No news. Few words. Just a few images that I hope will bring a moment of peace, quiet or comfort to your day.
“Plane just landed! Will send photos later.”
Not exactly the text you want to read when your husband has just flown across the country. Flights are supposed to be uneventful.
Fortunately, he just wanted to share photos of the landscape taken from his window seat. He said there was an especially beautiful area and wondered if I could identify it (which is generally about as easy as identifying plants from photos alone). His phone indicated it was near Blanding, Utah, and the landforms so were distinct that it had to be Canyonlands National Park, just north of there.
In February, when flying to Albuquerque, I was equally excited when I saw White Sands National Monument from the air. I have visited briefly twice by car. One of those times, there was a significant hailstorm. Several inches of ice covering the ground in a sandy desert is a strange site. Unfortunately, my camera’s electronic system short-circuited in the sudden change of weather. (The only other time weather has shut down my camera was in 113-degree heat in Arizona when it warped the shutter blades.)
The diversity of our country’s geography is astounding. I am particularly drawn to the dramatic landscapes of the high desert in the American Southwest. Others may prefer the lush coastal landscapes of Hawaii, the ruggedness of the Appalachian Mountains or the open expanses of Midwestern grasslands. In much of the desert southwest, I feel almost as if I’m stepping onto another planet. The slot canyons carved from rain, the arches and hoodoos shaped by wind and the incredible layers of richly colored soil are all breathtaking. Sometimes I am torn as to whether they should be photographed in black and white or color. I prefer black-and-white landscapes for both the way in which they call attention to shapes, forms, textures and shadows and because I find monochromatic images to be quieter than most color ones, which better reflects the way the landscape makes me feel. And yet, in places like the Bisti Badlands, the colors are equally memorable to the fascinating landforms.
In February, I visited the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. One area of the park, Blue Mesa (above), was stunning no matter how you looked at it. I chose to photograph it in black and white. That is the way I see. Yet sometimes I wonder: If I were not photographing a site, how would I remember it? Would my memories be in color or in black and white? Our photographs, for better or worse, do shape our memories.
When it comes to photography as art, do you prefer color or black and white? Why?
A good friend recently commented that there was a lot of black in my latest work, and asked if I was going through a dark phase. This is a particularly observant and insightful friend, so I paused before responding—wondering if, perhaps, she was seeing something I had not acknowledged.
But the honest answer was simply, “No. Black is my favorite color.”
As a child, black was often the color I chose from a box of crayons. My early work in photography was in black and white. I have always been very particular about using black felt-tip pens. And my closet is filled with more than the usual share of black clothing. (Hey, it travels well.)
After more than 20 years of photographing gardens in color for books and magazines, I began shooting more personal images in gardens that excited me at the moment, but fell flat on the computer screen. They looked dead, lifeless and boring. This happened repeatedly, and I was concerned that I was losing my ability to see and interpret an image. One day, in looking through some of these images, it struck me how monochromatic they were, so I tried converting a few to black and white. Suddenly, they snapped to life. I realized I was no longer seeing in color; I was seeing again in black and white.
With the exception of The Mutable Sea series and some accompanying abstract images from the marsh, my personal photographic work has been in black and white since then. For me, it feels cleaner, simpler and quieter. It offers a sense of clarity, revealing elements of a scene or characteristics of a subject that might be overlooked in color. It is more about shape, form, texture and quality of light. I especially love rich blacks, which are achieved through a combination of exposure, image processing and appropriate paper selection.
Black has many dark symbolic associations that would be a treat to delve into this Halloween, but I will spare you. I don't generally identify with the grim or grisly when photographing the natural world. I do, however, embrace the idea that black is a mysterious color associated with the unknown. I have always been intrigued with the unknown, and this sense of curiosity is at the heart of seeing more deeply.
Black is also associated with formality and tradition, and I tend to embrace a classic approach to black-and-white photography. I have been influenced by the work of Michael Kenna, Mark Citret, Margaret Bourke-White, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Edna Bullock, Josef Hoflehner and others. They are all masters worth studying if you have an interest in black-and-white photography.
Our color preferences are very personal. When it comes to seeing, interpreting and expressing our own vision, it is not so much which colors we choose, but why we choose them. Colors convey energy and moods. As a photographer, artist, collector of photographs or one who simply appreciates art, do you have a preference for color or black-and-white images? Do you have favorite colors? What is it you love most about those colors?
And just for the record...I'm not all about black. At the moment I am enjoying the muted colors of fall—colors such as squash, sage, eggplant and pumpkin.
As promised, here is an image from the second series I am shooting in the marsh. It is purely abstract and captures my impression of the salt marsh at the end of the day rather than the fine detail of cordgrass, rush and other plants that are more common in my black-and-white images found in the Fingerprints of an Island series.
One of the things I love most about my work is helping others see things in new ways. That applies whether I'm taking photographs, teaching workshops, writing books or facilitating creative problem-solving sessions. Photographically, I love taking a "deep dive" into a subject to see how many different ways I can approach it.
A few other images from this series, which is still in development, can be viewed in my online portfolio: Island Impressions. I am producing these as 12"x12" encaustic photos mounted on birch panels. They are also available as fine art prints in a range of sizes.