A Joyful Relation to What Is

A few weeks ago Sigrun Hodne, who writes at the blog Sub Rosa, posted a brief video about the photographer Jeff Wall. You may or may not find Wall’s photography appealing, but maybe you’ll be intrigued by what he says, as I was.

Towards the end of the clip Wall talks about art.

“I think all art is always an expression of the affection for there being a world…

1.

2.

“…that there’s something to see… that anything even exists.”

3.
4.

“It’s already a kind of joyful relation to what is. And then everything else becomes a detail…”

5.
6.

“I think all artists are pretty sympathetic people. They’re sympathetic to being.

And I think that’s why people like art.”

7.
8.

***

The photographs were made on two afternoons in May, during a trip to the Methow Valley, in north central Washington. Creeks originating from glaciers on some of Washington’s highest peaks drain into the Methow River, which weaves and wends its way through spare, sage green highlands before emptying into the Columbia River, and thence to the Pacific Ocean. The valley is dotted with small towns, and one called Winthrop emphasizes an American West atmosphere enough to resemble a movie set. Along with opportunities to camp, fish, ski, ride horses, and raft the river, the classic western look of Winthrop brings tourists to the area.

Coming in spring, we expected quiet and weren’t disappointed. We stayed outside the town of Twisp at a small farm whose owners work in retail and real estate while caring for a handful of horses and chickens and running an airbnb side business. A patchwork economy works best in the valley, as in so many rural areas. From the riverside we drove high up into the lonely, sere hills, where fires have their way with dry forest land and the views leap across space, and free the soul. The cheerful golden Balsamroot flowers that sprinkle the hillsides with color every spring were fading but no matter – my affection for the world was still an unhesitatingly joyful relation to what is, right there, in that particular place, at that particular time.

The photos:

  • 1. Fire-ravaged juniper tree, Thompson Road, Methow Valley
  • 2. Fallen trees and Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) leaves, Gun Ranch Road, Methow Valley
  • 3. Shriveled Balsamroot flower, Thomson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 4. Lichen on rock, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 5. Single boulder in an Aspen grove, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 6. Fire-ravaged junipers and dry grasses, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 7. Lichen-splotched boulder, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 8. Insect on fading Balsamroot flower, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley

A few more photos from the Methow Valley are here.


69 comments

  1. The vertical lines of the birch trees in # 5 are fascinating me, Lynn. The atmosphere in the picture is so intense, something seems to be happening in the next moment.
    But # 6 is also intriguing: the contrast between the whites (almost icy) and the blacks left by the fire you brought out by processing.
    And thank you for the link to Jeff Wall’s interesting thoughts and photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a strange place and I would have liked to spend a lot of time there but you know how it is when you’re traveling. I’m pleased that some of the strangeness can be seen in the photo. I really enjoyed processing these, and the blackened junipers in the filed were so exciting to see – all those twisted shapes. Please thank Sigrun for the video, not me! πŸ™‚ And thank YOU!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Great, I’m pleased that you like the post. That Balsamroot flower was a surprise – a gift! And speaking of gifts, thank you so much for the variety of things that you bring to the table, via your blog.

      Like

  2. Oh I love Jeff Wall’s words. It’s so true. I find it’s especially in remembering to be with what is that joy, creativity, and a great affection for the world arises. All the rest is just noise.
    This is a particularly beautiful collection and I have several favourites: 3, 5, 6, 8. Each is art.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Lynn,
    we very much like the subtle grey tones of your pictures. We are fans of black and white photography and yours is really beautiful. We especially like the clear graphics of picture no. 5. Our association: infinity.
    We have to think about the quotes about art. For us art is more a kind of intellectual reflection, understanding basic structures and it’s a symbolic language.
    Thanks for sharing
    The Fab Four of Cley
    πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know you guys (excuse the Americanism) are fans of black and white, so I’m pleased that you liked the photos. And I see your association with the aspen tree photo – almost like Kusama’s infinity room. πŸ˜‰ With the video and quotes, I think Wall is speaking more from the point of view of the artist, not the connoisseur. I think he’s talking about the emotional experience of making art, but I suspect he would acknowledge the importance of the basic structures in his work. As for the symbolic language aspect, I bet he would have a lot to say about that, and it might be controversial. All grist for the mill!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice variety and the reflection from the video was nice πŸ‘ (even though we all
    Define being differently)
    And the photos here f
    Rom two afternoons in May have such
    a celebration of nature

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for stopping by and commenting, I appreciate it very much. A celebration of nature is what I identify with, so it’s gratifying to know that you see that. Wall’s ideas are just his own of course, and as such, they evolved out of his sense of what being is – that’s a good point. Your reflections would be different, so would mine. But what he said about an artist’s relationship to the world caught my attention. Thanks again for commenting!.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I was out all day yesterday in the place where I photographed the Carolina lily, dripping sweat and thinking about this post. Now, I’m on my way to that spot again with an orchid-loving friend in tow, but before I left, I wanted to say how much I love this post. I’ve sensed that I experience the act of photography a little different than some — Klausbernd, for example — but I’ve never been able to put it into words.

    Jeff Wall’s words reminded me of something I once wrote about the act of writing: “β€œIt is the essayist’s task to say, β€œThis is what I have seen. This is what I have experienced. This is what I have discovered lying along life’s shore, waiting to be plucked from the sands of obscurity, turned and examined, magnified for detail, polished until its inherent nature shimmers in the light.”

    It seems to me that I could substitute “the photographer” for “the essayist” and it would describe my approach to photography equally well. It feels to me akin to what you do with your photography, and it’s the reason I love it as I do.

    Speaking of: aspen groves always remind me of Ansel Adams, and yours certainly did. In fact, those aspen spoke so strongly it took a while to see the rock — it was only after I read your description at the end that I went back and found it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a pleasure, reading your comment. I appreciate what you said about writing – it’s beautiful. The importance of the witness. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and the photos….it’s so interesting to me, the look of the dry country on the other side of the mountains. Very different from here, and I’m glad I live here, but it’s a visual treat every time I get over there, as I’m sure you understand. Thanks!!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for stopping by, and commenting. I appreciate it! A kind of sufferance, yes, absolutely. They’re so beautiful, those trees, and after a fire the forms are even more poignant. Any time I can convey some emotion, I am happy! And I’m pleased that you found the video interesting – thank Sigrun!

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  6. Oh, this is a beautiful collection, Lynn. #5 is especially captivating but each one has its own appeal. I appreciate the monochromes… πŸ™‚

    “…my affection for the world was still an unhesitatingly joyful relation to what is, right there, in that particular place, at that particular time.” …this touches me more powerfully than the video. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How happy it makes me, that you appreciate these images, given what you do with black and white photography. With #5, I was entranced by that aspen grove on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere. And then the rock. It would be good to spend time there again and again, to understand it better, but it’s hours away. As for my own musings, they needed the kick-start that I got from the video. Thank YOU.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. “the affection for there being a world…”
    How beautifully said. Such a wistful collection with affection shining through! Favorites are #5 & #6. The aspens are particularly appealing to me and that corkscrewed juniper! Oh my! You’re certainly teaching me to appreciate an occasional B&W. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m very happy this spoke to you, Gunta! And almost no color! πŸ˜‰ But these subject so lend themselves well to monochrome. The junipers over there are mind-boggling in their variety of shapes and forms – I wish they were closer. But we do have a juniper here that sometimes comes close, and I’m working on a series of photos of them. Thanks Gunta!!! Have a good week!

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  8. The expression of these natural forms and details is enormous, it touches us. Alongside their beauty and aesthetic balance, they are strange, as if they were absent in their loneliness.
    But life is just that..contrasts in search of balance!

    (All nature photography in black and white/monotones gives me a sense of contradiction…I think…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like hearing your more emotional, or more poetic impression of the photos, it makes sense and adds another dimension. And “contrasts in search of balance” – yes, the constant yin-yang dance. Thank you for your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I love his words. I think he’s right. And the black and white emphasizes the simplicity that seems like it should go with his words. Wonderful images.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You can thank Sigrun for alerting us to the video. πŸ™‚ Thanks so much for your comment, Howard. I’m glad it all works together for you. It’s usually a pretty instinctive process. πŸ˜‰

      Like

  10. Thoughtful and artistic images, 1 and 5 speak to me. Wall’s images are interesting and accomplished but they are too referential for me. Art about Art, such as the image that riffs on the Manet painting β€œBar at the Folie Bergere”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Tom. I’m pleased that you mentioned the first photo because I felt good about that one. As for Wall’s work, it actually doesn’t particularly appeal to me either, but I found the video very interesting. Thanks again!

      Like

  11. The aspens seem like the doorway to the land of “once upon a time.” The lichens on the rock are very distinct and unique. And I never thought of bug macro in b/w, I’ll have to remember that…

    Liked by 2 people

  12. An interesting view of art and artists, to be sure. It reminds me of the views found in Bali, a culture that considered creation of artwork and beautiful things to be our purpose here – an activity of joy and thanksgiving that honored the gods and connected them to the deities – so similarly, an expression of joy and appreciation for this world.
    2. evoked the image of a fallen animal. The mound looks like a burial mound in its shape as it lies curled on its side with the branches like bones of the front half of it. Especially the branches at the top of the photo look like antlers, and that pile marks it’s head/face to me. The rough grasses evoke heavy hair or coarse fur. Can you see it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hopefully, there are still people on Bali (or neighboring islands) who carry those beliefs forward. Traditionally they have a way of integrating art into everyday life that we can all learn from.
      Your take on #2 is interesting because something was speaking to me in that pile of logs, even more so when I went back to process it. But I couldn’t have put it into words. I don’t like anthropomorphizing, or even seeing things in things if you know what I mean, but I do think there’s something lurking there, A subtle presence. How exactly we see it or what exactly we read into it will vary, right? But the fact that you saw what you saw and told me about it brings up something valuable. Thank you Sheri!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Interesting collection of images that most would not think to make. I especially like number 6 with that twisted “survivor” of the fire. In a way, I think Wall’s words are reminiscent of people who consider everything humans do as art. We all have our own unique perspective and appreciation for what we see. I think intent has a lot to do with whether our actions create art or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t go out and purposefully look for scenes other people might miss, but as time goes by my eyes are more and more attuned to certain kinds of scenarios, and I find them. The field with the fire-damaged junipers was so beautiful – there were wildflowers blooming amidst them too. If I lived in the area I’d go back again and again. Intent – yes, it’s so important and sometimes, everything hinges on it. Thank you, Steve!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Beautiful pictures Lynn. I can feel the joy you feel, the affection for the world and the little lovable details! You made the words visible. The birches are wonderful, they almost look like a drawing. So tender in their contours. The lichen and the driftwood are wonderful too as is nr. 3, the shriveled Balsamroot flower. What is she doing :-)? Playing hide and seek maybe. I think I met a similar beetle like the one on your last picture. Maybe a cosmopolitan πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re very kind to say I made the words visible – that’s a high compliment! Thank you.
      The trees look like birch but are actually Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides). I like your remark, “so tender in their contours.” Lovely, thank you! Yes, that one flower was a real surprise, looking just as though it was covering itself up. Strange and wonderful. I was glad I noticed it. The bug – there is a different one that looks a lot like this one, that I have been seeing lately, covering the flowers sometimes. On sunflowers and goldenrod (Solidago). I keep thinking of you – Almuth would figure out what that is! πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

      • Quaking aspen – sounds like frogs πŸ˜‰ I will look it up. Ah, okay, it is a Zitterpappel. Then is quaking the same like tremble or shiver? I love these trees. They are so beautiful and they come close to birchtrees. But yours look very slender alltogether. Maybe it is a different kind from our usual tree here. Ours is Populus tremula – sounds almost the same?!
        https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Espe
        Hm, I didn’t figure it out so far about the bug πŸ˜‰ I saw it in another blog, but I can’t remember where, haha. I let you know whenever I find it out…

        Liked by 1 person

      • The frogs would be croaking! πŸ˜‰ Yes, quaking is like trembling – like an earthquake. Joe likes Zitterpappel – me too! We’re probably talking about the same tree, or close enough. Maybe if I have an idea of what type of bug it is I can narrow it down on a Pacific northwest insect site, but I don’t know where to start. Plants and birds, much easier! πŸ˜‰

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  15. I enjoyed this post, especially images 2, 5 and 6 – they speak to me in a language I understand. The quotes, too, were appropriately chose, but I find difficulty in matching them with much of Wall’s preferred subject matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s interesting that you say that about Wall’s video versus his photography – I agree. But it only makes me more curious somehow. His work doesn’t appeal to me much but after listening to the video I have to confess I felt a little less dismissive of him. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, Louis, and I’m glad that you liked the photos. I really enjoyed working on them in black and white.

      Like

    • Sigrun often comes up with interesting artists and interviews. I’m not crazy about Wall’s work but I liked what he had to say. These were a pleasure to process – black and white works so well for some subjects, and there are a few rather basic tools in Lightroom that I only recently started using, and that made black and white come alive. I’m glad you liked them, Otto, thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, I really enjoyed working on the black and whites. I can see some of your recent cabin photos in black and white, easily. “All the lines” – yes, I love grasses so much, for that reason. Sometimes I think there’s a common thread to the love for text/reading and an attraction to linearity in aesthetics. Those dry grasses on the east side of the Cascades are beautiful, as they are where you live.

      Like

  16. Hi Lynn, What a moving post. The black and whites couple with Wall’s word are perfect together. Your dreamy aspens, the fallen junipers and the close-ups of the flowers show your love and engagement with the natural world. Fantastic work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And a fantastic comment to read, Jane! πŸ˜‰ Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to work on the photos and the post. It started to come together when I saw the video on Sigrun’s blog. Thanks for commenting – and have a good weekend.

      Liked by 1 person


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