Sydenham River, ON - Elizabeth Zetlin

"Like a River Flows" is a lyrical meditation on the wonder of water and how that might apply to taking care of our rivers and our own lives. You can view it here:

Over a period of one year, I observed water as it appeared in my life. Living along the Sydenham River in Owen Sound, Ontario at the base of Georgian Bay, part of the Great Lakes watershed, I shot thousands of photographs. I ordered them according to seasons, and put the photos into the IMac's origami screen saver, which selects images at random, folding and repeating them, like our minds recall memories.

Laced together with video, music and poetry, each moment becomes new again, as it's juxtaposed to others. The images flow from black and white, to one point colour representing CYMK, then to full colour and back to black and white.

These snapshots and video create a visual journal of sorts, a collection of ordinary moments. A toddler’s legs in the bathtub, a waterfall turned to ice, a toaster abandoned on a frozen river, water falling on a woman’s face, water flowing from a tap.

I based this 'docu-poem' on four lines from Irish poet John O’Donohue’s poem “Fluent”:

I would love to live
Like a river flows
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

Each season of "Like a River Flows" has a soundscape of vocal/drum loops composed and performed by singer/songwriter Coco Love Alcorn, without reference to the images, but with a deep understanding of the power and grace of rivers.

Coco is the creator of the song “River” which has gone viral across the North American community choir circuit.

When filming daily encounters with water, I didn’t search out special locations nor did I fuss about taking a carefully composed photo with tripod, meticulous framing, or attention to lighting and time of day.

Interspersed with video, these screen-saver photos flow and fold in different directions. The repeating ones evoke memories recalled, over and over. Scientists now say memories are rewritten each time they come to mind.

In fact, the very act of remembering can rewrite and change our memories. It may not be possible for humans to bring a memory to mind without altering it in some way. My memories of water arrive (both for viewer and director) into a new moment, where new connections and insights might occur.

As poet and philosopher Mark Nepo says in his “Book of Awakenings”: “In truth, our aliveness depends on our ability to sustain wonder: to lengthen the moments we are truly uncovered, to be still and quiet till all the elements of the earth and all the secrets of the oceans stir the aspects of life waiting within us.” “Like a River Flows” is full of these moments of wonder and attention.

Scientists have recently discovered that we don’t see the world as a continuous flow but instead process it more like a string of snapshots. “Like a River Flows” just happens to reflect this process. This series of moments is both a reflection on what photography does best, and how the mind perceives.

Oliver Sacks writes, in his article “The River of Consciousness”:

“Time,” says Jorge Luis Borges, “is the substance I am made of. Time is a river that carries me away, but I am the river….” Our movements, our actions, are extended in time, as are our perceptions, our thoughts, the contents of consciousness. We live in time, we organize time, we are time creatures through and through. But is the time we live in, or live by, continuous—like Borges’s river? Or is it more comparable to a chain or a train, a succession of discrete moments, like beads on a string?

Jessica Gordon
Elizabeth Zetlin