Friday, April 22, 2011

Half Dome, Yosemite

To celebrate Earth Day, I share one of my photos of Half Dome. This is taken from the side that doesn't show up in photos very often.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Seeing Nature

Early one morning, I followed the Merced River in Yosemite from Happy Isles to the big medial moraine, turned right, and headed up Tenaya Canyon. At the far end of Mirror Meadow I sat on a log by Tenaya Creek. My intention was to sit by the silent river, focus on the triangular boulder reflecting off the still water, let thoughts come and go, and wait for the sun to peak over the top of Half Dome, a mile above my head. When the light was right, I’d take black and white photos of Half Dome rising above me backlit by the sun.

When I first began taking black and whites, I quickly learned that colors do not translate to black and white film. Black and white picks up contrasts. I had to train my eyes to see the natural world differently in order to notice would show up in black and white.

Any time I go into nature from the city, I also have to refocus my eyes so that I see nature on its own terms rather than in comparison to a city landscape.

Ansel Adams was convinced that a black and white photo was different than a color photo of the same scene, a difference that went beyond the colors. Perhaps he felt that it was too easy to be misled by the colors in a photograph when composing a scene. Black and white photos capture the details, the essence of what is there, the grain, the shades of the land, the texture of reality rather than the surface flash.

Story versus images. Psychologists tell us that if a scene is green, we become peaceful. If it is red, we get excited. Colors do affect us emotionally. Have you ever noticed the difference in a friend’s face when the same photo is in black and white instead of color? It’s as if a protective covering has been removed and we can see the struggles that person has gone through.

If there is more emotion to color pictures, is there more philosophy to black and whites? Or more drama? And if writing and reading are essentially black and white affairs (black ink, white paper), do avid readers see black and white photography differently than non-readers?

John Muir’s birthday is tomorrow. He will be 173. PBS is running a good overview of his life under the American Masters heading.