When we are alienated from nature to the point that we are rapidly destroying it – the plants, soils, insects, birds, and animals – walking through nature can seem like entering another country. And going to another country can be difficult. The language , sights, sounds, and dress are foreign, strange, and unfamiliar. But entering this forgotten country with a forgotten language and rare colors can also seem hauntingly familiar, like going to a long lost home.
Entering, with a passport made only of a promise to see, I was always greeted by a trillion eyes of silent perception, never asking who “I” was, but instead gradually pulling me into a wider world of immersion and communication.
To see this country of nature, I needed many different types of lenses, similar to the multiple lenses of a bug, which allow view upon view, from every possible angle and viewpoint. One set of eyes would never be enough to see all there is to see – sights waiting to be explored and uncovered. How can I ever see enough and what would happen if I see too much and walk through a looking glass into another world altogether?
This country is warm, tropical, and never ending, only faintly explored with my relatively crude camera lens, but this country is home, infinitely friendly, consoling, enshrouding, merciful, and ecstatic.
I’ve admired the Surrealism movement of the 1920’s and thirties, not for its cynical shock value, but for its core idea that juxtaposition can alter our perceptions and create new visual experiences and thoughts. The Surrealism movement had quickly burned itself out, not because its core idea was empty, but it seemed to me to lack integration with our understanding of the wider world of art. In this failure to rest on any historic precedents, it fulfilled a very modern notion – the idea of complete originality. Like finding a true black in nature, this notion is an impossibility because it doesn’t exist. To disengage the viewer from any relationship with art history is a push toward a most modern experience of isolation and emptiness. I recently saw an exhibit at the University of Michigan Art Museum titled: Copies and Invention in East Asia (on till January 5, 2020). This exhibit challenges “ our understanding of originality, and presents copying as an act of imaginative interpretation.” Throughout the long history of Asian art, copies of a master’s work were venerated as important and valuable works of art, and the artists even went so far as to use the signature of the original artist, with the complete understanding that this was simply part of the copy. These copied works were hung in important places and honored as highly as the original work itself. It was the modern idea of originality that brought us to this distorted and floating version of surrealism.
“The Escape of Time” photo rests on the Tonalist Movement in America, roughly 1880 – 1920, with its emphasis on subtle and blended forms and colors, and placid and contemplative feeling. In an article for Artsy.net, Tonalism historian and author, David Adams Cleveland, who wrote A History of American Tonalism, describes this 1910 Charles Harry Eaton’s Reflections as a depiction of “scintilating light and a visual feeling of pulsing movement, as if the landscape is a living-breathing organism” – a quality I can only hope to achieve. But I hope to give Surrealism an historic and well understood context with which to frame the gently unexpected.
This summer of 2018 we had several stretches of 90 degree days. Temperatures somehow make it into a photo – trees and plants look bedraggled and unhappy, even the air itself trying to vanish and say little. So we felt compelled to wait for more evocative air. Our shot was to be the beautiful main building of Pierce Cedar Creek Institute. We were hoping for a dynamic sky to frame and add even more drama to the building. Finally the end of the summer approached, so I thought that the last day of summer could be a sub theme of the photo. Bravely, I titled the photo before we went out to take it: The Last Day of Summer. That meant we had to hope for a sky depicting both the oncoming fall and the departing summer on September 21: brooding clouds and a lively sun having a last conversation.
The weather report looked promising with a front moving across the area, so we headed out to observe the skies. However, when we arrived in the late afternoon, our favorite time of day for sun angles, there were many distractions in our frame, which needed to be exactly the same as our other season shots. There were painters on the veranda and a car sitting nearby in the frame. As we sat and patiently waited for the painters, the sky darkened ominously. We finally decided to leave rationalizing that well, the solstice probably technically occurred at some point the next day and we could come back.
On the drive home, I kept reviewing the sky we were missing. The dark cloud canopy seemed to be giving way to sun at least intermittently. So we turned around, determined to get this sky and hope that the painters and their car left “the frame”. When we arrived, the painters were indeed packing up, but so was our sky. We knew we had to race around the track (er trail) to get to our position. Running that hard with all of our camera gear almost guaranteed an “art attack”. With luck, we made it just in time, as the summer sun was exiting behind the dark bank of clouds. It seemed we saw that final moment when summer left, when the high sun danced away taking the hummingbirds with it. It was dramatic, it was heart stopping, and it was the last day of summer:
I was very interested in doing a vertical panorama and a boardwalk at Pierce Cedar Creek seemed to be an ideal subject. I was inspired by a vertical scroll painting at the University of Michigan Museum of art, Plum Blossoms in Snow, by Asian artists Chang Ku-nien and Chen Shu-chen and thought it was was exquisite. There is something so dramatic about their use of the vertical which engages physical movement of the viewer and tells a story. Here is the painting and text description from the U of M Museum of art:
We went out around 6PM on a sunny day to find a long piece of boardwalk. We found a somewhat long but uneventful stretch and I tried to wring out something interesting with a few photos. However, any drama would have to come from Bob in post processing. (Bigfoot anyone?)
Bob suggested another boardwalk on another trail and we soon turned a corner to find a beautiful long boardwalk with the sun at the end spilling down the boards. It seemed like a gift — we took several sets at different settings to make sure we like our interpretation of what we saw. The result is below: