black & white

For Drama, Move in Close to Your Subject

Agave stricta . ©Lee Anne White.

Agave stricta. ©Lee Anne White.

This striking plant is an Agave stricta, also sometimes called a hedgehog agave. I photographed it at the University of California Botanical Garden at UC/Berkeley. It was really too bright out that day to photograph broad garden scenes effectively (too much contrast, which makes a garden look harsh rather than inviting), so I moved in close and took advantage of the high-contrast lighting. Such situations also often benefit from thinking and shooting in black and white rather than in color. A tripod and small aperture allowed me to capture ample detail and depth of field.

Alone (Well, Almost) in the Bisti Wilderness

How often do you feel alone, truly alone, in the wilderness? For most of us, the answer is rarely or never. But last month, a friend and I visited the Bisti Badlands/De-na-zin Wilderness in northwestern New Mexico, and that’s how we felt (though we did, admittedly, have each other for companionship and safety reasons). We never saw another person the entire time we were exploring this wilderness area, and there wasn’t another car in the parking lot or along the several miles of unpaved road leading to the site. Our only encounter was with a rattlesnake, and thank goodness we only saw one of those!

Among protected scenic locations in the U.S., Bisti ranks among the least known. With no trails, we were thankful for GPS, which tracked our footsteps into and back out of this strange terrain (though don’t count on cell service). I started off the old-fashioned way, using a map and compass, but with the lay of the land, it was challenging to keep to any course of direction.

It’s a fascinating place. The terrain is more like what one might expect to see on the moon, and the rich, earthy colors were fantastic. There are mountain-like mounds, washes, narrow canyons, hoodoos, and strange rock formations that look like cracked eggs. Now a high desert, this was once a swamp inhabited by reptiles, dinosaurs and other creatures. At roughly 60 square miles, we didn’t begin to see it all. After more than three hours of serious hiking and rock climbing in near 100-degree heat, we decided it was time to get out of the sun and look for a cold beverage. I’d love to go back in cool weather with camping gear and a guide for an extended stay. We spent a great deal of time scrambling up and down steep hillsides on our hands and knees, and picking out routes that were often dead-ends overlooking canyons. It wasn’t an easy “walkabout.” It looked and felt more like rock climbing, and I would not have attempted this solo for safety reasons.

If you go, be forewarned: There are no facilities of any kind. Take lots of water, wear sturdy boots, and make sure you have a companion. The access roads (there are two ways to get in, including one that is considerably more remote) are located roughly an hour south of Farmington, NM, which is the nearest town with available lodging. In mid-summer and winter, be sure to check road conditions. Snow and rain can make the roads impassable.

LAYERS: As Interpreted by Women Artists of Georgia

LAYERS explores the physical process of adding media on top of media, of interpreting layers of meaning in a work of art, and of capturing layers depicted in a subject. This exhibition by the Women's Caucus for the Arts of Georgia (WCAGA) will be on display August 10 through September 26, 2014, at the Jim Cherry Learning Resource Center Gallery at Georgia Perimeter College and will feature approximately 30 artists working in a wide range of media--from painting and photography to sculpture and fiber arts. The artists reception is scheduled for September 11, from 6-8 pm.

Rio Grande Gorge, ©2014 Lee Anne White

Rio Grande Gorge, ©2014 Lee Anne White

I'll have two black-and-white photographs in the show. Both are part of an in-depth series based on my travels to northern New Mexico to explore the landscape and culture. 

The Women's Caucus for Art of Georgia (WCAGA) is a chapter of the National Women's Caucus for Art (WCA), founded in 1972 to bring women's issues to the foreground of the College Art Association (CAA) and beyond. The focus was and continues to be supporting, recognizing and educating established and emerging women artists, art historians, critics, curators, museum personnel and other visual arts professionals. The Georgia chapter was established in 2000 by 11 women and now comprises more than 100 artists and art professionals from Georgia and other southeastern states, most of whom are based in the metro Atlanta area.

View From Hot Air Balloon

For my birthday, my husband and I went on a hot-air balloon ride in North Georgia. We met at 6am, quickly shuttled to a nearby parking lot, and had the balloon unpacked and on its way in a matter of minutes--in plenty of time to see the sun rise near Sawnee Mountain. What we had not expected was the fog. Our guide kept apologizing for the fog (as if he had any control over such matters), but I loved it. Here's a shot I took that morning. It was printed in black and white on Japanese kozo paper, mounted on birch board, and coated in encaustic medium.

Photo ©2014 Lee Anne White

Photo ©2014 Lee Anne White

On Learning to See

Granted, it's fun to travel to new places to take photographs. Yet, sometimes all you really need to do is head to your own backyard or take a walk down the street to discover interesting images. They are all around you if you take time not just to look, but to truly see. Here's a perfect example: This abstract photograph is the pavement beneath my feet when I stepped out of the car into a downtown parking lot. Can you see it for not only what it is (pavement), but for what it might be (an abstract image about texture, lines, forms and shades)?

Photo ©Lee Anne White

Photo ©Lee Anne White

The Drama is in the Details

It's just a tiny, unincorporated community, but  Chimayo, NM, is famous for three reasons: The Chimayo peppers that grow there and are often sold as ristras--clusters of large, red chiles that you see hanging from portals. The Ortega and Trujillo families, who are widely known for the quality of their weaving, which is done in the Spanish Colonial tradition. And the Santuario de Chimayo, a small church built by a private individual in 1816, which is currently managed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe. The church is thought to be a special place of healing, and more than 30,000 individuals seek out the dirt in a tiny back room when they go on a pilgrimage to the church each year during Holy Week. 

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Though small and rustic, the church has an elaborate altar, and just inside the door of the sanctuary is a stunning carved statue of Jesus. To me, the bound hands and scarred arms told the story. It was one of those cases in which showing less conveyed more.

Applying New Tools and Skills to Older Images

The introduction of digital imaging came with a learning curve for experienced film photographers. Or at least it did for me. I can remember the great disappointment in looking at my first batch of RAW images. Then again, I recall some great disappointments in the traditional darkroom, too. Whether shooting digital or film, images must be processed  and printed (or otherwise presented), and learning how to do that well is challenging. Like most photographers, I'm still testing new tools, experimenting with different approaches and learning a great deal in the process.

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Among the things I try to do from time to time is go back to some of my early digital images--those produced when my processing skills were quite limited--and re-process them using newer tools and skills. This week, I revisited a shoot from McLeod Plantation in Charleston, SC, that I produced for The Jaeger Company--a landscape architecture and historic preservation firm. Here are three images from that shoot.

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