Fotoeins Fotografie

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Capilano River, Capilano watershed, North Vancouver, BC, Canada, Helijet, West Coast Spectacular tour,

Five philosophical phases

Above/featured: Earth, water, and wood in the Canadian Southwest: Capilano river watershed north of Vancouver, BC – 16 May 2014 (6D1).

The five phases or elements in Chinese philosophy, 五行, have been around in some form since at least 200 BC/BCE. If they began from a philosophical or astrological attempt to describe and connect various kinds of observed phenomena, I’ll bring that forward to present-day observations, and tie them to scientific processes and achievements of human creativity or ingenuity.

  1. EARTH – Northern Chile
  2. FIRE – Big Island of Hawai’i
  3. METAL – Christchurch
  4. WATER – Iguacu Falls
  5. WOOD – Lake Constance

1. EARTH (土) – northern Chile

In daylight it’s warm on this late-spring day, but that’s dust blowing with brisk winds on our November drive through the Atacama desert. It’s very dry in this part of the world; stories are told about how some of the weather gauges placed in the desert go back to decades or more and have never recorded any level of precipitation. Nobody wants to be stranded out here in one of the oldest driest places on the planet, because everybody will be thinking about the line: “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust you shall return …”

2. FIRE (火) – Big Island of Hawai’i

A finger of magma pokes up and above the Pacific plate as the latter drags itself across the planet over geologic timescales. Through the poke and drag, all of the Hawaiian islands are created in this fashion through vulcanism. Mauna Loa is a massive dormant shield-volcano dominating the landscape; the mountain’s total height is 17 km (10.5 mi) from base below sea level to the summit in the sky. There’s old fire whose islands grew and surfaced above water, suffered long-term erosion by tropical rain, and eventually submerged below the water. The new fire continues to build the Big Island; we’ve seen at Kilauea a period of eruption activity over human timescales between 1983 and 2018.

Saddle Road, Mauna Loa, volcano, Big Island, Hawaii, USA,

Mauna Loa, from Kohala Mountain Road – 20 May 2008 (450D).

3. METAL (金) – Christchurch

During my year-long ’round-the-world walkabout in 2012, I visited New Zealand and spent a few weeks on the South Island. I visited the city of Christchurch, but shortly after the series of earthquakes which had hit the Canterbury region hard. Although a number of areas were closed as (re-)construction zones, I discovered how lovely, warm, welcoming, and resilient were the people. The city’s art gallery was closed for structural inspection, but I learned how oddly appropriate the metal sculpture was at the gallery’s entrance. Up to that moment, my personal reasons for voyaging included a slow ferry across Cook Strait, a slow train down the South Island’s east coast, chatting with people curious about why I was visiting in the grey and rainy winter season (July), and perhaps, standing in front of Graham Bennett’s sculpture whose title pushed me to think about those very reasons.

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, New Zealand

“Reasons for Voyaging”, by Graham Bennett (2007). Christchurch Art Gallery – 15 Jul 2012 (450D).

4. WATER (水) – Iguacu Falls

The thunderous roar is non-stop, the volume of water is enormous, and the physical extent of the primary and subsidiary waterfalls is massive. The sheer scale of Iguacu Falls is a beautiful reminder of the enduring power of water erosion, particularly when gravity must be obeyed: what goes up must eventually come down. When (not “if”) you visit Iguacu Falls, I recommend visiting both sides: visit the Brazilian side of the falls first, followed by a visit to the Argentinian side. The falls and the national parks on both sides belong to a single UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Foz do Iguacu, Cataratas do Iguacu, Brazil,

Foz do Iguaçu, Cataratas do Iguaçu, Brazil – 13 Jun 2007 (A510).

30-second roar at Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat): Cataratas del Iguazú, Argentina – 15 Jun 2007 (A510).

5. WOOD (木) – Lake Constance

With carbon dating going back to 5000 BC/BCE, prehistoric houses with wooden piles, poles, or stilts next to lakes and rivers have been found in over 100 locations in and around the Alps across six European countries. Shown above is a present-day reconstruction of the Pfahlbau (pile dwellings) on the shores of Lake Constance in Unteruhldingen (southern Germany), near the discovery site that is under water and closed to the public. The importance of the finds for prehistoric human settlement means that the location is a part of a collective UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pfahlbaumuseum, Pile Dwellings, Bodensee, Lake Constance, Unteruhldingen, Konstanz, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, UNESCO, World Heritage,

Historical reproduction of prehistoric pile dwellings – 23 Sep 2017 (6D1).

I made all pictures above between 2007 and 2017 with a Canon A510 PowerShot (A510), 450D (450D), and 6D mark 1 (6D1). Alle Fotoaufnahmen sind mit Wasserzeichen versehen worden. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as

12 Responses to “Five philosophical phases”

  1. pattimoed

    Wonderful post, Henry. I love your interpretation of the theme. Your images show the power of the elements. My favorite is the image from Lake Constance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fotoeins

      Hi, Patti, and thanks! I’m glad you like the image from Lake Constance. One might think that there’s not a lot of upfront visual “drama” by comparison to other images, but considering what we’re discovering about prehistoric humans and the way they lived thousands of years ago is wholly fascinating to me. The question then begs to be asked: what will future residents think or remember of us thousands of years in the future on this planet if it hasn’t been scorched or rendered inhospitable?


  2. Amy

    Thank you so much showing us five elements around the world! “The scientific processes and achievements of human creativity or ingenuity” made this this post so very meaning.
    A beautiful photo collection for this theme, Henry.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Leya

    Great images for the five elements, Henry! The force is with you ;-D. I must admit I have never heard of those houses at Lake Constance – beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • fotoeins

      Hi, Ann-Christine: great “Star Wars” reference! I hope you can visit the Pile Dwellings Museum in Unteruhlding (on an easy daytrip from Konstanz/Constance) or other similar sites which pique your interest. Thanks for your kind comment and for stopping by!


  4. Tina Schell

    When we were in South America we chose to go to Mendoza wine country rather than Iguazu, which I’m a bit sorry about in hindsight. I hear it’s amazing and your image and video definitely demonstrate that Henry! Beautiful post

    Liked by 1 person

    • fotoeins

      Hi and thanks, Tina. I don’t think it’s a mistake to visit Mendoza for relatively easy road access from Santiago de Chile and for a big centre of Argentinian wine. I’m not a big wine drinker, and unfortunately, I didn’t visit Mendoza, although I lived in La Serena some 400 km (250 mi) to the northwest. But if you have a chance, please go to Foz!

      Liked by 1 person

    • fotoeins

      Hi and thanks, Sylvia. I hope you can travel to one or both of those destinations soon. Thanks again for your kind comment and for stopping by!


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