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A Separate Reality

It has been well documented that color steals the show when it comes to viewing a photograph. I have written about this previously, but as I have evolved as an artist, my ideas concerning visualization have also progressed. When you look at the two versions of the image below, what is the thing that grabs your attention? What is it that makes one version better or more visually pleasing to you? Do you have the same emotional response to both, or do they each evoke a different reaction?

Treeline

I love the shade of green in the color photograph. All the variations of shading change subtly from one tone to the next, the trees in the background are almost an afterthought. It is a relatively peaceful image.

Treeline-B&W

The second version is rendered in black and white. There is more tension between the elements because the background trees are no longer visually less dominant. Their repetitive verticality vies for attention with the more random shapes and lines in the False Hellebore in the foreground. The contrast in tonality is also more obvious in the second version, making the image more visually aggressive.

I don’t mean to say that the black and white image is more successful in portraying the feeling I had when I recorded the scene, I am just pointing out that each version places more emphasis on certain elements in the composition. The result is two separate realities (apologies to Carlos Castaneda) that convey two different emotional responses to the same subject.

 

 

Splendid Isolation

Jack London said: “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a stick!”. My stick is solitude, or more precisely, a place where solitude is possible. Usually I am with one or more companions, whether they be clients on a tour, or a like minded friend, but the main ingredient, the thing that makes it possible for me to fly off to a world of my own lies not in the absence of company, but rather in the absence of barriers.
Not-All-Who-Wander

If I make an image that portrays the illusion, I have accomplished my goal. In fact, there are times that a human figure is essential to complete the composition. An inanimate object can also serve to convey the feeling of isolation by providing something for the viewer to empathize with:

Basking-In-Solitude

A weathered fence post in the midst of multi-colored badlands…

Viaje-De-La-Muerte

or a horse skull perched on the edge of a labyrinthine wash. These anchors add a sense of scale to the image, and allow the viewer to immerse herself in the “splendid isolation” of the environment.

Sanding The Stone

 

Telling a story about a place using images isn’t necessarily as straightforward as it may seem. There are many layers of information; some need to be added to, others subtracted from. In the case of the badlands of the San Juan Basin, the latter is the case.

Leftovers-Sepia

The landscape itself is in fact formed by subtraction. It is eroded by the force of wind, and water over time. Things are not always as they appear. The tree trunk in the first image is no longer composed of wood; it has, over time, become transformed by minerals that replaced the dead organic matter, making it a petrified semblance of its former self.

Tablelands-Sepia

This layered channel sandstone was infused with minerals which leeched into the ground making it harder than the surrounding matrix. As the accumulated sedimentation eroded, the harder stone was left exposed.

Much like the landscape, these photographs were created by removing some of the information, more specifically, the color. A black and white image presents the bare bones of the subject and allows the viewer to see the underlying structure.

A-Piece-Of-Time-B&W

Most of us are subconsciously influenced by colors. We make associations between colors and a certain emotion or mood, so removing the color eliminates the preconceived idea, which in turn leaves us free to experience an image in a more visceral way.

Recently-Emerged-Sepia

The badlands are a visual experience; the textures, shapes, and patterns inherent in the stone and clay are extraordinarily diverse. So, whether the image is one of more intimate proportions as in this photograph of a small alcove in Ah Shi Sle Pah, or of a grander scale like the image of the Bisti Arch shown below, the simplicity of the black and white image allows the landscape to stand on its own merits.

The-Eye-Of-The-Storm-Sepia

And while the yellows, reds, browns, greens and magentas which paint these amazing places with an astounding palette, play a role in telling the whole story, the absence of those colors conveys the essence of their austere beauty.

Bosque Annual

This is actually old news; the images in  this post were made in November. Other things have come and intervened and gone, so I am catching up with the past. One thing about photographing at Bosque del Apache: you never know what you’ll come away with.

Two-Cranes

Last year (2012) it was cold at sunrise; it took nearly four hours for all the birds to leave the pond. This year was different, with the temperatures barely below freezing, they were off the pond in less than two hours. So, things were happening pretty fast. These two sandhill cranes are in the process of taking off from the Chupadera Pond.

Rorschach-Sunset

On the first evening, we photographed the fly in from the Flight Deck Pond. While we were waiting for the birds to arrive, I noticed these trees near the pond being lit by the setting sun. The water was still and smooth as glass. Another rorschach image.

A-Quick-Bite

I am a creature of habit I suppose. I have a routine that I follow while at the Bosque. When the morning fly out is over, I take a leisurely drive around both tour loops just to see what I can see. It’s on this drive that I usually find the herons, and this year I was not disappointed. I made this image of one catching his morning meal in the diversion channel on the west side of the refuge.

Bosque-Morning

After crossing to the east side at the southern end of the loop, we came across this idyllic scene. The San Mateo Mountains provided just the right background the heron in the foreground was an added bonus.

In-The-Moment

These final images pretty much sum up the reasons I make my annual sojourn to Bosque del Apache: sandhill cranes and great blue herons.

Great-Blue-Heron-2

They live in the wild, but at places like the Bosque where they are protected, we can rub elbows with them and catch a glimpse into their lives. I can’t imagine a life without a connection to such untamed beauty.

The Intentional Image

I am a photographer, I consider myself an artist. I don’t want to take pretty pictures. I strive to make moving images. A deep green reservoir and a late winter storm moving across distant mesas,

Storm-Over-Abiquiu

or a lone tree trapped in its winter slumber while light dances on a faraway butte, I had an emotional response to these encounters.  As a photographer and an artist, I want to capture not just the way these things appear, but the way these things feel. For me, the making of an image does not stop after the shutter is released. I am not one of those photographers that proudly proclaim that they only strive to capture the image the way it was; total objectivity and nothing less.

Evening-Rio-Puerco-Valley

Art is not objective. By its very nature, it must be more than that. The artist attempts to convey a certain feeling to those who view his work. This can only be achieved by making an image that is more than just a representation of a scene. To do this requires what some condescendingly call “manipulation”. I call it creating the image and I will make no apologies for that.

Imagine a watering hole miles from any village or human activity. Now imagine a bovine visitor that plods through the dry, cracked, yet still soft earth that lines the edges of the oasis. The sky is overcast and the light, while soft, still shapes the edges of the cracks and lends a beautiful glow to the surface of the moving water.

Earth,-Water,-Sky

In order to make these things tangible within the constraints of a two dimensional photographic image, some work must be done beyond the framing, composition, and exposure that make up the original capture. There must be some intention to the final outcome

There are many circumstances where I am challenged to make an image that is different from those that came before. From an oft viewed roadside scene to a sudden ethereal display of atmospheric magnitude, the real challenge is not just to capture a technically acceptable representation of  that scene or phenomena, or to use some cliche template to compose it, the challenge is to render it in a way that is unique to my vision.

Soda-Dam-2

By doing so, I hope to evoke some response to my work, to kindle in the viewer an appreciation of the world beyond the pavement where they may never have been, or where they may have been, but have never really seen.

The-Road-To-The-Mitten

In one of his contributions to Eliot Porter’s book “The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon On The Colorado”, Frank Waters wrote: “We measure minutes, the river ignores millennia.” And, although he was referring to the Colorado River, we can still make the same statement about any river. They carve and shape the lands they flow through not judging or playing favorites, and at times they provide a striking contrast to the arid environment that borders their banks.

Flowing-Into-The-Light

The  Rio Chama is such a river. It makes its way through north-central New Mexico flowing past some remote, but memorable scenery along the journey to its confluence with the Rio Grande. If you throw in just the right amount of foreboding skies and ethereal light, the scene becomes magical. It is my job to capture that magic and to cause those who view my image to be drawn in by it, to wonder what may lie beyond that bend. I hope I have succeeded. 

Horsein’ Around

What promised to be a day of amazing atmospheric conditions and light came with an unexpected bonus during a recent trip to the Rio Puerco Valley. Those of you who are familiar with my work know that this is one of my favorite locations.

Near-Cerro-Cuate

We were looking for something a little different, but, after all, how often can you visit one place and expect to come up with something fresh? I made a turn onto a side road that I had driven past many times; it headed off across a low mesa toward the double peaked Cerro Cuate. Out of nowhere came a small herd of horses. We could see by their brands that they were not wild. Their gregarious nature confirmed it.

Woman-Whisperer

Fast-Friends

One horse in particular took to Robin and she was enchanted.

Neck-and-Neck

As we wandered around the fringes of the band, they went about their business. These three stuck together and moved a short distance away from the two more friendly members of the group. Although I am no expert on horses or their behavior, I’m pretty sure they are mares.

Family-Portrait

I was amazed by the relaxed, friendly demeanor of these gentle animals. They are obviously used to being around people. These two struck a familial pose for me.

Cabezon-Horses

Horseplay

With the volcanic neck of Cabezon as a backdrop, these two males (I didn’t get close enough to be able to tell if they are stallions or geldings) proceeded to play with each other as if they were showing off.

Equus-Cabezon

In all, we spent about forty-five minutes with our new-found friends working the horses as I would a model in a portrait shoot. I was looking for something as I photographed and when I saw this frame I realized that this was it.

Just Up (Or Down) The Road

I live in a wondrous place. The problem I have is that, being surrounded by beauty has made me a little thick-skinned; I guess you could say that  I take it all for granted. So, I am putting my thoughts down in words accompanied by images, not so much to convince anyone else, but to remind myself.

Cattails-Fenton-Lake

Fenton Lake is a small (less than 40 acres) manmade lake which was formed by construction of an earthen dam on the Rio Cebolla. The Cebolla itself is not really a river by most standards; it is, at most, three feet wide along most of its length. But, here in New Mexico, it qualifies. I made this image on a dark day. I was standing amongst the cattails at the north end of the lake. The ridge line  to the southeast burned during the Lake Fire in 2002.

Battleship-Rock

One of the most recognizable and well known features in the Jemez Valley is Battleship Rock. It is composed of rhyolite and was formed when the volcano that shaped the present-day Jemez Mountains erupted for the final (hopefully) time, the ash and lava flowed into a box canyon; when it cooled the rock filled the canyon and as the softer earth eroded away, the monolith was left exposed.

Jemez-Springs-Twilight

Jemez Springs is a small village (population: 250) that lies in the heart of San Antonio Canyon–the canyon formed by the Jemez River. Not much has changed, visually anyway, since I first came here in 1977. This is a typical mid-week, January evening.

Hwy-4-San-Diego-Canyon

New Mexico Highway 4 runs through San Antonio Canyon for about thirty miles before climbing onto the flanks of the Valle Grande and continuing across the mountain to Los Alamos (yes that Los Alamos: home of the atomic bomb). This stretch of the highway is about five miles south of Jemez Springs.

Gilman-Tunnels-2

In the early years of the last century, there was an extensive logging operation in the Jemez Mountains. The logging company used a train to haul the logs to a mill in Gilman. They bored two tunnels through the solid granite that transects the Guadalupe Box and when the logging declined, the tracks were replaced by a road–New Mexico SR 485–which provides access to the Santa Fe National Forest. Some may recognize the tunnels from the role they played in the film “3:10 To Yuma”

Soda-Dam-3

The Jemez River cuts through Soda Dam, a large, seven thousand year old calcium carbonate formation left behind by a small, unassuming hot-spring next to Highway 4. It is located about three hundred yards from my door and is a huge tourist attraction as well as being the swimming hole for local youngsters.

Soda-Dam-2

The second image provides a better view of the river flowing through the “dam”, and of the swimming hole; the kids jump from the sides into the plunge pool. When the New Mexico Highway Department blasted through the formation to improve Highway 4, the building process was interrupted, and the dam has been eroding since then.

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