Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pond Bottom Churn

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: We've rounded the cusp, but it's too soon to feel the days getting longer, and winter's deepest blasts are probably gathering somewhere in the future, beyond the reach of forecast. For now we oscillate between freeze and thaw, part of the constant churning engine that makes tomorrow.

It's been awhile since I've been out shooting, and I've missed some great cloudscapes, an afternoon of fog, a morning of snowfall and ice melting along the river. Today never comes back after the ice has melted, and I hope for other snow and ice.

Friday, January 20, 2012


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  It's always interesting the way people react to sunrise and sunset pictures. I'll bet all photographers take them even as many photographers belittle them. To some degree I agree with those who say, it's an easy catch to photograph such prettiness. Certainly the digital world is clogged with images of sunsets, and mine may only have added to the noise. However, that easy prettiness is a challenge that makes the problem interesting: How does one make a sunset photograph that is more than a secondhand version of an event that always has more power when beheld live? How do you make the photo lead somewhere beyond sunset?

Although sunsets may be easy prettiness, they are not really easy to shoot.  Every bright sunset photo is a compromise somewhere between the brightness of the sun and the fragile beauty of the clouds. To save the clouds, we may have to turn the landscape black. On our images bright light blooms around dark corners, melting their solidity, distorting colors in ways that are not like vision.  And even when there is not a speck of dust on the lens, the bright light may erupt into  bouquets of ugly lens flare, or worse yet, lens flare may cast a haze over large areas of the image. The sunset photographer may go right to the edge of achievable results. Now there's a challenge!

Sometimes the light of the sun bouncing from surfaces is even too bright for our eyes. How are phenomena that we can not see to be treated in a photograph? What chiaroscuro magic can we cook up where our eyes are momentarily blinded, and what would it take to create a photographic image that answers that question as elegantly as Turner's "Mortlake Terrace"?  

Often the problem becomes the reverse of what a photographer usually faces: Normally we ask how we can reduce the clutter in front of us to a few manageable forms. With sunsets we often have a beautiful, abstract array of light and color, and the need to find just that bit of the world that gives it context and opens sunset to further meaning.  How can we compose an image where the context is minimally intrusive and maximally communicative?

As the poem following the second sunset notes, the photographer makes the picture; something else makes the sunset. It's cheesy for the photographer to claim the sunset's power as his own. However, the visceral power of the sun disappearing over the horizon has never been questioned. For eternity it has been a sign of our connectedness to something hugely larger than we are and about which we know relatively little. Whatever we believe, a powerful sunset can't help but speak of primal forces at work, and its imagery is essential to our understanding of our place in the universe. We are led to photograph sunsets because we are overwhelmed and moved to try to "paint" with that light; we are moved to express, to communicate ecstasy, exaltation, expansiveness.

On the other hand, I apologize for possibly sending the blood sugar levels of some sensibilities into seizure with two sunsets in close succession, whatever their merit. I take it as a challenge to do better. I certainly don't claim that I have solved any of the problems posed above, but I find them interesting and worth pursuing, and I welcome comments about both where images succeed and where they fail.  In most cases sunset light is most interesting for what and how it strikes, but sometimes cloud events call us to look sunset in the face.  

Did I hear someone wondering why this sunset jabber is accompanied by a cloudy snow scene?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Spring Rebounding

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I pause from an ongoing thread of thought to share wonderful news that cannot wait and to congratulate our son, Emery III and Kate Crescimanno on their engagement to be married. Kate and Emery share a passion for theater, and Jane and I hope that their love and common passions will make a spring ever-rebounding, renewing their love throughout their lives.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Sunset No. 2


Not Hymn

The clouds swim away. 
The photographer asks,  
Where is the axis of the clouds? 
What force holds them for an instant?
Even as they swim away
The photographer makes the picture
Whatever makes the clouds
Makes us
As seed makes trees
As clouds swim away

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mt. Bushnell

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Looking southwest the light glared, but to the east were clouds of character ready to assume a cloudscape. If only there was a point of focus! The particular subject wouldn't matter; it was a McGuffin. However the logical place to go would be to find an east-facing hill and shoot from there. Instead, we went due east and climbed the west-facing slope looking down on Tanner Hollow and straight into the glaring sun. Photographically it was exactly the wrong way to go, but we'd never been there, and we could see a clearing, high up behind the last corn field, and perhaps a clearing even higher behind that, and the clouds above them looked beautiful, and of course, we'd never been there.

The last cornfield was plowed across a steep hillside already high above Tanner Farm. Climbing, we stumbled over cut stalks like stubble on a giant's chin, Each time I looked back the clouds glared from behind a muddy, gray mass of stuff: fields, forest, farms, and hills - until I reached the top of the cornfield and turned around again. That was when I began to see the familiar shape of Mt. Bushnell at the back of Lake Waramaug and recognized the land I somehow knew, but from a new angle, the world tipped up for me to see.

Just as when shooting a bust portrait, one wants the oval of the face in the upper two thirds of the frame, greater height was needed to give Mt. Bushnell sufficient neck.

We finished climbing the field behind the field and the field behind that; and when we got there the trees that divided the fields were a scrim, and Mt. Bushnell stood hazy and clear in the first blush of what I thought would be a lazy, hazy sunset that would burn itself out pointlessly, and that was when my companion thought of a better place to shoot if we just hurried down the hill again to our cars.

It took strong incantations to pull this image from the murky light, but this is much as it appeared through my medium long lens, which is to say it is definitely a photograph and not some other species of graphic manipulation.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Sunset

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The clouds came in waves rippling at first like sand on a pristine beach, then with the regularity of marchers crossing Connecticut or like time itself, and it reminded us of the distance they had traveled and the vastness of the byway; and just then as the sun began to set, the clouds lost discipline, broke apart, dissolving into the night sky.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sunset Pastorale

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I arrived at Sunset Ridge Farm to the same spot I had photographed from six months earlier. (See yesterday's TODAY'S.) The photographer is a light chaser; the wanderer is happy to take what comes. On a given day I may be either. When broken clouds provide a light show I can be both at once.

That was what I expected at Sunset Ridge, but the balance between cloud cover and cloud break had shifted decidedly to favor the clouds. Twice the sun strafed the hills with light, and then it seemed there would be no more, and my shooting companion suggested we become chasers. We lost each other on top of Winchell Mountain when I followed a strange dewy, yellow light and stopped on this hillside with a dream of the Catskill Mountains in front of me and the low sun painting shapes on the hillsides. If someone had said I was in Brigadoon, I would have believed them.

Back at home in my computer "dark room" I struggle to recall the eerie glow that flickered over the hills and to catch the misty haze filtering bits of the slant light from the setting sun. It was a magic almost gone by the time I could click the shutter and maybe beyond the reach of photography.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sunset Ridge Farm and Hiddenhurst Beyond

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Sunset Ridge is one of the few remaining dairy farms in the area. In fields where they are not pasturing cows they are raising corn, and a lot of corn grows here and around Hiddenhurst. Hiddenhurst itself is idle though maintained. From this spot and a few others, one can imagine the valley when farmsteads dotted the hilltops and cows and corn and crops were everywhere. From Hiddenhurst looking west beyond the rail trail where the milk runs have ceased, and the chugging is all cyclists now, you can see the ruined silos of Hanover Hill, gaunt at the edge of the valley.

I took this photo just before the summer solstice a bit over six months ago. I was here again the other day. The wind was cold and ice puddles dotted the field. What a difference a solstice makes. Otherwise, it probably looks much as it did a hundred years ago. It will not be so a hundred years hence.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ruins of Hanover Hill Farm

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: When dairy was everywhere in this region, this valley could still be called a dairy center. The land supported large herds that required large barns. Most of the herds are gone and the hills are littered with husks like this. Well, not quite like this. From the road it always looked a bit more derelict than the others, almost haunted. Now, it's just a charred ruin.

I only once got this close. The man who lived in the last inhabited building on the site agreed to let me trespass, though he reserved the right to scowl about it afterward, and when I returned a second time, as was our understanding, he chased me down in his ATV before I could cross this field. He turned red like a blackberry and screamed about some lady who photographed the barns from the public road. I've rarely seen anyone so angry, and I left him on his smoking ATV and walked away to photograph up the road a bit, but he soon followed after and let me know the public road was his as well. My car was parked a short way off; I considered my tires and my paint. I left, and the bad karma kept me away for a long time.

I didn't mean to provoke him a third time. However, the barns still fascinated. Their gloom was unmatched. The black gambrel that burned was large and gothic, a full two-and-a-half stories of hay storage above the cow shed. If one knows where to look the barns are visible from a number of nearby hills, and I set out to discover them all. A few of the locations were useful, but the shots were all more distant than I wanted, though from one hill I could see small gambrel-roofed entrances with flaring skirts. I imagined the cathedral inside.

I finally got permission from the owner of the organic farm right across the street to climb his hills and photograph from his fields. Little did I know that the one with the view belonged to the abandoned farmstead, and the berry-tempered man was ever belligerent. Before I could set my tripod, I saw him two fields down and across the street on his ATV, already berrying rage and purple against the green field, this time with a friend on a second ATV.

Again, I apologized  and walked away with nothing usable, though he found it difficult to believe I wasn't trying to provoke him, and it kept him screaming after me for a long, long time. After that the karma was beyond me, and I didn't go back. Then in March someone told me the barns had burned. I had to drive by to convince myself it was true. All the buildings are empty now and the traces are faint of all the lives that have echoed here. I'm told some of the finest thoroughbred Holstein cows were bred in the burned-down barns.

Here are links to my photographs of Hanover Hill Farm before it burned:

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In the Groove


Here continents collided in doughy churning enfolding an ocean sliding through the tropics before pulling apart, 
and life ever since has run in the orogenic folds. 
Does it run here still, or has the terrestrial fabric been rent in digital orogeny?

BOOKS: PrisonFarmBest of Todays, 2008, Click for bookstore