I was staying near the beach, so I had the chance to go out while the shadows were long and the light was soft. I’ve been meaning to publish this one for a while, and I finally got the spur to work on it.
Photographers out there may have heard that Google is giving away their Nik collection of software for free. I’ve been using Nik Silver Effex for some time. If you’re careful not to get too carried away with its power, it offers some nice additions to a straight conversion to black and white, some ways to get the tones just right. Silver Effex has been crashing on me a lot lately anyway. I was working on making an output file for a print that sold the other week, and it must have crashed 30 times or more, and it was a large file to reopen each time. Ugh.
So I took this news as an opportunity to move on. A new one I’m trying, called Tonality CK, does not crash. So I’ve been taking it out for some trips around the tone poems. This is one.
This winter we’ve had far fewer cold mornings than usual; each month out of the last several in Vermont has broken all records as the warmest ever recorded. Some of these recent months have broken the record by more than a few degrees. Still, we’ve had a few of these mornings when I open the shades, and I don’t know what I will find. The light and patterns of ice on the glass aren’t always the same. So quite often before I get to work for the day I go all around the windows with my camera. I have a lot of these, but this one struck me in the richness of texture and the way the overall composition worked in its abstraction. I hope to do a series of these sometime soon. Most are quite different from this one.
John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” (Though it turns out there are other attributions. Perhaps others said that before John Lennon). This manifests in so many ways for all of us. We can’t, don’t pay attention to everything. We try to go in some direction, but the set of blessings and curses of our choices are never quite what we bargained for.
I’ve been blessed with small bodies of water in the last 15 years. Really odd how that happened. The last place I bought, a fixer-upper that was an 1850’s farm-hand’s house had a few things going for it. One was that I could afford it, and the other was that it was near Post Pond, which was a rich spot to blossom into this stage of my being as a photographer. I knew that Post Pond was nice. I had no idea how much time I would spend there and what an impact it would have on my vision.
Then when we decided to buy this house in Vermont, it had a little pond in the backyard. Deep enough to swim in. “Maybe we could ice skate on it.” OK, that’s a nice touch. The house is has nice character and we can afford it. But it turns out that the pond has been one of my favorite things about this place. In deep winter it’s just white, and maybe not so interesting to photograph so much. In the summer, fall, and early winter it’s an ever-changing rich opportunity to photograph. I would never want to be away from a little pond or big pond or a lake as long as I have a camera to my name.
The pond is ringed with birch trees for about half the perimeter, and they are lovely in many respects. These two images have different days of new ice, and the birch trees reflected on it. In the winter the sunrise is late enough, and of course I’m close, so it’s easy to bundle up and get out there in the first light. The pink on the birches below is the sunrise light.
These are available for sale as prints and in a more high res view here:
At this time of year here, we get this kind of ice. Over the years I’ve tried to catch the days when I could photograph it, at first somewhat haphazardly. By now I really try to carve out some time to be with it, and I know some good places where it manifests. It’s not just any ice, but a kind of sparkly ice mixed with layers of the forest floor.
I went out looking for it the day before yesterday. I figured this would be an extra good year for it, because we had so much heavy icy melty stuff early in the season, and then a good snow cover all year. I figured it could build up underneath the snowpack, started by the early season ice. But when I got to the place where I spent so much time photographing it last year, there was nothing but bare patches of ground. The rest of the ground surrounding it was quite snow covered. Oh well. You never know. There are some other spots where I’ve found it, and maybe it will show up there when the snow melts a bit.
I looked for this kind of ice and didn’t find any, but I did have a fruitful session photographing the ice along a little stream through the woods that day, and then yesterday when I went out again. It was really an exercise in anicca, impermanence, because I knew it would be warm and rainy today — the end of that ice most likely.
I often talk about the relationship of meditation on my photography. On some of my deepest retreats, I’m not allowed a camera. But on this 6 day silent retreat, I did have my axe with me. There were long breaks in the afternoons, and I did get to walk in the woods in heading-toward-peak autumn foliage. Maybe some of those exposures might make good photographs — I don’t know yet — but it certainly was good to walk around after so much sitting. The tricky thing is, when I’m opened up so much, and everything is so vivid, and emotional material arises to meet capacity, and the separation of inside and outside is at its thinnest — at that time it’s actually pretty tricky to make good photographs. It may be rather beside the point of being in a meditation retreat, in some ways — but also it is a good practice to bring the openness into the world at large, and to let the world into that open state.
This retreat was at the very end of September in hilly New Hampshire. The mornings were cold, some of the days were cool. Because of the size of the retreat, the largest given up to that point at this center (Wonderwell), they put up a heated outdoor tent to serve as an auxiliary dining hall. The plastic walls of the tent gathered condensation. I only made a couple of discreet exposures on this chilly morning. If it were normal life I would have worked the situation quite a bit more, but I didn’t want to be a spectacle in that context. Of course, in normal life, I might not have seen this as a photograph to make. You never know.
I’ve spent a lot of time working on these ice-on-forest-floor abstracts and semi-abstracts this spring. It turned out that the window of opportunity was pretty small this year, but I had some nice long days working it hard. The time the snow melted enough to expose the shimmery, translucent broken, leaf-infused forest floor ice, but before the ice melted was only a few days. I spent hours when I could, each day I walked in the woods. I think I mentioned last time that I’m just so tickled with my current micro-four thirds camera with some high end prime lenses for this task. I’ve been photographing this sort of stuff for 30 years with all kinds of high and low end equipment, and this is the best it’s ever been. I have a lot of images to sift through and decide about, from softer images like this that are almost like a little story — to very abstract ones I like too, where the eye moves, the depth of the image seems to go in and out of the plane, and you can get lost in the abstract journey. It’s funny; it’s something of a journey through time in making and sifting through these kind of exposures. On the day I unload the camera and look at them, they are all very exciting. But I know I should wait. After a week or two it becomes pretty confusing — there are so many images, and it’s hard to see what works. By next year it should be quite clear, I imagine. But I’m jumping the gun, diving into the confusion as I did for the last one, and hopefully coming up with a pearl this time.
In the late 80s I saw Bob Dylan in concert, and he was very good, surprisingly good for that period. Dylan had released some not-so-great albums through that period, some good songs and some not so good songs. But the thing is, if you go see Dylan in concert, he knows what the good songs are. He doesn’t necessarily perform the song that he wrote last month that might make it onto an album. I remember being really struck by that ability to be clear for the performance, to not mess around with new material he’s unsure of (even if he can’t resist putting that on an album). I assumed it was harder to know when he makes an album, how much of it is going to be good. Make it, get it down, record it; time will tell. I remember aspiring to have that clarity and discernment with my own work, and I’ve kept that aspiration mostly intact. But here I go, posting a new photo, fresh, and one of thousands of new keepers/and chaff to blow away.
I’ve been spending too much time (considering I have work to do and taxes to work on) in the woods on snowshoes. As of Monday, there was still well over a foot of snow in the woods, but it’s melting fast.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve worked on this theme: the ice over the ground, revealed when the snow melts, is sparkling, full of leaves and bits of flotsam, completely magical up close. It’s not everywhere, just in some places. I used to have a good patch of it in my back yard in Lyme, and now there is often quite a bit of it along a trail in a very beautiful forest. This year though, the snow has been hanging on, and I don’t know if things are melting in the normal way. It’s so late for it to be melting. I’ve only found one patch to work, but I’ve spent hours at it over a couple of days so far this year.
One thing I realized that’s quite funny about working this patch of ice: it’s in a spot with a breathtaking distant view over rolling meadows, to distant hillsides and beyond. It’s all the more breathtaking because on the (long) walk that leads to it, the trail has been in trees for a long time. Then you get to the edge, and it is: “Wow!” It opens up. Life is more dramatic when it opens up suddenly. But the funny thing is that on Monday I went straight to work with this ice, and I didn’t even look up, I don’t think, for hours.
I don’t usually wax gear-head on this blog, but my newer gear is just so perfect for working with this subject. The Olympus 45/f1.8 and the 60/f2.8 macro are just so amazingly sharp and contrasty. I’ve usually worked this subject with a DSLR, which is tricky, because it’s hard to get enough depth of field. It’s flat, but not really quite flat. Things bump up or recede, the plane dips or pops. The Micro Four Thirds camera has just enough more depth of field if I stop down a bit, and like I said, these lenses are amazing. This is so contrasty out of the camera I should almost dial it back. Really amazing.
This afternoon, sick of it, I decided it’s time for a Photo of the Week, and it reminds me that part of photography is that it’s fun. It just is; hence its current popularity. I opened up a few raw files in photoshop and played with tones a bit, some burning and dodging.
It’s funny how we resist change, and yet change makes everything possible. The very energy of life is based on change: chemical reactions and biochemical transformations are dynamic.
Just so in photography too. It’s in those in-between moments where the most happens.
And of course everything is an in-between moment. Still, some times are a bit more dynamic feeling than others, and that dynamic energy is good to ride even when it feels like something we would rather not, a change we’d rather not experience.
This was the part of the fall/winter that is a bit of “Oh noo!” here in the north country. The leaves are mostly down, the world is drab, it’s starting to freeze up. On this day it was raining. From my office window it looked horrible out. Still, a bit restless, I decided to grab the Nikon (pretty weatherproof) and head down to the pond to see what the ice looked like. Worth the trip. And so for all of riding our changing experience. From that “oh no!” bubble of resistance to actually checking it out. What is going on? Maybe something interesting.
I’ve been thinking about the relationship between meditation practice and photography lately, as I’ve worked with fall colors and water. (This image is from a few years ago, and it was about time to publish it).
I’ve practiced meditation a lot, and this “modern” phase of my photography very much coincides with the period in my life (since 2003) that has been most committed to sitting meditation practice, which is now very regular and taking up some hours of each day. Of course the practice has great influence on my life, on everything I do; and, it seems, especially on photography.
I think that in spite of several rewrites of my meditation in photography page, I haven’t articulated it very well, and maybe I can advance some clarity now (and I may rewrite that meditation page once again.”
I’ve recently realized, or realized more deeply, some things that photography and meditation practice have in common.
1) You work with what you’ve got, and nothing else.
In photography, we only have what is in front of the lens at any given moment. We can work to change circumstance, to catalyze causes and conditions to create a photograph we want (in some cases by using one’s own lighting, props, etc, or in my case by being in a light or environment that might provide opportunities for an image I might want). Just so in meditation: we learn to work with our experience, the actual only experience that we have in the moment. There is nothing else. Obviously in both photography and in the mind we could “post-process,” gussy things up and fabricate after the fact. But at some point that becomes a departure from both real photography and actual meditation. We work with what we have, in both cases. Through that process we become more familiar with reality. We learn to see better and cut through the conceptual thinking that gets in the way of real seeing.
2) You patiently await whatever arises.
The great meditation master Ajahn Chah once gave the following meditation instructions:
“Put a chair in the middle of a room.
Sit in the chair.
See who comes to visit.”
And of course he’s not expecting a real person to show up. But certainly something will show up.
And it’s the same with a camera and lens. The image from this week, and many more I’ve made, have really been made with this principle. For example this image is made from a certain corner of our little backyard pond. When I have some time, at this time of year when the trees are turning, I go there. I don’t know how it will look, only that there is some chance there may be foliage and sky reflections, and leaves, etc. But the light, the breeze, the state of the trees and clouds — I don’t know what they’ll be like. And they won’t be the same from minute to minute.