Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Visual Weave

Last week a good friend and exceptional writer, Jeff Rennicke, posted some new photographs he had taken of seagulls in his hometown of Bayfield, Wisconsin. The images were some of the best seagull images I've even seen. I know, you are thinking seagull photos? Well, Jeff had elevated a common subject to a new and exciting level. I wish I had one of those images here to share with you. I'll contact Jeff to see if I can't obtain one to post here later. But, I do have a comment that Jeff had written about his seagull images;

"One thing I love about photography is how it forces me to "re-look" at common things. Living in Bayfield, I've seen gulls probably every day for 20 years and they always seemed pretty common but my camera gives me a chance to "re-look" and see beyond my own ignorance."

Jeff has always had an interest in photography and has become quite an accomplished shooter.
That's a little scary for folks like myself since now he can photograph his own stories! As Jeff's vision has improved so has his excitement and motivation to carry his camera everywhere. I wrote back to Jeff responding to the quote on his posting with that photograph of seagulls;

"Hey Jeff, You've made that wonderful and important transition with your photography. The camera is no longer an instrument of recording. It has become an extension of your mind and soul. The path you take now needs to be a personal one absent of influence to reach that goal of developing a style. You are clearly on your way."

Its so exciting to see Jeff reach that level of developing a style. Photographing not only what he see's but what he feels. Like the strings on a guitar making music, his camera is now a vehicle for self expression.

So many beginning shooters are looking for the "pretty picture" and often times miss those simple details that can communicate a mood instantly right in front of them. Mark Twain's quote "You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus" has always been a favorite. As visual communicators its our mission to examine the environment around us and make choices about what and how to photograph to communicate our thoughts to an audience. Different photographers choose assorted ways to express their visions. Some focus on the broad picture, others search inside the macro approach while others might simply seek quality of light to express their visions. One of the greatest photographers living today, William Albert Allard, comments about he likes to photograph on the edge of situations. I've always found this area to rich in material as well.

Creating images for this new book, tentatively titled "PADDLE NORTH-Canoeing Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Quetico Wilderness" its been my mission to create a series of moods and informational imagery surrounding text exploring various aspects of the BWCA wilderness. First goal; not to be repetitive in any of the images. This is a difficult task considering everything takes place on and around the water. But, its those little things that bring home the BWCA experience to the reader. Sitting at a portage resting and seeing a tiny clump of water grasses reflecting on the lake, muddy footprints on the portage, fabulous clouds
competing with the tops of radical Jackpines are all ingredients for a diverse examination of this wilderness. This tiny details are the BWCA experience. Not just the pretty sunrise and sunsets. In fact, I doubt you'll see one image like that in this book. I often tell participants in my photoworkshops that at sunrise and sunsets turn your back on the sun. That's where the great light lives! Yet, another example of photographing on the edges.

Jeff and I collaborated on a wonderful book several years ago detailing life in the Apostle Islands. The book, "Jewels On The Water-Lake Superior's Apostle Islands" is a definitive
look at the Apostles and island life. I've enclosed a photo of the cover here along with a
image or two from the book. Jeff's words bring to life the Lake Superior experience that is the Apostles. Its a good example to see that those little details and moods are such an integral part of photographic coverage on any project.

I'm thrilled to have worked on this book with Jeff. Especially now that his photography
has reached new plateaus. Heck, he'll be doing his own books now!

Lastly, there are moments in a photographers journey within a project that a particular moment just cries out with relevance. So much time photographing the area in all seasons, one would thing that a cover image would emerge. Yet for me, one had not surfaced. I've shot hundreds and hundreds of fine images, all strong in their respective form of communication, but not cover worthy. Then, on my last shoot of season, sitting at a portage off the Gunflint Trail, the ground was frozen, small puddles were already icing over, one of our paddling partners was preparing to load his canoe and head out across the lake. His boat was a beautiful birch bark canoe, he was stepping towards his vessel with gorgeous light bathing the side of such a classic canoe. It was a contrasty and low light scene. I grabbed my camera and instantly knew this was a cover. The combination of light, gear, the birch bark, the angle of the lens, all spoke volumes to me about the BWCA experience. It was that romance we all seek when we go there. Seeing this scence unfold in front me completed the project for me. In 1/30th of a second I felt I had captured both the history and mood that is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Now,
I need to convince others who were less receptive to the richness in this visual moment.

Ah, the beat goes on!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter's Beauty

There's no question that I really enjoy the winter season. I grew up in Alaska so winter is nothing new to me. In fact, I embrace the winter season and feel privileged to see a full four seasons here in Minnesota.

What is it about winter that stirs something deep inside us? For me, it's a number of tiny treasures that light the soul. I think at the top of the list would be the silence that comes with winter. Snowshoeing into the BWCA on a crisp February day you can stop and hear only your heartbeat. The insulation of the snow traps the normal sounds. There are no leaves, no waves,
and few voices. Its a real treat.

Second for me is the ice. I love ice. Perhaps its a photographic thing. That translucent quality and visual pleasure that ice brings to the eyes is mesmerizing. Assorted hues and colors dance while playing off the light. That gem like sheen and softness begged to be touched. I see a broken sheet of ice sticking on a lake or shore and I make tracks right to it.

And lastly, the primeval aspects of winter stir the mind in ways non-winter climates will never showcase. Winter camping in the BWCA touches the considerations of survival. Things like wind play a huge factor in many daily decisions. The thickness of lake ice, depth of snow, and carrying of gear all contribute to how a trip will be endured. Tackling a winter camping experience is rewarding and educational on so many levels.

It would be shame if a book on the BWCA excluded the frozen season. We decided early on that a chapter on winter will part of this BWCA/Quetico book experience. We'll be focusing on dogsledding as the vehicle to take us there. With that will come excitement, silence, and textures only winter can bring on. Here's a few examples. More winter discussions to follow soon.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fall Moves Into Winter

We experienced an unusually warm November this year. I had planned on photographing someone paddling in a snowstorm but the warm and usually snowy November produced little or no snow. Then, when we did get snow but it came at night. Dang!

Right after the snows, the arctic clipper arrived, ice formed and my chance was gone. This is the way of photography. You want to be everywhere for everything. Its just not reality. Sometimes one gets away.

One that didn't get away was capturing the art of netting Whitefish in the BWCA. A practice I did not know anyone still did. After some research I found that Erik Simula still nets. I hooked up with Erik and spent two nights in the BWCA photographing the process of netting. It was great to observe and the size of the whitefish was impressive. Erik had mentioned if he got 5-6 fish he'd be really happy. I had no idea what to expect. I felt 5-6 would be a bad day. Then, I saw the size of the fish and it all made sense. Many more and it would have been difficult to haul out!

Whitefish I'm told is a rather fatty fish thus is very good for smoking the fish. Erik uses the fish he nets for food over the course of the winter. As a photographer, I couldn't have been happier to see Erik using a traditional birch bark canoe for this. It simply made the images more romantic and captured the mood of days gone by.