ONE WOULD NOT EXPECT much of a story about photographing a milkweed, especially one from the beginning of a photographer's career (the 0001 catalog number is not an accident).
I had always been fascinated by the marvelous feathery parachutes that is carried by the wind to disperse the seeds. They are loverly in themselves, but they also come in interesting and varied combinations. They are also difficult to photograph well.
JW 0001 was a result of me trying to photograph this milkweed in a field a few miles from my home. Wind was a problem, but more significant was a rifle firing range that was too close for comfort. Then an (unusually) bright idea struck: why don't I take it home and shoot indoors: no wind and no bullets. So I broke the very dry stem, placed it very carefully in my car and headed home.
This particular spesiman is unusual for the double pod in the center and two others on either side, so I decided it would be worth some effort. I set it upon a very old but sturdy black phonograph cabinet. I decided strobe lights would be best and took one I had from a 35mm camera and borrowed a second one. The smaller of the two I put in back of the pods to shine through and provide back lighting. The larger one was in front. The smaller pressed right against the pods.
I had a Polaroid back for my 4" x 5" view camera and for the next several months made well over 100 Polaroid prints, making small adjustments to the lights from shot to shot.
I believe it was at least 4 months before I thought I had it right and I made several exposures on Ektachrome film. One tiny adjustment to a seed in the wrong place and I was ready. One exposure 1/3 stop under exposed as usual. The one shot at normal exposure. Except for one problem: the heat of the hidden strobe lit the whole set of pods on fire and everything was gone in a flash (sorry) but literally and figuratively. However, I had gotten the shot.I made dye transfer prints but it wasn't until many years later that I scanned the transparency. The lens I had at the time was not up to what I was able to use decades later, but the result was pleasing nevertheless.The other two milkweeds were photographed in a field in Connecticut on my way to visit my mother (I was hours late). The afternoon light was perfect, there was no wind and the pods were beautiful. The challenge in either case (besides finishing before the sun set was to make a composition where the major part of the subject was all in a single plane. It is pointless to photography such delicacy and have it be out of focus.