An Idea for a Series

I was on holiday with my family in Herefordshire, on the border between England and Wales. July 2022 was hot. Mercifully, the place we were staying had a tiny stream running down the hillside, with steep banks cut into the red soil, and heavy tree cover providing a cool respite from the sun. I was playing with my toddler in the stream: throwing pebbles, scooping mud, splashing around in the water.

Playing with a toddler is an exercise in living in the present. You have to become patient, and enjoy the moment, because they can only think this way. The world exists, and they are merely in it. Experiencing this stream in a quiet, present way suggested the idea to make images of this place and try to capture some of the sense of being in the world.

This post is part of a series covering the production of a photozine. Other posts in the series:

You can buy a copy of the zine here.

Over the next few days, I came back many times with my camera, and sat quietly for long periods observing the stream, the soil, plants, sky and animals, and made these photos.

The desire to make a book came quickly after that. I wanted an excuse to make a physical project. I had enough images to make a photozine, and I have a long history with the medium, so I enjoyed coming back to this familiar format.

I wanted to include some text in the zine, and tried to write as plainly as possible. The final line of that text – “It is indifferent” – that framing device for the series, came from watching the film Moby Doc, a documentary about the musician Moby. In that doc, he talks about being a vegan, and this section jumped out at me:

Still from Moby Doc

Look at buffalo. I wonder if one of the reasons that people kill animals – treat animals so badly – is because of loneliness. Because they look at animals and they feel rejected by them. They look at a buffalo. Buffalo are stoic, and apparently quite happy just to hang out with other buffalo. And they have their own concerns and their own priorities, like the desire to not get eaten, the desire to not be hungry, the desire to spend time with your family, with your community. But sometimes nature has an indifference towards humans, and the animals, let’s say like the buffalo, they don’t care. And I think sometimes, that almost justifies people’s cruelty to animals. They’re punishing the animals for having their own lives independent of us. The animal is almost like an emissary of the vast existential void that we’re all so afraid of.

Moby (emphasis mine)

Perhaps that’s hyperbolic as a critique of animal cruelty, but I think he’s right to point to the indifference of the natural world as one of its defining qualities. And this indifference is something that we rarely capture in images, and many times try to deny: the picturesque tradition lays landscapes out in front of us as if they exist for our pleasure.

Alan Watts, in The Wisdom of Insecurity, also observes the indifference of animals, but brings us back to the present:

At times almost all of us envy the animals. They suffer and die, but they do not seem to make a “problem” of it. Their lives seem to have so few complications. They eat when they are hungry and sleep when they are tired, and instinct rather than anxiety seems to govern their few preparations for the future. As far as we can judge, every animal is so busy with what he is doing at the moment that it never enters his head to ask whether life has a meaning or a future. For the animal, happiness consists in enjoying life in the immediate present-not in the assurance that there is a whole future of joys ahead of him.

Alan Watts

That was the sense of peace I was looking for as I crouched in the stream making these pictures.

This post is part of a series covering the production of a photozine. Other posts in the series:

You can buy a copy of the zine here.

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