May 2020

“Looking is a casual visual encounter, seeing is the very beginning of a beautiful experiential relationship.”

Abner Prior

I’ve always loved the phrase: “what the road passes by”, as its such an apt, if not poetic description of the continuum of our unfolding life, as revealed in our life’s experiences, one flowing into another. Do we pass by that which we see, in a hurry to get to a new place down that road, without receiving what this place has to share with us, that our life now has more meaning through greater awareness?

Said Robertson Davies: “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” On our road, awareness expands with each new realization we encounter, for moments of realization and the greater awareness they engender, build one upon another, as the bird builds its nest, laying one twig and loose feather at a time.

As I so often state, my photographic modus operandi consists to a large extend of photographing places accessible by a road of one sort or another, although, many times requiring a four wheel drive, Some would say that I miss all that is only accessible by foot, and while that’s true, most of the time, I’m not after a a location, I’m after the compositional building blocks of expressive photographic elements: line, shape, color, hue, texture, pattern, light, and metaphoric content. And as such, these things are available to one wherever they might turn their gaze. And, in the case of shooting trees, and open areas, I have a clear and unobstructed view, and not I one I have to bushwhack to! All this said, here are some of my most memorable moments on the road I passed by.

While I love to photograph the brilliant and luminous colors at autumn’s peak, my favorite time is actually in late autumn, when leaves have mostly fallen, and those that remain and the foliage around them have now gracefully transitioned from their intense primary colors, and into more subtle gradations of more subdued hues on their way to letting go into winter. Like a symphonic passage played at triple forte, rich, saturated colors can be exciting to experience in the finished image. However, in the more subtle and subdued hues of color, like the quieter dynamics of pianissimo and double pianissimo, does greater emotive expression lie.

Mt. Loop Highway #1, Washington State
Mt. Loop Highway #2, Washington State

These two were taken only miles and minutes apart, yet, both share some of the slight blue cast typical of light in shadow. The mossy maple tree along the river is surrounded by the now bare branches of the underbrush. Their rusty red color represent a noticeable color contrast with the cooler, bluish background of alders in shadow and the conifer forest across the river. It is this color contrast which drives the intent and expression of the capture. On the other hand, the other forest of moss covered red alder dominate the majority of the image, with only a small, but brilliant splash of remaining autumn color in the distance. Both drew my attention, as both possessed similar but unique color palettes that spoke to me like two different movements of the same symphony. This, to me, is a wonderful example of how what the road passes by often represents a continuum of character and revelation.

Pentax 67, 135mm Lens. Velvia Film

Highway 20, Washington State

This roadside shot was taken on a different day later in the fall, on another road in the North Cascades. As it was shot in the open, and not in shade, the overall color cast is somewhat warmer, with the bare forest in the distance adding a nice subtle backdrop of light magenta. When assessing a scene in consideration, I pay as much, or even more, attention to the background, as it will be the textures and hues they present, that will not only give depth to the image, but help set off the main subject matter in the composition. It is the overall muted hues which give this image its mood and resulting expressive qualities. I like to think of the colors in this image as nuanced pianissimo.

Pentax 67, 135mm Lens. Velvia Film

Franconia Notch, New Hampshire

I photographed this image from the roadside in the Franconia Notch mountain pass, in New Hampshire, in mid-October. Although, unlike the other images above, this image contains a few primary colors, I include it to demonstrate, how, given the right light and elemental conditions, here, for example, the snow, primary colors can themselves be muted somewhat, and create a more compelling and nuanced expression. I was really drawn to this scene because of the wonderful contrast of the vertical movement of the trees, against the the flurry of autumn colors. Had these dark and contrasting tree forms, not been so visible, the image would have been much less expressive to me, for images with just bunches of brilliant color don’t really say much to me, other than, well,  bunches of brilliant, pretty, colors. And, during the autumn, those can be found anywhere. As such, it is precisely this compositional contrast which imbues the image with life and meaning. This is a concept I call: “The Consciousness of Creativity.” It is a fundamental concept that means the awareness and application of one’s conscious intention in creating the image, that yields the greatest creative expression, and substance to the work at hand. This applies not only to photography, but art in any form. This is a concept that I will use quite often in upcoming articles and posts.

Pentax 67, 135mm Lens. Velvia Film

Oneonta Creek, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

This image of Oneonta Creek in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, was  taken from a road bridge in the middle of December. Late in autumn now, all autumn foliage is gone, but what is so striking is the extraordinary amount of elemental color inherent in this landscape. With no foliage to dress the banks and hillsides of this canyon, we are treated to a wonderful palette of off-primary hues, and the incredible amount of detail everywhere the eye wanders. The contrast of color and texture in the river, creates a dynamic visual tension with everything else in the scene and, as such, brings movement and energy to the composition. One can almost hear the lively double forte as the river dances by!

Canon 1DSII, 24-70mm lens at .6 sec.

Real seeing requires the immersion of all our senses in the totality of the experience of the landscape before us. And, like listening to a symphony, allow ourselves to be caught up in and moved along by the expressive power of its color dynamics.