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Category: The Crescents

Vivat Rex

Lake Crescent, North Shore, October, 2007

Lake Crescent is sometimes called an inland fjord. The depths almost equal the heights around it, rather like a dark, taciturn twin- so deep that the seasons hardly register in the coldness of the water. The lake margins shimmer in a kaleidoscopic emerald hue that’s hard to resist on a hot summer day, but the overall trend is to purpley-blues as the cold and deep compound. In the winter, storms slough off vegetation, talus and clay-slick land alike as the volume of snow melt and rain destabilizes the slopes and undermines the shoreline, toppling alder, maple, fir, cedar and madrone indiscriminately. It’s little wonder the highest surrounding peak is called Storm King.

Such a victim from winters passed, it amazes me that this tree is still alive. I checked this week and it’s budding out. Unceremonious, casual, as if it could be no other way.


A rare shot in open sunlight for me. I tend to retreat into the darker forest when the sun is high. The sun intimidates me a little. There is no wiggle room in full noon day.

But this was worth the risk, even though I distrust lake reflection images as a rule. What’s the gig beyond the symmetry and serenity? The log breaks the surface tension of the water and stirs it’s depths at the same time, so I can be skeptical of the log instead, standing on it with all my gear, two legs of the tripod in the icy water, heart racing.

Masks, casts and little straws

Crescent Beach, February 2006

I try to resist talking about gear too much here, I know it must be a terrible bore for non-photographers. But before I built my 5×12 camera I masked off my 4×5 camera to the same ratio to see how much I would like it, and spent several months with it. It’s quite an undertaking to build a camera. Especially with an exotic format like 5×12- I would have to build the film holders as well. I wanted to make extra sure I would actually use it before I started the project. It wasn’t enough to crop from 4×5- my brain doesn’t work that way. So I made one mask for the ground glass and a matching one to insert into the film holder.

I’m a big fan of cinema, so it wasn’t hard to fall right in to a 2.4:1 format- which is essentially the same as wide screen letterbox. Something about the long and skinny of it really draws out the geometry of most compositions. Nature is…well, meandering. I like to reign in boundaries before chaos takes root. This early shot was one of the first panoramas I took and I was hooked. I love the simple lines of it, the solid ingot of rock and the puckered almost magnetic flow of the water around it; the land barely distinguished by a slender thread of shadow and highlight.

Ironically, I wasn’t able to start on the camera until I temporarily disabled myself. It was such a joy using the masked 4×5 that I probably never would have made a 5×12. I severely sprained an ankle at work and that gave me the time to get started, since I was unable to get out even on the simplest trails- even with the little cast they gave me that you inflate with a straw. But it was enough to get me hobbling around the shop and milling the pieces, provided I puff into the cast on occasion.

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!

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.