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№ 75 Posts


The walk home, May 2009

Went behind the house last weekend and tried a few vertical shots with the new camera. I’m always startled by the feature descent of this short walk. With it’s usual lack of warning the silence and darkness clamps shut, and it’s a little spooky under the darkcloth.
And notice that nowhere are the firs spared a thorough limbing, the work of some mad lopper determined to stymie the silver fir where ever he finds it, no matter how abandoned the trail. Now that I’m working again, photography is again pushed to the margins, but the parallels keep finding there way into compositions nicely.

A thrill in thinning

Snow, December 2008

I’m working again, this first week out of the holiday club is a little sobering. I joined a weatherization crew in a community action program, reinsulating low income housing. It is good steady work, and a great service besides. Yet, the anxiety somehow increases. It’s reliable thrill to see those less fortunate than yourself, seeing all the ways a life can go wrong. My heart races in some of these places, but I can’t tell if it’s in sympathy or general dread. Anyway, it reminded my of some of the winter scenes still festering in the print piles.

Miniaturization skills, and engineering reverses

Silver Fir detail, Joyce Quadrangle, March 2009

I’ve been working on a new camera, so I’m taking a small hiatus from hikes and snaps. It is another 5×12, thought hopefully will be considerably smaller and lighter than my current one- which was designed in haste for an impending trip and  erred on the side of… modularity.   Researching the format only compounded every possible contingency; I put a meter of bellows on the damn thing and rarely rack it out more than 200mm, to name one example. Most of these DNR roads just go on and on and up and up, so the lighter the much better.

In the interim, another silverfir image. Pushing it but I can’t help myself.


Post-Storm Daze, Ruby Beach, March 2009

Ruby Beach got fairly beat-up by a storm a few weeks ago. This weekend I went out for the first time since the storm and many of the great spruces that make up the battered yet stubborn treeline there finally succumbed.  The monumental Sitka Spruces are down everywhere, knocking one another down, across the trail, buried in the salal- even the lovely canopy of Slide Alder at the bottom of the trail along the creek was half uprooted.

I considered taking some ‘post ruby’ shots, but honestly was too stunned about the damage, and the windfall made any obvious approaches or re-shoots awkward. Looking over the negatives today, I’m relieved that I didn’t make any outright before and after shots, but I am disappointed overall in what I took away from the experience just the same.

The lack of my documenting this event in any significant way really put this project in a new light. I suppose the obvious extenuation would be to draw similarities with a portrait photographer coming upon a crime scene involving some regular sitters and trying to document it. You know these subjects and the violence to it is so evident and visceral there is no apparent need to document it.

Does that suggest a very superficial relationship with the subject? Perhaps just a sentimentality that’s in lockstep with the pretty, and the convenient, and the pigeonholed. Is nothing else useful? My first shot of the day didn’t even involve the treeline principally, except in brooding peripheral loom.  The shot of the forest proper is similarly veiled, both in intent and execution- even the one downed tree I managed to frame is relegated to the margins.  And  then, as if that wasn’t enough: the shot of the chronically misused crow, like the very zoomorphism of denial, turning its back on the brute continuity of it all.

Sleepers awake

Westbound Road, Joyce Quadrangle, March 2009

Staying on the  themes of the past few posts, my world is getting smaller and stranger the more I explore the peninsula. Even directly behind my house is an odd upheaval in expectation- there are these dense forests of stunted fir without ground clutter like some arid alpine thicket where the growing season only lasts 6 weeks. Completely atypical of this area, where salal, swordfern and other ground cover generally swarm with kinetic abandon. And the light is all wrong. There is a lovely diffuse glow in many of the forestes here, subalpine or rainforest; but these silver fir forests have a mono-organism austerity and darkness that borders on the fantastic. It’s almost a struggle to make these scenes look real- especially at these small sizes where the contrasts compound and the details seem to reverse into negative space. Each day there’s a new surpirse in the surrounding woods, almost as if spreading nightly in moonfed generation.

One tube wonder

Flooded Roots, Joyce Quadrangle, March 2009

I’m still having some issues with expansive highlights in carbon transfer printing, which is trypical of the process. Trying to get a single black pigmented tissue to provide highkey fogs and skies typical of my coastal work isn’t the best use of the process- imagine trying to watercolor a bright open sky with a tube of black paint. But these dark forest scapes are ideal for the process, and the range from the single tube of lamp black watercolor is suddenly astounding, which make me want to try for the open high tonal skies all over again, and so on. And so on.  I’m leaning towards trying a duotone carbon process for the highkey coastal stuff, using a seperate gray tissue and printing cycle just for the highlights, but that’s a whole new can of tedium. Almost easier to keep trying the same things and expecting different results :p

Pop. several

Logging Road, Joyce Quadrangle, March 2009

Coming back from Port Angeles yesterday I had a lucid moment driving past the Welcome to Joyce sign. For an instant things existed as they are instead of how I’ve come to think of them.  Driving past dark trailers and houses I realized how little I really know about the town and the people who live here. I’ve been here roughly 6 years.

Granted, I’m self absorbed, and have no real plans to change. Brief, perfunctory thoughts of joining the volunteer fire dept, posting handyman service flyers with tearaway phone numbers at the general store…  I really would do anything for a neighbor…but you need it when?  The fact is I’m more than a little intolerant of anything that disrupts my routines.

But now that the workfront is quiet, I’m on a stricter ration of social involvement- most of it electronic. Cell phone calls, email, etc. This sadly suits my routine- I’ve never been more productive. I’m fairly gregarious by nature so this is all new and ponderable. The romantic in me tries to despise the technology when really just dislikes the isolation.  I attempt bloated, masking macrothoughts of social engineering, evolutionary perversions through devices, consumerism and pure informational bombardment..Huxley’s new social trainee…but the truth is it’s never been easier to live in the middle of nowhere and do the sort of work that I want to do.

A minor exhaustion

Grass Splash, Joyce Quadrangle, March 2009

I watched William Eggleston in the Real World last night. I admit I’d not heard of the documentary until searching through NetFlix for a biopic on Alfred Stieglitz, but it was a nice surprise.  It starts out with Eggleston wandering around a small town in Kentucky on a photo safari of sorts at the commission of Gus Van Zant. The opening scenes and indeed the film entire are ardently low-fi; almost hesitant, handheld shots crapulent with peripheral noise and harsh light and competing on equal footing with Eggleston, yet there is a tone-perfect symmetry in Eggleston’s convalescent shuffle, subaudible drawl and the initial reluctance to haul the camera to his eye, as if first attempting to exhaust the scene’s accountability before taking the picture.

At first I thought these opening scenes were just a little stage fright. But then as later scenes unfold Eggleston remains unapologetically himself, though detours of drinking and synthesizer recitals, steadfastly uninterested in explaining away the fun of it despite the predictable toadstools of artspeak the interviewer/filmmaker tries to prompt him upon.  Eggleston at last squints, literally, though such epic premise. “Art, or what we call that, you can love it and appreciate it, but you can’t really talk about it. Doesn’t make any sense.”

I latched immediately onto this title, after originally the doc on Stieglitz, as an insight into the methods and therefor the very minds of some giant role models… I’m not sure why photographers are so fascinated by the way other photographers work. What is there, exactly,  to explain about the act of taking a photograph? The abstractions in the subject tend to fill quickly with surrogations about gear, lenses, film, etc. All so much general noise, like wind on a unsheilded mic, and just as temporal. What I like most about Eggleston’s work is it doesn’t inspire such questions in me. I’m left with only the act, the photograph, the laconia of movements and gestures that might seem to suspect the world’s design, but never its space. There’s a sense of searching for something that’s not fully known to be missing, yet the picture always seems ultimately taken as a way to catalogue this spot as having been thoroughly noted nontheless.  Each shot a mild exhaustion, then onto the next.

Postcard principles

Fresh Snow, Lyre Incline, March 2009

I tried to resist this shot, but the dogs had disappeared and I was waiting for them to return. Our newish lab still gets a bit distracted. She had this odd sort of hum and danced in place then silently disappeared into the wilderness when I turned to rest and take in the view. I should know better.  It was the first time they’ve run off, and I hate the idea of letting a couple of dogs loose on a unsuspecting habitat, especially one as new as this. This all sounds unspeakably PC, but I can’t help it- our terrier mutt still is strong with the ‘bite heads off small animals’ reflex.  So, hoarse from yelling for them, and unable to climb further in the growing dark, I waited and ultimately took the damn picture. So, maybe the cloud break represents a break in this small example of my effort to contain what I’ve opened, started, begun, and not kept in check. I’m constantly coming to grips with where my responsibilities lie, and need to stop surprising myself with it with these postcard lapses into automation. Hopefully the shot is spared prettiness by the foreground mess and devastation but I’m finding the more involved I get in the routine of this project, the shakier my judgment gets.

How much more must this poor landscape endure.

Abies amabilis

Silver Fir, March 2009

In dense thickets, the understory looks dry and dead as the light is almost completely shut out- I believe I could change out sheets of film in some of these places. This was a 3 minute exposure on a very sunny noon, to give an idea of how dark it can get. But towards the canopy, the boughs of the fir green up considerably.

I shot this more than a little unrealistically;  this is quite high key for the subject. I have been printing very dark the work from the interior, almost in direct reaction to all the open highkey work of the coastal areas. The bark of silver fir is covered with many tiny resin blisters and I love these feverblisters and the nervous threads of the limbs layered over the staggered depths of the background. Strolling along into deeper and deeper bracken, the fir-lined DNR roads start to look like some oddly scaled diorama. Colossal ferns and tiny evergreens of methusellian wither, and other such specimens that couldn’t possibly coincide with current climate conditions, but do just the same.