on “The Elastic Forest”

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live” - Joan Didion

When I sequence carefully chosen photos, I wonder whose story the viewer is seeing.  Can a series of images convey a personal story, and yet invite onlookers to author their own meaning? If these stories entangle and combine, whose story is it?

“The Elastic Forest” doubles down on these ambiguous questions. The only people in the series are my wife and her elderly father, so while the imagery is personal the subjects could be anyone, the settings anywhere, the underlying narrative familiar to many people.

The story is of our journey through a hard winter and the return of spring. The photos were taken on Bowen Island (our home on Canada’s west coast), Vancouver, and at my father-in-law’s home further inland. The series uses a simple central metaphor: loss conveyed by images of felled trees, their dissolution, and finding the means for tending to new growth.

I wonder how my narrative echos through the viewer’s experience of the work. Are my images simply a framework, a focus for projected psyche to flesh out as needed, or does the viewer make something completely new? My hope is that the imagery holds open a space that allows the audience’s created meaning to undergo a kind of alchemy, mixing with the residue of my intended story. The result can be a layered, ambiguous fable that floats in that third space, owned by neither the photographer nor the viewer.

The title is a suggestion that the world we photograph is malleable, each of us using it to create meaning moment by moment, as needed…” in order to live.” So, beyond William Eggleston’s proposal that the world is a “Democratic Forest,” that everything is photographable, perhaps we attach our own layers of meaning to the imagery we engage.

on “Decay”

Old-growth stumps, reminders of 120 years of logging, haunt the landscape of Bowen Island, my home on Canada’s west coast. I am obsessed with these remains, and the beautiful chaos of rotting debris that clusters around them. In the margins between developments these overlooked mounds slowly decay as erosion, water, insect, gravity, animal, and human activity wear down and soften the complex shapes. The accumulation of windfall trees and branches adds to the disarray, even as new growth emerges from the mulch. The result is an abstract tangle of decomposing and regenerating material that sometimes blocks our path so that walking here at dusk can feel like trespassing.

As my work leads into this dark territory it becomes a metaphor for psychological space, an interior yet unknown landscape that reflects our less rational thoughts and fears. As this terrain is unequal parts battlefield, graveyard, and nursery, the images naturally give rise to memories of our own conflicts, losses, and hopes as we become lost in this dark space.


I wish to acknowledge that the land we call Bowen Island is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples.


Using Format