Friday, March 27, 2009
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL - Three Maxims
My daily dungeon labors subvert all new photographic work. I hike and shoot as often as possible, but I do so knowing I must return to a stubborn and ill-tempered computer that balks at transferring almost 170 DVDs to new hard drives. As each folder of photographs is transferred I must move the link that ties it to my catalogue so that notes and keywords will be preserved and no images lost. For reasons I don't understand the transfer process devours much of my computer's power, so other work must be curtailed. My guru tells me to imagine a new Macbook. My son has been telling me to upgrade for years. All this stress and loss of work time is necessary for my backup genie to keep pace with the backup task. He won't stop nagging me until I'm done. Until then I must fight for every bit of concentration and know that I will have no time afterward for processing new work.
This photo was made the same morning in 2005 as Winter Burn. The contact sheet is always a record of consciousness. The first exposure of the day was taken on top of Rabbit Hill at 8:45 AM. It was a day of both making and taking. It appears that I stopped my car in two places and walked and shot a bit in each location. I made a number of exposures before the sun appeared dimly, but wind and snow forced me into the car at 8:58. I tried shooting through the car window. I took one "Impressionist-like" shot of whiteout before moving on.
Twenty minutes after reaching Rabbit Hill I was off the hill and shooting beside Lake Waramaug. Winter Burn was taken at 9:12. In fifteen minutes I made 26 exposures comprised of an initial exploratory group and 4 distinct compositional groups. That's very fast work, even hasty. The contact sheet is always a record of consciousness and sometimes of unconsciousness. My fitful wanderings show my struggle. The best shots in the set had compositional issues that might have been avoidable at the time of capture. Exposures were perfect. Seeing was imperfect, and it wasn't the whiteout.
By 9:29 I was back at the top of Rabbit Hill and shot this image. I think it was Atget who made the point that the hardest part of photography is knowing where to stand. This shot isn't as simple as it may seem. The fundamental idea is just that this strange sun should be of a certain size and in the center above the snow-blown tract. The corn field is a force field. If one walks along the edge (or had I greater wisdom or fortitude then, down into it) and keeps the sun centered in the image, the most important change will be in the angle at which one looks down the cornrows. How quickly and in what direction should the cornrows lead the eye? They are a bit like the rhythm section in that - how best to make the tempo harmonize with the background hills? How to let both set off that frozen fire.
Today I wouldn't be satisfied with this shot without walking the walk along the edge of the field and shooting along the way. Often I won't know what "the best place to stand," is until I've passed it. I snap as I go, each shot, hopefully, a refinement or improvement on a previous one. I never know what the scene will look like until I get there. Back then I was new to landscape photography, and didn't appreciate the importance of this last maxim; I was in the approximate right place. I took just three images. They reveal some of the details I was struggling with. Then I moved on to the Scottish highland cattle, covered in snow in the woods across the street.