So my newest project, as I push further into my post-processing and composition skills, is to cross styles and subjects on purpose; to mix it up; to intoxicate my eye and finally see what secrets these pictures have been keeping. I shall gambol with expectations and have a torrid love affair with my tools…
Back in January, feeling emotionally exhausted after a very busy holiday and months of navigating my daughter’s increasingly irrational fears, I jumped in my car – alone- for a weekend road trip. I know I needed a change of scenery and- I suspect- felt the need to prove to myself that I was still capable of engaging with life bravely. I stopped at El Malpais National Monument – which I could only scratch the surface of without a hiking partner- on my way out to the Bisti Badlands, where I hoped to catch some of the site’s amazing hoodoos and other wind carved stones.
I had taken the long route on a narrow highway through very desolate reservation land, progressively more suspicious that I had taken on more adventure than I should have (in hindsight, the whole thing was far more reckless than brave). I arrived at the Bisti about 2 hours before sunset and had the place to myself– probably not the best scenario when dealing with trail-less trekking without cell coverage in an unfamiliar badland. Stubbornly refusing my own hesitation, I pulled together my resolve, my camera, and my backpack, then set out.
As there are no trails or markers in the Bisti, I (thankfully) had the forethought to purchase a handheld GPS device and download coordinates of key landmarks. It’s been a long time since I have gone geocaching or done any serious hiking, and I began to think I’d lost all navigation capabilities as I moved toward landmark points and found 1) nothing or 2) huge barbed wire fences obscuring any reasonable paths to my destination. After stepping over a dip in a short fence (ahem) and following horse tracks for a while, I found still more fence and no progress. As the sun began to set, I was standing in the middle of the most frustratingly barren, confusing, and overwhelming space I have been, feeling the very real fear that I needed to get the hell out of there before dark.
I let go of my hoodoo hopes and resigned myself to being present with the arid, hard-lit land around me. As I navigated back to my car, I laughed at my naivete, expressed gratitude for my ridiculously good luck, and drank in the deafening silence and strange beauty of that space.
I hope to return in the near future – by way of safer roads, with a good map, at peak season, and with a hiking partner, of course, lol – but only to augment my experience, not rectify it. I’ve grown quite fond of that afternoon’s vibrant desolation.
Last week, as I was eyeing my DSLR with suspicion and it was patiently waiting me out, I decided that at the very least, I could take some phone pictures as I moved about my day. No depth of field, manual focus, or shutter speed considerations for the time being– just see and capture the things around me that captured me.
Not only did I slow down a bit as I moved through my week, I feel like I re-calibrated myself to why I fell in love with photography in the first place- the delight in and sharing of found things. it’s not the gear, the techniques, the post-production, or the blog, though I am quite smitten with all of it; it is something far less serious. It is the way I dance inside when I see something fascinating. The beautiful flow state I can get into when I am chasing ideas with my lens. The happy awe I feel when I look at others’ pictures and find something that just grabs hold of me. The triumphant feeling I get when I am able to get what comes out of Lightroom to look like what I saw/felt as I took the picture.
It’s in the moments that I am playing with pictures that I feel a most settled version of me. And with that realization, I found my photography funk (and fears of failing) lighten up a bit. 🙂
It was bound to happen at some point.
I noticed as I loaded new photos into Lightroom tonight that yesterday was a year to the day of my DSLR’s first click. I also noticed that it has taken me a week to even upload some of the photos– wholly on account of my hating them.
I had a bad macro run last week – working indoors with an unfamiliar setup late in the evening after work – surprise surprise- didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. And unlike my more recent trips to the botanical gardens, this experience didn’t make me want to get back out there and get those snaps. It made me feel overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of skill I have the never-ending opportunity to develop.
So I spent the week under a proverbial rock, reading articles and books on technique, feeling crappier and more anxious about trying again. To make matters worse (better?), taunting me from my kitchen counter were the other flowers I had bought to take pictures of, cascading like waves through the process of fantastic blooming. Tonight – having had enough of their teasing- I got out the camera and found some pictures I am very excited about. Relief- looks like I didn’t lose the last year’s lessons in one go after all, lol.
Interestingly, when I uploaded the pictures that had left me so disenchanted, they weren’t as bad as I remembered them. No, they weren’t as clear or lit for texture as I wanted and the depth of field was all but unworkable, but I found Freeman Patterson’s words from “Photography and the Art of Seeing” nagging me: “… don’t junk your digital images immediately!”
Taking a cue from some of my favorite shots at the botanical garden, I decided to go an abstract route and work with- rather than against- the images’ flaws. I actually like this set enough (now) to try printing a set of note cards for thank you’s and the like!
I am curious what you think of this batch of “lemonade”- gratefully, the the shots I took tonight are a little less of a stretch and I am excited to get them into processing and posted!
Last month, with an itch to get a couple hours away from home for no good reason at all, I visited the Very Large Array (VLA) about an hour west of Socorro, NM. If you haven’t acquainted yourself with the VLA’s work (either in person or via their website) I highly recommend it- pretty mind blowing stuff. I am very proud that the austerity of our state’s landscape is good for something beyond rattlesnakes and film crews– the VLA makes a lot of amazing astrophysics possible!
The visibility on this temperate winter day was infinite, and I fell in love with the VLA dishes, both at an iconic distance (Contact, anyone?) and up close with the zoom lens. I don’t know why, but I love me some hardware pictures. Even better than getting up close and personal with one of the dishes (which are, should you be curious, about 84 feet in diameter) was the fact that the entire area is a no cell phone zone. I found this fascinating, if not kind of redundant (ATT doesn’t cover much of the state, so my cell phone is really in a “cell phone free zone” any time I am outside the city limits). For all the technology around me- designed to listen into the deepest, quietest parts of space we can find- cell phones can ruin it all. The only thing I was permitted to listen to for about an hour and a half was the wind whipping my ears and my thoughts.
Awe inspiring, contemplative, challenging, and completely liberating, this was one of my best photo trips to date. It was BEAUTIFUL.
The trip also furnished me with week’s monochrome madness picture. I love the way the light shines through the dish, especially at the edge, where metal meets sky.
If you have never felt the moist, heavy air of being 800 feet underground, I highly recommend it. If you have never sat cross legged on a stone bench in the maw of a cavern and meditated until your toes tingle, I would encourage you to give it a try. If you have never felt the wrenching, disorienting feeling that comes from ripping straight out of the earth’s belly by elevator after hours of silent reverie, I assure you, the sensation is quite overwhelming.
If you have never tried to get good photography shots (sans flash) in a dim, wet room, navigating your tripod on a small path with hundreds of your fellow visitors, you are probably smarter than I. (But I loved every minute of it.)
I would freely posit that New Mexico has one of the best skies in the country- day in, day out, the bluest sky with the puffiest clouds, the best sunsets, the most captivating thunderstorms.
But once a year, we get a little crazy and paint it.
(Or find us on Flickr!)
There are still a few things that can swell the New Mexican in my heart- the smell of roasting green chile, a stranger calling me ‘jita,’ and the sound of a mariachi band, regardless of the time of day.
(Or find us on Flickr!)