Riders of the Last Spark

[This was originally posted on September 16, 2011, but had to be completely and imperfectly re-written following the crash of a MySQL server at my Web hosting service.]

The allusion in the title of this post is pretty simple. But if you don’t recognize it, the rest of us will wait while you check this page at IMDB…. I agree: It’s an awful pun, but please allow me to explain in the context of the following stunning photograph:

summer_sunset_in_tofino

This picture was taken by Sandy Pell, a professional artist and designer from Vancouver, with whom I first came in contact two weeks ago as a result of my recent post about a wedding on the beach at Cox Bay in front of the Long Beach Lodge Resort, Tofino, British Columbia: “in the sight of… this company” and the Webcam. Sandy was one of the respondents to that post, and I mentioned her in my follow-up post: Vicarious (non-)storm watching.

Sandy and her about-to-be-husband were staying at the Lodge; and this photo was taken from their room the evening before their beach wedding. Besides the natural beauty of the scene and how superbly the photograph itself is composed and framed, two things struck me about it. Firstly, there is the clarity and nuance of detail. Every time I look at it — which is now quite often, since I installed it last night as full-screen wallpaper on my iMac — I see something new or appreciate some previously-unnoticed subtlety: the continuity of the small foreground rollers; the seven (not six!) surfers; the extraordinary definition of the back-lit tree branches; the bright edge-lighting of the left-most end of the rocky ridge as it reaches the water; the parallel spacing and color progression of the distant wave crests as they stretch to the horizon and blend with the sky.

If you have ever tried to get in one more game of tennis or played a couple more holes of golf or run a few more hill-repeats as night descended, you will understand the compulsion of those surfers paddling out for one last ride in the sparks of the setting sun. Hence, the pun in the title of this post.

Secondly, the compositional elements of the photo mirror what is arguably the most important design characteristic of the greatest Japanese gardens — nothing is emphasized, but rather each element unerringly leads the eye on to the next one and again the one after that, and so on. This is equally true whether it is a dry landscape of raked gravel (karesansui), such as the famous Ryoan-ji garden in Kyoto, or a tiny courtyard garden (tsuboniwa) in an inn or private home. Similarly here, the eye can flow along the lines of treetops, along waves, up or down rock ridges, across the arc of the sun. Even something as minor as the arched back of the right-most surfer leads naturally up the face of the small roller toward which he or she is pointed.

The one dissonant note in that description, of course, is the three figures dead-center on the skyline, especially the taller one standing apart, to the right and slightly above the other two. That bothered me as I kept looking at the photo, in part because there was something familiar that I couldn’t identify. But I was so (overly) proud of the pun that I just started writing. Then it came to me. Here is a still frame from ‘Raiders…’, which you can see in context at 0:35-0:41 of the original trailer on YouTube:

Now, every time I look at Sandy’s wonderful photo, I imagine that it is Harrison Ford standing on that ridge, with an onshore wind from the Pacific whipping his pants, the setting sun behind the rocks-and-trees “pyramid.” And perhaps now you can forgive my pun and agree that it is not really so bad. After all, it’s not like I tried to fabricate a story about Wickaninnish Jones and the Tofino of Rooms.

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