Aspen Trunk, Leaves and Rock, Colorado
After 18 years in the Sonoran Desert I moved from Arizona to Colorado in July, 2002. I needed a change of scenery as I had grown weary of saguaro cactus and rattlesnakes. The Rockies provided precisely the relief I sought and I used every weekend to explore the landscapes of my new home. As a national park junkie it didn’t take long for Rocky Mountain National Park to become my go-to location for weekend escapes.
I was still somewhat new to photography and I falsely believed the only good light was at sunrise or sunset. Cloudy was bad. Rainy was worse. Cloudy and rainy just put me in a really foul mood. About the same time I’d become obsessed with “intimate landscapes”, a term coined to describe the style of pioneering photographer Eliot Porter. I drew inspiration not only from Mr. Porter’s work, but from contemporary photographers like Guy Tal and Michael Gordon, both of whom are able to create stunning images by composing order out of complete chaos. Intimate landscapes are the exact opposite of the grand scene. They are small scenes within a larger landscape. What I did not know was that cloudy days create a soft, diffused light that lowers the contrast of a scene and allows every little detail to be recorded without blown highlights or blocked shadows.
Fast forward to the autumn of 2004. Melissa and I spent a long weekend in Rocky Mountain NP. We camped and hiked, and of course I photographed. Actually, I spent more time bitching and moaning about the “crappy” light and incessant rain. On our last full day in the park we attempted to hike to the summit of Flat Top Mountain but were repelled by a hail storm. It was the proverbial straw, and I let loose with a profanity laced tirade as we ran for cover. Once safely in the trees, Melissa put her foot down about my juvenile temper tantrums. In no short order, she told me I needed to make a choice. I’d either learn to enjoy my time with her, even if it meant that I got zero photographs, or our relationship would be over. You can probably deduce that I learned to enjoy my time with her.
Getting back to 2004 and our wet hike in Rocky – on the way down the trail I noticed an aspen tree growing right next to a granite boulder that was littered with colorful autumn leaves. Still smarting from the tongue lashing I’d just received, I politely asked if she would mind stopping for a few minutes while I worked the scene. Melissa was more than happy to do so and I got to work. As I did, I started to see that it was easier to nail the proper exposure because of the low contrast. I also noted that the rain seemed to make the colors even more vibrant. Hmmm, could I be on to something? I exposed a few slides and we headed back to the trailhead and the shelter of my truck.
Back home in Denver I dropped off my film at Qube Visual. As was customary, I picked up the slides on my lunch hour. I was giddy the second the I saw this image on the light table. I’d finally nailed an intimate landscape! Since moving to Colorado two years prior I’d been determined to hone my skills at this type of photography and my dedication seemed to finally be paying off.
Over the years I’ve discovered that I am much more fulfilled finding and photographing those little scenes that most would pass without batting an eye. Now, when I see clouds, I no longer get frustrated and pout in my tent. I grab my camera and run out the door, eager to find my next small masterpiece!