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When I Glance at a Picture; Columbia Glacier, Alberta, Canada

Columbia Glacier, Icefields Parkway, Alberta, Canada

A Glance at the Columbia Glacier, Alberta, Canada

When I glance at a picture, especially a photograph (whether on a wall or posted on a digital device), the impression usually is superficial at best - it is tantamount to a "flat earth" moment. A two- dimensional idea, and maybe the inkling of three dimensions (a little depth conveyed by factors such as color/focus), offer the framework of my judgment of an image's importance, ugliness/beauty or forgetability. That is why I often tell myself to take a little more time when examining photographs (and not just my own).

Paintings and sculpture are a little different in this regard because we humans seem more accustomed (over thousands of years training) to deference to these other forms of art, giving them more space and time when we encounter them.

Note the glacier walkers on the right side

As in all subjective presentations, there is more than meets the eye in the photo image. Take, for instance, the massive Columbia Glacier Field located part way between Jasper and Banff national parks in Alberta, Canada. A camera's capture of the moment and subject offers pleasure and other sensations, even amazement, to the tourist and then to others who share the photo later on. Even first impressions can draw applause. Besides the scale of the scenery there are many details immediately visible on the two-dimensional palette. The bluish, dirty chunks of ice scattered in the glacier's debris field; the sweeping ice flow on which tiny dot-like human figures are gathered in the distance; the tractor-bus carrying tourists up the rocky sidewall; the pattern of clouds; the cool shadows and sense of coldness all can be quickly perceived without much effort.

But stay a little longer. There is also an unseen flow of time here, the sweep of history not seen immediately in the picture itself. Imagination and experience can kick in now if a few moments are allowed. It is notable that locked inside the ice is a story of the earth that extends backward in time.

As the snow field melts, it divulges its secret cache slowly but inevitably. Even in the instant the camera is doing its thing, the glacier is expelling frozen treasures and tragedies. Sometimes it is the partially preserved human remains of a long lost climber or hiker who had fallen into a remote crevasse and was thought to have forever disappeared. Sooner or later that unfortunate victim's rucksack, or climbing gear, or other personal effects emerge from the frozen wasteland.

As the ice retreats, the uncovered earth reveals to the trained eye all sorts of clues to the geological and biological history of the world. Striation in the rocks, color variations of those rocks and their placement, the path of the ice trails and even the moment's weather indicators all become part of the larger picture that, if noticed and appreciated, can inform the viewer in far more depth than is evident on the surface of the photograph. That is of course true for all art forms.

The idiom "stop and smell the roses" is still a good reminder to myself of a practice that can make life richer and more illuminating.

Footnote: By the way, Stop and Smell the Roses is the title of an album by Ringo Starr, released in 1981. One song on it, "Wrack My Brain", was written and produced by George Harrison, in addition to contributions from Paul McCartney, Harry Nilsson, Ronnie Wood and Stephen Stills.

Additional Images of the Columbia Field:

The information/tourist center is in the distance (green roof).

Glacial runoff pool

Larger vista

Debris field


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