All photos:  (c) Elena Galey-Pride

Saturday
Feb092013

« Photography Tip or Life Lesson? »

The Comfort Maple and Me. The Comfort Maple is a significant landmark - in Niagara, and in my life. When we moved to Niagara 25+ years ago, it was one of the first local "hidden gems" that we discovered. The Comfort Maple is believed to be Canada's oldest sugar maple at over 500 years. It has even been honoured with a stamp issued by Canada Post. It is named for the Comfort family who were the stewards of this land in North Pelham since 1816 and who set aside a parcel of land to protect the tree back in 1946.

The Comfort Maple has endured the ravages of time, including a lightning strike, and has been helped and hindered over time by various stabilization efforts. Bricks, cement and wires have all been used to shore up the trunk and the crown. I have seen changes to the tree in the 25 years that I have visited it, but it is still a strong, impressive reminder of all that is stable and continuous.

In the wake of the Connecticut school shootings, my sister, Sherry Galey, wrote a poignant blog post about the Comfort Maple, and the comfort that its symbolism brought to her. 

But it's not the tree's botanical or historical significance, nor its allegory that I want to write about today. I want to tell you about a photography tip my father taught me, and how it played out under the limbs of the magnificent Comfort Maple.

The portrait I took of my Dad in 1984. This is a scan of an enlargement on canvas. As a seasoned photographer, my father, Norman Galey, endeavoured to share some of his knowledge with me when, as a teenager, I began to show an interest in photography. Our photo shoots and excursions were frequent and numerous. I wasn't allowed to have a SLR until I could produce consistently good shots with my Instamatic. Then he gave me his old Nikkormat. What a day that was! But I wasn't allowed to have anything but a 50mm lens until I could frame shots properly when shooting, so no cropping was later required. Dad wanted me to learn to see what the camera could see. And while we both spent a lot of money on film and developing (yes, this was all pre-digital!), we worked hard to not waste that film, and time and money. It was great discipline.

Dad taught me about apertures and F stops, depth of field and parallax (he sometimes still used his Rolleiflex medium format twin lens reflex).  I learned about flashes, strobes, and slaves. We shot nature, still life, portraits and fashion. We hardly went anywhere without our cameras.

I've probably forgotten most of what he taught me, but not this one thing - he always said that whenever you thought you were finished shooting a subject, to turn around and look behind you. In Dad's experience, oftentimes the much better shot was just waiting for you there. 

That lesson has stuck like glue. More times than I can remember, when I had a fixed idea about the shot that I wanted, I'd work and work and struggle to get it, knowing that with each shutter click, I was missing the mark. Then I would remember to look behind me, and there it would be - THE shot, just waiting to be captured! 

What does this have to do with the Comfort Maple, you are wondering? 

In the fall of 1992, Dad and Mum came to visit my husband Stan and I at our home in St. Catharines. It was Thanksgiving weekend. Mum and I had some other plans, so Dad and Stan planned an outing together. Stan wanted to take Dad to the Comfort Maple to see it in its autumnal glory. They spent several hours there as Dad sought to capture the magnificence of the whole tree on film - the shot he felt that Stan wanted him to take. Stan later said that Dad seemed frustrated and dissatisfied with the physical limitations of the site and his inability to get far enough away to get the whole tree in the shot. So, ultimately, he followed his own advice and turned around and looked behind him. In the field next to the Comfort Maple, cattle were grazing. The now-late afternoon sun illuminated the hairs on their hides like a halo. The fence around the conservation area caught the same sun. Dad shot a panorama. The Comfort Maple wasn't even in it. It was perfect! 

That photo excursion to the Comfort Maple proved to be Dad's last. By Christmas that year, we knew that my father had mesothelioma and that his days were severely numbered.  

At Dad's funeral the following summer, we invited friends and family to speak if they wished. My truly wonderful husband, choking back tears, shared with all of us the poignancy of that last outing with Dad, and the significance of the lesson he learned that day. It is a moment that I'll never forget, and that I will be eternally grateful for. I don't think I have ever been more sure than I was at that moment that I had married the right guy.

It was in that moment that I really understood that Dad's photography tip was so much more than that. It was a life lesson:  sometime when we are intent on a goal - especially when it's something we think someone else wants or expects - we struggle, and we sense that things just aren't "clicking." That is precisely when we need to take a moment to look up, to look around, and to see - really see - what else is around us. The view very well may amaze.  

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Reader Comments (5)

So many lessons from our times taking pictures with Dad...This was one of the best! Beautiful and poignant. So well written. Thank you. I will treasure this.

February 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSherry

I remember your Dad's love of photography and being with him when he took a picture of a pathway lined with trees on both sides. It was a truly beautiful and perfect pic. I remember turning around as we walked away, as I had to see the beauty one more time and to this day this memory is very vivid in my mind. He actually let me hold the camera and snap a picture after he set the shot up perfectly in the viewfinder.

February 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Price

Visions of you and your father will now join the full cast of the many memories that this magnificent tree evoke for me. It has the most incredible aura. How lucky for us that it is in our Pelham backyard!

Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience and heart-felt life lesson. It not only brought tears to my eyes, it also helped me find renewed openness to the possibility that surrounds us. I so appreciate you allowing us to share your article on MyPelham.com and your continued support of our community platform.

http://mypelham.com/articles.php?id=10791

February 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Berkhout-Bosse

He clearly taught you well. That's one of the most important lessons... for photography and life!

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErin Wilson

This story about your dad is really great. Love the idea of looking behind you to see the shot that you might miss.

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