Stan’s Stuff by Stan Stewart.
I am not fond of them. Especially when I am eating lunch. Seagulls! In Mercury Bay they are ubiquitous – appearing seemingly out of nowhere, whenever I am munching a sandwich.
Sitting by the estuary on a Council provided seat is one of my greatest lunch-time pleasures. The beauty wraps around me, the calm soothes me. A sense of peace pervades. Until one, then two then twenty seagulls arrive. They are not interested in me. Their focus is totally on my sandwiches.
They squark, parade, sneak around, a cheeky one even sits on the seat. All of them are focused on my lunch. Then along comes the boss seagull. He/she I’m not sure which, takes charge. With shoulders hunched, feathers plumped, this alpha seagull rushes around squawking, lunging at gulls he/she feels are too close to me. At the end of my sandwiches, I do scatter left over crusts. When I do, I try to pitch my morsels far away from the Dirty Harry Sea gull. I aim towards a shy bird who has been hanging back. I never want to reward bullying behaviour.
My friend Pru has spent years photographing ordinary things in an extraordinary way. Many times, her photographs have been of a common insect, bird or flower that prior to her photo, I have scarcely given a second look. Through her images, suddenly the everyday creature is dramatic, awe-inspiring, beautiful and arresting. She titles her images, “WonderDuJour” - the “Wonder of the Day.
For the first time I have had the opportunity to view the way she works. She is very patient. She takes lots of pictures of the subject until she captures the right moment. In her words, she is photographing the ‘essence’ of her subject. What this means to me, the viewer, is that I see the creature as I have never seen it before. I see it, this everyday creature, as striking, arresting, magnificent in its aliveness. It stops me in my tracks. It is humbling. It leaves me asking, ‘How is it I have never noticed this before?’.
Pru is right. The photo she chooses to display is in my view always ‘a wonder’. Pru says, “Wherever you are, you can find nature’s overwhelming beauty. Does that sound weird to you? It did to me. Another way she puts it is, “I connect to my subject by realizing, wow, I’m made of the same stuff as this - something ‘divine’ if you like. These living patterns, colours, movements and seasons are all part of a whole and profound system of being, and I want my photos to reveal that - the subject in this wider mysterious frame of existence.”
I am surprised by this language but the more I think about it, I should not be too surprised. I have been talking about something like this for years. As part of my work, I led groups for depressed, angry and grieving people who were struggling with life. Without fear of contradiction, I can say that these non-religious, self-help groups have helped many people move out of dark and threatening places into hopefulness. People who convinced themselves there could be no future for them, start making plans again. Part of the power of transformation comes from finding amazing images. I would tell people to daily look for one such image and once it is found, to memorise it. Then, when blackness threatened to envelop, bring the amazing image to mind. I ask them to remember its colour, shape, and beauty. This two-minute exercise has saved many from the clutches of despair and some from suicide.
Last week Pru sent me a photo of a seagull – a Whitianga seagull. One of the very same creatures who annoy me at lunch time. I looked at the image long and hard. What did I see? Perfection. I felt I was looking at a creature who was noble, complete and stunningly beautiful. And this creature was looking directly at me. His/her gaze pierced my soul.
I finally reached the conclusion the bird was asking me a question. I think the bird who was so complete and authentic was challenging me to be authentic. “Stop hiding, stop doing tricks with mirrors. Be yourself. Stand up for what you believe in. Face the fact, that warts and all, with the ravages of age, you are beautiful. Be what you were born to be. Get on with life. The universe expects it of you. The seagulls and other beauties will help you”.
Many of my readers suspect I am a bit nutty. Well, here’s the proof. Anyone who can be so impacted by the pic of a seagull must be well on the road to ga-ga land. Any companions out there?
View more of Pru’s pictures -www.instagram.com/pruclearwater
Caption: Photo courtesy of Pru Clearwater