COUNTRY LIFE: AN ODE TO THE IDYLLIC
You associate certain things with living in the country. Open spaces. Slow-moving time. A relationship with nature that is closer and more constant than you would have in the city. Animals. Almost certainly there would be animals.
“At some point in our conversations, each of the photographers used the word ‘idyllic’ — a word they were trying to convey in their essays.”
Open spaces. Slow-moving time. Animals. In this collection of words and pictures, photographers and their subjects muse on life in the country
WE ASKED THREE PHOTOGRAPHERS — John Kealey, Brendan Burden, and Urszula Muntean — to head out into the country and find people and places that show the lifestyle, scenes, and quiet moments of life there. The photos captured by these three photographers convey that sense — the unchecked horizon, the room to move and stretch out, the return to nature, a simpler way of working and living, a photographic record of what it means to go back to the land in the early days of the new millennium.
Brendan Burden’s photos catch the open spaces and languid rhythms of life in the country but also such quirkiness as a man whose hobby is raising pigeons. Most weekends, David Delorme is travelling down rural roads transporting dozens of birds in wood-and-wire cages. To show people how beautiful they are. No other purpose than to share his quirkiness with others.
Luc Alary and Stephanie Jack could have been photographed by Urszula Muntean as the classic back-to-the-land couple — two urbanites who now have the old clapboard farmhouse and a renovation story. But going back to the land is different from what it was in the ’60s and ’70s. The returnees are not as self-absorbed, not the navel-gazing type. Commune with nature, yes, but you should produce and contribute as well. You need to make something. Indeed they do — sourcing and roasting and, yes, making excellent coffee. Bluebarn Coffee is the socially conscious coffee company the couple has started in the hills of Wakefield.
John Kealey’s photo essay is on Phil Gibson, a retired political journalist and bureaucrat who left the Hill to work on repairing and restoring wooden boats at his cottage in Mont Ste. Marie. From the ephemerides of back-room politics to the tactile directness of hand tools, Phil Gibson has made a classic migration to the country to do what he really loves.
We also asked all three photographers what the phrase country life meant to them. What images did it conjure, what were they trying to convey in their essays?
Burden told us he wanted to convey a sense of “lots of room.” Muntean was looking for “romanticism.” Kealey said he wanted to capture the grace and beauty you often find in physical labour, in doing work that “scratches the soul.”
At some point in our conversations, each of the photographers used the word idyllic — a word they were trying to convey in their essays.
Idyllic is an unique word. Its most common usage is in association with country life. It’s also one of the rare words in the English language that doesn’t have a negative meaning — or the potential for one.
Idyllic cannot be used for irony; it offers no opportunities for contextual shadings, diminishment, or sarcasm. It cannot hurt anyone or shame anyone. Something idyllic is something that is good. It is never anything different.
Another interesting thing about idyllic is that it is one of the oldest words in the English language. It comes with both Latin and Greek roots — Latin idyllium and Greek eidyllion — and was originally used to describe a picturesque poem. The word has been in common usage since Theocritus published a collection of short pastoral poems in 300 BCE called Idylls. Just about every word changes and evolves over time — if it is not outright discarded — but idyllic may be the exception to this rule as well. Idyllic still means something that is pleasing and gentle and good for the human soul.
Last thoughts on idyllic: there is no equivalent word to describe city life.