Category Archives: Photography
Complain we must about the rain, the clouds, the odd weather that tinkers with our plans for a picnic, wedding, campfire and fishing. The fact remains that the clouds are good for sunsets, and sunsets are good for the heart.
A sunset well executed can stop you in your tracks, make you want to pull over and point the cell phone toward the horizon in hopes of capturing sol’s soul. Even better if you happen to be at the beach. He slips behind the deck of dark clouds and thrusts the beach into premature dusk. Then, like the bride emerging from shadows and marching down the aisle, the solar ball dashes through a break in the deck and dazzles with brilliant beauty, rays and all.
Sun for light, sand for texture, water for waves and clouds for scale. We love a sunset over the city or countryside, but adore and romanticize it when day collapses on the beach, exhausted, panting, exhaling orange and red like a marathon runner gasping at the finish line as the crowd cheers the time warrior for besting the record. So it is against the thunder of applause that the sun as it sets with fingers tapping, shutters clicking, jpgs writing, lips touching …
Wind is the unseen ingredient in all this drama. It moves the clouds in place like stagehands rolling backgrounds between acts. It stirs the water into unpredictable contortions that roll and squirm and roar like tortured molecules. If you look carefully, you will see thin strands of glass pulled from the droplets; the strands last but a fraction of a second and then dissipate into froth.
All of this occurs because we are spinning and don’t even know it, because hot and cold air we can only feel are clashing and oddly enough the ball that casts light on the whole process determines what is night and what is day. It takes a bit of imagination to believe that there is significance to any of it other than another day is over, but poets find metaphor aplenty in the seeming perpetual motion of waves, mystery of sunset and landscape’s plunge into darkness.
We are not ancients pondering these enigmas, for our generation has gone far above the waves and clouds to discover the mechanism by which these things occur and developed formulae that succinctly reduce poetry and mystery to predictable events. We state to the minute when the light will depart from our gaze, but we cannot predict if the passing will be pleasant, prosaic, stunning or stupefying. Such is death. These things are up to the wind, clouds and waves. Heaven can shed its light upon Earth, but Earth ultimately decides if molten sunlight and molten water will tango, sit out the dance or even bother to play a tune. Some nights, the best we can hope for is a long sigh.
The strange thing amid all this is that when it is noon somewhere and midnight somewhere else, it is sunset yet some other place. And if I stare at a sunset in Geneva there is a throng to the east placing heads upon pillows in fledgling darkness, while those to my west are walking Pacific beaches in hope of seeing what I have already consumed. Strange thing the way stuff happens on this sphere. What if the world were really flat? Then would all of us see the same sunset at the same time, or would sunset even exist? Would sun have only two states, like a simple switch, or be more complex, like a dimmer control?
Rhetorical considerations aside, closer to home, there is an ex-lover standing next to a new love on a distant beach, holding hands, looking at the same sunset by which the two of you once swooned and loved. Some 1,500 sunsets later all of that love has come unspun and now winds itself about another heart. It is a mystery, to be sure, how things as consistent as the sun and its setting can exist for eons and faithfully perform their duties, but the human heart will have nothing to do with all that, as if it operates in a different universe. It would serve itself well to be more reliable like the sun and less fickle than the sunset, dependent upon externals like clouds, waves and wind. But that is beyond its nature, and there is no more use arguing for a predictable heart than for a predictable wave. It will crash as and where it wants and destroy and erode as it sees fit. The sun sets and that is that, accept the loss and get on with life, as we trust the sun will do, come the sunrise.
But that is whole other event.
What I did was illegal, but the misty river was sublime.
And so on the morning of October 14, 2016, I pulled off the side of Route 340 in Virginia, attached my Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 lens to my D800, and took a hike along the insanely busy highway.
I’d just crossed the Shenandoah River after spending the night in a Victorian home in Harpers Ferry W.Va. I was heading to the Potomac bridge below Harpers Ferry, where a pull-off is provided. But the Shenandoah was even lovelier with the sun starting to burn through the bank of fog that hugged the town.
So I dodged the morning commute traffic, scrambled over the concrete barrier to the bridge, walked out over the river and began shooting, all the while wondering if my car would be towed or what kind of fine I would face if tagged.
This was a labor of love. As a child I recall crossing the Shenandoah on this very bridge, my father driving, and being so impressed with river’s rugged beauty. It was nothing like the rivers back in Ohio, muddy, narrow and prosaic. Here was a river with rocks like fans, broad and dotted with islands and diverted for power. A river with a history, flowing through one of the most beautiful valleys in the East.
I returned to Harpers Ferry several times as an adult, but I never was happy with the images of this river that I captured. They never matched the magnificence of that memory from 50 years ago.
This morning, however, was different. This morning was it.
And I took the chance. I risked losing my car, a fine, embarrassment, even personal injury as I dashed through the traffic.
Those are kinds of things you do for love. When you finally find that which measures up to your memory, you risk it all.
And sometimes, some sublime moments, it is worth it all.
I made it back to the car unscathed. About a quarter mile up the road, a Virginia State Police trooper was doing speed patrol. I am glad the officer was preoccupied and didn’t notice my illegally parked car.
What we do for love, we do for beauty, we do for memory.
And sometimes all we end up with is the memory.
The day we harvested sorghum
it did not matter if the sorghum
grew on red or blue land.
The cane was green,
the community a rainbow
of calloused hands and smiles.
The sky voted for life,
the sun for abundance,
the sap for a sweet finish,
its excess cooking off
over the wood fire, late into the night,
our differences as steam
rising to the October moon.
I spent a few hours this past weekend sorting through equipment that I purchased several years ago for the freelance photography business I launched way back in 2000.
The art and retail photography markets were much more hopeful and inviting back then. Consumers had disposable income and seemed to appreciate good photography. I always enjoyed capturing the romance of weddings, the joy of children and the wisdom of the mature adult’s face on film. I needed a second income so I could give money to faith-based initiatives and put away something for retirement. So I started Feather Multimedia.
The first five years were fantastic, the business grew quickly and I was working most weekends and every night. I worked harder at that than I had at any job. I kept investing profits back into the business, but I never made enough so I could step away from the 9-9 job and do the thing I loved full time. Health insurance was one of the big issues back then … this was before Obamacare.
And then everthing went down the toilet. The recession hit. Digital cameras became commonplace and photographers with their aresenal of special lighting equipment, expensive lenses and large sensors were no longer needed, especially in an economy where discretionary income was drying up. Good enough was good enough.
I started losing some important clients, ones I had come to depend upon for paying the overhead. I started paring back, and spent the next five years divesting myself of equipment to keep pace with the overhead.
The backdrops will go out the door this week. As I packed them, I thought of the many couples, youngsters and families who had been photographed in front of them. Ditto for the light stands that held the heavy monolights and soft boxes, which delivered the smooth, face-enhancing lighting that gave my images an edge over the myriad on-the-camera flash photos.
I’m not bitter about all of this. I will soon turn 60 and, frankly, I just don’t feel like making photos of screaming kids and babies, or uncooperative, half-smashed couples. Those caveats aside, I did enjoy my years behind the wedding and portrait lenses. I loved thoses Sunday and Monday afternoons after a wedding, when the images popped up in Lightroom and I made the final tweaks to the RAW files. And I loved posting them into a gallery that was ready just 48 hours after the event, and creating multimedia shows of the wedding or photo session. Hopefully, at some point down the road, a couple who is having strife in their marriage and considering calling it quits, will look at their DVD and recall what it was that attracted them to each other in the first place. Or that mother and father will be able to pull out the slide show of their three-month-old baby and enjoy those fleeting moments again.
Nothing lasts forever, especially in this crazy, fad-driven economy. That includes the value of the artist’s work. I recently came across this blogger’s post and I could not agree more. Most consumers have no idea how much money goes into the photographer’s equipment, software, training, computers and insurances. It’s been a few years since I purchased any new photo equipment, but my guess is that Nikon is not giving away equipment; I wonder why consumers think that photos ought to be given away or no value be attached to the photographer’s time spent in getting to a location, setting up the lights, figuring out the best angles, shooting the job, loading and archiving it, processing it and burning CDs or uploading images? There are expenses every step of the way. And unfortunately photographers require food, their cars burn gasoline and they get sick and require medical tests and drugs.
I constantly see new photographers come onto the local market, and I feel sorry for them, especially when they price their work incredibly low. They are setting themselves up for failure, especially if they ever plan to grow beyond using a simple DSLR and kit zoom lens.
At least they will have some good memories when it’s time to pack up the gear and sell it to the next starry-eyed photographer.