Photographing the elastic lace of the wind

Photographing the elastic lace of the wind

After the rain, Rāwene

Samsung Galaxy S8+, 4.2mm

ISO 40, 1/260s @ f1.7



The wind is us. It gathers and remembers all our voices, then sends them talking and telling through the leaves and the fields.

~Truman Capote


How do you photograph the wind she asked?

You cannot, I replied. However, you can photograph what it touches and what it plays with. Photographing the wind is impossible.


For the last week or two, the wind has been coming from the south, bringing scraps of memory and snatches of conversation, then scattering them as careless leaves across the peninsula. There is history in the snuffle of a leaf ushered gracelessly across the road; there is a story in the conciliatory nodding of a pohutukawa flower clinging to the gutter. You see, plants speak the language of Wind. As they should. Wind brings them food and bees and occasionally death.

Sometimes it will stop by my door, and lever it ajar with long, cold, invisible fingers as it puts its head inside for a brief look and then withdraws, tossing the invisible threads of its mane ostentatiously, before continuing on its way. At other times it will carry on past, ignoring me. That is Wind. He can be such a jerk. However, he probably has more important things to do. There are trees to push over, window catches to test, and sailboats to catch off-guard.

Lately I have observed that he is no early riser. I know this because I look for him first thing in the morning. I know he is not about for there is no movement on the water across the road from my door. The dawn sun gets to hold the water in both hands and spread its golden light across it without any smears or wrinkles. For a while anyway. Then when Wind gets up and comes past, he always spoils this perfection, making it in his own image, painting and repainting it as the mood takes him.

Then, when I think I have his pattern worked out, he makes a mockery of me. He pulls an all-nighter, and sometimes drags curtains of rain across the village, masking the clarity of the outlines of the buildings and lacquering elusive ambiguity onto the night. Then I see beyond the labels, to a deeper truth. In pluviae veritas. Truth in rain.

So, I have learned that his unpredictability is his trademark. No doubt he doesn’t see it that way, and marches to his own rhythms. He knows what he is about. He has had long enough to become set in his ways, and anyway, his time scale is longer than mine.

However, while he may scratch his signature on the surface of the water, he never gets to dig any deeper. The water simply will not have it, for it has its own rhythms, and he is a mere irritant.

The tide comes in, and the tide goes out. And there is always the tide. The lazy but predictable metronome of the tide ticks and tocks its way through the day and night, backwards and forwards, in and out, immune to his worst intentions. Things are as they have always been. Occasionally, when the tide is full, and he is charging from the east, he will scoop up handfuls of water and toss them up onto the road, using first one hand and then the other. He hasn’t managed to get any on the front of my gallery. Yet.

However, no matter what direction he is coming from, he doesn’t come empty-handed, for he has been travelling, and he has stories to share, scraps of conversation gathered on his journeys around the globe and which he is happy to share. He cavorts across the harbour, scattering snatches of the past; the recent past, with the ink still drying on the pages; slightly-desiccated stories from further afield, of bushfires and the dry desert of Australia shimmering black and shadowy under the stars of The Great Dreaming; and dim, shrivelled Inca memories from far to the east and long ago. All fall for a time, twisting in the moment. Then they dissolve and are carried away far out to the west by the eternity of the tide.

So, my imagination goes on a treasure hunt, scurrying around, seizing as many scraps of these passing memories as it can, scooping them up from the gutters and plucking them from the branches where they have been impaled. Then it sits down with them and painstakingly reassembles them into a coherent narrative, or at least into one which is coherent to me, at the time and place where I am. It may be a story of other lives lived in foreign places; it may be an observation on the weather, or it may be a consideration of one of the possible answers to the question: why?

I hold them gently, careful not to bruise their delicate wings, their shimmering gossamer possibilities, for catching and trapping a butterfly is a precious responsibility, and one should never contain them for long. So, having felt their beating heart, I gently open my hands and allow them to go free, to move on their journey to the west. And I watch them slip away into the sunset.

And I am grateful to the wind, for his generosity, and for the fact that he brings me a new basket full of hope each day.

And immensely glad that there is no way of photographing him, for that would be to trap his butterfly heart.

Some things were never meant to be caged.



3 Responses

  1. Max Ross says:

    The agile fantail alights on many new branches Tony, nice!

  2. richard gemmell says:

    So very eloquent.

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