On Second Thought

Half a dozen years ago, I was driving home after a commissioned photo shoot in rural North Dakota when, many miles in front of me, I noticed a long line if distant and compelling clouds. They were moving fairly quickly from left to right so, if I wanted the peak of the clouds above the roadway, which I did, I had to move fast. I stopped (duh!), jumped out of the car and quickly set up the tripod and camera (which is why it is important to intimately know your gear) and, waiting a few seconds for an important cloud shadow to move further down the road, made this exposure. I knew I had something special.

080613 RoadCloudInitial cropped version of “Road to Eternity”

While I remember, clearly, what I was I was thinking when the shutter snapped, my motivations for processing and cropping are lost forever. What I do know is that I removed the top 40% of the frame. What I do not know is why.

I became reacquainted with this photograph while making image selections for a magazine submission (fingers crossed!). I have always liked it, but over the years it had lost some of its appeal. When I saw it in the files last week, I realized why. The crop. The crop was drastic and, while it served to emphasize the juxtaposition of the lyrical, textured clouds and the straight-edged road, it failed to include enough atmosphere. I call this image “Road to Eternity” or, alternatively, “Road to Infinity”, depending on my mood. However, the initial crop removed the bulk of the negative space, and with it the illusion (reality?) of “eternity” or “infinity.” The long, horizontal shape became more about the flatness and emptiness of the surrounding plains rather than the straight, seemingly endless, roadway receding into the clouds.

080613 RoadToEternity_NorthDakotaNewly uncropped version of “Road to Eternity”

So, I took another crack at it. This time I left the frame uncropped and gave a bit more presence to the foreground roadway. Now, with the added space at the top of the frame, it says “eternity” or “infinity”, depending on my mood, of course. It is a much more powerful and vast image and, I think, one which compels the viewer to think of things much greater than us.

I encourage everyone to revisit older images. Use your refined vision and improved techniques to present older work in a stronger light. Never be afraid to say you were wrong. It’s just one way we can prove that we are better than we were. And that is a very good thing.

My Privilege

130606_FourPolesNoWire_LaramieCountyWYFour Poles, Laramie County, Wyoming

I don’t think it’s much of a secret that I am speaking at the 2015 Moab Photography Symposium this spring (April 30 – May 3). Lawd knows I’ve mentioned it enough over the past few weeks both in social media and on my website (and once to a lady standing in line at the grocery store). This is a big deal for me. Not because I am a speaker, I have given lots of talks and enjoy large audiences, but rather because I will be presenting alongside esteemed photographers whom I consider friends—Michael Gordon, Guy Tal, Colleen Miniuk-Sperry—and someone I consider a true modern master, Charles Cramer. I have never met Charles face-to-face, but owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Many years ago he reviewed some of my work, a small portfolio of northern plains images. The 30 short minutes we spent talking on the phone, my first ever professional review, was intensely educational and inspirational and had a profound effect on my photography. I owe him a great deal.

And now I am presenting alongside him. That is insanely cool.

But there’s more. I had know of, and truly respected, the work of Guy Tal and Michael Gordon long before I ever met them. They are both as approachable and wonderful as their work (which is a good thing as butthole photographers make it hard to appreciated their work). It will be an honor to be on stage with them.

I don’t yet personally know Colleen (although she flirts with me all the time online) or Bruce Hucko, master of the symposium and the poor guy who had to endure my pathetic sobbing as I begged to participate in the symposium, but am sure we will become good friends.

It is always an honor to be asked to speak to a group of photographers, but this event will be even more special as I will be among fellow landscape photographers whom I have admired and respected for years.

 

Reading is Fundamental

What if esteemed landscape photographer Michael Kenna did a wonderful interview and nobody bothered to read it? Well, it happened. In part, at least. The Curious Animal website recently interviewed Kenna about his life as an artist, in which we were offered some very good insights and observations about his life as an artist—sacrifice, connection, solitude, inspiration, passion, self-influence, spontaneity, spirituality, etc. However, the simple minds of the Internet, of which there are many, latched onto a single comment from the entire interview: “I just don’t believe anything I see anymore” and a single word, “reality.”

120518_PatriotTrailer_MedicineBowWYPatriot Trailer, Medicine Bow, Wyoming

The filmers raised their shutter fingers into the air in solidarity and support, the pixelers raised their fists in defiance and derision. Few could be bothered to read between the lines or to try and understand what he was really saying, and why. Instead, reactions were irrational and hasty, the rest of the interview forgotten. They argue biases and semantics, as if either is concrete or true, and learned nothing.

I doubt any of this bothers Kenna much, if he is even aware. He’s one of the most successful landscape photographers working today, and he accomplished that status with his photography, not marketing prowess. A great rarity, nowadays. He’s above the din. Above the pettiness.

I encourage you to either read, or reread the interview. Glean what you can about his creative process and his life as an artist—the sacrifices, the connections, the passion. Become inspired. Become enlightened. Become appreciative. But do not, under any circumstances, become focused that one, single, unimportant, meaningless, and useless sentence.