Seeing in Colour
Watching and walking with my sister
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”― Mary Oliver
Digging through boxes of old work in my studio looking for an ink test with creamy yellow colour that might wrap around a bottle of small-batch Japanese avocat made by hand from egg and natural spirits, I remembered an ink test on paper from years ago. I was trying to develop a recipe to turn egg yolk and turmeric into a kind of termpera that held the color of the sun but before I got the bottom of the box of colour tests I found an envelope. And in the envelope I found this photograph. That’s me on the left and my sister Amy on the right. If I had to caption it I would say she was explaining to me how to choose a good walking stick.
As soon as I was walking I was following Amy around. And she showed me everything.
Everything for Amy and me being: giant slugs, the springy moss on the piney path through the forest and then when we were brave enough, past the forest to the edge of the sea where the wavey golden-green curtain of seaweed parts to reveal the world of ocean tidepools. And looking down into that clear cold water water behind a barnacled rock that first purple shock. Something alive in shape of a star like in my picture book that seemed to wave all of its little arms only for me. But these are only flashes of memory.
I barely remember any of this. What I really remember is the rainy beach, and the slippery rocks, and holding my sister’s hand. I remember that Amy pulled me into the world and opened my eyes. She taught me that walking is looking.
If anything Amy’s watching and noticing, collecting, arranging and seeing has intensified and become inseparable from her walking over the years and over the years her looping walks which have always been a bit intense have lengthened into something almost migratory in scale.
If you follow Amy’s instagram over time, you will notice staircases, and fog, daffodils and witch hazel, storefront windows and puddle refections, barges and traintracks, birds caught in flight, facades, the poetry of Kitsilano pool, woodland paths and handmade signs, a garden on an island with a round portal gate that is like the garden of Eden, and the cat that lives near there. Look close and you will see an urban landscape photographer with an eye for light and texture and time. Look closer and you will see her seeing.
The pictures trace an emerging palette of place as distilled and intensified as anything I’ve known in natural ink. Each foraged photograph is a find that could only be found after walking for 4 hours, after walking until the job and roles and worries fade away and there is only the walking and watching.
Maybe I’ve got this wrong but it feels like these are less captured images than a record of a feeling fused with a place. And it feels like this to me because until I was three it seemed the whole world was her and me and our backpacks on a tiny rainy Gambier island just a blue smudge in a huge grey sea encircling the piney woods that met the rocky shore that met the waves and the whole rest of the world out there.
It was there on that faraway island that I watched Amy. I watched and watched until I learned how to see.
All photos from Amy’s instagram @hardstare. Except the first black and white one which was probably taken by my Papa, who also takes a pretty good picture.
In the Lab this week I want to talk about how important photographs can be for natural ink. But for that discussion and insider knowledge you will have to become a full subscriber! Or not, maybe you are happy with just the meandering stories.
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