Monday, April 27, 2009


HENRY PEACH ROBINSON: "A picture should draw you on to admire it, not show you everything at a glance. After a satisfactory general effect, beauty after beauty should unfold itself, and they should not all shout at once . . . This quality [mystery] has never been so much appreciated in photography as it deserved. The object seems to have been always to tell all you know.. This is a great mistake. Tell everything to your lawyer, your doctor, and your photographer (especially your defects when you have your portrait taken, that the sympathetic photographer may have a chance of dealing with them), but never to your critic. He much prefers to judge whether that is a boathouse in the shadow of the trees, or only a shepherd's hut. We all like to have a bit left for our imagination to play with. Photography would have been settled a fine art long ago if we had not, in more ways than one, gone so much into detail. We have always been too proud of the detail of our work and the ordinary detail of our processes."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: It's not of great importance, but this strikes me as an odd composition. I thought so when I framed it. What is it that makes a photographer take a stand at a particular spot and compose? Jane wondered why I didn't jump the fence. Well, I'd already been shooting those barns from the other side, and I was surprised at the way they turned up in an odd place with the big fence hogging the frame. Now that I see it, what I really like is the objective, offhand point of view. Does it suggest a moment in passing? The rational mind wants to take aim at the farmstead; make a picture about that farmstead. This composition interests me because it gets past that prejudice of the reasoning mind. It splits our attention. Two roads diverge...

It all depends on balance, I shot two versions. The rejected version placed the large post further right so it became a frame element; it made the all-too-diminished farmstead became the subject of the image. Here the fence post occupies prime real estate at the "thirds" position. How odd! And it leaves us with choices. The angled fence leading to the too-important fence post opens a second path, and it's no longer just about the farmstead. I'd have liked a bit more mist rising out of the Shepaug River valley just this side of the last hill. Maybe I'll watch this spot until it happens, but by then the horse will have moved.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Whan that Aprill, with his Shoures Soote

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:    At long last, here is spring, still tender and whispering, the first blush enhanced by overcast skies. Correspondents have for the past few weeks hinted, urged and cajoled for images of Spring. The photographer is limited by what the landscape offers. However, what began in the swamp is now climbing the hill. For me, not even Fall can surpass the delicacy with which Spring paints the hillsides, but the changes at this season come as a relentless surge; one day the trees are all Seurat, the next day they are Van Gogh. Fall can wash away in one good rain, or it can drag on for weeks, but spring always marches through, and the photographer who wishes to make the most of the season must watch and plan carefully. No good dawn is to be wasted. Some days I shoot both dawn and dusk. For some Spring is a time of pilgrimages, for me it is a time for vigils.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

TODAY'S PHOTO - Lower Plunge, Early Spring, Late Afternoon

Maeve Benchy: "Life is never dull if you know where to look."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Much of the time, especially in the "off seasons" when the landscape is drab, I set out on a walk to see what images I can make. In March and early April, everything is beaten down, and often the best shots are taken close up, or I return home having found nothing worse than a good walk. Then again, I welcome any time of year when my view can stretch out to encompass the grand landscape.

Where better than Plunge Pool. Really a series of five pools divided by beaver dams, the trail down to the upper pool is relatively untraveled but not so remote as the 4 lower pools. To reach the other four pools one must balance on logs tossed across a stream and cross over the first beaver dam. The logs have decayed badly over the winter. At the far end of the first dam one must cross two additional channels to reach the trail on the other side that leads back alongside pools 2, 3, and 4 to the last pool. Last week the dam could not be crossed, so I went in from the other side.

This approach is equally remote even though Pitch Road goes directly through the lower pool. With each season more of Pitch Road is under its water, but I've never seen a car even where the road remains open. Nor is it a pleasant stroll over the road's ruins which start long before one reaches the pond. No place in the vicinity has such a feral feel. The pond is a gaping wound consuming forest as the beavers tend their dikes. The beavers, the ducks, the Canada geese took over here long ago, but it is the wreckage of forest that makes it so forbidding. Root balls tipped as the forest fell are bathed in the rains and dried in the sun until they turn brittle and white. Along the shore fallen hemlocks stripped of their needles loom like the rib cages of felled animals. Everywhere the ground oozes as the broth warms.

I've been coming to Plunge Pool for many years. It's taken this long to figure out how to order the enormous complexities of the place into an image. It's a matter of getting to know the players. There were more of them in past years. I've finally realized that the cluster of dead white pines that hug the shoreline in the center back of this picture give the place its grandeur. If grandeur is the goal then all else follows from this. The dead pines must be visible to the very top. Because I know the place well, I've discovered where the best supporting characters can be found and which ones will be most useful in deepening the picture space. Of course there are many more images to be made here, but late on a sunny afternoon, this is the place to stand if you want to watch the slow power of time. It's been raining for two days. I'm eager to get back here and see how it will look when it is full.

Here are images of the lower pool made in 2007 and previously published on the blog: 1, 2, 3.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Surface Tension

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Even in a small pool the very slightest whisp of air will set the surface of the water moving long before faint ripples appear. The specks on the water are tiny, drifting barges that give away the motion of the pool. In a fifth second exposure (as above), unless the surface is absolutely still, one sees their trajectory rather than their form. I waited a long time before the pond stopped rocking and the spring flotsam came momentarily to rest.

I've been visiting Emerald Pool almost daily for the past week. Unlike the earlier photos, this one was taken in mid-afternoon so the lily is back lit. At first glance the transparency of the lily pad may make it appear otherwise, but the photo's focus is the backlight that reflects off the rim of the leaf, off several bits of floating matter, and off the bead of water that usually forms where the leaf fold bends the pond broth.

Migrating birds follow the stars. Tuberous lilies, deep in the mud, seek the sun. Where does body end and mind begin? How infinite the forms of spirit!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Searching Wyeth's Footsteps

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: How many different qualities of light can be caught in a single image? It's not the first time I've thought of Vermeer while shooting in Wyeth's footsteps. Wyeth, himself, raved about the light here.

The shot is a serendipitous rediscovery from last summer's adventure rummaging in Christina's World. In this hallway the shadows were dark, and the highlights were bright, and the camera couldn't encompass the difference. Even though I wasn't processing HDR images back then, I shot the required steps and briefly contemplated doing the laborious cut and paste in Photoshop. Then I forgot about them until I stumbled on them Monday night. HDR is much quicker and achieves better results.

An interesting article on Andrew Wyeth

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Unfolding Spring

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: On NPR this week I learned that migrating song birds, not only travel by night, but that they navigate by the stars.

thrust through dark mud,
touch and probe
their bottom empire.

folded and furled,
tucked and pleated,
infant tissues
spiral out,
unfold in spring waters.

Lily pads,
they seem so simple.
Origami nightmare
to put them back,
or redirect
their solar collection.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pond Musk

MINOR WHITE: "Sequences originate for me from some hidden place. Though I habitually play photographs against each other, or words against images in pairs, triplets, or rows of four with expectations of magic, sequences originate from within. And I prefer to let them. In fact I cannot seriously do otherwise than photograph on impulse and let whatever words will, flow spontaneously."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: What has been wiggling at Emerald Pool? Since my last visit the ice has completely melted, and here and there ragged, rubbery pads have been poking up through the surface and spreading out. Beneath the surface shoots and stalks stir the broth to cloudy life, while down in the murk tiny things scurry. Still no peepers here. We decorate nurseries with pretty flowers to flatter the eye and fill our yards with crocuses and daffodils, but throughout nature conception is a messy affair that begins in the dark mud. To find the start of spring I prefer to look for it there.

On Thursday morning I stood from 10AM to noon shooting things beneath the surface. Bright sun poked unevenly through the rim of trees occasionally spotlighting things deep in the water. I was in position when the right wind cleared the path for a beam to brush this bouquet, and I clicked the shutter before the same wind churned the water's surface.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

March Meditation No.2

GUEST DIARIST: Ah Spring! The translucent ice has melted on Emerald Pool. The snowdrops are blooming in the yard. The skunk cabbage is popping up along the roadside amid the sand of winter. The day lilies are showing signs of life. The water of the Shepaug, like the water of Great Falls, is washing away the rotting leaves. Spring, Passover, Easter: times of remembering and looking ahead - a new beginning!

From the Haggadah:
"Were it our mouths were filled with a
singing like the sea,
And our tongues awash with song, as
And our lips to lauding, as the skies
are wide,
And our eyes illumined like the sun
and the moon,
And our hands spread-out like the
eagles of heaven,
And our feet as fleet as fawns,
Still, we would not suffice in thanking
You, Lord God-of-us.

For those that sow with tears, with joy
will reap.
Walks-on the walker crying, bearing
the sack of seed;
then comes the comer, rejoicing,
carrying his sheaves."

--Jane Roth

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: "Emerald Pool"! To call it a pond seems an exaggeration. One must bushwack through forest to get to the shoreline except for where a remote trail leads by one side. To people it's not much use. Why is Emerald Pool here? I have no idea - an idea of foresters or beavers, perhaps? To the west the land falls off in an area known as "the boulder field" where one scrambles over stones as large as refrigerators and box cars and the forest grows in the crevices. Maybe the pool is merely the result of a dimple in boulders covered over and clotted with dark mud. As forsaken by people as it is, it is a meeting place for all sorts of animals who share its cool waters. It seems even more animal-friendly for being so small. In the summer it is where deer and great blues, frogs and water lilies, beavers and water striders meet.

It is in this remote spot that the last of the season's ice is just giving way to spring; as if right here the season was on the edge of tipping, the last of winter melting into the pool as the earth's axis positioned itself for spring. Even as I watched the leaves of 2008 swallowed by the dark mud, I also knew that shoots deep in the earth had begun wiggling. If I return the next time the sun shines, I may hear peepers.

Monday, April 6, 2009

March Meditation

WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT: "The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year, Of wailing winds, and naked woods and meadows brown and sear."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL - I was at Emerald Pool a week ago. It is a small pond, deep in the woods, and ice along the banks had not yet let go of winter.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Paneful Composition

EDWARD WESTON: "My eyes are no more than scouts… the camera’s eye may entirely change my original idea, even switch me to different subject matter. So I start out with my mind as free from image as the silver film on which I am to record, and I hope as sensitive."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL - Perhaps this car image is redundancy? is, I promise, the last of the series, but the image accompanies an observation or illustration of the mysteries of photographic seeing. ...and besides, I like it.

The process of the shoot took me steadily closer, first in the driver's window, then through it, closer until the grit on the dashboard nearly scratched my chin. "Noir Technicolor" seems to represent the optimum for sharp focus on both the steering wheel and the dash grit. Leaning closer, the soft focus grit made "Farm Noir." The car door was stuck; I couldn't lean further in; I thought I was done.

I gathered up tripod and camera to climb down from the culverts on which I was uneasily perched, when a flash came at me as if out of the corner of my eye. I was just pulling back lens, head, tripod - - - I had been in just this position near the start of the sequence, shot unsatisfactorily and moved on - - - but this time I saw it in a new way. I had a sense as if gears had suddenly meshed, and I knew that the car and I could travel. In yesterday's shot I had caught the logic of the things: steering wheel, dash, and through the windshield with it's wonderful shades and shapes. The gestalt had shifted now. I saw a rhythm of forms, flickering planes that were previously concealed. I was in sync with a different reality and knew just where to put my camera to balance the composition. Why had this shot been invisible fifteen minutes earlier on the way in? The light seems not too different.

The photographer's job is always to refine and simplify the complexities in front of the lens. However, much I may work on this consciously, the simplifications require changing eyes. Noticed or not, new images only form when the gestalt shifts. It is the practiced spirit behind the singer's voice that shapes & characterizes the sound; the photographer's eye must become like the singer's voice.

To make this composition work in the exposed image it had to be processed differently, not for contrast but for greater evenness of tone. The eye must be able to move easily from the driver's window to speedometer gauges, and on - from shape to shape. The viewer's eye follows a very different path here than it did in the noir images, and the outcome is different as well. Is this composition more abstracted than the noir images?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Noir Technicolor

WALKER EVANS: "The meaning of quality in photography’s best pictures lies written in the language of vision. That language is learned by chance, not system; ...our overwhelming formal education deals in words, mathematical figures and methods of rational thought, not in images."

ARISTOTLE: "You should never think without an image."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Stop. If you've looked at this picture and haven't seen the word, INTERNATIONAL on the dashboard, you might want to go back, turn down a few lights around your computer monitor, and get the image as close to full screen as possible.

There now...

Before posting, I always consider the danger of redundancy. Often exhibiting two slightly different versions of the same basic composition suggests neither of them is quite right. I post them both in order to consider their differences. However, if forced to chose I would pick this.

A number of people wrote to say that they liked "Farm Noir," but that it seemed unlike my other photos. It's not the subject that's new. There are other car shots on TODAY'S; it's a subject I return to from time to time. What's different in "Farm Noir" is the immediately recognizable, cinema, blue-gray, soft-focus wash of stylization. One can argue whether "Noir Technicolor" is really noir at all; "Farm Noir," leaves no doubt. Making such literal allusions has never been something I do.

Jane and I have been watching a lot of Film Noir lately, and I was consciously enjoying the noir ambiance as I shot seven distinct compositional groups of shots. So why is this the shot of choice? I think mostly because this is more true to what drew me to shoot here. Before I began shooting, I liked the high-contrast lighting on the steering wheel, it's noir possibilities. I liked the control HDR tone mapping would give me to reveal clearly just enough shadow detail down the dashboard, another noir effect. However, those things didn't draw me to shoot. Rather it was the wonderful windshield splashed with the late-day sun, a backlit, abstract, firecracker of a mural framed by the dashboard. This shot makes the most of it.

Having said that I prefer "Noir Technicolor," others are, of course, free to chose differently or reject both, and I'm delighted that I can keep both.