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 hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving. We did, it was great spending time with family as always. I had much to be thankful for this year, including a more experimental attitude. Why not?
I’ve been exploring the Blackstone River area in Massachusetts over the last few months. It is striking just how much psychological as well as environmental territory the River covers. Though it remains quite polluted from centuries of exploitation, stretches of the River are quite beautiful and natural. Other stretches are, more complex. No stretch of the River though, at least that I have traveled, requires more effort to understand than the Blackstone Valley Bike Trail in Worcester, Massachusetts, where the River originates. Along this two mile or so stretch you will see the River, a super highway (Route 146), an active freight train yard and line, as well as legacy tracks, a Walmart and Sam’s Club, trees being cut by a beaver, beautiful small falls and rapids, trash and signs that say stay away from the water for health reasons. It’s all right there. Nature and civilization crash into one another at top speed in places and this is one of those locations.
I have photographed there for months, searching for the right way to capture the feel of such a complex place. I’d used most every technological trick I could think of, but ultimately wasn’t satisfied. I decided to go back and try again, this time with black and white film. Digital is just capable of making pictures that are too perfect for this location it seemed to me. Nothing about this location says “perfection.” This work, like this location, is incomplete and some of the images you see here may not survive the next cut. This is where things stand though at the moment.
Shooting on film is interesting of course. I realize that the look can be replicated in software using a digital means of capture. But that somehow doesn’t seem quite right at times. What is really different about shooting on film is the process. You do indeed slow down. You have to for economic reasons if nothing else. For a time, you have to step away from the technological (rat) race. It’s quite refreshing.
Tech Notes: Shot on Kodak TMax and Ilford Delta films using a Nikon F6. The later, for my money, remains the finest 35 mm camera ever made. Negatives scanned on a Nikon 5000 film scanner and finalized in Lightroom/Photoshop (You can’t really escape the technology can you.)
New England is blessed with some nice beaches. In my view, however, there are few beaches here to compare with the Cape Hatteras beach, which runs along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It takes about 75 minutes to drive from Nags Head to Cape Hatteras, along Route 12. Most of the way, the beach is about 100 yards away, at most. It lies just on the other side of the dunes. These are barrier islands. In places there may be less than 1/4 mile separating ocean from the Sounds. They are made of sand, and they are moving. The Park Service is constantly battling the water that defines these islands. It is such a vast stretch of beach that even during the summer, you can easily go there, find a place to park, and if you walk a few hundred yards down the beach, you’ll be alone.
Enjoy your summer.
Manteo is one of two rather large towns on Roanoke Island. I gather Manto is not considered legally part of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but psychologically they are absolutely connected. I learned that they aren’t legally connected in a most interesting way. If you go into a grocery store on the actual Outer Banks, say in Nags Head or Kitty Hawk, when your groceries are bagged, assuming you didn’t bring in shopping bags, they are bagged in paper. No white plastic bags. It’s wonderful. I despise white plastic bags. If you live in a city, they liter the landscape. They are of course not recyclable. Yuk. But I digress. I mentioned how much I liked that to a clerk at one point and he informed me that plastic bags are illegal on the Outer Banks because of the hazard they represent for various types of birds and for related environmental reasons. How refreshing is that? But in Manteo, they are in fact legal. However, most stores there have paper bags readily available if so desired.
Manteo Harbor is a lovely place and the Town has worked hard to make it so. I normally don’t spend a lot of time on locations such as this because others have typically done a nice job, better than I could do, of telling the story here. The Town and Harbor for instance have had to fight back against hurricanes and related storms, as you can imagine. These images though are from a nice windy day, which suggested to me that more long exposure work could be useful. I was relatively pleased with the results, but ran into a significant problem/learning opportunity. Docs may seem stable, but they are not. When you’re exposing for ten or more seconds, everything, including your camera, is going to be moving no matter how hard you try to keep the camera and the subject stable. So, we experiment, a critical ingredient I think of growing as a photographer/person.
More to come.