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Surviving Remnant

The word relationships immediately brings to mind relationships between people. However, I think there is another discussion about relationships that is associated with art. As you might expect, I’m interested in this subject with respect to photography, but it can be applied to any art including paintings or sculpture.

Here are four relationships that I see when looking at the image above, Surviving Remnant. You may be able to think of others.

1. Photographer (me) to the image I took this photograph for several reasons.

  • The healthy tree on its own, in that expansive field, got my attention.

  • The clouds at that moment added to feeling the prairie vastness.

  • The dirt road led one’s eye into the image effectively.

  • I thought that the farmer managing that field was showing respect for those who came before.

It is that last point that makes this image meaningful to me. The others are only about the visual aspects of what I saw; nevertheless, they are critical to the aesthetics of the photograph.

2. Farmer to the Tree and Field

Looking closely at the image, you can see that the farmer doesn’t till the land around the tree. The land between the tree and the road has also been left in a natural state. My thought was that the farmer wants this tree to survive. In these days of modern farm field management, every square metre of land is normally used. This is of concern, because margins along the fence line of farm fields used to be left in a natural state and was home to the birds of the prairies, such as meadowlarks, bobolinks, and burrowing owls.

So, what is this tree to the farmer? My thought, which makes me feel good, is that tree is the only surviving, live remnant of a farm family who lived there. A tree that was probably planted by them. I can imagine that family were earlier relatives of the farmer—but, maybe not. Maybe the farmer wants to show respect for the forefathers of the prairies, regardless of whether or not they were family.

3. Tree to the Field and Road

Seeing this tree on its own in the vastness of the prairie and under the endless prairie sky confirms to me that the tree is strong and healthy. In our present day commercial farming environment, it is a natural survivor. It was probably part of the original foliage the first farmer would have planted as shade from the summer sun and protection from the blowing snows of winter.

The tree indicates where the farm house was located, close to the access roads.

4. Viewer to the Image

As a photographer, this may not always be on my mind when I capture the image. At those moments I’m usually self centred and mostly thinking about what I see and feel as I search for the best composition. However, in post processing I’m always challenged by a useful but uncredited quotation:

‘Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.’

I’m not so presumptuous to think that my image is going to capture the thoughts of every viewer, but I want some folk to relate to it. It is often a memory that triggers the relationship. That memory that might not be about living on a farm on the prairies, it may be a memory about a family.


Relationships can be found in art—not just photographic art, but art in general. A viewer will get more out of looking at a piece of art if they think beyond aesthetics.

Some time ago, a university class did a study of how long people look at art in a gallery. They watched people entering a large room in the gallery room where many pieces of art were being shown. When a person entered the room the student started a stopwatch, then stopped it when that same person came out. They took that time and divided it by the number of pieces of art in the room. The average time for a person looking at each piece of art was 8 seconds!

I’ve made 8 seconds a metric of my art. If someone in a gallery spends more than

8 seconds in front of one of my images, I assume, rightly or wrongly, that person has felt something and is lingering to get as much out of my image as they can.

Another thing that I do with my photographic art is to always write a small ‘story’ to go with the image, especially when it is hung in a gallery. I don’t write about any technical information, but rather focus on what the image means to me—in other words, how I ‘relate’ to it.

Here is the ‘story’ I placed with the above image in a recent gallery exhibition.

When I see a lone surviving tree like this on the prairies, I can be almost certain that there was once a farmhouse nearby. A farmhouse where a hard working farming family lived an isolated life. The tree would have been part of a shelter of poplar and caragana planted to break the winds of the prairie—cold in the winter, hot in the summer. I look at this and give credit to the person who farms this field today. A credit that they have left the tree to live and thereby offer respect to those who came before. It’s amazing how such a simple tree that would be lost in the forests of the foothills can take on such a majestic presence in this isolated existence. Could it be considered a cenotaph to a relation’s home of long ago?
Western Saskatchewan - 2018


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Apr 30, 2022

Many aspects of a painting or photograph will be revealed when the onlooker asks why the artist chose the subject in the first place. This can manifest into a deep understanding of the artists intent and can be incredibly rewarding.


Apr 27, 2022


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