Eyes wide open

My friend Chris has been a short hop from death most of his life. He has a heart related condition which has lead to several open heart operations. He has had periods during which his physical condition deteriorated to the extent he could barely walk. These days you would not know he is managing a condition – he looks great.

Do not for a moment think Chris is therefore permanently tragic. While like all of us he has good days and bad days, he has a healthy relationship with death, a relationship most of us avoid. Chris is not morbid – he is realistic and open.

Chris is also a photographer. Photography has been part of his life for a long time in between other careers. Give him a camera and he will out walk you looking for that perfect shot! He is particularly good at photographing animals. One of the fantasies he readily admits to is roaming the world as a National Geographic photographer. Don’t you have a fantasy which involves you and your camera?

I was recently scanning Chris’s photo website when I stumbled on an image that showed how at least this example of Chris’s photography is informed by his relationship with death.

Have a look at Chris Westinghouse’s flying fox photograph – Chris has displayed a number of images of this flying fox in the bottom part of his Nature gallery

If you looked at the link above you should have found a flying fox, commonly found in parts of Sydney. The beautiful creature looking at you was in fact dead. Chris found it on the ground in a local park in the inner west of Sydney. He estimates that it had probably died no more than thirty minutes before, probably belonging to a colony of flying foxes inhabiting the large trees in the park in Leichhardt.

I found this image fascinating for a number of reasons. It is rare to get close to one of these animals even though a number of species of flying fox or fruit bat are in large numbers for example around the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney

The second and most compelling reason for me is that even in death this flying fox was still communicating to us something about its life. We normally see these animals either hanging upside-down or swooping between trees at dusk. The open eyes, the colour of the fur, the wings, the expression, the curved claws – all were only stilled a short time earlier. Look at this creature and see the life it lead in otherwise urban Sydney. This animal lived amongst us and now its time was over.

Chris told me he did not want to leave the body of the flying fox in the park for the many dogs to find and molest. He wanted to give the animal some dignity. He sees dignity in death. When he brought the animal home he saw more of its beauty and wanted to share what he saw with viewers of his website. He too was drawn into the penetrating open eyes.

Thanks Chris for bringing us this view of life and death. Thanks for respecting this part of Sydney’s wildlife. Thanks for still being here to find such images for us.

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