New Directions: Western Landscape Photography Part 1
Today I have been living with this tree, captured originally in full color (though muted and overcast) in a forest east of the mountains. I say, “this tree,” but you, the viewer, might not be seeing the same tree I am. You might be seeing the tree on the right, scorched by fire, and interlaced with the bleached needles of a pine that may or may not see spring. I am aware of that tree also. But in the moment of stepping into this meadow what stood out against the uneven and patchy hill was the shimmering tree with yellow leaves and white bark. In a soundscape emptied of birds the wind in its leaves made the only sound.
As I go back in time to this moment the digital darkroom allows me to ask “What is this story about?” countless times, and each time to come up with a different answer. A voice I’ve heard often says “People don’t like dark. Make it light, make it hopeful.” Leonard Cohen speaks up on another station and says, helpfully “Make it darker,” as for that poet the darker the shadows the brighter the illumination. In developing a photographic print I cycle through decision after decision, undoing, saving, revisiting, doubting, knowing, unknowing. Each revision of value rewrites light’s story, saying: the point is the mountain, or the pines, or the sky. Finally it may land on this, perhaps a tale of the heroine in white, surrounded by courtiers and knights and armies in the distance.
In the forests around Yakima the shape of the aspens tug at a memory of the archaic, and make me think of Joan of Arc in a book I saw as a child. The pages of the book were engraved and brown at the edges, pungent with age. Joan sat on her horse deep in a copse, her armor camouflaged by dappled light, her sword glinting. The style was detailed, each leaf individually drawn and burnished against a pewter sky. In the grove, momentarily safe, Joan was thinking, and gathering herself. On my hikes I kept looking for her, expecting her to ride forth, tossing her hair as she leaned under a branch, turned a corner on the trail, and paused to look out into the distance. What would Joan have said? Dark or light, or a middle tone? I am not sure, but her horse would have led up the canyon into the fire, which was still smoking. [Read more…]