching me as I moved on to a new journey, as I found my soul partner, marriage and a new home in a mountain village.

5 March 2010

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