Chasing Waterfalls

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In a recent Facebook post I wrote that, while in Glacier National Park, I tried to avoid photographing many of the waterfalls I came across. A friend and fellow photographer, Arthur Ransome, called me to task on that statement and asked why I would place such a restriction upon myself. It’s a good question.

Let’s be honest. Waterfalls are one of the most photographed elements of the landscape. As humans, we seem to have a fascination with fire and with water and, really, what water is more interesting, compelling and relaxing than water falling over a rock face? So, we love waterfalls and we love photographing waterfalls. So, why do I resist? Or, more accurately, why am I hesitant? Or, even MORE accurately, why I am so damned picky?

Why? Because they HAVE been photographed so often, and so often photographed so poorly. It’s not that the bulk of images are bad, technically or aesthetically, it’s that they are, to use a water-based metaphor, shallow. They are simply about the waterfall. The pretty waterfall. Short exposure, long exposure, day or night…they are all about the water and little else. It’s a sad, all-too-common malady of the bulk of photography these days, not just waterfalls.

So, when dealing with ubiquitous subjects of photographs (waterfalls, old buildings, clouds, etc) I tend to be wary and hesitant. I don’t want to repeat what has already been done (an easy trap in which to fall), but would rather add to the conversation, offering something new for both myself and for the viewer. In order to do that, I need to be careful and wary. Sometimes that wariness, though, ventures into the realm of subconscious avoidance, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. No photo subject should ever be entirely off the table. Arthur was right.

In looking back at the very few waterfall photos I did make in Glacier it’s evident, at least to me and to my pal, Arthur, that they are not just about the waterfalls, not just about being pretty, but are about the greater spaces in which the waterfalls exists. A much grander and more meaningful context for the viewer.

 

 

Frame of Mind

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As some of you may know, one of our three dogs, Daisy, has been stricken with terminal cancer and is currently undergoing chemo treatment and its wicked side effect.  Her health issues began a couple of months ago, and it has been downhill ever since. Why is this relevant? Because her health deterioration began shortly before I left for my four-week artist residency in Glacier National Park and it affected my work.

While I have heard that some artists thrive in adversity, I do not. I am easily distracted (which is why I almost always photograph alone) by any external stimuli and am even made more so by situations involving family (and yes, the dogs are my family). Of course, photographing alone gives me a lot of time to think (too much) which actually makes things even worse as each worry and concern compounds into a spiral of negativity and distraction. It’s a hard thing to snap out of, and my photography suffers.

I think that, at least for me, frame of mind is one of the most important aspects of photography, or any of the other fine arts. It influences not only what I respond to but, more importantly, if I respond at all. I have had experiences, when photographing as well as in real life, where I have spent an entire day, sometimes more, where I simply could not get some distraction out of my head, could not concentrate, thus the openings to my heart and mind were closed. The world went by in a sort of hazy blur, and any photographs I might have made were done by force, thus were shallow and uncompelling.

Of course, it may be that I am the only one who is so negatively affected by such external stimuli. Perhaps I am too sensitive, or defensive, or my mind is weak and feeble (as the grammatical and spelling mistakes may attest). But, I don’t think I am alone. I think it’s a common malady for those of us in the arts. It’s an occupational hazard we must endure.

As for the artist residency, it was a great experience overall and I have some nice images to share, despite my periodic sensitivity to distractions. Would I have been more productive if my heart were harder and my brain stronger? Absolutely. But I am not at all sure I would like to be that guy.