Friday, August 8, 2008

Bog Hollow Melody

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The past week has taken me back to Bog Hollow (1), (2), (3), (4). Those of you nearby know that the weather has been producing daily, localized, drenching storms and the kinds of clouds that send landscape photographers scrambling for foreground. The two farms near bog hollow have lots of foreground as well as hilly pasture for the middle ground over which the storm clouds can sail the high ground like white galleons through my photographic images.

One of the farmsteads is deserted. The fields are hayed, but the buildings are silent. A circle of crumbling barns and sheds surround a farmyard of high grass and wildflowers going to seed; its a pleasant place to "settle into my viewfinder" and compose images. These last few days I've been arriving at Bog Hollow in the late afternoon and shooting until sunset. I reach here last, - this farmstead, the cloister of my sunset vigil, two mourning doves, the choir.

It is a hard heart that does not soften to the sad cooing of these creatures. Why does it touch us so? What is it in the core of human nature that makes this music powerful? Whatever the reason, it's reassuring to know such responses seem to be a part of us, built into our genetic makeup.

The other day my vigil led me to photographing one of these barns where the sunlight caught rusted wire screening and cast a shadow on a ruined, shed wall. I was composing the overlay of side-lit wire, shadow, and rotting wall. Inside me and out, the meadow was buzzing and doves were cooing, and I was absorbed in making images. When my attention turned fully on the doves, I realized one was just above my head, high up on a cupola. I'd photographed the cupola earlier with the dove as finial, but I'd been far off and instead of moving in on the dove, I'd turned to shooting wire screen and its shadows. What surprised me was that he was still there even though I was fewer than fifteen feet as the dove flies. I was just beneath him.

While the music of mourning doves is haunting, I've often thought the birds quite homely. They are utterly graceless on our patio pecking seed or flapping down to perch on the top of a silo, but in the evening light I was admiring the bluish bronze mottle of the mourning dove's coat and the brightness of his eye. Well, I had to photograph him; he demanded a portrait and posed until I complied. Then he flew off. Where in the scheme of things does the morning dove sit. I don't do birds, and I don't do portrits.

Here Comes the Sun #2

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I don't do birds, not that there's anything wrong with doing birds, and their songs and antics are welcome off-stage accompaniment at shoots. Sometimes they come on stage for bit parts, but bird photography requires an entirely different stalk, and it is best left to birder photographers. Therefore, my long held goal of making a beautiful image of a heron with wings spread in the process of lifting off or settling onto water remains an unlikely prospect, even a delusional fantasy. I've already chronicled my misses in, "Where's Waldo."

I know where several herons live, and from time to time I pass their ponds and take a friendly shot at them. Today the LENSCAPES workshop class was near one such pond. Melissa had spotted the heron before I arrived. He was across the pond on the top of a bird box near the far shore, a long, gray, bony, stringless marionette. His long beak poked this way and that as he watched the pond. He was a bit too far, and the angle was wrong, so I began walking around the pond to find another clear shot. The one I found was almost 180 degrees from where I had first seen him. The band of trees was a natural blind, the light was good, and I poked my long lens through a gap... one, two, I was ready... CLICK. I had a premonition even as I clicked my one shot that I was about to miss the shot I wanted. I got the bony thing standing on his box in decent light, but the next moment the wings opened, he lifted away from the post, two giant wings lofting legs, body, and that incredible neck and beak, a creature of volume and beauty. Then he was gone. I guess I'm a landscape guy.

On the other hand, at the Sunflower Festival in Griswold I was not expecting three mischievous goldfinches to dance into my shoot. Their reckless greed for fresh sunflower seeds overcame their uncertainty about the man among the sunflowers. I already had my lens aimed to catch the lighted petals of the sunflowers when I noticed them darting about. One paused to measure the the risk, and I snapped him as he watched me. Then it was all a riot of little leaps and dives. They were down among the sunflowers, sometimes hanging upside down snatching sunflower seeds, and I tried to catch their feasting. Sometimes I got all three of the finches at their work. Golden finches contorting among golden sunflowers are a tough shoot to compose; in my shots the birds got lost among the petals. In that first shot, however, as the lead finch watched me, I got just enough of the catchlight in his eye to make the shot work.