One thing I learned from my journey to Death Valley is that shooting sand dunes isn’t easy. My original intention was to come away from this trip with several classic, black & white, abstract images of dramatically side-lit dunes, just like the old (photography) masters. But, that is not how things turned out.
As I mentioned in my initial Death Valley post, I was really taken by the colors of the desert, which, frankly, I have not been prepared for. Nor was I prepared for the quality of light that I experienced in the dunes at either end of the day, when the sky is still bright, but there is no direct sun on the dunes. It is during these times that the subtle colors of the desert become apparent. I was fortunate, also, that the dunes were not simply a yellow monotone as I had expected as recent rains in the valley had not been fully absorbed, leaving patches of darker sand that helped to further define the shapes of the dunes.
The images in today’s gallery were all captured in the Mesquite Dunes near Stovepipe Wells, primarily during those times of “in between” light.
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Nearly two years ago, my sister and bro-in-law moved to Florida, and like most Floridians they have a pool in the back of the house. When we visited them for their first Xmas in the house, I became interested with this little blue ball floating in the pool and the stone spill way between the circular Jacuzzi and the pool proper. It struck me as something of a visual anomaly in terms of color and texture and I slowly began to visualize something faux-Egyptian with an ethereal orb in contact with water and rough stone.
I wanted to make this a long exposure to smooth out the water, but getting the ball to remain in the spill way when the water was flowing proved to be a problem. I tried wedging it into place at the narrow end of the spill way, but it would rarely remain in place more that a couple of seconds before the force of the water would push it into the pool. The eventual solution turned out to be the use of a shot glass as a small, virtually invisible pedestal. It worked, I made several images, and then filed this little “project” away until a couple of days ago.
It has been raining for several days, so I was spending some of my indoor time going through old photographs when I came across the series of the ball in the pool and decided to play around with it. Because the original colors were pretty flat, I converted a tightly cropped capture to black & white, but retained some color in the ball to keep it from disappearing against the stone. Because of the long exposure, the ball took on a translucence that was not immediately apparent in the RAW image, but which works in this image.
So far, this image has just been a bit of fun, a whimsy, to fill up the damp hours of yet another rainy day, but … the next time we darken my sisters door, I think I will explore the theme some more.
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A couple of years ago, I found a transcript in the Kindle store of a series of interviews conducted with Ansel Adams between 1972 and 1975. It took me a while to get through the entire book because the text-to-Kindle translation method resulted in a very poorly formatted book, making it very difficult to read (knowing speaker on any given page and following the flow of the conversation). But the price was right (FREE) and I eventually made it through the entire thing. Having seen a couple of TV productions featuring Adams, I could almost hear his voice in the transcribed words. As you would expect, there were lots of reminiscences of people, photographic events, equipment, films and techniques. The one topic, though, that stood out for me was his discussion of photographic abstractions.
From his point of view, photography is a “extracting” art form, not an abstracting one. By this he meant that, unlike the painter who starts with an blank canvas and adds to it purely as his vision dictates, the photographer must extract from the existing, physical scene in front of the camera’s lens to get to his subject. Just because the subject of a photograph isn’t immediately recognizable to the viewer because certain surrounding context has been minimized or eliminated in the composition, doesn’t make the photograph and abstract in his mind. So, with that in mind, is today’s photograph an abstract or an extract?
Today’s photograph is part of a series I have been working on in my home called Interiors. It was taken on the stairs just below the third floor landing where several wall surfaces come together. The relationships from these intersections are further defined by the light coming from varying directions throughout the day. Until reading Adams’ words, I would have called this image an abstraction. Now I am not so sure. I am comfortable with the term “extraction” because I have made what I think is a pleasing composition that can stand on its own without you, the viewer, having to know more beyond what is seen.
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P.S. For those who might be interested, the book I referred to is: Conversations with Ansel Adams, from the Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, California.