Breathing light Issue #84

On Easter and the lesson in fallen leaves

Nga Hammadi 2024 | Fujifilm X-T5, XF 180/2.8 Macro

1.Koorero Timatanga-Frontispiece

2. On Easter and the message of fallen leaves
3. One focal length to rule them all
4. Waiata mou te Ata-Poem for the day
5. Koorero Whakamutunga-Endpapers


Koorero Timatanga

Interior at first light, 2024 | Fujifilm GFX 100, GF 45-100/4

“Everybody born comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory. We come from the Creator with creativity. I think that each one of us is born with creativity.”

-Maya Angelou

Atamaarie e te whaanau:

Good morning, everybody,

Many thanks to those of you who reached out in response to my request for feedback on where to take Breathing Light next. All the responses were thoughtful, and one in particular (thanks, Rolf) was so thorough and thoughtful that I decided to make some changes, which you will see in this issue. Of course, if they make you grumpy, please get in touch. After all, I am writing this newsletter for you to honour my commitment to Papatuuaanuku, my Mother the Earth.

So, moving forward, I will step back towards a newsletter (I hate that word!), which is a little more mainstream and requires less time for me to write. After 83 issues of Breathing Light at an average of 3300 words/issue, if I were Leo Tolstoy writing War and Peace, I would be around 280,000 words into a novel of 580,000 words and writing about the battle of Austerlitz!

So here are some conclusions going forward which will enable me to continue without taking two days out of my week. I know we are all very busy people, and a couple of you have admitted that you Rarely have enough time to read all of it. My bad. My tendency to verbosity has got the better of me.:

After studying the analytics, I will drop the Fevered Mind Links section since very few of you read them anyway. You may be interested to know that they tell me who reads what, when and from which country.

I will write about making an artwork within the body of the newsletter rather than in a container of its own.

I will continue to attempt to write Letters to my Friends, but only when I have an issue to confront, or one of my mentees has asked me such a great question that I feel the need to share the response with you.

Of course, the poetry. I will keep that there for now.

However, I remember that on childhood family trips, when we children were sitting in the back of the car chattering, my father often admonished us by saying: "empty vessels make the most sound." Therefore, there may not be a Breathing Light every week unless I have something to say. Possibly fortnightly or even as far apart as a month.

And so to this week's newsletter.

Nag Hammadi 2024 | Fujifilm X-T5, XF 80/2.8 Macro

God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.

-Martin Luther

On Easter and the message of fallen leaves.

Sometimes, an idea comes from the simplest of things.

Most mornings, walking up the hill above our home is my practice. As I push my protesting body, which would much rather stay in bed, into gear because I am determined to do at least 5000 steps a day, I pass a small dishevelled garden littered with leaves and a variety of vines which will not be ignored. The tree has been dropping them all year round, and because the owner prefers to let them have their own life, I can watch the cycle of birth, decay, death and renewal. Every week or two, I will wander up there with my camera and macro lens to make compositions. I find this hymn to the spiral of life both profound, symbolic and significant. I watch new leaves fall, find their place on the carpet of eternity, and then gradually fade away as they desiccate. They eventually become buried under new leaf fall or progressively absorb themselves into the damp, dark humus. I continue photographing them, perhaps giving them a new life as an image and honouring their message about nature.

Of course, it is Easter, and depending on whose tradition you honour (if you observe a tradition at all), it is either the Christian festival and the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ or the underlying Wiccan tradition of Eostre, which celebrates the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere. I wonder if Papatuuaanuku, our Mother, the Earth, indeed cares about the labels placed upon this time of the year. I suspect not. Or, at least, the leaves tell me that.

I wanted somehow to connect the leaves' decay with this human tradition.

As some of you know, I was raised in the Christian tradition. My Mother was an ardent Anglican and made sure I went to Sunday school, was confirmed and sent to a Christian school. I absorbed everything I was taught, believing that Jesus was tall, blonde, blue-eyed and long-haired. It was many years before I realised that, being Middle Eastern, he would have been short and dark-skinned with curly hair. The Aryan Jesus I was brought up with could not have existed in the early A.D.s.

In my early 40s (or was that 50s?), I undertook a four-year program studying Christian tradition in preparation for entering into ministry. I never did. A core part of that program was to study the Bible in a way I had never before experienced. When I realised that the Old Testament was not the word of God dictated by Him looking over the scribe's shoulders but rather the work of at least six different authors, my religious assumptions were shaken to the core. Realising that Abraham was a metaphor for one of the tribes of Israel just added to my misery and sense of betrayal.

When we got to the New Testament and began studying the Gospels and the life of Jesus, the seismic effect continued. Yet somehow, His message, beautifully encapsulated in the Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount, provided a rock in a stormy ocean to which I could cling.

Later, a wise friend gifted me a copy of the Nag Hammadi, which contains all the recently discovered Gospels excluded from the Bible by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. I read the Gospels of Mary Magdalene and Judas, along with Thomas, Philip and others. I also read the Gospel of Truth, which begins the book and, in many ways, sums them all up and is a kind of overarching umbrella.

Fast forward to this Easter and the compulsion to put out an issue of Breathing Light (I am determined to break into three figures!).

I began to reflect upon the leaves. Leaves fall from a tree, like paper messages talking about the nature of Life. Of course, paper is made from trees.

I walked back up the hill with my camera and made more images from the side of the street. Perhaps, instead of calling my small leaf series Desiccation, I should rename it Resurrection.

I returned to my computer, downloaded the images into Adobe Lightroom, and then sat there pondering them. I felt the message of Easter and the wonderful gift of the Nag Hammadi. Mary Magdalene and Judas Iscariot (who had been vilified for nearly two millennia) called to me across the centuries. How could I make a picture which honoured them while at the same time giving a new life (sic. resurrection) to the leaves and the lesson they shared?

I found an image from the Gospel of Truth written in Hebrew and, using Photoshop, wove it into one of my leaf photographs. I wanted it to wash in and out of the leaf's surface like the past rising to the surface and then sinking again.

It's rather like Easter, in effect. It rises to the surface at this time of the year and dominates our lives for a few days, then sinks away until its time comes again.

Mantis and flower, 2024 | Fujifilm X-T5, XF 80/2.8 Macro

“Our treasure lies in the beehive of our knowledge. We are perpetually on the way thither, being by nature winged insects and honey gatherers of the mind.”

- Friedrich Nietzsche

One focal length to rule them all

I remember years ago having a whiskey-fuelled conversation with my fine art photographer friend, Doc Ross. I think we were perhaps one-third of the way down the bottle when he put the question to me:

"Tony," he asked, "if you could only ever have one focal length, what would it be?"

"35 mm," I replied. "And you?"

"40 mm," he answered.

We went further down the whiskey bottle (I was not driving, I hasten to add) and ultimately agreed to disagree.

Many years ago, I remember reading an interview with Lord Snowden (Anthony Armstrong-Jones), who, when asked how to improve one's photography, replied that we should take one focal length and learn it so thoroughly that we understood its character. Of course, he was shooting with a Hasselblad and using prime lenses at the time.

I took the lesson to heart and spent the next few years working with a single focal length until I understood what I could do with it and what it could offer me.

That piece of advice has come back to me recently.

Literally two steps from our back door is a beautiful, chaotic garden that Sarah has established. It sits on top of the retaining wall running along the back of our house, creating a space perhaps 30 m long and about 600 mm wide. Being a raised garden, it is easy to get to and work with. Sarah's garden artistry has created a cacophony of plants. There are French marigolds, cosmos, a Carolina Reaper chilli plant, which so far has not borne fruit (perhaps next season!),

Along with lettuces, capsicums and dwarf beans, it has somehow become a United Nations of flowers and vegetables, which all seem to get along. We are looking forward to seeing what it becomes next season.

It is also a place that seems to be popular with the local insect population. Bees, paper wasps, ants and praying mantis come and go as they do and will. We have a flourishing colony of skinks that appear occasionally, usually when the sun is out and it is warm. Goodness knows where they live. They pop out, look around and then scuttle across the deck. At 4:30 each afternoon, Mrs Blackbird, as we know her, will appear, eyeing us defiantly as she has a bath in the shallow dish we have created for her. We stand back and allow her to enjoy her daily ritual.

I currently have the loan of a Fujifilm X-T5 and an 80 mm macro lens (120 mm full-frame equivalent). I watch the long, leggy cosmos flowers shuffling and swaying in the wind and attempt to make pictures at various focal lengths and apertures. Sarah, whose visual perception is much sharper than mine, often points out the creatures that appear on the flowers.

"Have you got your camera handy," she will ask. "There is a native praying mantis on one of the flowers."

Of course, I rush away and get it from my office, make pictures and edit them.

One morning, she pointed out a monarch butterfly hanging from one of the Swan plant leaves. I made pictures of it, then used AI and Photoshop to realise it. Zooming in on the file in postproduction, I saw two ants with red mandibles alongside the butterfly. I certainly had not seen them with my own eyes.

Macro answers can do that; they can show you the minutiae of life as we know it, of small civilisations getting on with their day.

For now, well, for me anyway, that macro lens is the one lens to rule them all.

I have included a crop of the ants and butterfly at the bottom of this section.

So, here is a question for you:

If you could have only one focal length to rule them all, what would it be?

Please reply in the comments below or drop me an email.

Ants and monarch butterfly, 2024 | Fujifilm X-T5, XF 80/2.8 Macro

Waiata Mou Te Ata-Poem For the Day

Flower ,early morning 2024 | Fujifilm X-T5, XF 80/2.8 Macro

“Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbour is, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions.”

-Paul Coelho

I was contemplating which piece of poetry would best fit this edition of Breathing Light and integrate it into a narrative about Easter.

Of course, we are entering into Autumn and, thence, winter.

I have published this one before, but it somehow feels appropriate to resurface it and give it another life. Enjoy.

(A Hymn to my Mother, the Earth)


at the turn of the seasons, when

Summer is tipping tenderly over into the arms of Autumn

and the air is awash with liquid, lustrous light,


goldglitter dreamspecks of divined, dancing dust hang,

joyous and suspended in the thrumming, threaded air,

I will plant the soles of my feet

deep into the forest floor of my Mother’s belly,

sense its gentle rise and fall

and feel down, down, down

to the soft, purple heart-river pulse

of her winding womb beneath.

I will kneel naked and alone,

clothed only in sunshine and joy,

in a meandering, rambling meadow of wildflowers,

 of blue-grey daisies with petals outstretched,

suspended on impossible stalks of shimmering, see-through green.

of bright-cheeked, crimson poppies

embarrassed by their own wonder,

and sunflowers turning their faces to follow the yellow arc of the sun.

I will watch

bejewelled butterflies carve glittering trails in the air

and honeyed, hovering bees drink from beckoning, pouting pollenwells,

while tiny beetles in lacquered rainbow armour scuttle busily across my feet,

and sinuous, sectioned worms intertwine

 in lazy, writhing spirals beneath the crumbled earth.

I will listen

to the perfectly-pitched summer hum

of violin-strung insects,

and the abrupt ejaculations of exploding seed pods casting their future far and wide,

and I will know

my Mother’s abode abides.


Koorero Whakamutunga

Tomato leaves, 2024 | Fujifilm X-Pro 2, XF 30/2.8

"To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge."

-Nicolaus Copernicus

A few days ago, I was asked if I meditated. I think they wanted to hear if I sat cross-legged on the lotus position and meditated on the eastern way.

Well, yes, I replied, but not the way you think. For one thing, sitting cross-legged is something my ageing hips can no longer do. If meditation is about connecting to the One, sitting in Te Kore, the Void, and being in contact with my tupuna (ancestors), then I am doing that most of the time. I am constantly listening to them and what they have to say.

However, there is another way, another form of meditation where I can lose my self and be with my Self.


My viewfinder. Losing myself in the wonder of what appears in my viewfinder and simply being with that is a form of meditation in and of itself.

I suspect I am not alone in that one of the great joys of photography is being in that space between camera and subject, of being present to what IS.

And, perhaps, that is the wonder of our medium. I suspect most people know this subconsciously, and that is why photography is the second most popular pastime in the world (no, golf is not the first!).

Photography is a beautiful way to escape the world's cares and daily life. Perhaps it is time to see photography as a form of yoga and to practice it both consciously and unconsciously.

May the coming week bring you love, strength, insight, truth, and peace, the only things we may ask of our Creator. 

As always, let us walk gently upon our Mother and be kind to each other.
He mihi arohaa nunui ki a koutou.

Much love to you all,

Tony/Te Kupenga a Taramainuku

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