Elements — or any of the four elements that ancient philosophers believed to make up the tangible world: earth, air, water, or fire. Since my goal in writing this post is to multitask, and somehow work in the photos from a recent Photo 101 assignment, I am tempted to focus on air and fire. Together, these two forces can bring about “warmth,” which was the theme for a photo assignment. Without oxygen, a fire cannot exist. My husband just tried to explain this scientifically to me, but all I came away with was something about carbon dioxide and a release of energy.
Although we have three fireplaces in my house, we never build a fire. This is probably because I didn’t grow up with a fireplace — unless you count the space heater that looked like a fireplace in my parents’ garage-converted-into-a-den. We did count that, actually, and we would sometimes turn on the fake logs for the fun of seeing the electric flames dance. My parents have three functional fireplaces of their own in the home that they moved to when they retired, and they do build fires occasionally, so there must be more to my aversion to building fires than the way I was brought up.
I feel sure that it is because of my fear of fire. In our previous house, we had a fireplace. When we had the chimney cleaned — so that we could build a fire safely — we were told that there was a crack in some kind of plate. To fix it would have been expensive, and so we just avoided fires. When we moved into this house, we carried on the no-fires tradition. I know that many people love the experience of building fires, but — unless I move to a culture where having a fire in one’s fireplace is a necessary means of providing warmth to the house — I am unlikely to change.
It’s true: I am a bit of a worrier. As a young child, I would stay awake on car trips, especially at night, staring into the dark from my position on the middle of the second seat. Once I had heard my father tell my mother about someone running into a cow at night on a country road, so I became a vigilant watcher for stray cows. It’s not that I am never optimistic or hopeful, but I have a disturbing tendency to see the glass half empty. Perhaps my tendency is really to expect that glass half full of water to get knocked over?
But confessions from my paranoid childhood will not provide a tie-in to my photos from the “Warmth” session. Of the 9 photo themes that I have attempted, I have the fewest photos for “Warmth.” It happened to turn cold that day: it had gotten colder the day before, when I was attempting to get “Landmark” photos downtown. Few places can be colder than a windy downtown area on an overcast day. The next day, it was sunny but cold. I went out in the sun-filled yard to take a warm photo and gave it up after one try. The sun was gleaming brilliantly off the Pilot parked in front of the house, but, somehow, that didn’t seem a suitable subject for a photo. In I came.
You might say, “Why didn’t you build a fire in your fireplace? Then you would have been warm.” Good point, but I preferred to keep my jacket on and explore other ways of showing warm. The day before, I had seen a photo of a table with flowers in front of a window, with sunlight streaming in: whether it actually was warm in the room, it looked inviting. Also, the shadows created a lovely effect.
I decided to try and see if I could capture the effect of early afternoon sunlight streaming through a window. If there is one thing that my house has in abundance, it is windows; finding a place to put large pieces of furniture was quite tricky when we first moved in because there are so many windows. My son’s cello was out of its case, so I moved it into the music room (strangely, he doesn’t practice in the music room that often; it’s easier for me to keep an eye on his practicing in the family room).
As I had hoped, the light pouring through the window onto the cello created an interesting pattern of shadows. Did it create an impression of “warmth”? Maybe? Not as much as roaring fire would have, to be honest, but the varnished wood of the cello had a warm look. And I had experimented with light, as the assignment had directed.
We had to leave on an errand. While we were out, I took a picture of this tall wavy grass by the side of the road. I will look for its name later, but I see it everywhere these days — on the medians of highways, at the Arboretum, rustling its golden stalks. Again, the actual cold interfered with my ability to express “Warmth” through my picture, and I hurried back to the car, where my son and daughter were waiting — they didn’t complain, but I knew they were thinking, “When will this Photo 101 class be over?”
I am wondering that myself: surely I am not going to have to keep this up through the end of November? I will say that it has been interesting to approach photography this way: in the past, I have seen something beautiful, intriguing, or memorable, and I have taken a picture. Done deal. But to think about the abstract quality conveyed through an image: that is something new for me. Not all the themes have been abstract, but it has raised all sorts of questions for me about what an image says (or fails to say) about the person who took it.
Meanwhile, I question the blogging itself: yes, I enjoy it, but at times it feels just a tiny bit like work. “Oh, I must finish this assignment” or “I missed the deadline again.” And the eternal question hovers: is blogging about my life taking my focus away from the elemental things of life — home, hearth (in the metaphorical sense, obviously), family, friends?