The Texture of Things
While in Colorado during a photo tour for sandhill cranes we took an afternoon to explore a local canyon, looking for some interesting sunset exposures. I was hiking back to the vehicles when I saw this grove of aspens next to the rock wall, the mottled surface of the trees mimicking the various tones of the granite and the trunks complementing the cracks in the stones. There's no direct sunlight here as the sun had already set behind the canyon walls - the bright areas are reflecting the clear sky above. When I saw the scene I knew it would be a black and white image, that any color would be superfluous to the scene.
As much fun as photographing wildlife can be, given the challenges of finding, approaching and composing quickly while managing the right gear, much of my most pleasant times behind the camera are with the quiet, unassuming areas of the outdoors. The grand landscape is awesome and breathtaking, but the smaller, more intimate views can be equally thrilling if you slow down and search them out. I could have easily walked right by this scene - it's just a few trees next to some broken rocks - but there was enough glow and depth as I glanced at it to stop me and make me take a longer look.
My quest for dimensionality in my images requires this type scene with layers of tones and textures I can use to compose intentional foreground and background subjects. The even lighting with just the right amount of shadows and highlights isn't as dramatic as a Grand Canyon sunset; it provides a less - shall we say - jarring impact when seen and offers a gentler invitation to the viewer to look around and explore all the aspects of the scene. As I worked on the composition and final image I saw how emphasizing the various textures found in the image really helped explain all the smooth to rough textures, why they were important to the overall image and how they describe such a world.
I used to wonder why the black and white images of the early masters were so compelling to people. I was fascinated with high contrasts that would scream out the detail in an image and the colors that dazzled the viewer. I've learned these were effects I wanted to have in order to hide my image's lack of content or story or character. The masters are teaching how the simpler images are harder to create, how you really have to study a scene to find the meaning that attracted you and that can be turned into a photograph equally enticing to other viewers.
It has never been an interest of mine to create startling or provocative images, much less photojournalism images of war or crime or terror or drama. My desire is just the opposite - the scenes people turn to in order to remove themselves from the startling or jarring or agonizing. To show there are still parts of the world we can turn to in order to find our balance once again.
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