Found Art From a Short Walk, Part III: by Dr. Peter Trnka

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arts and environment

Found Art From a Short Walk, Part Three:  Second Attempt at a Nature Walk

St. John's NL

by Dr. Peter Trnka

     I.     Preamble

This is the third - and most likely final – piece in a series of photo essays where the idea was meant to be quite simple and reproducible: go for a short walk and using your cellphone or other handy simple camera take photographs of the art that you find along the way and then document it or write it up. For fuller description of the rules and procedures, and for the first, city walk and second so-called nature walk, please see earlier issues of this journal. This time, I plan to keep the writing short and let the images speak, with the hope that someone else may take up the idea and, perhaps, produce something very different. So my preamble needs to be concise. I will leave references, as discussions with other authors and visual artists, up to the reader and editor except to note here that Robert Mapplethorpe’s flower photographs and D’Arcy Thompson’s On Growth and Form were both influences, or they came into my mind before, during, and after the walk (I have left it up to the editor to reproduce images from them, Image X and Y).

After my first photo nature walk produced many images of culture and technology, my editor suggested a second try in an ‘unknown place’. I have not really done that here but I did try, somewhat, by going, at the start of 2018, half way around the world to Aotearoa/New Zealand, but the place I walked is – and is not – quite far from an ‘unknown place’, being a well-known beach near the major city of Auckland. But there is an explanation and a rationale. First, there was a general warning across the island from Maori tribal councils to stay out of many of the woods and forests as there was concern that foot traffic would spread disease among the respected kauri trees. Second, I decided to put a spin on ‘unknown’ and consider the ocean tide as a natural process that continually makes the known unknown by destroying and creating the beach. Perhaps there are no unknown places anymore, and perhaps it was never a good idea to consider nature as ‘what is different from us’. Hence what follows are many images of ‘things in nature’ but many include the human, the social, and the machinic or technological.


On the morning of January 29 2018, I, together with collaborators (at least in terms of driving), left our home location, a small single-family dwelling on Lantana road at Greenberg on the outskirts of Auckland, at around 9:30am. The reader should know that January is summer in this part of the world. We drove for approximately fifteen minutes (no photographs were taken before we left nor on the drive there or back) until we reached Cornwallis beach. I left my ‘collaborators’ upon arrival and walked the beach between 9:57am and 10:23am, somewhat shorter a duration than my previous walks, but I then cheated a little, breaking ‘the walk’ into parts, and took a few more photographs between 11:15am and 11:16am and then again at home base once we had returned (4:10-4:13pm). I snapped many more images than on the previous walks (126 or so to start, of which 51 were selected to be cropped and fixed, from which 37 were chosen for the write-up).

I have held back largely from indicating any themes or meanings in the images captured in order to let them speak for themselves as much as possible, which is already a tall or impossible order given all the selecting, framing, and deciding, as well as fixing and filtering I have engaged in. I should say, though, that the kinds of images I was snapping, namely close-ups of small objects, began to challenge the simple camera I was using, that is, I would have liked to have gone even more micro but I reached the limits of my apparatus:

IMAGE 1: Black and gold sand (color, 9:57am)

'Black and Gold Sand' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

The black sand is volcanic; some beaches have almost entirely black sand, others, like this one, are mixed. The human form is almost completely cropped out of this image but not quite. Black provides sharp contrast with gold:

IMAGE 2: Gold rocks (color, 10:15am)

'Gold Rocks' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

The colors on each image have been tampered with but more so in terms of ‘bringing out something already there’ than ‘introducing something different’ (if such a distinction can hold).

This is all I choose to show you in terms of a ‘macroshot’ of the beach scene I am occupying:

IMAGE 3: Beachscape (color, 9:58am)

'Beachscape' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

The red rod is included for a sense of scale and constant reminder of historical and contemporary presence of humanoids. The blacks and golds are dominant colors filled out by the blue of the sky and ocean and the foliage green:

IMAGE 4: Greenbush (color, 9:57am)

'Greenbush' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

The bush edges one side of the beach and the ocean the other. The beach is ‘littered’ with artefacts, human-made but mostly human-and-machine-made; some of these objects resemble human emotions:

Image 5: The pipe’s scream (color, 9:57am)

'The Pipe's Scream' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

Some resemble people, or parts of people:

Image 6: Redlips (color, 10:03am)

'Redlips' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka



Focus on the structure of objects, the microstructure of objects, makes many of these images biomorphic illustrations. Given our location, biobush-scapes with biobush-shapes. Considerations of form lead to finishing many of the images in black and white (more so as my review of the images proceeds deeper into the walk):

Image 7: Treeroots (black and white, 9:58am)

'Tree Roots' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

Focus on form reminds me of interfaces between art and science, between illustration and expression; see, for example, the influential large work by D’Arcy Thompson, On Growth and Form (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1917 first edition):

Image X: D'arcy Thompson's Figure of a Shell

D'Arcy Thompson, On Growth and Form (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1917 first edition)

The lines stand out more clearly in black and white; the image is transformed into a play of shapes and lines:

Image 8: Bamboo with ferns (black and white, 9:59am)

'Bamboo with Ferns' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

The micro resembles or recapitulates the macro, there are lines of lines of lines:

Image 9: Spiny plants (black and white, 10:12am)

'Spiny Plants' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka


Am I taking an easy way out, looking for the artform in the miniature composition of forms and forgetting the assemblage of shapes in macroforms? The beach is full of forms and also full of frames and figures, so there are aesthetic macroforms (according to me) but many of them are constructed rather than found, even ones that appear, prima facie - at first sight, or, on first appearance, or, in their initial face – without such interference:

Image 10: Rootframe (color, 10:06am)

'Rootframe' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

When I ‘took’ this picture, I wished to capture something like the frame formed by the masses of intertwining and exposed tree roots. Only much later when I was ‘playing’ with the image did my conscious catch up, so to speak, with my subconscious or unconscious and reveal the repressed of the whole nature exercise, the hidden human form behind any ‘purely natural’ or ‘wild’ image (reminiscent of Antonioni’s Blowup).  Under the rootframe, on top of the sand, lies a blanket, which a careless look ‘interpreted’ or ‘theoretically perceived’ as the  ‘black and gold sand’ from elsewhere on the beach; only technical manipulation of the image disclosed the blanket as a blanket.

Other human-drawn shapes, like the dwelling of sorts below, are found more easily, embedded in deeper layers of the beach, covered over only lightly by shifting sand and grass, disclosed more or less depending on whether the beach is eroding or amassing:

Image 11: Brickframe (black and white, 9:57am)

'Brickframe' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

Some of the human shapes struggle it seems to maintain their identities:

Image 12: Drillframe (color, 10:07am)

'Drillframe' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

Other human shapes arise from accidental assemblages:

Image 13: Boy running (color, 10:09am)

'Boy Running' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

Some accidental assemblages appear to be inscribed into the heart of things:

Image 14: Bird (color, 10:09)

'Bird' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka


The ocean water never stops moving. As a consequence, the beach is always eroding and amassing (and the laws or tendencies or trends determining whether it is actually overall eroding or amassing right now are beyond me, beyond all of us, perhaps, right now):

Image 15: Plant floating on water (black and white, 11:16am)

'Plant Floating on Water' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

Water brings objects in and out and as it does so sweeps the sand:

Image 16: Water on black sand (black and white, 10:14am)

'Water on Black Sand' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

Objects appear to stage dramas in these somewhat simple hydrodynamic scenes:

Image 17: Mermaid I (black and white, 10:13am)

'Mermaid I' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

Image 18: Mermaid II (color, 10:13am)

'Mermaid II' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

Two almost identical forms, shown to show the colour versus black and white difference but also the time and motion difference (taken a few seconds apart if that, with as little switching of perspective, distance, and frame as possible, with simple equipment).

The sand takes on the role of jigsaw puzzle frame and the water is the invisible hand that moves the pieces:

Image 19: Witch (black and white, 10:23am)

'Witch' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

Lines fall along simple narratives to produce ‘representations’ and at other times they remain as lines or basic forms:

Image 20: Seaweed line (black and white, 10:04am)

'Seaweed Line' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

The representations are difficult to resist at times:

Image 21: Clamglasses (black and white, 10:05am)

'Clam Glasses' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

At other times the shapes are strange and unexpected, surreal or utopic:

Image 22: Seaweed floating (black and white, 10:18am)

'Seaweed Floating' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

The shapes come together or may be identified or captured against a somewhat still watery background. When the water is moving, little may be seen or separated out or selected from, as all is a rapid mixing, actual chaos. The chaos of the moving water, the energy of the lapping and overlapping and over-overlapping of the waves, generates its own surface shapes (given the right distance), drawn on the epiphenomenal foam, the excess gush, so to speak:

Image 23: Waves (black and white, 11:15am)

'Waves' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka


The action of the water and the waves is too exciting, too chaotic; let us escape, to return, to retrace form, to establish shape, finding calm and comfort perhaps in what is still and hard and seemingly unchanging:

Image 24: Rockarmour (black and white, 10:19am)

'Rockarmour' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

In structure and shape it is easier to find human analogy but perhaps this is a mistake, that is, the fluid chaos of the waves may be more like our process even though results tend to resemble structural forms more so (is this not a self-fulfilling prophecy?):

Image 25: Rootcross (black and white, 10:14am)

'Rootcross' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

In any case, I am withdrawing somewhat from the water, both the ocean and the streams that run into it, and climbing more into the bush:

Image 26: White flower (black and white, 10:11am)

'White Flower' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

The flower stands out in its pure whiteness but is shown, unlike Mapplethorpe’s staged flowers, with its dirtier, bug eaten and crapped on, background:

Image Y: Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe, Tulips, 1987, Gelatin Silver Print © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

The flower and leaf forms may be brought into attentive foreground without studio or light manipulation:

Image 27: Halfleaf (black and white, 10:11am)

'Halfleaf' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

A part of a flower or the whole flower partly depends on the size of the thing to begin with:

Image 28: Large flower (black and white, 10:16am)

'Large Flower' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka


The sand-water interface constantly and continuously draws new scenes and new shapes onto itself. The human prints appear like letters of a partial alphabet after an apocalyptic fragmentation of sense:

IMAGE 29: Humanprints (black and white, 10:22am)

'Humanprints' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

The dog prints are more stable and seem violent in their sharpness and purpose:

IMAGE 30: Dogprints (black and white, 11:00am)

'Dogprints' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka


The walk is over, we are back where we started, the home of some of my collaborators, my sister Susanna and her husband John Correll. John painted the playhouse:

IMAGE 31: Playhouse (color, 4:10pm)

'Playhouse' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

He also planted many of the flowers:

IMAGE 32: Large daisies (black and white, 4:10pm)

'Large Daisies' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka


The garden is full of vegetables and herbs and given the season we are in or close to harvest with many species:

IMAGE 33: Zucchini blossoms (black and white, 4:11pm)

'Zucchini Blossoms' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

My eye seems to want to sink in as close as possible but I begin to hit limits in my photographic apparatus:

IMAGE 34: Artichoke (black and white, 4:11pm)

'Artichoke' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

The micro-microforms on the microforms are beyond recognition or definition:

IMAGE 35: Rosemary bud (black and white, 4:12pm)

'Rosemary Bud' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

The apparently ‘realist’ stance of the photographer and image producer is replaced by an explicitly antirealist, surrealist, or postmodernist style:

IMAGE 36: Peas (black and white, 4:12pm)

'Peas' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

The surrealist or odd or contradictory may also take the shape of the choice of shapes or the juxtaposition of shapes, easier in the studio but feasible with some time and movement in situ:

IMAGE 37: Fern with tire (black and white, 4:13pm)

'Fern with Tire' :: Courtesy of Peter Trnka

I have resisted as much as possible (or as much as I really wanted to but not completely) the urge to tell a story or to wrap these images and this series of images into a meaning or a theme. Yet there is nevertheless a plethora of meanings and themes, from the ‘manufactured nature’ idea to the ‘art is the form of nature’ idea and so on and so on. However, what I have tried to emphasize here and in the previous two art walks is a simple procedure by which to document the everyday presence of art and form in our lives, a presence and a procedure which I invite others to appreciate and partake in as I am keen to see how other very different forms might grow from a common simple set of rules.