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.

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