I’ve been carrying the Nikon Coopix P6000 with me as I travel around the midwest. Here’s a shot of the wild Rocky River - a remote wilderness nestled in a place called Cleveland… :-)
Category: "Midwestern Landscapes"
There are few places more compelling than a green woods on a sunny day. The sunlight dances through the leaves. It is filtered and rarified, and splashes on the ground most wondrously. Some splashes of light are big enough to stand in, others are so small a fly can barely warm itself in the healing rays. But in the woods at Noon all the myriad rays of the sun come together like a symphony, playing visual music on the forest floor.
Noon is a good time of day. Shadows are short, light is long – though the day is half passed it feels early and it seems as if anything can be accomplished before the light fades.
But then, noon is the bane of photographers. The light is too harsh. No good work can be done at noon – go home, work in the darkroom, watch HBO, call your agent – do anything but try to photograph at noon.
Serious photographers creep through the twilight hours when the light is weak – we call it “sweet” - it has character and complexity. Like rodents at silflay we roll in dewy grass – not really wet, but certainly not dry. Somewhere in between in all regards, we find magic in ambivalence and vagary…
Well, I like Noon. Demanding, uncompromising, brutal Noon. Contrast is outrageous – the distinction between dark and light is never clearer than at Noon. Come Noon, the world is a clean and well lit place.
And so, a couple of years ago - which would be 2007 - I devoted a lot of time and effort to shooting in the Allegan Forest is the hard light of midday. I wanted to explore the relationship between light and dark, I wanted see the forest as it stood at Noon.
Since my interest was only in the play of light and shadow, I decided to do this work with black and white film . I didn’t want color to, um… color my perspective. Having several hundred rolls of B&W film moldering in my freezer made that decision easy. And so, full of hope, I wandered in the no-man’s land that has swallowed many a photographer – the world at Noon.
I shot and scanned over 1,000 frames that summer, all in the name of this project. I spent hours down in the basement by the concrete laundry sink, developing rolls of 35mm film. I learned a bit about different films and developers – Efke, Plus-X, Delta 100, Rodinal, HC110, D76, D19, Microdol-X. It took months, well into the dark days of November, before all the rolls were scanned and could be evaluated…
By then, I had lost interest. It really was an idiotic idea and I should have spent my time doing something useful - like shooting dragonflies or bees. Disinterested, I was drawn to distractions and the work from that summer was left behind.
Here in the digital lab I have almost 2.5 terabytes of images sitting in an array of hard drives - photos from the last 5 years or so. I guess that eighty percent of them have never really been looked at. The “Light and Shadow” project, as I call it, is probably the biggest chunk of unfinished work in the tub, and so I think I’ll start to look it over.
Wow – what a long winded intro to this humble photo –
Just a gate, a trail, and a bit of sun splashing on foliage. Sun on leaves to the left curls around, sun to the right glimmers on the path that circumvents a feeble barrier. Three trees plop dead center in the frame with sun lit foliage beaming in the background.
Yah – I couldn’t take a decent photo to save my life.
This was shot on Efke R100, #25 red filter, developed in Rodinal 1:50. The base of that film clears to be as clean as a window pane, and with the Rodinal it produces a tonality that, close up, looks like charcoal sketched on paper.
I never really know when I’ve learned something. I plan to work with these photos to see what lessons might be there. At the end of the day, I don’t think I accomplished anything tangible with this project. None of the photos will be marketable, none will be in calendars or books, none will even spark interest here.
But when I shot those photos I was where I was meant to be. I felt it at the time. I relish it in memory. Who could ask for more from a handful of days?
For me, February is a slow month for photography in Michigan. The snow is waning but wildflowers, insects, and other subjects have yet to emerge. The landscape is bleak and barren – dried grass, fading snow, leafless trees.
I suppose I should do something productive with my time, but earlier this week the urge to get outdoors took hold and I found myself driving on muddy dirt roads, seeking some of my favorite places in the Allegan Forest. If there is beauty in barrenness, then the pine barrens in February is the place to behold it.
Much of the snow has melted. What hasn’t melted has thawed and re-frozen, so it is hard and you can walk on it without sinking in. I visited several places, but spent the most time in a field off 48th street. The snow was peppered with deer, coyote, and snowmobile tracks.
I lugged the Pentax 6x7 outfit down to the seasonal marsh, where in the summer dragonflies abound. The water level was astonishingly high – the thawing ice covering the marsh was at least 20 feet further in than where it was last fall, and then it was several feet further in than prior years. Maybe the seasonal marsh is heading to be permanent – the smooth ice surface, with no reeds or cattails breaking throughlooked more like a pond than a marsh.
Well, it was a good way to spend the day. I tested out the new 45mm lens I bought for the Pentax 6x7, and loved the wide angle perspective. I also shot out some film stock, using my last 120 format rolls of Efke R100 and Ilford fp4. Soon I’ll be tapping into the large stock of Agfa film I laid in before they went out of business – and who knows what will be available to shoot after that.
With a few days of sunshine last week I finally got around to shooting out the last frames on a roll of Kodak High Speed Infrared, which had been languishing in the camera for a few months.
The sun may have been shining but the ground was still snow covered - and guess what? Bare trees and snow covered ground don’t lend themselves to that infrared look. Oh well - some of the shots from October were interesting.
I like this patch of trees - it is along a dirt road by a pull off where I frequently stop to chase dragonflies. Many a time when I’ve walked back to the car I’ve felt a yearning to just wander off into these little twisted trees, which seem to go on forever.
Good news arrived last week when I learned that one of my photos, Allegan Forest Autumn, was accepted into the 2009 Midwest Photographers exhibit at the University of Indianapolis.
The exhibit opens on February 23, 2009, and runs to March 27, 2009. The opening reception is 4:30-6:30 on February 23.
A post describing the outing that resulted in this shot can be found here. I just re-edited it, rectified about 80 typos, and elevated it from incomprehensible gibberish to… well, a higher caliber of gibberish to be sure.
Sunday evening. This is the first truly cold night of the season. The outdoor air sniffs with sleety snow. Ice glazes the fallen leaves restng on the cold ground.
I’m back in after hanging the last storm windows. (My house is an old one, and the windows are original. Every fall the screens come down, and storm windows are toted up to block the winter winds.). Now I’m sitting by a roaring fire – I have a bit of catching up to do here.
Things have taken me away from posting, and also from shooting. Lately, the days I spend in the field are rare, and whatever results come from those trips are all the more precious.
I missed most of the local fall color. One trip into the Allegan Forest resulted in one shot of one maple tree. I could find the place again, but don’t remember the names of the roads and trails that brought me there. Fortunately for me I had packed up the Pentax 6x7 and several rolls of Kodak Portra VC 220. The negative, scanned at 6400 dpi, creates a huge file that could produce an enormous print. One token from this autumn.
Otherwise – I missed the season. In late October I traveled to New Jersey to handle some business. After two weeks there I returned to Michigan only to find that the season had turned.
Nonetheless, I set aside one day this past week to get out and enjoy a few of my favorite places. Firearm deer season stated yesterday, and no sane person (who isn’t also hunting) would head into the woods at this time. Of course, on Wednesday I visited the old farmstead with its seasonal marsh.
The old farmstead is one of the few fields that has not been mown this year. I guess it’s on the list for mowing next year. The seasonal marsh would normally be rebounding in November, and this year is no exception. However, two summers of very wet weather have left the marsh more full and wet than ever.
It’s a bit of a walk from the parking area down to the marsh. The field is buffered by dense, scrubby woods on all sides, so the only access point is a small parking area, big enough to barely hold two cars. Around d this small area, railroad tied are driven vertically into the ground to keep vehicles out of the field.
There is a distinct trail in the vegetation leaving from the parking area. It winds due east, and heads into the woods along the far eastern side of the field. The marsh is to the south, and that’s where I went.
Here’s a shot that shows the current water level – hard to believe that just a couple of years ago, I was able to walk through this area without getting my feet wet. The heart of the marsh, which was once full of cat tails and other vegetation, has vanished. Too much water for the cattails, and just open water in that small area.
The marsh, of course, is home to many dragonflies.
The skies were cloudy and cold early in the day, and the early forecast called for light rain. I visited a few places in the Allegan Forest under an autumnal chill. But shortly after arriving at the old farmstead, the skies cleared and warm sun bathed the landscape.
Even on a clear day, the sun isn’t very warm in November. But it was enough to stir up the few remaining Autumn Meadowhawks. After a few minutes of sunshine I started to notice a some dragonflies flying low to the ground. They kept low and would land on the ground, soaking up what warmth they could from the sun. Tthere was no perching or obelisking, just a few old dragons hanging tight to the sandy soil…
I didn’t even bring my insect macro setup. It was so late in the season, I thought for sure that all dragonflies would be gone. But here it was, November 12, 2008, and the Autumn Meadowhawks were still out.
After spending some time around the marsh, I returned to my car. It was mid afternoon. The wind picked up and a few high clouds were starting to obscure the sun. The day’s warm temperatures were the result of warm air riding in front of a coming cold front. As I hiked back to the car I realized that in a few days the ground would be covered with frost and snow.
But as I neared my car, I was surprised to see an Autumn Meadowhawk land on the back of the vehicle. A perfect place to soak up the sun’s rays. Another landed, then a few more, and as I watched at least five dragons came to rest on the back of the car. They didn’t stay long, but even without my close up gear I was able to get a couple of shots. Then they flew off into the brown, dried grass and leafless trees and shrubs – to live out their last few days befor the snow falls.
So it goes for another season with the dragons. I think about how dragonflies where in the skies with the dinosaurs, hundreds of millions of years ago. They remain today – a primal connection to this planet’s life force.
Even when they are just sitting on the back of a muddy Subaru…
In the Allegan Forest. There are a couple of places along 125th Avenue, north of the river, where folks come to shoot stuff. Most famously would be the bluff overlooking the river, where there is sizable pile of ash from numerous bonfires, and the ground is covered with the brass butts of shotgun shells. But a short distance north of there is a stand of planted white pines, all standing together regular, like a bunch of soldiers in formation.
One unfortunate tree in this bunch was singled out to be the backdrop for target practice. A few years ago I noticed a large hook – like what you would use to hang planters in the garden – screwed into the side of this tree. Judging from the litter around the trunk, more than a few TV’s, LP’s, milk jugs, and other unwanted household items had met their demise here - hung on the hook to be a target. Or to be more positive about it – these items gave their owners a few more moments of pleasure at the end of their existence.
Anyhow, last spring I found the tree snapped in two, just a few feet below that hanging hook. It got so shot up that it just broke when the wind rose. It’s fascinating to look at close up – wood, peppered with lots of brass and lead. I figured that was that, and folks would move onto another tree. As expected, the debris under the tree stopped accumulating.
Passing by there this week, I noticed that someone had found the frying pan that was in the debris pile, and stuck it onto the broken tree truck to get in a little bit more of target practice. I was shooting one of my last rolls of Kodak HIE infrared film, and took a few snaps of the stand of trees. Here’s the best of the bunch.
Good news came along a few weeks ago - one of my prints has been accepted into the Maryland Federation of Art 8th Annual American Landscapes Exhibit, jurored by Lenny Campello. The selected piece is The Northern Woods, shot in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula last fall.
This will be my third American Landscapes exhibit. I seem to have luck with this only in even number years, since I had work in the 2004 and 2006 exhibits before this.
The exhibit runs from September 5 - October 12, at the MFA Circle Gallery, 18 State Circle, Annapolis, MD, 21401. Annapolis is one beautiful town and I plan to be at the artists’ reception on September 14.