It is very hard if you’re out in nature in New England on a routine basis to not develop a fascination with herons. These wonderfully large and patient birds are actually quite easy to photograph. Working stiffs, they only get annoyed with you if you get so close that you screw with their fishing. Can’t say that I blame them. Their markings and scars give each bird a distinctive purpose. For whatever reason, it has been a great year for heron along the Blackstone River. I thought I share a few environmental and reflective portraits as the season wanes.
Blackstone River Heritage Park, Upton, Massachusetts
Blackstone Valley Bicycle Path, Millbury, Massachusetts
Woonsocket Falls, Woonsocket, Rhode Island
Blackstone Valley Bicycle Path, Millbury, Massachusetts
Last week I posted a series of images of the water flow at the South Natick Dam, along the Charles in Natick, Massachusetts. Using long exposure techniques I’ve enjoyed studying the way the water flows around its various obstructions. My interest in the water, and enjoyment of being at the water is hardly new or unique of course. The flow of water has been providing sustenance and soothing to humanity for as long as we’ve been here (though it doesn’t seem to help us much in weeks like this one). Focus on water is of course also not unique to humans. I was reminded of this recently while continuing to photograph here.
Of course this fellow does it for a living. Note that these are long exposures. But he’s not moving. Those who photograph wildlife routinely will generally confirm that wild animals never actually stand still. They may be quite, but not still. He’s staring at the water and continued to do so for a good 20 minutes. He then changed positions and continued his focused attention. A young couple nearby struck up a conversation and reminded me that he’s doing that because he has to. We listen to the water because we like it. How did it all start? We’ll see this fellow again soon.
Technical note: These images were shot on film, TMAX 100 and Pan F 50. Both are wonderful films, still available. There is very little grain visible except under a magnifying glass. I sometimes shoot with film just to make me think about things in a more contemplative fashion. I found it most helpful here.
I’ve been striving diligently to simplify my images. I can speculate as to my motivation for doing so, maybe it has something to do with how messy the world is these days. I also have a tremendous fondness for the work of folks such as Michael Kenna. (If you’re serious about photography or art, please hit the link. You will not regret it.) More pragmatically though, this effort requires reducing the number of elements included within the frame. Turns out this is not as easy as it might sound. Life around us is filled with complexity. It is in fact messy. So, much like creating sculpture, you have to keep taking things out. Unfortunately, unlike when working with sculpture, you can’t just pop out a tree. OK, you could with photoshop if the tree is positioned just right and if you’re really good at doing that type of work. The result though still frequently looks as though the image is missing something that was popped out in photoshop. Alternatively,I find that I have to think about a potential image in a new way.
Recently I’ve been spending time at the South Natick Dam along the Charles River in eastern Massachusetts. I find it very restful there. It is also a wonderful place to photograph. On one side of the River you can even sit in the shade while photographing the River in bright, hot sunlight. It’s almost too easy.
But it is not a simple place to photograph. Again, there is a great deal going on. So, as Bill Neil says, you have to edit out reality, often by using a telephoto lens. I once had an exchange with Bill in which I asked him how he might go about managing some issues in a wide angle shot. His answer: “I’d never take a shot like that. Too messy.”
I’ve posted many pictures of flowing water here including in my most recent post. Typically, I want to give the viewer a sense of place by providing the context for the water’s flow. What if you ignore the need for a sense of place, and just explore the water? What you find are structures in the water’s flow. Every photographer who photographs water knows this of course. You can see structure if you shoot at around 1/4 of a second to maybe two seconds. After that, the water just glows, which has a beauty in itself. I’ve become interested in the structures that emerge with just a bit of a slow shutter. What do they reveal? I’ll let you be the judge.
I once again had the privilege of spending some time with Tony Sweet, Susan Milestone and a group of very good photographers, this past week, in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. I can’t give a strong enough endorsement to their workshops. This time in particular I was still not quite at the top of my game. Their compassion and support helped me enormously, making it possible to learn a lot, and create some art (and have a bit of fun). You need a great subject though and for me, an ardent fan of all things water, the subject was waterfalls. The ability off water to change the earth, overpowering it’s surroundings is impressive and should serve to remind us once again that we screw around with nature at our peril. Nature is very very patient. And very powerful.
From Taughannock Falls, Ulysses, NY
From Buttermilk Falls, Ithaca, NY
And finally, from Watkins Glen State Park, in Watkins Glen, NY
One of my favorite books of all time was Time and Again, by the great Jack Finney. The book tells the story of a young man who with a bit of assistance from the government (clandestine of course) was able to engage in time travel. No equipment required though. All he had to do was make himself open to the experience. Time passes but it doesn’t really pass. It is still there if we know how to relate to it. The book’s star was residing, at the request of his coconspirators, at Manhattan’s famous Dakota building. After quite some time trying to figure out how to be open to the experience, and many false starts, he simply woke up one morning, went outside and it was the later 19th century. He had taken up the past’s invitation to visit.
It reminded me of what I try to see when visiting a place with the past. I do wish I could visit it for real (of course, I’m sure I would have no idea how to cope but what fun is it to think about that). Sometimes you can find a door or at least a window to the past, an object, an artifact, a story, a book. Walking along what was once the Blackstone Canal ins Uxbridge, MA it’s easy to hear history’s rumblings. In the Blackstone Heritage Corridor Park you’re walking along the towpath after all. A team of mules pulled the canal boats along the journey from Worcester to Providence. If it’s quiet, it is easy to ponder what it was like when the towpath was actually in use, in the early 1800’s. For me, one of the windows into that state of reverie are the intense reflections that can be seen there on a calm day.. They are intense enough to be disorienting and I offer you a small collection here. I resisted the temptation to turn them upside down. You’re welcome.