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№75 Posts

Basalt and basalt

Crescent Bay, February 2007

Here’s a rarity for the Washington coast (interior too for that matter), basalt.. I fear rockheads won’t find much diversion around here, it’s either flood basalt or pillow basalt or columnar basalt or…Perhaps only the Moon has more basalt than Washington state.

But still the forms can be breathtaking. If given the chance, do visit the scoured alien landscape of eastern Washington- some of the columnar basalt forms along the coulees and dry falls are altogether astounding, like the work of a prehistoric race of giant freemasons. Here on the coast the rock seems to vary only in stages of erosion, like partial meltings of grander rock, but it’s saved from monotony by interactions with water and life. I don’t like treading upon the incredible habitats some of these rockforms can become since I speared a starfish once with a tripod spike, but this rock was relatively barren, almost like a dim meteor pushing through turbulent space, and seemed a reasonable metaphor for my progress in the void.

Verticals and a lazy eye

Crescent Bay, February 2007

I very much like vertical panoramas, chore that they be. I have to turn and mount my camera on its side, which is awkward at best. And usually a little alarming, especially over such a sloggy spot as this. I’m ashamed to admit that I tend to let occasions go by to spare the hassle, but this I couldn’t resist. I made two exposures of this shot; after the first I turned and noticed that a tripod leg had sunk to its first knuckle in the sand.
Local spaces are wonderful. The more often you go the more you’re rewarded. A mile from my house, it surprises me whenever I have Crescent Beach to myself, and I do very often, early and late in the day. It’s such a close, wild place. A faint scalloped departure from the heavy maritime traffic of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, so shallow you could almost wade to the horizon. When the tide is low the beach is enormous and ever changing. High bluffs and basalt shelves and a mingling of fresh and salt water in the Salt Creek delta that are habitat to bald eagles, Canada geese, great blue heron, coots, grebes, kingfishers, oystercatchers, scoters, harlequin ducks, buffleheads and myriad other birds beyond reckoning. It’s a shame is that large format work is so slow; the lid of my fastest lens shutter feels like a lazy blinking eye always well behind their movements. So I have to settle for the more sedate pace of tides and shifting sand bars.

Blind luck

Lake Crescent, North Shore, November 2007

The notion is that a large part of successful photography has to do with dumb luck. Of course, that all depends on how you define successes.

Can something so obvious ever be successful? I used to scoff at the Dramatic landscape, or at least snort at it. Much better to be there than to just see pretty pictures of it. They can be the visual equivalent of a Robert Goulet strain. If not an outright assault upon taste and reason, then at least a thorough inconveniencing. Overblown contrast, oafish light. Thrustic (if I may coin a word) geometry.

But living here on the Olympic Peninsula, well. It changes things. How can you not take a photo of this? The sun was just rising over the mountains and chasing the fog flowing into the lake and I’m surprised I didn’t fall into the lake in my haste to get set up. The great fortune of being in this scene staggered any intellectual interpretation of it. Maybe that’s good, who knows. I have since wondered how a photographer such as Robert Adams might have interpreted this scene, or if he would have at all. Maybe the art would be in leaving it be, not recording it at all, not belaboring the obvious. Perhaps my moving here and working here uncovered a fundamental laziness in my aesthetic sensibilities; just coast and let the landscape contort me to it’s liking, without much thought other than Gee. I can shrug it off as visual doggerel, downplay that I’m affected. But whatever. Involve the senses, nudge some instinctual need for loveliness, endeavor to find symbolic parallels in the human experience. Or not. There’s honesty in any reaction, even if it can’t be readily explained, or even welcomed.

… even if it’s only the dreaded Oooh, lucky shot!

They’re on the left slope

Bullman Beach, North Coast, November 2007

A iconic shape of the Straits of Juan de Fuca is the serpentine form of a cormorant. On the road to Neah Bay cormorants augment the shoreline with their all but constant flightless gliding- they aren’t flightless birds but they do look it oftentimes, sitting atop pilings and stacks, wings open and trembling in the wind like a hope that they might someday rise.

I say this and my wife says, They don’t produce the oils like a typical seabird, she says. They’re just drying themselves.

But characteristically I cant get beyond the mythic self-assigned notions, and the birds retains their doomed poetic status in me feeble pea brain.

Although right off 112 it’s an awkward place to reach. The bluff is covered in lush vegetation most of the year, such that it’s difficult to see your footing. But in winter the vine maples and alder are bare and the horsetail recedes and it’s not too difficult to ease down using a culvert sock as a rope-assist of sorts.

I keep going back, not because I want to improve on this image, though that’s certainly possible. The proximity and sharp delineation of the spot have a dropping-off feel to them, the sounds of traffic close like voices at the door of the wardrobe. It’s nice to just sit and watch the utterly silent glyph-shaped birds as they unfold and try to conjure the ether.

 

Wasted on me

Clallam Bay, October 2007

This still needs work, but it’s marginally better than the runaway crap of the overexposed, pyro streaked flarey negative I came away with. Right now I like the overblown drama of it because I rarely treat myself to such Wagnerian moods, but I’ll most likely tone it down in future versions. For now I’m enjoying the sky immensely, the converging wedges of the river and Bay and gravel bar fading into the slope of the Seiku headlands and the pale tendrils of the twilight storm…As long as I don’t look too closely at the trees…

What to do with those trees though. The pathetic wind-beaten tide-stunted spruces on the gravel bar. I have really failed them and they really were what I was after, what drew me to the scene primarily. When I was there they looked so defeated that they each seem to be leaning on the one in front, a cascading slump that really looked magnificently wasted in the gathering storm. An elegant if irrequisite surrender with still the whole night and indeed the whole winter ahead. Alas, here they just…clump.

Ah well. Overcompensate and hope for the best.

Scale issues

Rialto Beach, Mora, November 2007

If you get up early enough you get such places to yourself. I don’t know why being alone in such a place is important, but it is. You could hide an invading force in these beach logs, but still. It’s easy to get suckered into a pre-wheel mindset, a superficial loneliness that’s a matter of salt in the hair rather than the spirit, yet I get lost and baffled when I even think about it. My wife and I used to camp in such places. The sleep amongst the sounds of breakers and the siftings of cold fogs and mineral smell of salt air and wet basalt is something to be experienced. And relived; such that even inconvenience and rainy day grumpiness becomes a sweet memory.

I wonder if size every really leaves its mark here. The place is huge, but close in ways that altogether befuddling. I keep coming back up for the spectacle of the Pacific, the force entire. But it’s the smallness, the trees that are orderly even in their deadness, the gestures of sand and waves around buried logs, the blanket size patches of fog that I want to take home and print.

Drifting along the updrafts of these waters, buffered in fog like a kid in a big soft towel. Already half-gone wading in the tide. 15, 20 feet out and you are lost forever.

Bipod+tripod=?

Tongue Point, February 2008

I made a new tripod, and this craggy headland seemed a curious place to test it, over jagged basalt and rapidly rising tide. I have difficulty testing things simply, something needs to be at stake.

But the picture was hard to make for less obvious reasons. At first I liked the idea of an evolutionary tableau of amphibians emerging from the sea and facing the obstacle of stairs but I now think this appeals to me because of the reverse; a municipally-funded stairway into a treacherous primordial landscape; something on the order of This way to the spawning ooze. Use at your own risk. The spectacle is supplemented by the central hotspot suggesting a crucible of dawn, the clipping rock wall like a boundary of eras-

Irony shots, though… Whatever, bro!

I took the picture anyway.

The road away from Storm King

Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park, November 2007

Most weekends now I am spending scanning in prints and negatives. The digitization process takes a toll on the spirit of sloth, but only peripherally. I have honed a mild stupor for use when on the computer that’s relaxing on mornings after a particularly strenuous day of hiking. But it’s taking some doing to introduce any sort of productive workflow to it. But I can still drink a lot of coffee, and cycle mindlessly though my favorite spots on the web while the scanner is ticking and whirring.

Seeing a familiar print on a screen can bring mixed blessings. There is of course the immediacy of good LCD backlight, but still what’s missing is the remarkable range of a good silver print that seems to exist in it own spontaneous swale of otherwordly light. The silver seems to wink, a buckle perception.

Then there’s the niggle of its complete lack of the object. Digitization beggars the irony in a comical realm of a representation’s representation. There are no shiny bits to fondle and wax atavistic over, no apparent roots in the caves at Lascaux. I’d like to resist drawing parallels in evolution, but I will most likely succumb to the obvious abstractions of worth and possession that digitized notions like credit and online personae seem to fall under.

But posting this is a solemn commitment that I do have a print of this around here somewhere.

Flare, drama and a watery grave

Ruby Beach, February 2007

One of the most interesting things to me about B&W photography is the effective failure of flare. Contrast- and detail-wrecking casts, Dark Flare, Light Flare, tonal weakness at one end or the other. It’s necessary. It’s the weakness that seems to represent light the best but that doesn’t mean it was there. Ranging beyond a sliding tonal scale suggests backlash, a basic mechanical failure of the eye, a just-woken-up logic of impression and haze.

Perfection is polymorphically insensitive. Indeed, nothing is interesting without a touch of failure. And failure suggests perpetuity like success never can. There’s music in struggle, hollow brag with a treble of sadness, lingering in impressions if not body. You can’t kill the fool, only the sweet innocent dies.

On that note, probably the most interesting part of the image is a visual non-starter: tucked away in the salal behind the biggest of the driftlogs is a grave marker that reads Krystal, taken by the Sea 10/13/2003. God have mercy on the girl.

Mindless sentinel?

Ruby Beach, March 2008

So a family puts a red cooler down in this shot. A bulky man strolls through my field (er, it feels like mine at the moment) and oh yes he’s watching me too. Lenscap off, the darkslide pulled and extended to shade the sun like a half-caution in semaphore. It would’ve likely been a surreal scene if a third party had been there to observe it; antique photographer, modern family unit, and a desolate and blustery March sunset.

The great thing about long exposures is that there is compositional relief from the average white family with a big red cooler. Their vapors mingle with the blasted light here, nothing solid or insurmountable, and I don’t think the composition suffers for it but still my sympathies are with the rock. It seems turned away from the sea, concerned perhaps with more modest demarcations of time.