It seems hard to believe that an entirely natural “optical and meteorological phenomenon caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky” (thank you Wikipedia) could carry with it such enduring and significant cultural significance.
To quote Wikipedia again:
In Norse mythology, the rainbow bridge Bifröst connects the world of men (Midgard) and the realm of the gods (Asgard). The Irish leprechaun’s secret hiding place for his pot of gold is usually said to be at the end of the rainbow. … Rainbow flags have been used as a symbol of hope or social change for centuries, featuring as a symbol of the Cooperative movement in the German Peasants’ War in the 16th century, as a symbol of peace in Italy, and as a symbol of gay pride and LGBT social movements since the 1970s. In 1994, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela described newly democratic post-apartheid South Africa as the rainbow nation.
Right now, it feels as though the world desperately needs rainbows.
My news feed is full of stories about misery and hatred; about racial, gender and religious intolerance, ignorance, selfishness and greed (1), (2), (3). As the impoverished and displaced of the world take ever more desperate measures to find a better life, the governments of countries grown rich on exploitation find ever-more brutal ways to keep them out. While we can celebrate the recent Irish referendum that made it the 19th country to legalise same-sex marriage (4), LGBTI persecution continues unabated in many other parts of the world.
Even in my little South Pacific paradise (a place we used to call “Godzone”), there is little reason to rejoice. Too many children go to school hungry each day (5) and die of preventable diseases in cold, damp houses (6). New Zealand is not a poor country; but we are in danger of becoming an emotionally and socially impoverished one. A country where the function of government becomes to help the rich get richer and to hell with the poor. Where compassion and social awareness are replaced by consumerism and escapist entertainment.
But sometimes there are rainbows. When same-sex marriage legislation was being debated in the New Zealand in 2013, one of the MPs from our ruling, neo-liberal National Party made a speech in support of the legislation. Funny and passionate, Maurice Williamson’s “Big Gay Rainbow” speech became briefly famous in New Zealand and around the world. A small rebuttal of prejudice and a plea for tolerance; a little rainbow.
It’s 175 years since the city of Auckland was established, and so our Anniversary Day celebration back in January was pretty special. One of the things I really enjoyed was a display of large-scale photos from the Council archive showing how the city used to look. I have posted a couple of these images before, but I thought they were so appropriate for this week’s travel theme, Old Fashioned, at Where’s my Backpack that I’ve re-edited and re-used them.
I’d forgotten all about this post, until Hannah at Zebra’s Child (http://zebraschild.com/) commented on it. It was written only two years ago, but placed alongside the recent ‘On the way’ post (https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2015/05/31/on-the-way-daily-post-weekly-photography-challenge/) says something about how far I’ve come in the last couple of years in terms of learning to live more in the moment.
I’m one of those people who focuses on the destination, not the journey; the goal rather than the process. I understand this about myself and accept it. I know it means I miss stuff but I’m ok with that. I figure I’m happy enough with who I am not to feel the need to change that particular part of my psyche.
So focusing on pathways is an interesting concept for me. Afterall, pathways exist to go somewhere and I have probably always been too busy thinking about that somewhere to capture the road I’m on. Then I found the photo above of an installation at the New Plymouth Festival of Lights. You could say that it’s connection with pathways is a bit tangential, and maybe that’s true, but it got me thinking about how light itself is a…
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It’s winter here, and the rain is never far away. We’ve had some days of sunshine, but always with dark clouds looming. I’ve enjoyed shooting them on recent walks around Auckland.
I don’t often edit landscape shots in black and white, but I think in this case, there is sufficient contrast between dark and light in these cloud formations, and in the play of sunlight on water.
We live in a world that subtly (and not so subtly) demands “perfection”. From the Photoshop’d bodies of celebrities to the fruit and vegetables on display in supermarkets, advertising tells us we can have rounder tomatoes, straighter carrots, glossier hair, slimmer thighs, whiter teeth — if only we’ll part with our money. It’s an insidious, dangerous, repugnant ideology that leads to mountains of wasted food and irrevocably damaged lives.
Not quick enough with the remote control last night I watched — in utter horror — the first couple of minutes of a television programme about people who willingly and repeatedly undergo expensive surgical procedures that modify their bodies to conform to some idea of beauty. Really, about two minutes was all I could take before I had to turn the set off. I looked at the Big T; he looked at me. We both wondered what sort of world we’ve found ourselves in.
What does this have to do with photos of decaying roses you ask?
These are the flowers given to me recently by a friend. They were a rare treat; beautiful to look at, and as a gesture of our friendship. I’ve been loathe to throw them out.
Since last night’s brief encounter with the TV, I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty. The flowers in my bouquet were exquisite; soft, plump roses and snowy chrysanthemums amidst purple kale and glossy greenery. With age, they’ve become limp, and are browning around the edges. But the thing is, I still find them beautiful. I still appreciate the folds and contours, and am fascinated with the appearance of new textures in the rose petals.
I’m not sure if notions and standards of beauty in nature are universal to all human societies, but beauty in people is definitely a variable, culturally determined construct. By the standards of the culture I live in, I have never been considered beautiful in the way a bouquet of roses is. I’m “too short”, “too fat”, have a “big nose”, “dumpy legs” and “thin hair” (all phrases I’ve heard about myself). And at times I’ve anguished over my “failings”, but mainly –like so many other people — I’ve reached for another chocolate biscuit and got on with the business of living. I’ve found friends and lovers who are either blind to my faults, or find other things to like about me. And despite a whole bunch of new, age-related flaws that make it even less likely I’ll make it to the cover of Vogue, I’m comfortable in my (ample) skin. Even in the worst depths of my recent depression, when I was beating myself up over all sorts of things, I still managed to feel ok about my appearance.
I wish I could think of a cheerful, upbeat way to finish this post, but in truth I don’t feel upbeat. I feel fortunate to have grown up at a time when body modification meant getting your ears pierced or having a new hair-do –“perfection” wasn’t attainable so it was easier to accept ourselves. Now I worry about my son’s generation; increasingly aware of friends’ children who struggle constantly with negative body image, and quietly terrified for my own child.
So instead I’m offering Nick Cave’s Into My Arms; not upbeat, but one of the most beautiful songs about love and loving that I know.