Glimpsed, In Passing

As the year wanes I’d like to mark its end with a few photographs. While place can be dense with the layers of our living, with the accumulated histories of wild creatures, cultures and faiths, the tightly knit webs of ecosystems or urban architecture, sometimes we’re afforded merely a glimpse of it. These images are such glances.

Photographs remind me of short stories, briefly seen worlds, vivid and atmospherically incomplete. The English writer and critic V.S. Pritchett once described the short story as “something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.” There is something ephemeral about the nature of an image, a moment stolen and suspended out of sequence, a life passed through. While we can never hope to plumb the intricate depths of a place through a single photograph, there is something intangibly evocative about them as well: the fragile intimacy of a moment.

Many thanks to all of you who’ve read Notes from Near and Far this year and brought your breadth of insight and experience to the posts with thoughts, comments and ideas. These connections have been greatly appreciated, and I’d like to wish you all a rich and illuminating coming year.

“Call me Jimmy” was how he greeted us, a few remembered words of English after spending some weeks in New York in the 1960s. Jimmy is a Prespa fisherman, and one of only two remaining year-round residents of the village of Konsko on the shores of Great Prespa Lake in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The fire salamander was found at the bottom of a well in winter, unable to climb out of the concrete shaft. We lifted it from the water on a pale and ghostly maple leaf and watched it walk off across the February snow.

 Each Sunday, on the outskirts of the city of Korce in Albania, men and women gather to trade and barter the animals they own. They arrive along the narrow roads on carts drawn by mules, meeting on an open plain to try to sell a donkey, a cage full of rabbits, a goat or two. By the end of the afternoon the roads are again full of animals travelling in all directions.

The cardinal butterfly is one of the larger butterflies to visit our garden, especially in late autumn when it is attracted by flowering echinacea and geraniums. This one clung to the edge of a flower, where I watched it throughout the day. By evening I realised it was dying and turned it over to discover its abdomen had been pierced and was now being hollowed out by insects.

Subsistence farming remains common in much of Albania. This farmer in the village of Zagradec on the shores of Mikri Prespa Lake is emptying his barn of hay by donkey, carrying it to his house to feed the sheep stabled in his yard during winter.

The spring crocus begins flowering early. But in the high mountains of the Balkans, where winter hangs on in the shadows of alpine valleys, the crocus crests through the snow to cast its mauve colour about the still white hills.

19 thoughts on “Glimpsed, In Passing

  1. This eclectic collection does give a strong sense of place, but beyond that it imparts a sense of your obvious affection for and fascination with the whole variety of its history and life. I appreciate the opportunity to experience this place through your insightful posts and your synthesis here.

    I agree that every picture tells a little story and it fascinates me how the story must vary from the impression of the photographer through each and every subsequent viewer as loaded with each individual’s experience and perspective. Jimmy, for instance, immediately brought to my mind another man, not thought of in years, whose character impressed and inspired me. Thanks for that.

    Who knows what the coming year will bring, the only certainly is that as long as you continue to share your writing, your insights and impressions, I will continue to be informed and inspired.

    1. Thanks so much, Cindy, as always. What I’m fascinated by in your comment is the idea that these photos do carry a sense of place. I went back to them this morning and learned something from that comment of yours: the images are all loosely connected to the general place I live in. Wanting to do something a little different at the end of the year, I worked through innumerable images trying to decided on what to use. The photos I could have chosen from came from many parts of the Balkans, from Germany and Poland where I visited in the autumn, and from different regions in northern Greece. But I now see that in fact I chose a series of images from in and around Prespa! That wasn’t my intention, but the result is deeply fascinating. It seems that place works on us in many ways, guiding us, defining things, rooting us at times we’re unaware of. Thanks for providing me with that insight on the images!

      I’m so pleased that the photo of Jimmy brought the memory of someone else back to you. I often think of Jimmy when I’m near the lake, especially in winter. It takes hours to get to his village because the political differences between the countries mean all the local borders are closed, but when I stand on the Greek shore I can see its mostly empty houses straddled along a promontory across the waters where I imagine him taking his boat out on these cold mornings, nearly the last of his kind in that place. Certain people I feel extremely fortunate to meet.

      Many thanks for the comment, Cindy, and I’m looking forward to your own explorations of place and your relationship to nature through inspired words and images over the coming year.

  2. Hi Julian, I really love the photographs you’ve put together here. You’re great a weaving together all of these aspects of your life. Its been a real pleasure to read your posts over the past few months, thank you for sharing. Best wishes to you and your partner for the new year!

    1. Thanks very much, Cait, for the kind words and compliments. And it’s my pleasure to have you reading along as much as it’s my joy to share in the small and beautiful worlds you reveal in your gorgeous images. So glad you’ve enjoyed the posts and best wishes to you as well, full of creativity!

  3. Julian,

    It was great to discover and follow your blog stories of distant worlds. Those (for me) remote places, whether it be a tiny village in Bulgaria or your own green lush backyard, became vivid and accesible thanks to your delicate images and masterful storytelling.

    Happy New Year, and I´m looking forward to reading Notes from Near and Far in 2011!

    Best wishes,


    1. A great pleasure to hear from you, Pablo, and thanks for the kind words. I’m so pleased you’ve enjoyed the various travels, wherever they’ve led, and always look forward to hearing your thoughts on them. Likewise, best wishes to you and looking forward with excitement to finding out where your own fascinating journeys take you, whether it be with Jardines de Coral or Found in Translation or a variation on both!

      Take care,

  4. A characteristically warm and subtle take on your environment and those you share it with – from fishermen to butterflies. I count myself among a whole crowd of people who experience that particular sense of delight when a Notes from Near and Far post notification pings into the old inbox!

    A fine postscript to an engaging, insightful and beautiful year’s work Mr Hoffman. I love the fact you come up with such excellent images on a decidedly un-fancypants camera too!

    Notes from Near and Far needs no existence beyond its current sphere as it reaches an audience who very much appreciate looking at your world through your gentle yet unsentimental gaze, Julian, but I do feel that the world could only benefit from a Notes from Near and Far book. Just a thought.

    Have an excellent 2011, Hoff. Much love to you and Joules.


    1. Dear Pete, thanks ever so much for the extremely generous and spirited words. It’s a joy to read your thoughts and comments along with sharing something of your own engaging adventures on the land at Writes of Way. May the coming year bring you and Fiona further rich paths to follow; I’m looking forward to seeing where they lead you.

      Regarding a book: I’m working at the moment towards putting together a series of essays concerned with place and our relationships to wild landscapes and creatures into manuscript form and hope to have it finished by March. And then I’ll turn my attention to a project that’s been in the note stage for a couple of years now – a book about Prespa. Near and Far, along with some of the ideas thrown up by other comments, has certainly clarified where I’d like to take the writing. Then on to the tricky step of who might be interested in publishing either of the projects!! I’ll definitely keep you posted though; thanks again for the suggestion – I appreciate the support!

      Much love to you both and best wishes for 2011!


    1. Thanks very much, Rex! Always a pleasure to hear from you, and I’m honoured to have had you reading and commenting on these posts from nearly the very beginning. Many blessings to you also in the coming year, and every success for the Philippine national football team in its endeavours!! Happy New Year!



    2. Good, you have the matter in hand! Finding the right publisher is definitely going to be the trick. Any ideas?

      1. I’ve got a few places in mind; the biggest problem, I think, is that pretty much all of the work is based somewhere in Europe but the published pieces have all been accepted in North America. There are a lot of journals in the United States concerned with place-based writing, whether it be from an environmental or more cultural vantage point, or interesting hybrids of the two. Whether a publisher there would be interested in picking up an entire book coming from a more European perspective I have no idea. But one publisher I have long admired that I will certainly look into is Milkweed Editions. They’re easily found on the web if you’d like to have a look. And please let me know if you have any suggestions!! It would much appreciated. In the meantime I still have a piece or two to complete before the manuscript is ready!! Or so I think.

    1. Many thanks, Amy-Lynn! Your neck of the woods is always a delightful place to visit online and I’m looking forward to keeping up with your attentive observations of that coastal world in the new year!

      Quite right, a jewel of a find. Certain moments and encounters are heightened and the salamander was certainly one of them. If you’re interested in reading the full story about the winter salamander you can read it here

      Best wishes for a creative coming year,

  5. Thanks Julian, for writing for us! Also, for the photos. I am deeply reminded how images can bring back floods of memories or thoughts. An old rusted sawdust incinerator in the nerest village to where I grew – to me brings back all the memories of what i would imagine it was, before I knew. A few years ago I took a picture of it – and it makes me smile when I see it, even though it is an old rusted dilapatated building. To some people a phot may be worth a thousand words, and to others the same image could be priceless!

    Looking forward to reading and seeing more from what is your place in the world this year, Julian!

    All the best!

    1. Thanks so much, appleomyeye, for the very kind words! Delighted that you’ve enjoyed both the writing and the images. Like you I find photographs an astonishing way to bring memories back to us. Despite their distance in time and place, a photograph can feel like it holds on to some aspect of ourselves or others we’ve known. There is a physical presence to them that is deeply evocative. And I love how what is only an old, rusted sawdust building can also be transformed through a photograph into something more, something remembered and alive in your memory. It’s so hard to say what each of us finds in an image, but the beauty is perhaps the very variety of connections.

      Terrific hearing from you, and looking forward very much to keeping up with your own fascinating part of the world! (Hope you haven’t been too near the floods…)

      Best wishes,

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