Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In Blazing Soy

ANSEL ADAMS: "You don't take a photograph, you make it."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: In the landscape the first decision is always where to stand. Yesterday's image of this ruin was taken seventeen minutes and forty seconds after this one. The light was similar yet they are almost opposite in their effect. The making of these two images seems typical of the way I approach shooting. Compare the two and you may be tempted to ask, "Who moved the mountain?" My mantra is always, "You don't know what it looks like until you get there."Standing by the silo, you might not guess that by walking further down the soy hill, away from the farmstead, the tops of all three silos would be below the top of the background hillside.

When I shot this near the top of the hill I hoped that might happen. A slightly different grade and it would not have, but I'd already previsualized at the top the two shots I thought I'd get on this shoot, one with sky and one without; one in which the farm curled up at the base of the hill like a cat snuggling into an old blanket and one in which the crumbling silos raged against their demise. Move left, right, backward, forward, and relationships change; things are lost and things gained. I spent time studying how the top of the background silo might best intersect with the hilltop, and ways of strategically cutting the tops of the two silos, and the effects of compressing/expanding the cluster of buildings by moving laterally. I watched the balance of tonalities and how they met the margins and corners of the image. Sometimes I lost my light, and when it came back I considered how to utilize creeping shadows.

I moved slowly through the soy field trying to find the most committed version of each idea, but since I could only guess what things might look like from untried positions, I carefully composed both possibilities each time I stopped. I did this even though I suspected I'd already passed the most committed angle for this shot early on. I never want to have to go back and re-find a position.

In the end I had many exposures to look through. In this image I was up close with my lens zoomed wide and tipped steeply downward. In yesterday's I am standing back with my lens zoomed in tight. While I may have a good idea what I want the image to look like when it's done and that the essentials have been captured in terms of focus and exposure, it's not until I see it large that I know what I have and if it will work. When I finished that afternoon, a third of the "making" of the image was done. If there is a quicker way, I wish someone would tell me.