Craft Matters

Whimsical Clouds

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Whimsical Clouds near Kanab, Utah

One lazy fall day, on a road trip to Page, Arizona, I spied a distant sheet of curious clouds drifting my direction. I eased into a pullout, retrieved my camera gear and waited. What had caught my eye, a series of thin clouds with long streaking tails, was changing quickly, the tails swirling into each other in an almost whimsical fashion. I made and quickly rejected a number of exposures as the clouds slipped by overhead. Only after they had moved past me did I find a composition I felt conveyed their playful dancing nature.

White River Falls

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White River Falls - Oregon

It’s always fun to rediscover forgotten images. Especially ones you really like! I spent the first two days of 2016 tidying up a rather bloated Adobe Lightroom image library. In doing so, I rediscovered images I’d made of White River Falls in the winter of 2014.

White River Falls is an Oregon State Park which showcases the wild and scenic White River highlighted by a series of falls, one that plunges 90 feet, through a basalt lava basin. At the base of the falls, a hydropower plant that supplied the area with electricity between 1910 and 1960, lies in graffiti-rich ruins.

Since the park is only open Spring to Fall, I guess I was technically trespassing though there were no signs discouraging my entrance through an unlocked gate. It had been extremely cold that week and, having seen photos of the park, I suspected I might find an exceptionally icy landscape. I’d arrived late in the afternoon and initially explored the hydro plant ruins. Next I found some interesting ice patterns in an eddy below the falls but could not coax a composition out of the chaos. Before I knew it, evening was coming and it was getting very cold.

A smidgen disappointed, I set to climb back out of the canyon. Pausing at a makeshift viewpoint in the trail, I saw the falls had taken on a more mystical feel in winter’s evening light. A thin veil of dusk-lit clouds adding a luminous soft box effect to the scene. What I had disregarded as a mediocre, even cliché, photo a couple hours earlier, was now full of possibility. The low light required a longer exposure (~5 seconds) rendering the water a milky white, helping to both contrast and compliment the structured ice and rock textures framing the river’s path within the composition.

What a joyful little rediscovery to start the new year.

A Morning Palette of Light

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A Palette of Light, Virgin River

Over the years I have what has become a morning ritual here in Zion. A couple days a week I stroll along a stretch of the Virgin River attentively observing the sun’s light descend the western side of the canyon, painting magic in the cascades and ripples of the river.

The images I’ve made have evolved over the years. From the very literal, Liquid Light, to the more atmospheric, Velvet Reflections, to the image here, reflecting an ever-deepening understanding of the intimate play of light, water and flow. I can’t help but have gratitude for the lessons I’ve been taught by such aesthetic masters.

Dream Clouds over Zion

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Dream Clouds over Zion

For awhile now, I’ve been exploring photographing scenes of water, stone, and sky in subtle barely discernible moments, usually in very low light. Once the moment is captured, I attempt to give voice to the beauty in the subtlety, using both traditional and digital means. Often the result is a failure but, with each failure, I learn more about the possibility of achieving success.

This image of clouds, in the very last light of dusk, held lovely texture and subtle turquoise hues, invoking a peaceful dream-like equanimity. Printed as an inkjet pigment print, the image has a hybrid photographic/painterly feel, something I enjoy in contrast to my darkroom work. As I’m about to head back to Zion National Park for an extended visit, I look forward to continuing this direction of my work.

Irrigation Pipes

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Irrigation Pipes near Macdoel, California

Since moving to Bend, Oregon, road trips to California pass through some lovely farm country northeast of Mt. Shasta. Along a stretch, a field of old weathered irrigation pipes lay just off the highway. On a recent trip home, the late morning sun glowed softly behind a blanket of wintery gray clouds. The diffuse light bathed the landscape which reflected in rich pastels – ideal conditions.

What I though might be a 20-30 minute exercise turned into nearly 3 hours. I made numerous photographs (multiple times) as the light dimmed and brightened with the changing densities of the passing clouds. The image here, represents one of my initial favorites, highlighting the broad variation of texture and hue characteristic of these worn and weathered life-giving tools.

Breakthrough

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Breakthrough - Zion National Park

There are moments. Very personal, resonate moments. Moments you hesitate to write about for fear of diminishing their significance. Because, despite their gravity, they are ephemeral, they float in the outer edge of awareness, in spirit. To put words to the experience risks obscuring the essence of what you feel compelled to communicate.

In such moments of hesitation, I draw on the words of Mary Oliver:

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

So, I will.

In my artistic pursuits, I had a breakthrough. It occurred up Zion Canyon, along a cliff-protected slope of stately trees I’d visited many times before. It was near dusk. My intent was to make a photograph framing a tall regal maple, its leaves gloriously carmine and crimson, sheltered high up at the base of the towering cliff. But everywhere I could manage an angle of view to the tree, the composition failed.

As I moved, and emotionally let go of my original intent, my attention was drawn to an opening of grass and flowers harboring a single tree with lustrous leaves of lemon and gold. The sun, now setting, lit a thin veil of stratus creating a soft box of white ambient light. The wind, gusting earlier, had settled, and with it, a peaceful air enveloped the space around me. The white flowers glowed like suspended snowflakes. The grass shown a rainbow of green. I transfixed to the scene before me and felt a slow rising tide of awareness. The elements of grass, flowers, tree, slope, background, texture, color, and light, all taken together made sense to me in a way I had previously not understood.

I bloomed with elation. And, simulatenously, felt a flowering of doubt. The doubt is important. It is, I believe, a uniquely human questioning rooted in a need for affirmation that an idea, feeling, or experience is essential and good. Its presence, accepted with grace, affirms the elation and empowers you to move forward.

So, I did.

Intently, intimately, I moved through the scene, honing into what I perceived to be the best composition expressing this new awareness. In the end, the placement of my view camera to make the photograph was precisely where the scene had revealed itself, a rarity for me.

The image may ultimately be a failure. I haven’t received the processed film back and I’m well versed in the fact that inspiration and execution don’t always agree. But the iPhone image that accompanies this post encouraged me to write while the ideas were fresh in memory and feeling. And, even if the film image isn’t successful, something essential was affirmed — a breakthrough in my photographic continuum along a path of elation and doubt that never fails to astonish me.

Pine Creek Reflections

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Pine Creek Reflections - Zion National Park

Recent hard freezes and wind have encouraged the leaves to drop off trees like rocks, abruptly concluding the fall color season here. And, as with all transitions, new opportunities arise. Trees, their leaves bared, reveal previously veiled stone patterns and textures. Cold invites intricate ice patterns to form in pools and along the stiller edges of running waters. And foam patterns bubble up in gurgling cascades, holding shape in the creeks before the sun rises high enough to warm and dissipate them.

Years ago, I made the image, A Moment in Time, along lower Pine Creek under similar weather conditions. Hoping for a bit of the same magic, I took a mid-morning meander up the creek last week. While I found only hints of ice, I came upon some wonderfully patterned foam that, at a low angle, reflected bold morning colors shining off lower East Temple.

Just another glorious morning in the canyon of stone and light.