Dark Places

Recently a friend said she appreciated that I “allowed the dark places to stay dark” in a photograph of rocks and sand. That comment struck a chord; I had been thinking about inviting more darkness into my photography.

The urge to photograph a particular thing or place erupts from a myriad of sources, some of which are unknown to me. But one reason I make photographs is to share a place, a moment, a detail or an impression with others.

One way of conceptualizing the process of photography, for me anyway, is that I am making maps of my world as I photograph it. Here is the tree, here, the rough bark, over there, the repeating pattern of a fern and there, its reflection or shadow.  A curve, a shade of green, a shape, a texture….I notice the details as well as the whole scene, and I want to share it all. I want to faithfully record all the bits of data, the way a map does.

 

1. Photograph as map. Little is left to the imagination; you won’t get lost here.

Maps present the facts in an evenhanded way, shedding enough light across the surface so that every important detail can be read. I’ve always loved maps and in photography I often gravitate towards brightness, preferring well-illuminated images.

But what about the dark places, what about the shadows? Especially in winter with its clouds, low sun and short days, darkness comes into the foreground. Why fight it? In this data-heavy world maybe it makes sense to allow more darkness to manifest, if only to balance the plethora of visual information.

Dark places don’t appear on maps, not anymore. But like the blank places on old maps that elicited so many questions, darkness can play an important role in photographs. So I’m acquiescing to darkness, trying to refrain from lifting out the shadows. Here’s a group of photos that invites darkness in.

 

2. On a late October afternoon lingering rays of sunlight illuminate a clump of ferns at the edge of an algae-coated wetland. The deep blue areas are reflections of a bright, clear autumn sky.

 

3. Same day, same location.

 

4. After a gentle snowfall the pale coating on logs and leaves does little to lighten a dark corner of the lake.

 

5. Freezing rain left an assortment of water droplets and ice pellets on the slender twigs of a Snowberry bush (Symphoricarpos albus).

 

6. Rain begins to fall on a lake at dusk. The sun has set, and what little is left of the light is mesmerizing. It’s getting really cold but….just a few more photos. You know how it is.

 

7. After sunset on a mid-winter day, all is dark except for a bog in the middle of the lake.

 

8. Deep shadows fall across a wetland in a forest, on an October afternoon.

 

9. The Yellow pond lily leaves are curling up and turning brown, but the Douglas fir trees won’t give up their color. The lake must have risen long ago and killed the trees. They still stand tall.

 

10. A late summer view of the same lake.

 

11. Another day, a different angle, in black and white.

 

I’m going to try to keep the importance of darkness in mind. Of course I would never abandon the light. Below there are more photos from the same location, which is a shallow lake surrounded by forest, called Little Cranberry Lake. The photographs represent eight different walks around the lake, between August 2018 and February 2019. I’ve come to love the trails in this preserve. Walking the trails in sunny and overcast weather, in the rain or just after a snowfall, there’s always something new to see.

 

12. The same photograph as #11, processed differently.

 

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13. Trails at Little Cranberry Lake are rocky and full of roots.

 

14. A favorite spot on one trail by the lake cuts underneath a vertical cliff where Redcedar trees enjoy the constant moisture.

 

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15. Reflections in the lake in late November, when the grasses were fading.

 

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16. On the same day, a light rain began to fall. The water was absolutely still.

 

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17. In a third photo of reflections made the same day, a moss-covered log supports an array of  plants.

 

18. A glorious September sky is reflected near the edge of the lake.

 

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19. This isn’t spring green – the photograph was made in the middle of January. The edges of this shallow lake provide no end of reflections to study.

 

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20. Here are the same greens, on land now, also in January.

 

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21. Bracken fern decays beautifully, turning various shades of yellow, gold, orange and brown. This is from a September walk.

 

22. A pair of mushrooms rises between the dead fronds of a Sword fern. There’s plenty of moisture in this bed of moss.

 

23. I hope this is a slick of algae or bacteria on the wetland, not oil.

 

24. Light, wet snow on lichens makes a kind of miniature winter wonderland.

 

25. A honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.) plant and a Snowberry bush seem to shiver in the fresh snow.

 

26. An infrared treatment in black and white gives the impression of snow. The photo was taken in February but on this day no snow fell.

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Little Cranberry Lake is part of a collection of about 2800 acres of protected forest land on Fidalgo Island. Purchased in 1919 by a local power company, the forest was logged by the company for income for 60 or 70 years. In the late 1980’s local residents began to document how the practice of clearcutting was destroying the forest. A Friends of the Forest group coalesced and made their voices heard, along with residents who wanted trails, not logging in the island’s forests. Clearcutting ended in 1989, and now the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL) are permanently preserved and managed for recreational use.

 

Elemental Duet

The elements: Earth and Water

The mood: Contemplative

Earth:  The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, in Oregon. Water:  Reflections at Bellevue Botanical Garden and Heronswood, in Washington.

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The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon, is a remarkable visual record of events that began over 30 million years ago. As the mountain range we now call the Cascades was being formed by volcanic eruptions, ash and tuff (rock formed from volcanic ash and cinders) blew eastward and drifted to the ground. It slowly weathered and solidified with pressure. Over millions of years climate changes caused subtle bands of color to form in the deposits.

The reddish layers contain more iron and aluminum, left behind from sub-tropical times when wet weather caused other minerals to leach out, bringing iron and aluminum to the surface. Areas with less color are sedimentary clay, silt and shale – what I like to think of as really old mud, left behind in cooler, drier periods.  The dark patches are areas where tropical plant growth turned into lignite, a kind of peat.

Ultimately, newer, softer soils eroded away and beautifully undulating, multi-hued layers of time were exposed.

Hidden away in this geological stew are a multitude of fossils, making this and its sister sites, the Clarno and Sheep Rock Units of the John Day Fossil Beds NM, important research locations for paleontologists. At least one of my readers has a geology background. He (you know who you are!) can probably explain the processes better than I did.

I appreciate the science, but the bottom line for me is the essential beauty of this landscape, which I visited a month ago. A bonus was the string of amazing small towns in the area that retain a genuine Old West atmosphere and whose residents offer warm hospitality – at least for now. The region is smack in the middle of the August 21st solar eclipse path of totality. One shudders to think what these relaxed, friendly towns will feel like when they’re inundated with thousands of eclipse watchers.  I’m staying clear!

As for the reflections of spring leaves in moving water – that entails some luck. The light has to be right, and you have to be able to photograph the water from the right angle. I balanced on stepping stones for some of them. Then you may need to experiment a bit with camera settings, and again, with processing.

The moving water images struck me as harmonizing nicely with the Painted Hills images. So: a duet, or even a pas de deux, in shimmering hues of earth and water.

REFLECTION

To complement the previous post on shadows, here is one about another transient light phenomenon that has always fascinated me – reflections.

The photo below was taken ten years ago with an early digital camera – it had 1.4 megapixels! A blue glass vase in a bay window made intriguing reflections and shadows. The glass itself picked up reflections and held shadows, too, and its color changed from deep azure blue to turquoise reflected light.

Complex reflections that play with other visual cues to mix up an image are fascinating, especially when foreground and background become interchangeable.

Here’s a situation where glass – in this case, a window in a Manhattan museum – simultaneously reflects the surroundings and allows you to see through it, producing an image with many possible interpretations – the street-side tree and fire escape ladder mixing with an enormous, fierce Buddhist deity (probably Mahakala, a protector) – what could it mean?

Here at a botanic garden in New York City, an Italianate reception hall’s windows provided opportunities to think about light and shade, inside and outside, shadow and reflection.

Another Manhattan window – this one made of curved mirrors – provided multiple skewed reflections of me and my friend, who’s barely visible as a stick figure in the background. This is from the 70’s. Right, I didn’t take the picture – but I directed the shoot! 😉

Decades later I took the photo below of my legs and feet reflected in a window at the Frye Museum in Seattle. Behind the window, a courtyard planted with ferns allowed me to do what I love – merge with nature!

Sometimes all you need is light and shadow dancing on leaves and water.  (At Spring Lake, a little ocean shore town in New Jersey.)

A cold snap left a chunk of ice on a branch tip hanging over the water of a Long Island, NY lake. Rippled water scattered the branch’s reflection into circular mazes.

Reflections of sunlight on trees over a creek east of Seattle created a purely abstract field of color.

Another color field on the water:

And back to complexity: a Manhattan window, this time in an art gallery, reveals a worker setting up a show inside while reflections of buildings across the street seem to enclose her in a private world.

In the early 70’s I investigated reflections, shadows, and transparency with a pane of glass in a snow-covered field. The quality of the photo is poor, but good enough to document the process –  an interplay of the thing itself and its projections; each has its own substance and reality.

And one for fun: Seattle’s Experience Music Project, a museum dedicated to popular culture designed by Frank O. Gehry. Constructed of thousands of aluminum and stainless steel “shingles” set in undulating curves, it always can be counted on for terrific reflections – even on concrete!

Inside and Out

Whether inside looking out or outside looking in, it often feels like you’re in both places – you feel the atmosphere and hear the sounds around you, but as your visual attention pulls you through the window, your mind begins to loosen its bonds to the senses that hold you in place….

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This week the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is to illustrate “inside.”  No sooner do I think about “inside” than I want to consider “outside.”  How do the two interact?  Hence these photos, which were taken through windows, and of windows. I hope they convey a sense of the complex interplay of light and shadow, reflections, and scenes outside and inside.

More views of “inside” can be found here.