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Posts tagged ‘North Carolina’

The Tides of Nature and History Meet

The north end of Roanoke Island, within the borders of the Town of Manteo, North Carolina, offers for me the most compelling location I’ve yet found on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  It’s a largely secluded spot, though visitors occasionally park in the lot to walk or relax the beach (though one needs to watch out for the snakes).  I’m intrigued, and drawn back to the location, by the interplay between history and nature here.  In the water close to sure, as well along the beach are the remains of a dying forest.  The land has eroded and the trees have largely perished.  It is an on-going process down here, as it is in many places.

This is an historic location from the human perspective as well.  An important American Civil War battle took off and on shore here, a battle to control the sounds along the eastern coast of North Carolina.  The Union took the prize.  Roanoke Island came under Federal control.  As a result, near this location there was once a “Freedman’s Colony,” a refuge for escaped slaves from the mainland. It’s a long and possible dangerous journey across Croatan Sound, which you can see here.  It must have seen far more dangerous then.  And of course, this is near to Fort Raleigh, the location of the first English landing in the New World, one that did not go well.  The “Lost Colony” was the result. Now, it is quiet, except of the storms that blow in from the west.

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More to come.

Mysteries of Manteo – Updated

I have already posted several images from my most recent trip to Manteo, earlier this summer. Manteo lies in the Outer Banks region of North Carolina.  It’s a wonderful place and we had the benefit of wonderful company throughout. We had more time to explore the area and to think, and both those two “t’s”, time and thinking, often make for better photography.  I’m happy to report the release of a new book, in hard copy (on fine art paper) or e-book form that includes over twenty of those images is now available from Blurb.  You can see a preview if you look to your right.  If you are on a mobile device and don’t see anything to your right, then you can click on the link here:

Mysteries of Manteo

Here’s some background for those interested.  I’m a huge proponent of project oriented photography, an approach most clearly articulated perhaps by Brooks Jenson, publisher of Lenswork, my favorite photography magazine.  I”ll do a lousy job of trying to paraphrase him here, but in essence, projects emerge from the photographer’s collection of assets that are subsequently grouped together around some kind of theme.  You may go out on an assignment to collect a particular kind of image, built around your own vision for a particular output.  But sometimes, things come together after the fact as well, when you’re looking at a body of work from a particular location.

Such was the case for me in relation to my Manteo work.  After three weeks I had lots of images, some of which I liked.  But I didn’t see the theme.  I knew I wanted to pull them together in some type of organized output, but wasn’t sure how.  Manteo is on Roanoke Island and as such is surrounded by water.  Now there is a unique theme.  Is that really what it’s all about?  Then as I looked at the images I found myself drawn to the most mysterious ones, ones that seem to ask rather than answer questions.  The reason became clear to me over time.

I was deeply moved by the story of The Lost Colony, one of the great mysteries of the English invasion of the continent. I’m from Virginia originally and often have some fun with New Englanders by reminding them that “we got here first.”  (Actually, we, meaning Virginians, were not even close to being first.  There were of course the Native Americans, who really were first.  Then probably some Vikings.  Then of course the Spanish, and who knows who else.)  But actually there had been a previous attempt at establishing a permanent English colony in North America earlier in the 1580’s.  That attempt took place in what is now Manteo.

It did not go well as I mentioned in earlier blogs, but the fact is that we don’t know what went wrong, to this day.  Clearly, the colonists who presumably died there were (a) pawns in a larger geopolitical dialing match; (b) left to fend for themselves by greedy privateers; (c) victimized by climate forces that they could not understand nor influence; (d) beset with their own hubris, thinking that they were well prepared to farm when they really weren’t; and we could go on.  The notion that they ran into a lethal conflict with the local Native America population has not been proven either, and in fact, the opposite could also have happened.  They may have been befriended by those who really did get there first.  Archeologists and other scientists are truly stumped.  I won’t go into the details, but if you like a good mystery and particularly if you like scientific puzzles, I’d highly recommend further exploration.

That set of events, for which the play was subsequently named, is called The Lost Colony. (Click on the link if you want more background.)  So while Manteo is a charming and quite friendly town surrounded by water on three sides , I will always think about the mystery that permeates the water and marshes.  The new book, Mysteries of Manteo, is the result.  It is printed by Blurb, which may give some pause.  I now find Blurb to be doing a pretty good job, much better than in the past. The book is printed on fine art paper and the color management is quite effective.  The images are a good representation of what I was trying to invoke.  Again, if you’re interested, you can view the book in the widget to your right, purchase a soft cover addition, or at a greatly reduced price, the pdf.  The later of course is NOT printed on fine art paper, but  then you know that.

Thanks to Al, Donna, Maya and Chester, our wonderful hosts.

Tech Note:  The book was created using Lightroom’s book function.  I was overall pleased with how well the function worked, though it is not InDesign.  Try it to create your own PDF’s.

 

The Mystery of Nature

I’ve been keeping my head down, figuratively that is, more like sticking it in front of the computer. I’m working on a book about a very special place, and I’ll share more about that soon.  One of the inspirations for the work is the notion of “mystery” and what we don’t understand.  There is really so much in nature that escapes us and I’ve been looking at images from my collections that illustrate that joyous yet perplexing fact.  Here’s one from Manteo taken in 2012.

Gulls over Roanoke Sound - 2012

Obviously it’s a bunch of gulls in a frenzy.  But, what was the frenzy all about?  Normally you’d think “gulls going crazy, must be a fishing boat around here someone throwing some waste overboard.”  Good guess, but in this case, no boat.  I’m standing on the deck of a condo in Manteo, North Carolina. I felt I could practically reach out and touch them.  And no, I didn’t have anything for them to eat.  (You should never feed wildlife, even gulls, with the exception of the strategically thought out bird feeder.)  Of course, maybe they were hamming it up for the camera.  Glad I could oblige.  They were quite professional as colleagues go.

The Quandry of Simplicity

I’ve been seeking the “Holy Grail” recently and as is typically the case, coming up empty handed.  So what constitutes a good photograph?  Stupid question, I know. The answer is “a good photograph.” There is no answer other than, it all depends.  But that doesn’t stop us from trying.  As many wiser people have told me, or written, art is so subjective that if you’re aspiring to practice it, you are buying yourself an on-going confidence problem.  Is it any good?  Well, it really does all depend. You’re supposed to learn the rules of photography when you start getting serious, but then you’re supposed to break them routinely.  My most recently I have been worshipping at the alter of simplicity.  Edie Adams famously said that the best photographs are simple, they have just a one or two elements.  You try to get everything else out of the frame.

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That little clump of grass has a true life of its own.  It survives storm after storm, and it’s still there, by itself.  (All the images in this blog are from my recent trip to Manteo, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  This is an early evening shot of Roanoke Sound.)  There is a large bridge just to the right of the frame and closer to the photographer, on either side of the frame is significant and quite attractive foliage.  There is very little beach.  You just get a hint of the rocks in the fore ground.  The image is then heavily cropped, albeit in the lens.

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Here’s a somewhat messy location on the other side of the Island, overlooking Croatan Sound.  I have cropped (in camera and in the digital darkroom) severely to simplify the image.  This is a public location but it is poorly kept. This was actually the location of the  Confederate Battery that was supposed to stop the Union Navy from capturing the Island and controlling sea access to North Carolina during the Civil War.  The Confederates were shall we say not successful.

I enjoy the simplicity of the image and the one or two elements (I guess you’d say four actually, counting the sky.)  But can you live your life that way?

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Let me say it for you…”what the hell is that?”  That is the bottom of the root system of an overblown tree, half submerged in the water.  You find it along a charming nature walk at Pocosin National Wildlife Refuge in Columbia, NC, not far from the Outer Banks.  It sits there, providing house and home for all sorts of critters.  The Park Service will not touch it, and they shouldn’t.  This tree is going to keep on giving for many years, even though it’s formal life is over.  I find it joyfully complex, almost overwhelming.  Who knows what’s going on in there at any given time.  Probably a lot.  Nature perhaps is not simple.  There are indeed quiet and one could say simple moments of harmony, but the constant state of change we find in nature is neither simple nor harmonious. Photography and art more generally has to somehow grapple with those discontinuities.  My pursuit of a perfectly simple world was off target.  Glad I figured that one out.

The Spirit of Place

I had the pleasure several years back of spending a week with the great travel photographer, Bob Krist.  Bob had spent considerable time and energy over the course of a career trying to understand what made for a great travel photograph, one that conveyed the “Spirit of Place.”  This is also the title of one of Bob’s best books which you can order through his web site above.  When I’m traveling now I think of his advice.  I look for images that I hope will convey that spirit of place.  It is actually quite a tall order, and you don’t get there by just taking snap shots.   Three of the elements he said were key to a good travel photograph were, not surprisingly, composition light and color.  The magic is in the fourth element, a sense of moment, something that captures what the place feels like.  Here’s one view from the Cape Hatteras area, actually the beach at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge visitor center.

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It’s really not that hard to get away here, even though just a few miles north in Nags Head, the joint is teaming with visitors.  Perhaps this is what most people think of when they think of this Cape this feeling.  It takes you some place else, thankfully.  If you are interested in Bob’s approach to travel photography, I am very happy to report that a video of his, Spirit of Place:  The Art of the Traveling Photographer, has been legally posted here.  This seems to be the only place it’s available.  It’s worth the hour.

Tech note, though it may seem inappropriate given the state of mind I hope the image invokes:  This is a long exposure, about four seconds.  To make this happen in the incredibly bright sunlight I had to pull out every trick I could think of.  I had eight stops of neutral density over the lens, which was all I had.  I was shooting at F36.  So it comes out soft, who cares.  I was at ISO equivalent of 50.  My next move was to tar paper the lens.  The fun part of course is that I couldn’t see the back of the camera at all.  It was just too bright.  I could just barely make out the histogram so I thought I might have a decent exposure, but could’t know until I got back to the car.  Fittingly, it was just like shooting with film.