Sunset over Colorado

Back in ’10 we made our first of several treks to Colorado to spend time with family and get some photography in. We used our time-share and stayed in Vail, which compared to our later trip to Telluride, was like staying in the middle of a giant outdoor shopping mall that happened to have a ski area associated with it. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time in Vail.

As a kid my family and I had vacationed in Colorado, well before freeways and the urban sprawl that has swallowed every small town between Denver and the mountain range. One of our trips, we stayed in a little cabin outside of Estes Park, which was a sleepy cow town at the time and where I saw my first rodeo.

Those of you who are boomers will know what it is like to revisit a place you once visited as a kid and suddenly be totally disoriented by the changes that occurred. It is a similar experience to returning to your home town 20-30 years after you left. Artifacts that are still standing but missing the context you remember as a child can really play tricks with your mind. This first trip back to Colorado was a similar experience.

I have vague memories of the Dillon Reservoir, Central City but when we stopped to shoot this early morning photo of the Reservoir there was little that felt even vaguely familiar. The presence of I-70 had a lot to do with changes that messed with my memories. So, today’s photo is of the east end of the Dillon Reservoir with a back drop of the morning fog rising out of the valleys of distant mountains.

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Big birds, wings and a duck couple

A few years ago we were on the northern Washington coast and decided to head to the beach during the golden hour of the early evening to catch the sunset and whatever else might show up. Once there we found that shore birds especially some Herons had the same idea. There were several skimming the water’s surface looking for the right spot to land and have a little dinner.

While we have a good size population of Blue Herons here in the Twin Cities, it is extremely hard to predict where and when they will show up, in spite of the our plentiful lakes and wet lands. So to see several actively working a shore line was pretty exciting. In flight the bird seems to be a relic left over from the dinosaur era while on land its’ spindly legs and general awkwardness make it look like a prepubescent child.

Since I had yet to catch a Heron in the process of landing being able to capture this one in the full sequence of its’ approach was a real gift.

Ever since my days in Rochester in the mid ’70s, Canadian Geese and other large birds have fascinated me, especially in flight, on take off and landing. Their large wings allow them to glide further, making their flight more graceful. The long neck of Canadian geese adds a sense of gracefulness in flight, however, once on the ground the neck that gracefulness is lost and becomes more like a periscope.

When I lived in Rochester I used to drive by a lake that never froze because it was fed warm water from the local power plant. During winter mornings the clash between warm and cold air produced a semi permanent layer of fog over the lake’s surface. Because of its’ warm water, the lake became a home for Canadian geese whose heads would rise through the layer of fog like miniature periscopes.

Back in ’07 I spent a lot of time trying capture the character of these geese, especially when landing, I have yet to get a satisfactory shot. However, while waiting for this small flock of geese to take off, the one featured in today’s photo rose out of the water spreading his/her wings as if to say “I’m here” to the other geese. Thankfully, Marsha was able to grab the shot, since my attention was elsewhere.

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Great Lakes Ore boats

While today may feel dreary, drizzle, overcast and cool, it does remind me of how we can adapt if we are open to it. Having grown up and lived in the Midwest where we stayed indoors when the weather was similar to today’s, moving to Oregon,as my first job out of the Army, was quite a shock. However, I soon learned that Oregonians don’t let dreary weather keep them inside. I also learned something strange, how comforting the drizzle and clouds felt mostly because everything stayed green.

Later when I returned to attend University of Oregon for a degree in Landscape Architecture, I really learned about adaptability. One of the required classes through out my tenure was on plant materials, the class was conducted outdoors regardless of the weather. We all learned to adapt and the class ended up being one of our favorites.

The Great Lake freighter below, making its way into the Duluth harbor on a similarly dreary day as today, brought back those Oregon memories. Many of these Great Lakes ore boats have plied the waters of the lakes for decades hauling ore from mining towns to ports through out the Great Lakes. Many of the ore boats seem to be on the verge of falling apart like the one in the photo. If you look closely along the port side of the hull it looks like Swiss cheese. Signs of the toll these boats pay over decades of constant abuse can be seen through out the entirety of this boat’s structure.

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Fog

Fog is an amazing element that can churn up all kinds of different feelings and reactions. It can…create mystery, hint at surprise, suggest romance, cause anxiety, panic and disorientation. Fog is also unpredictable to a degree, we know what causes it but the cause and effect don’t always match our creative desires so we use fake fog. Depending on density, fog can also be a great filter, that can bring out the sun’s rays creating collections of single beams that suggest some kind of divine presence.

A few years ago during a holiday trip to the in-laws we we had the opportunity to experience some of these effects in several ways. Our destination in south western Minnesota was undergoing a transformation, wind turbines were popping up like perennial flowers. We encountered little fog on our way down, however as we approached more farm land the fog increased in density, shrouding the presence of the wind turbines. Driving along a rural gravel road in dense fog surrounded by invisible wind turbines invoked a plethora of sensations the dominant one being mystery. As we drove slowly along the gravel road, the only suggestion of the wind farm’s presence was the steady whoosh of the invisible blades. The scene could have been right out of a mystery thriller.

Before and after the holiday celebrations, I headed out to try to capture the fog’s effects. Since I lacked the necessary gear to capture sensation of the invisible monsters and their collective whooshes, I headed out to find the “right” fog. As the sun’s intensity increased the fog density decreased leaving behind a landscape, populated with tufts of white fog and a hint of a yet to be revealed horizon.

Our route to these holiday celebrations always took us past the silo in today’s photo. Even on a clear day, this lone silo, occupying the crest of a small knoll in the middle of a bare field, was cause for wonder. Today’s photo is my attempt to capture the mystery and loneliness of the scene.

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Working Lake Superior

I’ve tried to catch these photos for years, a lake cargo boat leaving at sunrise through the ship channel. It was one of those “accidental” shots, I was shooting the sunset from the balcony of our motel and turned to get some of the light house only to discover this beauty. The light couldn’t have been better with a hint of sunrise reflecting off the bow and bridge of the boat as it heads up the lake.

The Mainistee  makes an early morning departure through the Duluth ship canal  into the open water of Lake Superior,  on its’ way to do whatever it does. These Great Lakes working boats have always fascinated me in part because of their strange design and the fact that they add a nautical narrative to a state and region that is far from nautical.

My first encounter with both Lake Superior and the great north woods occurred in the early to mid 1950s when my family decided to venture up here from St. Louis, where I grew up. I have vague memories of the Duluth lift bridge and a harbor and water front full of working ore boats crewed by tough looking men who hung out in what is now Canal Park, as they waited for their boats to depart up the North Shore to fetch a fresh load of ore.

As we left Duluth and headed into the “wilderness”of the north woods I remember feeling that someday I would come back.

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Seeing your world

Where do you aim your camera whether it be a phone or a regular camera? Chances are, especially, given our current obsession with selfies, most of your photos are of you and your friends or family. Now ask yourself how often you photograph your surroundings, something that attracts your attention, something that you’ve passed by frequently and never noticed before? Or the desire to preserve record of your life’s context so you can share it 30 years later?

Take a look at your phone’s camera roll, what is the proportion of selfies, family and drinking shots, to photos of your surroundings? Now ask yourself what would you or someone else think while looking at your camera roll 20 years from now; what would they learn about you and your life? Would they or you wonder why you had so many photos of yourself and or friends absent any context or, would you or that future stranger be able to gather some clues about life 20 years in the past?

There is an inherent contradiction in the way most of us capture a record of a place or time, since the camera became popularized we often feel an instinctual urge to “take a picture of that” only to leave it sit in our phones, our computers or in the shoe box in the hall closet. If you’ve ever gone through your families old photos you’ll likely be able to get some sense about their lives and where they lived. However, it is more likely that the “where they lived” portion will be considerably smaller, leaving you with no clue as to the context of their everyday lives.

While getting this photo ready to post I found myself asking the same questions, because while a good percentage of my photos show what life was like at a particular slice of time, photos of other places dominate the archives. Even though I either have my phone’s camera or a real camera with me most of the time, the number of contextual photos lag. So, most of my photos of the three years spent Houston are family related and mostly lack the context of our lives.

The lesson here is there are vistas everywhere and the ones that capture your life’s context are important especially 20 to 30 years down the road. So, paying attention to our surroundings is important because our surroundings put our lives in a context that completes our story.

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A walk through the archives

As I’ve been recovering from my first chemo course, I’ve also been revisiting my photo archives and as you’ve seen recently I’ve stumbled on some photos I forgot about. Once I started playing with these oldies using new technology, photos I originally thought weren’t salvageable have taken on new life.

Back in ’05 we were just getting started in wedding photography and attended a wedding photography convention in Vegas. After the convention we headed to Sedona to shoot some desert landscapes. Unfortunately, one of our two cameras took a tumble and ended up with limited functionality, so we weren’t sure what we would come away with. Given the technology back then the previews, using our pre-Intell based Mac laptop we weren’t very thrilled with the results, so the photos were archived and generally forgotten about.

Today’s photos are from the Sedona archive and one I had hopes for when it was shot, after some work it has turned out much better than in ’05.

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Out of the ashes

Several years ago while on the North Shore of Lake Superior we decided to wander inland away from the big lake. The day was overcast so we really were not hopeful of finding some good locations. We followed the Gunflint trail toward the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and took a narrow gravel road off the Gunflint and stumbled onto a little collection of cabins tucked well out of sight except for the mailboxes standing at attention around a curve in the road.

The area was also in the edge of a fire that left ghostly blackened poles as reminders of what happened. Interestingly enough, this little area also was included in the early 2000s blow down that made a wide swath through the Boundary Waters leaving a path of destruction that left giant piles of logs. The storm also left behind many campers who had to be rescued and in many cases air evaced back to Duluth.

The photo below was one example of nature’s own reclamation efforts, understory growth was popping up in the early stages of ecosystem restoration. It represented a place of peace and reflection amidst the chaos of destruction.

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A lesson from Japanese garden design

One of the things I look for when on a location are design elements, the interaction of forms and negative space can are where I start. As an urban designer these elements played a major role in how approached a project. My initial analysis of a site’s potential would be the extent these elements played in creating a human scaled space.

If you’ve ever visited a well designed Japanese Garden you will notice the immediate sense of peace and tranquility that seems to wrap around you. That tranquility is brought about intentionally by the designer, every inch of a Japanese Garden is thought out in order to optimize that feeling of tranquility. A key element of that planning is the basic principal of juxtaposition of opposites, that creates a comfortable tension no matter where in the garden you may be.

So, you might be asking how does this apply to photography? Well the same principles apply to a location and how it feels when we view the resulting image. As a photographer my eye is immediately attracted to the interplay of all of the locations elements and how I can interpret them.

Today’s photo was captured not because of the threatening clouds or the colors of the Aspen trees, but rather the tension created by the ground plane and the negative space of the dark sky. The vertical nature of the trees bring the negative space of the sky and horizontal plane of the ground together by penetrating the sky. Without the trees the shot would be barely ordinary and the dark sky would become the just a dark sky.

This is how juxtaposition of opposites works.

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Fog

Fog can generate a wide range of reactions and emotions depending how we encounter it. In the woods, on a trail or just walking down a street, it can cause us to feel a sense of anticipation, mystery, fear, and even embrace as it wraps around us.

It can enhance or detract from a photo depending on how the photographer includes it in a composition. Each of these photos used the fog in a different way to create a sense of mystery and suspension, mystery in not knowing what lay ahead and suspension by referencing a state of suspended resolution.

The first photo illustrated one of the basic elements I look for when composing a shot is a sort of visual contradiction or in design terms juxtaposition of opposites. The presence of the chair lifts over a ski run enveloped in fog contrasted with how we normally associate seeing chair lifts.
There is no snow on the ground, no skiers wrapped in bright colors anticipating the thrill of the run. Instead there is just an empty chair lift surrounded by fog as it moves over grass.

The remaining photos use the fog to illustrate mystery and the unknown. The path in the second photo disappears into the fog, inviting us to follow and discover what lies at the end. The last photo only offers the challenge of entering the unknown, no path exists for us to follow, we must find our own way through the forest and the fog.

 

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