Smile

Despite being widowed for over 10 years, Beeponee wanted me to know she wasn’t lonely. Her son lives close by and she has other children and grand children. In this respect, she says has more than many.

Still, life isn't easy. After a lifetime of working, she still has to work to support herself, growing vegetables in her small garden to sell by the side of the street.

But the thing which struck me most, as I listened to her story, was her amazing smile.

I saw it from all the way down the street. It was a smile of pure defiance, a smile that declared to the world, no matter what, this is a woman who intends to live a full life. It is a smile I will never forget.

Legacy

After her husband, James Russell, passed away in 1848, this is the church Jane Smith Russell had build in his memory. Standing high over the "Poison Glen" of Dunlewey, in Ireland's County Donegal, the church has long fallen into disrepair.

The roof was removed, for fear of it collapsing. The furniture long distributed to other churches across Ireland. And yet here it still stands, a cold, lonely testament to a family who once stood proud in the community within which it was built.

Skin Deep

Madison is not someone you are likely to miss in a crowd.

When I met her, she was sitting outside the barber shop where she worked, enjoying the Toronto sunshine. With a huge smile on her face and a shock of blond hair on her head, there was something about her which made her immediately stand out against the suburban backdrop. Of course it is quite possible the tattoos running the entire length of her arms, chest and neck, as much as the smile on her face which helped her to stand out.

"I've always been judged by my tattoos", she told me, "I have never been in trouble in my life, but people still ask if I have been to prison. The truth is I just like tattoos."

We are all guilty of subconsciously judging the people we meet, often based on nothing more than the colour of their skin or the clothes that they wear. Sometimes those judgements have little impact on our interaction with others, and other times they have terrible consequences. And yet, we also all know these differences between us are literally only skin deep. How ridiculous it is, in the 21st Century, that we are still all so guilty of making these judgements.

Madison was one of the most interesting and friendly people I met, as I walked around the streets of Canada. Polite, talkative and happy for me to photograph her portrait, despite only meeting me moments before. And yet many of the people she meets still make snap decisions about her based on nothing more than the art she wears on her skin.

As the old saying goes, you can't judge a book by its cover, a lesson we could all do with remembering more often, in our increasingly divided world.

Supertrees

There is not a lot we can teach Mother Nature about design. When it comes to form, beauty, and function, she has pretty much got her act together.

So when landscapers were deciding what to do with 250 acres of reclaimed land, right in the heart of Central Singapore, what better place to turn for inspiration, than Mother Nature herself.

The Supertree Grove, located in the Garden by the Bay national park, are an incredible sight. A collection of vast artificial trees, standing up to 50 meters tall, they dominate the Singapore skyline, forming an imposing canopy over the city below.

Acting as a vertical garden for a huge array of plants and ferns, the Supertrees collect rainwater for irrigation, whilst huge solar panels generate energy to power the lights which bring the trees alive, illuminating them against the urban backdrop.

Truly, the Supertrees are a spectacular sight. But, as we move further into the 21st Century, where concrete is replacing grass at an exponential rate, and tree-like structures now replace actual trees, I can’t help but wonder, what harm are we doing to Mother Nature’s grand design?

The long day is over

A fisherman rests by the waters edge, near the village of Isafordur in Iceland.

His two-thumbed woven gloves designed to be turned around as they wear out pulling the heavy oars through the turbulent waters. His wooden-framed fishing boat ideally suited to the freezing cold water so close to the Artic.

The tools of his trade virtually unchanged in hundreds of years, his long day over, the sea has provided once more, as it has done for generations.

Alone

The ocean covers more than 70% of our planet, contains 97% of all our water and is home to so much life we think we have only discovered a tiny percentage of what is out there.

Above the waves, it is a lonely ocean, vast expanses of nothing but water to break the horizon before the land arrives. Below, it is a vast wilderness, with more life than we can possibly imagine.

Throughout our history, the ocean has dominated our life in ways we can not comprehend and yet we are still so ill at ease in its presence, unable to achieve much more than floating across it's surface in boats of wood and steel.

Our constant companion since time began, it remains silent and in the shadows, always there, always waiting, always alone.

Walls don't work

On the 13th August 1961, the East Berlin authorities began constructing the Berlin Wall, a huge, physical barrier intended to divide the entire city of Berlin in two, separating friends, families and communities for the next 28 years.

Built by a government intent on controlling the free will of the people, under the pretence of protecting the public from so-called dangerous ideologies, it was used to control where people could go and who they could talk to. Human spirit was contained behind a wall of bricks, concrete and metal.

Except human spirit can never be controlled. No matter how high the wall, no matter how big the divide, human spirit will always overcome, eventually.

And on the 9th November 1989, the wall finally fell, torn down by hand, as the people of Berlin were finally unified once again. Today, as the world once again faces the prospect of a "great wall" intended to separate people by force, the Berlin Wall stands testament to the truth history has taught us, walls don’t work.

PEM

I am so inspired by artists, especially those who have carved out their own, unique style. PEM is just such an artist, and carving his style is literally what he has been doing for decades.

One of the most renowned sculptures in Mauritius, his distinctive carved wooden statues have an almost mystical quality about them. I was intrigued where he found the wood for his beautiful statues.

“I don’t find the wood”, he informed me thoughtfully, “the wood finds me.”

Such an artist is truly special.

Passage of Time

History is everywhere in Athens.

On every street you walk, every corner you turn and every building you pass, chances are something within touching distance will be a thousand of years old, or more. Ancient ruins are so common place, many are barely given a passing glance, as the modern city goes about it's daily life.

But one site which refuses to be ignored is the mighty Acropolis, dominating the landscape from high above. Its presence is felt constantly, as it has done for millennia. At heart of the Acropolis, lies the Parthenon, the imposing temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, constructed around 500 BC.

It is such a strange sensation, to witness a building which has stood largely unchanged for over two thousand years. Sitting within it's shadows, you can feel an almost physical connection with generations of ancestors who have sat there before you.

Around the world, time passes so fast we often struggle to keep up. But with the Acropolis standing proudly above the city for more years than any of us can contemplate, Athens remains a city where the passage of time has done largely gone unnoticed

Caught Short

As hard as it might be to believe today, but when the iconic Flatiron Building first opened in New York, there were no female bathrooms.

This wasn't a deliberate omission. The lack of ladies toilets wasn't being used to make a bold statement or prove a point. Rather the building designers simply forgot to include any.

A common sense solution was quickly found, with bathrooms on alternate floors being designated as either male or female, but this solution was only arrived at after the building was opened. The fact that none of the many hundreds of people, who worked on the building, noticed there were no ladies restrooms tells us much about how little society valued women, when the building first opened in 1902.

More than a hundred years later, an awful lot has changed. We still have a long way to go to eradicate the gender imbalance in our society, but few of us could contemplate a time when women were so invisible as to hardly merit consideration.

And yet, there are still so many people in society we do forget.

Far too many buildings are still being designed without giving proper consideration to the needs of people with a disability. We continue to use steps when a ramp is just as easy to build, we still design bathrooms without thought to how others in our society might need to use them.

Just as the Flatiron building before, these oversights aren't being used to make bold statements, or prove a point. We are simply still forgetting the needs of people who have become invisible to us. One hundred years from now, I wonder if these modern day omissions will be as shocking to society as a twenty story building without a single female bathroom.

Bád Eddie

The stormy waters of the Irish sea have claimed more than their fair share of boats over the years, this being just one of the many wrecks to be found along the turbulent coastline of Ireland.

Originally known as the "Cara Na Mara", it was a simple fishing boat until it found itself in trouble one stormy night in the early 1970s. Run aground on a beach near Donegal, there it has remained ever since.

Today the locals call it the wreck of Bád Eddie, meaning “Eddie’s boat” in the Irish Gaelic language, named after the captain who abandoned it to its fate.

The wind, rain and tides have all taken their toll over the years, the boat now only a shell of its former self. But still it still stands proud, watching over the seas which claimed it.

Patrick

Patrick knows the ocean.

When I met him, walking the beach of Gris Gris, on the southernmost tip of Mauritius. He was looking out to sea, with the steely-eyes of someone who understands the power of the ocean waves. His windswept hair and weather-beaten skin testament to a life spent outdoors.

"A gale is coming" he told me, as I took this photograph, "sometimes the ocean tells us to stay away."

And with that he was gone, leaving the ocean as he found it. The wind and the waves had decided there would be no fishing that day.

Far too many of us underestimate the power of the ocean. We take it for granted that human's have the power over the world around us. But Patrick, along with other fishermen all over the world, know the truth. Nature is the true master of our oceans, and sometimes we are nothing more than unwelcome guests.

Cooperation

Space is a valuable asset in Tokyo.

With billboards and brightly lit signs occupying every available inch of the buildings above, and people jostling for room as they bustle along the crowded streets below, the entire city can prove a serious shock to the system.

And yet there is a sense of order within the chaos.

In such a densely populated city, people have had to learn to work together to bring order to every day life. Japanese society has practically been built on complex social rules with which govern virtually every aspect of everyday life. Whether is it knowing when to walk and when to stop, or who goes first and who gives way, everyone just seems to understand what to do. Where elsewhere in the world, we are so caught up in our own lives and thoughts, completely unaware of the people around us, in Tokyo co-operation has become a way of life. They have understand the simple truth, that by thinking about others, everyone can benefit.

Perhaps it is a lesson we all benefit from learning.

Unspoken

The fishermen work, their words unspoken.
Each one knows their role, each one knows the role of the other.
They work in harmony, practiced, like a well oiled machine.

There is no engine on their boat, no power beyond the wind in their sail.
Their knowledge of the ocean is their power. Navigating the waves to seek their reward.
They work in silence, and yet everything is understood.

Pride

With the wind in her hair, she looks out over the ocean which surrounds her island.

Her eyes are old, but they are still bright. They have seen so many changes over the years; some good, some bad. Her body is weaker than as it once was, but her smile is as strong as it has ever been. She doesn't fear the future, her spirit for life keeps her seeking out each new dawn.

Because she is a woman of Mauritius, and when she stands, she stands tall with pride.

Appreciation

The people of Havana really know how to look after their cars. They have to. With Cuba economically cut off from the rest of the world since the late 1950's, the cars on the road today are exactly the same cars which were on the road way back then.

In a country where almost nobody has ever seen a new car, the few which are on the roads are meticulously maintained and repaired. Spare parts don't exist, so the people have had to learn how to improvise.

They fabricate new parts by eye, and find ever more ingenious ways to keep their own engines running. Most of all, though, they really take pride in their cars. They clean them, polish them, and appreciate them in ways we have long forgotten.

We have become so accustomed to our modern conveniences of life, we completely take them for granted. Our telephones, our computers, our televisions are so common, we simply see them as disposable items. When one breaks, we just assume we will pick up another to replace it.

But in Cuba, where even picking up replacement eggs means queuing for hours, people know what it means to value the things they have.

And so they look after their cars, and the other conveniences they are able to enjoy, because they know what it means to go without. Perhaps that is a lesson we could all do with learning.

Calm

There is a certain sense of calm which follows a storm. More than just the relief the worst has past, it feels like a time to rebuild, to renew, and make good again. But where do we start, when all around us the winds have brought nothing but chaos and destruction?

Perhaps we could begin by opening our eyes. What we will see depends on how we chose to look.

If we see only disorder and disruption, we will surely miss the opportunity which comes with it. We need to look harder, and see the wider picture. If we do, we can find order, and even beauty, in the debris left behind.

The world around us is a beautiful place, where even a lonely branch, blown from the trees and swept up onto a deserted beach, can become a work of art.

This is the art of the natural world, something we take for granted far too often, as we go about our busy lives.

From time to time we need a shock to the system, nature needs to remind us that our planet is simply a blank canvas. We can fill it with beauty or  we can fill it with decay. The choice is ours.

The Storm

A great storm is coming. Maybe not today. maybe now tomorrow, but it is surely coming, if we do not change our ways.

I am always amazed at Mother Nature’s ability to put us in our place whenever she feels we need. No matter how much we congratulate ourselves on how advanced we are as a species, how much we delude ourselves into thinking we have conquered the physical world, nature has the ability to bring us right down to earth, to remind who is really in charge of this planet.

And we really do need bringing back to earth.

In our constant rush towards (so-called) advancement, we seem to have completely forgotten that our actions do not stand in isolation. Everything we do has a direct impact on the world around us.

Every time we use a plastic straw, when we could just as easily manage without, we have an impact on our planet. Every time we drill yet another hole in the ground in search of more and more fossil fuels, we have an impact on our planet. Every time we destroy another forest to make room for more and more roads, we have an impact on our planet.

We have had more impact our planet over the past 150 years than we have in the tens of thousands of years before, and if we are not careful we run the very really risk of impacting so greatly on the planet, it may never recover.

But it is not to late for us to change.

It isn’t too late for us to pause, to take a deep breath, and simply decide to follow a different path. Instead of destroying, we could build. Instead of cutting down trees, we could plant them. Instead of plastic, we could use sustainable materials which won’t poison our planet. We could achieve any of these things, if only only choose to do so.

Stepping Out

It is easy to stay in the comfort zone of our lives, but sometimes real reward is best achieved by stepping out into the unknown.

Consider this fisherman. Unlike all the other fishermen, who were grouped on the rocks which line the shore, he was standing alone, way out to sea when I first noticed him. The tide was low and so the water within the lagoon was only around waist hight, but still I wondered what he was doing so far from the shore.

Walking out to join him, the depth of the water varied from place to place. Sometimes it was shallow and then suddenly deep. It was hard to tell where to step, the water obscuring the path ahead. Finally reaching him, I asked him why he choose to come so far from the comfort of the beach.

"Because the fish are here" he answered.

Such a simple truth, and yet still requiring the question to be asked in order to be understood.

In life it is too easy to just remain in our comfort zone, hoping the rewards we seek will simply come to us. But as this fisherman teaches us, sometimes we need to step out into the unknown to seek those rewards out for ourselves.