Sky or Water or Storm
Which will I dwell on?
Sky, that universal element of all experience
independent of place and time,
extending back to the beginning of sky, and stretching
to the end of time. The same sky,
above me despite how far I roam from my bed.
Water, also a universal element of experience.
Humans evolved from water-borne life.
Our bodies comprise some 75% water when alive
and might survive forever if dried.
And storm, growing in intensity, growing
in frequency, mighty sky swirls of water and air
plummeting fragile life on earth.
Katrina, New Orleans, brings all three together—sky, water, storm.
From my journal of July 27, 2008, Sunday, Cambridge Massachusetts
In a dream I’m teaching photography to adults, they are raptly attentive to my lecture, which is about the principle that our visual system does not equal that of the camera. Once we’ve learned the differences between how our system sees, with all its compensations, like straightening parallel lines and adjusting white balance, and how the lens, film, and sensor sees, we will be on our way to excellent photography.
Yesterday’s final of 4 summer light field trips to photograph Cape Ann west began with a near debacle. We’d shifted the meet time to 5 am, sunrise at 530, twilight at 5. Ipswich wildlife sanctuary. Wilson was to pick up me and Whitney and Brianna at 56 Brattle at 4:15. I set 2 alarms for 3. Neither woke me.
Instead I awoke in panic at 4, no time to wash, shit, eat, plan the session. Just get my ass over to the meeting spot, in the dark. Luckily the night before I’d prepared all the equipment, not the map. I arrived at about 4:17, Wilson and Whitney sitting patiently in the car. Brianna biked up. We were off.
No caffeine, no food, no shit, no written plans—a first for me leading field trips. Later I discovered that neither alarm worked, nor did my 3rd choice. I’m without an alarm unless I can press my usually unused mobile phone into service, or buy a new alarm.
Despite this rough beginning the session seemed to go well. The sky was dimly lit by 5, the ground just light enough to be able to find our way without flashlights. The earth was wet, a combination of recent rains and the morning condensation. Without any instruction from me we walked silently, led by Tom who knows the area well, down the path thru the meadow to the rockery, our first major stop. We paused at a boardwalk that allowed good access to the marsh, photographed there for our opening session. The light was still muted, soft, no shadows or highlights. By the time we reached the rockery at about 5:30-5:45 the first sunrays were hitting high branches in the forest behind the rocks.
To some extent based on our conversation the evening before during review, the assignments included: high dynamic range, finding it and working with it; considering our habits and designing methods for breaking them; wild mind photography which I demonstrated by photographing Tom by the rockery; ascertaining our strengths and weaknesses and either developing strengths or developing weaknesses; realizing what themes we might be pursuing and either drop them or expand them (this at the river site, asking for much self reflection); and notably nothing about metaphotography, people, or human impacts. Very curious that I left these out.
An implicit, usually unspoken activity was working with the special light. This morning light. The evening before during the review session I posed the question: does morning light differ from evening light? If not, why not scrap the morning plan and go during the evening? Some offered that morning light is clearer since day’s dust has settled during the night (however, on this morning a light haze or mist hung over some regions), and that the color is actually different. I suggested that psychologically there might be a difference—the day unfolding, as if a radiant vista (for morning people) or the night unfolding, as if a radiant vista (for evening people).
Highlights for me were the first several locations with the soft earliest light, photographing thru shrubbery into the light, reflections (a myriad of them, a growing habit of mine), and the watery quality of the entire region. Surrounded by water, walking over water (on boardwalks), encountering blocked trails because of high water, finding the beaver areas including what Joan called a “beaver high rise” lodge (beavers are “nature’s engineers”), ponds, and the magnificent Ipswich river (which I’ve heard at times and in spots runs dry).
Altho we’d noticed many cars in the lot, we saw no people until we returned to the lot at 9, then found about one dozen elderly folks with binoculars preparing, we heard, to search for herons.
I found I did not miss the caffeine, nor the food, nor the chance to relieve my bowels. One advantage of no caffeine was a reasonable frequency of pissing. Just once during, once after. No pressing matter. I was not hungry; in fact, the absence of food may have enhanced my photography. Reviewing what I’d made I was-am, so far, pleased. Many photos that seem unlike the ones I usually make. We’ll see, this is a snap judgment.