If you’ve visited my website you know that this image, “The Swimmer”, is on my home page. It is represented by Peppa Martin of Truth and Beauty Galleries and has been my most successful piece, financially at least.
The other day Katherine and I were driving home from Kits Beach where we had walked Dusty. The streets were empty except for the occasional car and pedestrian. We drove down 16th and as we passed Heather street, and Peppa’s gallery, I realized she had “The Swimmer” hanging in her big window. I was hoping she chose it because it might bring some calm, peace and maybe hope to whoever passed by.
This photo is important to me. Every summer, for nearly fifteen years, our good friends David and Carol let us use their home on the Sunshine Coast for a week long getaway. Those memories are precious. The picture was taken on the beach at Sechelt, B.C., not far from where we stayed. When I saw the lone swimmer in the calm, early morning water, I grabbed my camera and took the picture.
The processed image was in the first showing of ‘The Collective’; photographs curated by Peppa, for Truth and Beauty. One of the highlights of my life was when, amid the buzz and tinkle of wine glass conversation, Peppa sidled up to me and whispered, “Your piece just sold.”
The print was bought by a lovely woman, named June, who lived nearby in an old, but beautifully renovated house where she had raised a family and now lived on her own. When I met her she graciously invited me to see where my photo would be going.
When June showed me her home I was overwhelmed. She was a collector. I have forgotten most of the pieces but I vividly remember a floor to ceiling Rauschenberg and a beautiful drawing from Paris by Jack Shadbolt. She told me the history of the piece and that she had bought it when she and her husband had very little money. She had met Shadbolt at the gallery where it was showing and told him that she loved the piece but couldn’t afford it. He suggested she pay it off over time using some of the family allowance cheque she got every month. She agreed to the plan and that was the first piece in her collection. I was humbled to be among such greats.
A few weeks ago I got a call from the University of British Columbia/Vancouver General Hospital art acquisitions department. A woman there told me that June had donated “The Swimmer” to them and they were very much looking forward to hanging it. Unfortunately June had put the print under a skylight without putting protective glass over it. The UV rays discoloured it and this woman was hoping that I would agree to provide them a replacement print. I spoke to Peppa, who immediately agreed, and we started to plan the process. Then Covid 19 hit. I lost contact with the woman and haven’t heard from her since. I’m sure her priorities have shifted. I’m hoping to go through with it in the future.
I don’t usually explain pictures or even give titles that might limit the viewers freedom of interpretation. With “The Swimmer”, however, I will. Every picture is a metaphor. Usually I don’t think about them when I am snapping the shutter. I am responding to light, line, colour and all the technical decisions that go into getting the shot. It is often much later, as I work on them that the symbolic meaning or metaphor begins to take shape. That was the case with “The Swimmer”.
My friends Ria and Susy introduced me to the practice of Nicheren Shoshu Buddhism in my early twenties, but it wasn’t until my mid thirties, a time when I was forced to re-examine my life and take responsibility for some of the actions and beliefs of my youth that I began to practice it. That has coloured the way I look at the “The Swimmer”.
We, each of us, feels alone but in fact are connected to everyone and everything. One's actions, good and bad, radiate out from us like the sound of a bell when it is rung. Those waves are like the fingerprint of an individuals life. Often, our actions effect things far beyond our vision. We can only do our best to make those effects beneficial, if that is our goal.
There are other interpretations that can be applied to this photo. I always thought that the most successful pieces of art are full of potential meaning.
I can only hope that the effects of my best actions radiate out like the small ripples from a swimmer. Maybe, someday, long after I am gone, someone being wheeled down a corridor towards an operating room in a large Vancouver hospital will see “The Swimmer” and feel a moment of calm, peace and, perhaps, hope.