20 July 2009

Lines, Angles and Patterns

I was either 3 hours too late or several hours too early -- depending upon one's perspective and preference -- to catch Lake Blanche with a gentle photographer's light. Starting later than expected, I knew that as pretty a sight as it would be, the lake and looming Sundial Peak would also be cast in the particularly harsh glare of mid-day sun and shadows. It wouldn't help that the lake basin framed by Superior, Sundial and Dromedary Peaks was also north facing, meaning shooting into the sun was de rigueur. Naturally, it was also the hottest day of the year. What was I thinking?, I thought.

The original plan was to meet the newly joined Wasatch Camera Club up at Albion basin for a short hike amongst the wildflowers. I daddled and missed the cut-off for that group venture so instead opted to check out the wildflowers up Mill B South Fork. And, were they ever out! A long wet Spring has given us a multitude of flowers this year. I could have used my friend Gitte -- with her ever-present flower book -- to help me name the various varieties. Indian paintbrush, fields of yellow sunflower-like flowers, lots of small purple blooms and my favorite, the bright magenta-ish pink of the wild rose.

My hope was to capture some long depth-of-field shots with flowers in the foreground, lakes in the middle distance and high peaks in the distance. The tough and in the end rather uninteresting lighting yields only so-so results.

Even with the sun to my side and a nice refreshing spray of a waterfall, the light remains challenging and photographically mildly unappetizing.

What to do, what to do? If the big vista just won't work for you, look earthward; look for lines, angles and patterns. They abound, if you open your eyes. Sometimes you have to see "small," meaning below your feet. In this case, just off the trail crest to the west is a remarkable series of boulder outcroppings. Criss-crossing them are a plethora of glacial scrapings. Over 10,000 years ago glaciers "poured" down the valleys of most North American mountains and, once receded, left behind remarkable signs for scientists and photographers alike. These deep lines are the gouges of moving rocks upon stationary rocks, with the added weight of thousands of tons of deep ice. Crouching at a low angle, almost laying down, the lines and patterns revealed themselves in this worm's eye view.
For me, this becomes the "winner" image of the day: a B&W abstract of patterns cut into solid rock. Knowing what caused these etchings adds to our intellectual understanding of the image and so helps define it as a document. But to move beyond mere documentation, it must be able to stand on its own, without intellectual baggage. Perhaps this is a subject for another post!

09 July 2009


The struggle for many photographers is to shoot something truly unique.

Let's put aside the epistemological argument that creativity is an iterative process; that all artists -- whether consciously or not -- are influenced by predecessors; that nothing is born of the pure ether. The uniqueness I'm talking about is the opposite of the hundred photos of Antelope Canyon with a shaft of light, the thousands of images of Delicate Arch framing the La Sal mountains, the countless shots of the Eiffel Tower at night (or during the day!) or the Taj Mahal receding from view, reflected in its pool of water. Many of these images are wonderful works, technical mini masterpieces. But, we have seen them so many times, over and over, with little variation. Does that mean a fine art photographer should never venture to a slot canyon, Arches National Park, Paris or to Agra, India. No, but to capture something different from standard stock images he/she must think and see different. This difference can create uniqueness of an otherwise iconic and oft-replicated scene or landmark. The highest compliments I have been paid -- from several photographers -- were variations of: "you know I have seen this shot many times, but never like this." Light, positioning, technique, composition, can all contribute to changing a "been there, seen that" shot to something unique.

Then along comes someone who takes the noun
unique to new levels. Take a look at the image with this post...what do you make of it? Do you know what it is? Do you have any clue how it was created? Do you like it? Have you seen anything like it before? If you answered 'no' to the last question, you are only partially correct. If you have ever seen a part of your body (or perhaps someone else's) x-rayed, you are half way there. This image is an example of Albert Koetsier's x-ray photography or x-rayography as he calls it. He has created something fresh via the x-raying of fairly mundane natural objects (small shells, leaves, ferns, flowers and the like). After printing the images, some he has hand-painted ala the turn of the (19th) century technique of hand-tinted photographs. While the colored images are beautiful in their own right, I prefer the simplicity of the stark and elegant B&W renderings. Regardless of your preference, Mr. Koetsier has taken a purely scientific craft and elevated it to Art and in the process created something we can truly call unique. Check his work out at Beyond Light.

07 July 2009

What if the Great Salt Lake was the Great Fresh Lake?

For one thing it would be doubtful that Robert Smithson would have created one of the world's most famous examples of the art form known as "earthscapes." Now that the Spiral Jetty is again exposed, after almost two decades of submersion, it is hard to envision it without the patina of salt. Surely Mr. Smithson anticipated that?

What other changes would be engendered with a fresh water lake of this size? Fish, fishermen, fishing industry; homes, condos, building industry; water skis, jet skis, water sports industry; casinos, resorts, entertainment industry. Get the drift? Tahoe is a 1st class beautiful lake. It would be even more so without the elongated megaplex known as South Shore.

Of course Tahoe is an alpine lake and the GSL is quite obviously not. Look further to the west, into neighboring Nevada and you find another desert sea, Pyramid Lake. This lake is only slightly alkali, has some wonderful and tasty fish (cutthroat trout), a few fishermen, occasional noisy jetboats and water skiers, but is not built up and has only minimal facilities. Why? Because the lake is 100% on a Paiute Indian reservation and despite the tantalizing dollars dangling in front of the tribes' eyes by speculators and casino moguls, the answer has always been 'no.' The Indians have permitted only basic, controlled change and consequently have protected the land (and the lake) from the untrammelled sprawl that seems to bedevil many fresh water bodies of water. If the GSL was a fresh water lake (as it was some 10,000 years ago), without the protective presence of an Indian reservation (or Wilderness Area), I suspect the shoreline would look quite different today.

Sure, it would have been nice to take a cooling dip in the lake last week when I was at the Spiral Jetty. After all, it was around 90F and at times the sun was beating down quite mercilessly. The water was a pinkish hue caused by blooming algae but squinting ones' eyes, one could easily have imagined how pleasant it would have been to wade into a blue sea, with flights of pelicans wheeling overhead. Refreshing yes, but I judge the price too high.

01 July 2009

"Can't we all just get along?"

Originally uploaded by clayhaus
...or: Runners, Bikers, Hikers and Dogs don't have to always be on a collision course.

Today was the first day that the local canyon of Millcreek was open all the way to the end of the road. It also being an odd-numbered day, dogs ARE allowed off-leash on the upper canyon trails. The weather was beautiful, my daughter was in town with her little dog, and I thought that it was a perfect day to introduce our 9 month old Golden Retriever puppy to the joys of a hike followed by a swim in the aptly named Dog Lake.

But for some people the words perfect and pleasant apparently can't be used in the same day. A couple of "on-a-mission" runners run past us, ignore our "hello" and instead throw a "I thought this was a leash area!" snappishly over their shoulders. My daughter responds: "On odd-days, dogs can be off-leash." They respond: "Well, you need to control them...they made me slow down!" As Steve Martin used to say: "Well, Excusssssssse me!" I mean, cry me a river...they had to slow down. Their times might have been off, a few seconds or maybe even more! Gads! The planet almost tumbled off of its axis, or so it might seem. What if it had been three 2-year children milling about excitedly on the trail rather than three childish dogs? Would they have been as boorish? Could they have at least recognized that the hikers and dogs on the same path are also having a good time? Could they have acknowledged that their (off-lease) facts were actually 180 degrees incorrect, instead mounting a spin?

A short time after this little incident, 5 bikers cross our path. Now the other thing about odd-numbered days up this canyon is that on those days NO mountain bikes are permitted. So what were these folks thinking? After saying hello I asked the lead biker if he knew it was an odd-numbered day. He was apologetic and mumbled something about forgetting (the usual excuse I have heard on this trail). I acknowledged his response, said hello to the rest of his party as they passed, and nobody to my knowledge had any reason to feel angry or put-out.

Moral (that I tell myself many times!): It's not what happens to you, its how you response to what happens to you.