Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lunenburg Panorama

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I arrived in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on Sunday, May 24, after photo explorations that took me to Jonesport, Maine, and across the Canadian border into Campobello. I photographed the lighthouse at the eastern most tip of the U.S.. After three summers of site scouting along Maine's coast, I'd finally reached the top, and I'd become familiar with fishing villages and other features at the tip of each peninsula. I crossed the border to Canada in Calais, a name which the locals pronounce like the numb, hard spots on my feet. I reached St. John, NB, late in the afternoon and ferried to Digby, Nova Scotia, docking after dark. I finally arrived in Lunenburg the next morning to begin a week long photography workshop with André Gallant. The best way for me to resume my journal is to reflect on that workshop.

I find taking at least one photo workshop a year to be a wonderful way of pushing myself into new territory, and challenging habits and beliefs that guide my picture taking. In a good workshop participants become aware of the aesthetic values and sensibilities of the instructor and are guided by them. In the end, one encompasses, makes one's own, what is harmonious to one's own sense of direction and purpose, but that is a lengthy process.

There is no shortage of competing photography workshops in New England to choose from each summer. I had taken a workshop with André and Freeman Patterson previously, the first workshop I ever took. That experience with André and Freeman combined with my interest in visiting Nova Scotia to make this workshop my overwhelming first choice. Anyone with an interest in creating art photography should look for a chance to take a workshop from André or André and Freeman together. Who better than André to guide me to the best fishing villages and other riches along the coast of Nova Scotia? And it was the right time for me to reengage with André's aesthetic and benefit from his sharp eye.

How can I put into words the subtle effect this week had on me? Am I even aware yet of its true impact?

The most tangible fallout is that it has led me to shoot panoramas, not that panorama shooting has any measurable importance in André's work or thought, but he showed us the way to stitch panoramas easily in Photoshop, and how could I not want to make my own panorama of Lunenburg Harbor? This is about three-fifths of the full panorama I shot. Even so, the cropped original of this jpg is still 20,983 pixels wide, though this copy is only 1280.

Most of the considerations for this panorama were technical rather than artistic, though every decision is ultimately an artistic choice. Except for color, it is essentially like the famous panoramas of New York harbor shot from Brooklyn more than 100 years ago. It has no special reason that dictates where it begins or ends, and only enough water and sky are included to set off the shoreline; the weather is generic; the time was chosen to accent with shadows. I debated whether it belonged in this blog at all. One could thoughtlessly go on producing similar panoramas of many waterfronts. especially when they can be easily viewed from across some bay and at enough distance to avoid dealing with the effects of perspective.

Never-the-less, my love of using my long lenses to flatten architectural forms into simple, clear compositions was teased and challenged by the possibilities of shooting this way. Prospects such as this always pose hard questions about where to begin and end, and the possibility of deciding later, thoughtfully cropping on a clear computer monitor instead of through a tiny viewfinder is tempting though also a bit unsatisfying. It avoids essential questions such as how to best make use of the long form compositionally and how to compose landscapes in the long form that integrate and lead the eye through foreground and background meaningfully. Throughout my travels after the workshop I kept trying to study this question, to see inside a different box. I'm also intrigued by the way panoramas complicate normal expectations of time and space in photography; the same person may appear repeatedly by moving into each frame, the space behind me will appear in front of me and soon repeatedly if I rotate far enough.

In any case I can't deny the amazing visual power of images such as the one above, the way it offers a sense of omniscience, and its automatic authority in documenting the life of a city. It's with good reason I saw almost identical panoramas of Lunenburg on sale in stores around town.