New views and processes

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Cooling off. Polymer clay doll form after baking. Image: Su Leslie 2019

When we look at a piece of art, it is easy to forget that in its making, it may have gone through many stages or forms quite different to the end result.

Polymer clay doll-making is an excellent example, often beginning with a wire and aluminium foil armature around which clay is formed — sometimes for the whole body, but in many cases just for heads, hands and feet.

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Once the clay is sculpted and baked it must be cooled before the soft materials that will form the body can be attached. Image: Su Leslie 2019

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Clay, especially small pieces, are extremely fragile and need to be properly cooled before the next stage can begin. Image: Su Leslie 2019

I have made dolls in the past, but these belong to students at a recent workshop held by an artist friend. I was there solely as the photographer.

I must say though, it did rather inspire me.

Posted to the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge | something different

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Nature’s architects

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Paper wasp’s nest. Image: Su Leslie 2018

When we think of architecture, it is usually in terms of human achievements — skyscrapers, cathedrals, public buildings, that weird house round the corner.

But of course humans aren’t the only species to build individual shelters or indeed entire communities; beavers, birds, termites and paper wasps are just a few species that actively construct their living environment.

Paper wasps get their name from their ability to create a papery substance from collected fibrous material and their saliva. The queen uses this to build a nest into which her eggs are laid. The nest is also used as night shelter by adult wasps. If the queen is successful in attracting worker wasps to help her, the nest will continue to be used, and grow, for the queen’s lifetime.

Ultimately the nests are abandoned, and degrade naturally.

Unlike most human architecture. I read recently (Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth, The Guardian, 25 Feb 2019) that this most common of human building materials is the second most used substance on the planet after water, and probably the most damaging to our increasingly endangered environment.

“By one calculation, we may have already passed the point where concrete outweighs the combined carbon mass of every tree, bush and shrub on the planet. Our built environment is, in these terms, outgrowing the natural one. Unlike the natural world, however, it does not actually grow. Instead, its chief quality is to harden and then degrade, extremely slowly.”

It is an uncomfortable article to read — so I thoroughly recommend that you do.

I guess it’s a sign of how distressed I have become at the state of the world that I have responded to this week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge with a post not about the undoubted majesty and beauty of so much human architecture, but by thinking about how other species also create functional, beautiful structures with a much lighter footprint.

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
Frank Lloyd Wright

The butterfly effect

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Newly emerged Monarch butterfly dries its wings before taking off. Image: Su Leslie 2017

“Notice the small things. The rewards are inversely proportional.” — Liz Vassey

In nature, Vassey’s words are particularly true. Whole eco-systems can be compromised by disruption to even the smallest part.

In 1800 Johann Gottlieb Fichte noted that “you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby … changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole”.

Edward Lorenz later described this phenomenon as the butterfly effect.

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Monarch caterpillars. Image: Su Leslie 2017

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Monarch butterfly emerging from chrysalis. Image: Su Leslie 2017

Scientists now believe that Earth is experiencing a potentially catastrophic loss of biodiversity — with insect species being especially at risk. (See Science Direct article)

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Image: Su Leslie 2018

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Image: Su Leslie 2018

Diminishing numbers of bees and butterflies have caused widespread concern, and gardeners around the world consciously grow plant species to feed and support these creatures.

But, while gardeners may not like them, snails and other less glamorous creatures are necessary too — consuming rotting vegetation and providing food for other species like birds, lizards and mammals.

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Starfish are regarded as a “keystone species” in marine ecosystems — but are sensitive to both marine pollution and water temperatures.

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Starfish, seen clinging to a rock on the Coromandel Coast, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2018

The loss of any part of nature’s elegant and beautiful system is a tragedy in itself, but the consequences reach far beyond any single extinction, threatening the whole Earth.

It seems that humans have the power (at least for now) to protect the life-forms that remain (including our own), and reverse some of the damage done. But we’d better be quick.

Posted to Lens Artist’s Photo Challenge | nature

City of Sails

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Auckland city skyline from Westhaven Marina. Image: Su Leslie 2019

Auckland markets itself as ‘The City of Sails’ and with around one registered craft for every 11 residents (1), it’s easy to see why.

The city occupies an isthmus between two harbours, and it’s difficult to find a vantage point of Auckland that doesn’t include at least a glimpse of the sea.

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America’s Cup (2) boat out practicing or something. Image: Su Leslie 2019

Westhaven Marina, adjacent to the CBD, has berths for around 2000 boats, making it one of the largest in the world. It’s also a great place from which to see the city skyline.

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Auckland Harbour Bridge, from Westhaven Marina Boardwalk. Image: Su Leslie 2019

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Auckland Harbour Bridge, from Westhaven Marina Boardwalk. Image: Su Leslie 2018

Posted to Lens-Artists Photo Challenge | cityscapes


  1. These are 2014 figures, but my personal guess is that the ratio won’t have changed much in the intervening years, and if anything there may now be more boats in the city’s harbours as Auckland has become a “destination” for superyachts.
  2. Auckland is currently home to the America’s Cup, after a 7-1 victory in 2017 in the Bahamas. The next challenge will take place here in 2021.

Curves within curves

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Ponga (silver fern) fronds — or koru. Image: Su Leslie 2019

Ferns grow abundantly in Aotearoa New Zealand, and the silver fern (ponga) has become one of our most recognisable national symbols, with both leaf and frond used widely in art and branding.

The koru (literally loop in Maori), or unfurled frond, is highly symbolic to Maori. It is frequently depicted across all Maori visual arts (something already mentioned by Ann-Christine in her ‘Curve’ post), and symbolises growth and the continuation of life as well as strength, endurance and power.

Posted to Lens-Artists Photo Challenge | curve

 

2018 through my lens

In the final Lens-Artists photo challenge for 2018, Ann-Christine asks us to review our photos of the past year and share some favourites.

There are threads that run through all my photography: preferred subjects, lenses, and styles of composition. Food, flowers, beaches and art are always well-represented in the archive.

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The first plums harvested from our tree. Image: Su Leslie 2018

My enjoyment of food photography is a natural extension of my passion for food. What I like best about the shot above is that it was my first (and only) “take.” I don’t have a dedicated studio, and have to construct a set-up for every shoot. Because I’ve done the close-up-on-black-background style of photography before, I was able to set this up really quickly and got the shot I wanted first time.

What’s not to love about dramatic landscapes?

Manukau Heads, from Huia. Auckland, New Zealand. Su Leslie 2018

Manukau Heads, from Huia. Auckland, New Zealand. Su Leslie 2018

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Old garage, Whangaehu, Whanganui. Image: Su Leslie 2018

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Morning walk, Greenhithe. Image: Su Leslie 2018

Or beautiful flowers?

I like the shots below because they not only remind me of a great visit to Sydney to indulge in my passion for art, but about being in the right place at the right time.

This year, my interest in art has taken a new direction with an on-going commission to photograph the life of a friend’s art studio. Because it’s both a working and teaching space, I have suddenly found myself learning to take portraits — not only of a dear friend but also the many students she teaches, and a couple of events the studio has hosted.

I’ve chosen the portraits above, not because I think they are necessarily great photos, but because they represent moments in women’s lives that I was privileged to be able to share.

My favourite photograph of 2018 is another portrait.

 

The Big T, with whom I’ve shared my life for 32 years, doesn’t generally like being photographed, so allowing me to point my camera at him is an act of generosity, if not love. For which I am really grateful.

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The Big T. Image: Su Leslie 2018

Wishing you all a very happy and creative year ahead.

The loveliest distance

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“A curved line is the loveliest distance between two points.” — unknown. Children’s art class. Image: Su Leslie 2018

Art begins with the line; sketches, paintings, even three dimensional works.

It seems to me that the urge to mark lines on a surface is quite fundamentally human. From paleolithic cave art to toddlers “redecorating” walls with Mum’s lipstick (true story — but it was my brother, honest); in all times and at all ages we seek to explore, document and indeed change our world with lines and all that flows from them.

Or as art historian Sir Kenneth Clark put it:

The difference between what we see and a sheet of white paper with a few thin lines on it is very great. Yet this abstraction is one which we seem to have adopted almost instinctively at an early stage in our development, not only in Neolithic graffiti but in early Egyptian drawings. And in spite of its abstract character, the outline is responsive to the least tremor of sensibility. 

At a cultural level, line-making helps to define humanity.

At a personal level it makes us happy — and sometimes deeply unhappy.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” — Pablo Picasso

The joy children experience in making art can so quickly be extinguished by external — and internal — critics. “That’s no good” becomes “you’re hopeless at art”, which becomes “I’m not creative.” I actually heard a woman at an art workshop say that while introducing herself to the group.

I started writing this post for Debbie’s One Word Sunday, where this week the word is lines. Then I realised that when I talk about art, and about making art, I am also talking about happiness. So I’m adding the post also to the Lens-Artists challenge | happiness is.

Standing out from the crowd

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Fatih Semiz; Curious Dreams of an Architect — III. Sculpture by the Sea 2018. Image: Su Leslie 2018

In one respect, placing over 100 contemporary sculptures around a coastal path in suburban Sydney does make them stand out — but it’s relative.

Some works,distinguished by their scale, colour, subject matter or position, couldn’t help but announce their presence.

 

Smaller, more subtle works sometimes seemed to blend in to the environment, and required time and closer inspection.

 

Other sculptures found themselves jostling for space. Over 40 of the 107 sculptures exhibited were sited in Marks Park, which is about midway around the Sculpture by the Sea trail. It is home to the pop-up gallery of smaller indoor sculptures and the event’s hospitality area, so despite some of the works being quite large, many simply didn’t stand out in the crowded space.

 

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are, by Sydney artists Gillie and Marc Schattner,  was the only work that really stood out for me in the Marks Park area. The artists’ statement says about it:

“The work calls on the world to welcome endangered species out from hiding, into a place of safety and love.”

And finally, there were works that weren’t always recognised as sculptures.

Several sites containing discarded items — including the bottles and cans below — formed a work concerned with the waste produced by our society.

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One element from Monique Bedwell’s, But It’s Not My Rubbish. Sculpture by the Sea, 2018. Image: Su Leslie 2018

Hossein Valamanesh’s Conversations, involved weaving Persian carpets into seven existing public benches sited along the coastal path. This chap was not the only visitor who seemed confused by the rather beautiful, if understated, work.

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One of the seven works in Hossein Valamanesh’s, Conversations. Sculpture by the Sea, 2018. Image: Su Leslie 2018

Posted to Lens-Artists Photo Challenge | Blending In –Or Standing Out?