Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Friday, September 12, 2008

Above the Meadow


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - Reflections While Shooting at Olson House, Part 1

The Olson House!  Betsy James, wife of Andrew Wyeth, knew it from the time she was ten. She recalled it as, "looming up like a weathered ship stranded on a hilltop." The looming quality of the house is still impressive. Most people know it from, "Christina's World."

When I shot this photo, there was a brilliant sky with pretty clouds, and the natural temptation was to shoot a skyscape and put the house at mid level or even near the bottom of the composition in order to show off the sky.  I shot 42 images of the house from the meadow that morning while the light kept shifting. I wasn't thinking of Betsy James' comment, but only the first five feature the sky; fourteen try to make the house loom in the upper right corner. However, even so, I never would have framed it this way had I not seen the way Wyeth often composed the edges of spaces and forms, crunching them against the edges of his composition. The image I chose, the one above, was #40 of 42.

Elsewhere I've lamented the loneliness of reviewing my digital "contact sheets," the difficulty of selecting. Yet, this time the choice of this image over the others seemed obvious. I knew it when I took it. That's why I stopped (41 and 42 are bracketing shots), though at the time I didn't know all of the reasons. Reviewing our contact sheets one afternoon at the workshop, Tillman Crane suggested a student crop an image, putting a small detail in the corner. He showed how doing so could draw important attention to such a detail that would be otherwise too insignificant to notice. This and other reasons for choosing image #40 didn't occur to me until I got home, and began to review and think seriously over my week at Olson House.