Vegetable, mineral

I’ve been away.

Well, we’ve all been away, obviously - the last essay we posted was back in June, and it’s September now! But I’ve been back in my old home country, where I grew up.

Before I left, we’d talked about the collective doing a series of essays based on animals - but when I got there, I realised the last thing I wanted to see was a bear in the wild, or a rattlesnake; so I’m fortunate that I didn’t have any real wildlife encounters while I was in Canada.

Things are a little different when I visit there, now - as I anticipated last year, my parents have downsized out of their home of 56 years, so my familiar base in Toronto wasn’t available this time.

This was also the first summer they didn’t spend July and August up north on Georgian Bay by themselves, they decided to was better if there were some younger folks around to help out while they were up on the island - so we drove up with them, stayed for a week, carried the groceries, and cooked. We also played some cribbage (which didn’t go so well for me).

Even when I lived in Canada, the island was only really accessible for about half of the year, when the lake isn’t frozen - and without electricity, hot / running water, or insulation, it’s always been a summer place; so it lives more in our memories for the other ten months of the year, than in actual time spent at the place.

Some of the more famous Canadian art by the Group Of Seven is from this region; the leaning trees of the Great Lakes are a regular motif in many of their works, and familiar to a lot of people who grew up around here. The winter winds blow through, and the plants adapt accordingly…

Warren at work, in 2004

I’ve been visiting this place for fifty years now, and every time I photograph it, I try to capture something of the feeling of being amongst the rocks, the trees, the water - to help carry me through the rest of that time, when I can’t be there.

Of course, I have photos I like from up north; but, perhaps because I remember taking them, and I’m always critical of my own work, I’ve never been completely satisfied with any one of them. So, I keep trying.

My late uncle Warren was a costume designer, set designer, and scenic painter, who also made artworks in his many summers at Pointe au Baril - one of which I was able to bring back with me, this trip, to hang in our Sydney apartment. He’d promised me a painting ten or more years ago, but became ill, and wasn’t able to do it before he passed away in 2010.

I’m glad it’s finally here with me, no matter how far we both are from the rocks and trees of Georgian Bay.

It’s got the feeling I’m always chasing. It’s…home.

Pointe au Baril scene, by J.W. Hughes

Robert Catto

I'm a Canadian-Kiwi photographer in Sydney Australia, specialising in performing arts, live events, editorial and corporate / commercial work.