Vignettes

Little moments.

Last light on lassen

I was out of town for a week, exploring the south rim of the Grand Canyon and having a lovely time taking in the sites and the snow and trying to make a few photographs. Before I put together some thoughts I have from seeing and photographing that spectacle, I thought I would share with you a few images I've collected from here and there but haven't shoe-horned into previous posts. This blog is dedicated to the ways that photography and memory interact, and many times memory is about little moments of beauty of clarity disconnected with the wholeness of the experience. Think about your last great vacation - when you were really relaxed or saw something truly breathtaking. Do you remember the trip there in its entirety? Do you remember what you ate before or after? Or do you remember only the peace and silence of a summer moon reflected in the still waters of Lake Manzanita? Do you remember trivialities or the spectacular? I think there is a continuum between those who only remember the good and those who dwell on the bad, but I like to think that photographers fall into the former more often than not. Perhaps another way of saying this is that photography is a way to reconnect with the best of times and photography emerges as a hobby for those hoping to crystallize really special moments into visual momentos. Stories, sounds, smells or photographs can all elicit memories that are otherwise inaccessible to our conscious thoughts. We all do heroic amounts of memory sorting, collating and storage - what we struggle with is memory recall. One memory may be vivid and, when pulled to the conscious, drag with it thoughts and remembrances related and less striking which together tell a larger story. What about the memories that we can't immediately recall, but still possess? This is the great fun of photography - you can, with the right shutter-click, tap vast storerooms of memory and information that might otherwise be impossible to navigate.

I have an extremely selective memory. This isn't to say that my memory is poor or that I am myopic, but that, when on leisure time, I like to live for the little moments and to use a camera to distill from those moments a few choice photographs. Sometimes these photographs fit into an idealogical bin that encapsulates larger whole of why little moments are peak moments or what elements within those photographs make said work. Sometimes they don't. This is a post with some of the images that didn't fit into this or that bin.

Lichens of Lassen

I had intended on just putting together a few of these images as a grab-bag of a post, but what I noticed about these images was surprising. First, I realized that these images pulled out more recollections surrounding the events surrounding their creation than did the images which received the majority of my attention. Upon considering them more carefully, I found that the photos that do fit into the larger whole of any given idea are composed, executed, and processed in a completely different way and, therefore, constitute an idealogical topic of their own. The little, beautiful images that make up these vignettes are spur-of-the-moment, reactionary photographs whereas the others are universally more carefully composed and executed. That I interpret the results this way could be an effect of memory itself, i.e. I remember details about the compositions or thrust behind complicated, electrifying images more so than I do behind more simple images. Or I read into the more complicated images ideas that emerge upon the careful inspection and consideration processing requires. In sum, however, I don't think this is the case. First, as I already mentioned, these smaller images I grabbed on the fly are much more emotive and evocative than those I work hard to make electrifying and broad. I think the larger-than-life landscape images, the carefully processed HDR images are the result of pre visualizing photographs and fitting the world into that preconceived chassis. By contrast, the reactionary images are well, reactionary. Often I find that they are the result of some natural scene imposing upon me its first impression. I have an image of Manzanita Lake and Lassen Peak and last light and the moon all carefully put together, but that photograph is the result of an external event, my reaction and then a pause, a consideration and concerted effort to match an idea to the scene. Briefly, that image is the result of my deciding to hike around the lake for sunset and set up in a previously scouted location for a particular event.

Goose silhouette

The un-photographed.

Contrast the first photograph above with the one below. The image below was made first, without a tripod, without thinking. I saw the moon and Lassen Peak reflected in the lake and photographed what I saw. Here is where things get difficult for me - the image on top is a "better" photograph. Show the two to 100 people, ask them which they prefer and the first will win out handily. Yet, the first photograph is more "dishonest" than the one directly below. No, I didn't photoshop in the moon or alter the colors or use any filters or do anything other than capture and process the image as a faithful "HDR" reproduction of what I saw. The light was that red, the peak that beautiful, the lake that reflective and the moon was right where you see it. Purists and their preconceptions aside, the image on the top of this post is, in the aesthetic sense, as honest as you can get: it recapitulates primary visual experience as well as a photograph can. I say it is dishonest because it doesn't evoke in me the lap of the water on the grassy banks or the cool of the night air settling in. It doesn't evoke all of these things because it gives the impression to the viewer of having the total Lassen experience. Comprising the entire scene, this photograph doesn't force your imagination to work and chew on the un-photographed. Most importantly, this photograph gives you the impression that you've seen the whole thing and that you know what it is like to see Lassen and sunset over Manzanita Lake. The second photograph challenges your vision to interpret perspective and contains cues which lead you to abstract "mountain," "water," and "moon," but little else. Nothing in that photograph leads you to presuppose anything about the lay of the land or the experience of this vista. In a way, this is closer to reality than a straight landscape photograph documenting the place. Manzanita Lake is malleable. So is Lassen, so is the light by which we see it. It's the truth because it doesn't pretend tell you the truth explicitly.

In reflection

There are other vignettes from Lassen National Park here on this post - images which tell small stories about tiny corners of the park that don't receive the kind of concentrated photographic attention as the peak itself. There was the fisherman who was so quiet that I worried a single shutter click would be enough to ruin his peace and chase away his quarry, the lichen and mosses climbing skyward on the husk of a ponderosa, its corpse standing sentinel along the trail, a goose alighting on a weather-stripped, dead-fall pine at twilight to form the perfect silhouette and a snapshot of an entire mountain of wildflowers amongst which we wound as we walked in waning daylight. Even in writing about these images, I am forced to draw up memories of footfalls and trail blazes otherwise lost in the labyrinthian storehouse of memory. These simple photographs are like knots tied around my finger, pull one end and draw forth from murky depths wondrous things we travel far and wide to experience and forget all too soon when back in the hum and the drum. Whenever I doubt the value of my leisure photography, I am left with these incredibly simple photographs that together are more meaningful to me than all the gift-shop landscapes and post-card-worthy professional images the world has to throw at me.

Fisherman on manzanita lake
A whole mountain of flowers