Unexpected Joy

After Seven Years An Epiphany.

Early Buds on Maple Trees I

Early Buds on Maple Trees I

Interstate Highway 90, Weston, Massachusetts. May 1982 cat. 4841

If I had to explain the secret of photography (and of life) it would be to see and hear without expectations, for that is the only way to learn. Learning then puts one on the path to creating beauty which brings joy and makes it possible to build bridges across the chasms that separate people with closed minds.

The wonderful author John Hanson Mitchell put the idea in different words in his now iconic book Ceremonial Time :

“Wilderness and wildlife, history, life itself, for that matter, is something that takes place somewhere else, it seems.....What I prefer...is that undiscovered country of the nearby, the secret world that lurks beyond the night windows and at the fringes of cultivated back yards.”

The message, of being aware, being conscious of that which is nearby but hidden is one of the most important guides to life as well as to photography. It took me over a decade of photographing to realize that I had to have an open mind, a mind without preconceptions, to see when I looked.

After thirteen years of photographing the natural landscape these words led me to call my collection of work The Hidden World of the Nearby.

The images were made in an unusual place, the edge of an embankment adjacent to the breakdown lane on Interstate 90 a few miles west of Boston. Here I discovered the magic of photographing trees looking down upon them so that the tree canopy could take its rightful place as the essence of the tree.

I-90 is known locally as the Mass. Pike and I photographed primarily in two locations: Weston and the ramp at exit 11 in Millbury. During spring shooting season I would awake before sunrise and drive either east or west to see what was happening on the Pike. I photographed the Pike for 11 years. It is no longer possible. Trees have grown to block the views and 9/11 causes the police to make you move on.

The image above is similar to the view that first created a visceral reaction in me. It is a large valley and almost invisible from the highway. A picture I took from the valley floor illustrates how low it was compared to the highway.

Untitled photo

Now in my files I find something even more striking, a detail from this image. (To see it properly, a large monitor-30" is needed or a large print.) There are two layers to the image, the silver and the warm colors of buds that have just appeared. But that is not all. The different parts of the trees seem to be playing with each other. I believe that every part of a great images image is a gesture that is a metaphor for human experience.

I also realized that I wanted no object, no center of attention in my images. I wanted to draw the viewer in to explore to every corner, with just enough structure to the composition to guide the eye.

Teh image below is a bit of an exception for it was unusual for one tree to begin blossoming ahead of the others.

Over the years I oo

Now I bring in other images from Olaf’s selections, all of these same trees. My habit each year was to begin visiting in mid to late April and to photograph as the trees flowered ending in mid-May. The image Peak Color shows how the different colors of different species would make a palette of colors as beautiful as autumn, but with a pointillist texture.

Spring Flowers

Spring Flowers

Interstate Highway 90, Weston, Massachusetts. May 1981
cat. JW 0013

Leading The Eye To Infinity

Texture In Place Of Objects

Finally, after 13 years of photographing with the help of one lesson, I began to find my way. A wonderful photographer named Stephen Girsh sorted a stack of transparencies. After a few minutes I said “I see what your doing.” That was the end of my lesson.

I had heard of rules for proportions in an image, but felt there should be no rules and neither should there be a subject (although this rule did not always appply; see the milkweeds).

I wanted my viewers to lose themselves in the image so I looked for beautiful textures and then worked on composition.

I think this is most evident in the Walden images of water-shields. There I was presented with a variety of plant leaves, reflections and illumination. The rest was a kind of play. The beauty was everywhere and so the compositio was to create subtle lines of interest, to almost unconsciously lead the eye from corner to corner. This required a certain symmetry but I soon learned that a small area of bright color could be balanced by a larger area of less brilliance. And so I began to look for the right elements to work with.

Sunrise on Budding Maple Tress After Rain

Sunrise on Budding Maple Tress After Rain

Interstate Highway 90, Weston, Massachusetts. April 1983, cat. JW 0032

Tall Stand

Tall Stand

Interstate Highway 90, Westborough, Massachusetts
November 1983, cat. JW 0169

Morning Lights

Morning Lights

Interstate Highway 90, Millbury, Massachusetts
October 1984, cat. JW 0080

There are now two more steps to The Hidden World Of The Nearby.

This pond in Maine was one of the most important locations for me along with a vernal pool near Waldon Pond. I discovered it on my first visit to Maine and then visited it on every trip. It is on an ordinary road in Acadia National Park and is called Upper Hadlock Pond. The images are of a small patch of reeds on the edge of the pond. They illustrate the same ideas as the photographis from the Interstate Highway. The image below I just found recently reviewing my transparencies for images I had overlooked. I think it is musical in thwe way the waves of reeds and water form rhythms.

Dreamed Brook

Dreamed Brook

Beaver Brook, I-495, Littleton, Massachusetts. July 1987, cat. JW 0181

Dreamed Brook was photographed in 1987 from a small concrete bridge on Interstate 495 in Littleton, Massachusetts. I was working on an assignment from New England Monthly Magazine to accompany an essay by John Hanson Mitchell.

Some time along the way I had read John’s words about hidden worlds and I realized what had happened to me.

There are iconic photographs of famous places, and then there are images sometimes literally underfoot that I believe reveal the remarkable inner workings of nature. But that is not all.

I am a student of cosmology and look at everything from the most comprehensive perspective possible, which means beginning with the Big Bang.

No one knows why it happened, but it led to at least two miracles: the earth and the miracle of sensation, consciousness, thinking and awareness that takes place between our ears. I view these as “miracles” not in the literal sense but because they are what scietists call “hard problems” which means they have no clue to even begin to understand them. Reading about the biology of the human mind and body leaves one breathless, searhing for words suitable to the task.

One needs to meditate on the incredible capabilities of this human mind, how much it can do and that it is the most hidden and nearby and important phenomenon of the universe. I was quoted in Time Magazine that we insult the universe by how we are destroying the earth and the landscape that enabled me to take these pictures and many hundreds more. It is the greatest tragedy in the history of the earth and we have not been able to bring ourselves to the point of correcting our behavior. Instead we form warring tribes. It is sad beyond words.

The image below was made in a small vernal pool a few feet from Walden Pond. I discovered it one fall afternoon in 1991 and is known as Wyman’s Meadow. It is about 200 feet from where Henry David Thoreau built his cabin. The leaves on the water are known as water-shields and are not related to water lilies. I photograhed Wyman’s Meadow for 11 years. Never again did it look like this with brilliant reflections from the trees surrounding it. However, I made many memorable images on other visits although in some years the pool was dry or over flowing and I made no images.

A Warm Stillness II

A Warm Stillness II

Wyman Meadow, Walden, Concord, Massachusetts. October 1991, cat. JW 0605

Dew, Light And Water-shields I

Dew, Light And Water-shields I

Wyman’s Meadow, Walden Pond State Reservation, Concord, Massachusetts. October 1993, cat. JW 4059

I close with another image made on Interstate 90, this one further west, but again at an overlook I visited many time. In the original transparency in the upper left-hand corner you can see the highway. This image, as with so many others, was made at sunrise. The mist from the veraal pool was usually white, but on this particular morning I was shooting directly into the morning sun. The mist kept billowing up for about 45 minutes and I photographed again and again. Two of the transparencies have the mist showing in just the right way to blend with the trees that are just beginning to flowers.

I had to under expose by about two stops to retain the detail in the mist. Although I made (and sold) many dye transfer prints, it wasn’t until digital printing that I could bring out detail in the shadows at the bottom to my satisfaction.

One of my most memorable experiences happened standing in exactly this same location but looking west. It stunned me that on a highway entrance ramp I could find such images.

Along with Dreamed Brook above, it confirmed for me that my world was that of images hidden but nearby.

Spring Sunrise I

Spring Sunrise I

Interstate Highway 90, Millbury, Massachusetts. May 1983, cat. JW 0037

JW with camera and dase

I used an inexpensive camera, but one chosen after careful consideration that it would do all the functions I needed, be light in weight, and be suitable for a “studio“ on a pack frame. This made it easy to hike with one or both hands free. I carried several lenses many film holders and all the accessories I needed. If the inside looks beat up, it is.

I put my money primarily into lenses which had to be the best for the kind of highly textured images I liked to make, whether they were leaves on water or a tree of pointillist buds photographed from the Mass Pike.

To reach the landscape galleries click in the menue at the top or here: Landscape Gelleries.

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