Along the National Seashore on Cape Cod lies a peculiar hiking spot. The Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail is up here in a place normally associated with beaches, dunes, salted air ocean breezes. Not swamps. I’ve long wanted to check it out, camera in hand.
Last weekend offered a few unencumbered hours and so Joey and I headed out. Across the street from the more typical dune clad Cape beach, we found our way from the parking lot down into the cedars and toward a boardwalk split swampland. It was hot and humidity dripped into and onto us.
Before too long, it became clear to me that this must be quite the destination in the spring, when elevated water tables and snow melt fills the swamp up to near the level of the boardwalk. It must be plush green then.
Or in the autumn, when oranges, yellows and reds spill across the canopy above and around.
Or imagine winter after a snowy dusting, white and glistening in the crisp and cool.
But not now, not the summer. The swamp was mostly gone, the colors deep but singular green, and the air unwelcoming and thick.
All that remained for me was the light.
I have seen “To Kill a Mockingbird” exactly two times. And had exactly two different reactions.
The first was during my college years. The second was this morning.
First, the film is an extraordinary depiction of honor, of courage… and of hatred and the drive for justice. Seen mostly through the eyes of a young brother and sister and their summer visitor, this is a glimpse into a different age… a time when “the code”, as Finch strikingly calls out the chief witness’ principal offense, the temptation of a black man by a white woman, was enough for the jury and townspeople of Depression era Macon, Georgia to suppress logic and to convict an innocent man. Jem, Scout and Dill, eyewitnesses to injustice, learn, as Atticus poignantly noted: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” For them, it was an end to innocence.
I recall watching this the first time, feeling relief that such hatred was mostly a thing of the past. That we had made great progress since those days, and that justice was largely equally preserved. For all.
Then this morning, just two days after the violence in Charlottesville, I saw this film through an entirely different lens. This time, it broke my heart. The quaintness of the past, the enlightenment of the present were no longer steady pillars… my confidence was crushed. Hatred thrives still. Injustice pervades.
And it was the end to my innocence.
Art, by its very nature, is subjective, nebulous, difficult to pin down precisely and define with logic. It is in the eyes of the beholder, though expressions of beauty and emotional nudges can also be universal. Science and math are less so.
I was recently testing a Fujifilm 14mm prime lens that had taken a minor tumble by shooting images of a brick wall at varying distances and apertures. Side to side sharpness can be ascertained, providing clues as to the quality of the lens as well as whether any damage had been sustained. It’s a well worn trick, often detailed in internet forums and blogs. I’ve often frequented those sources and learned many other tips that point me toward better photography. But that’s where science and math fail. Both are critical in this craft as we are dealing with the physics of light, but they are near useless to the pure pursuit of art.
The second image above was captured as Gabriel was exploring his environment, focusing on the dangling distractions hanging from a new toy arch in front of him. My camera was set to -1.2 EV, low ISO and manual focus from an earlier shoot. My camera and I were not ready for this moment but as Gabriel experienced the joy of discovery, I used what I had. Time was fleeting.
I shot the image. It is a technical mess. It’s just wrong. Composition is off. Science and math be damned.
But I love this. It captures the child, the one singular instant, now forever lost.
But forever captured here in its beautiful imperfection.
An atypical day for July on Cape Cod. High breeze, monotone sky, Autumn temps. This beach, typically jammed this time of year, was desolate, bare. A few walked along the shoreline, seagulls careened with the pulsating gales. Somber, no fun here.
Eventually, near a winding tidal pool, I spotted two boys playing with a small wave board and another attempting to skim the approaching surf. These images are the result of my observation.
Bringing them into Lightroom, I was left with flat, depth-less images which was largely a function of the weather and conditions. So, rather than let my post-processing try to combat that, I decided to accentuate it. If you can’t beat ’em…
I pulled down contrast and pushed the highlights a bit as well as opened up the exposure closer to high key… though not quite there. My goal was to try to emphasize the dour mood of the day. Which, in reality, was quite the opposite of the mood of these young boys.
For someone so accustomed to creating visual mementos for every milestone, for each venture into new, for every unfolding journey, I did not know how to capture this. This was not familiar, though the instinct was unchanged. I wanted to remember.
Tonight, my dad passed into forever… and into the loving arms of the creator God. We gain confidence in the truth of Jesus’ words as he comforted the mourning Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
As I observed through the vigil, it was the hands I noticed. Always the hands, sometimes alone, often embraced. Wife, child, friend. An unyielding grasp, a gentle stroke. Patient, anticipating.
These told the story.
You could say I got spoiled a few years ago when I traveled to South Africa. We touched down in Paris for a few days to break up the long flight there and because I had never been, though Laura had traveled to the City of Lights back in her college years. At the time, I was shooting only a Fujifilm X100S and surely that wouldn’t do for the lions and cheetahs of our safari adventure. So, I rented a Nikon D7100 and a long lens for that portion. A few shots from that trip can be found here. In the end, the X100 series body was perfect for Paris (and some broader vista shots in Africa) and the Nikon body was incredible for the safari. This awesomeness subsequently became known as my “Paris-Africa Solution” and every camera kit I’ve tried since has been judged against it.
With a Lightroom library overstuffed with hard drive clogging images, I’ve taken to some housecleaning of late. It’s not an easy task as any venture onto my photographic memory lane tends to weigh me down in nostalgia and reminiscence. I’ve enjoyed these side trips immensely but they don’t help with the task at hand, a task of unclogging.
It’s a useful exercise as I am simultaneously reminded of my progress as well as lack of it. I rediscover the various phases of pursuit including high contrast monotone, long exposure, high key, and high dynamic range (oh, all those bracketed shots). I recall the rendering characteristics of the different cameras I’ve owned, for example the cooler leanings of the Nikons, the warmer toning of the Olympus’, and so forth. I think about the macro lens experiments (flowers, flowers and then more flowers), the long telephoto zoom (how many interesting shots of pigeons does the world actually need?) and the fine art portrait lens (our Lhasa Apso, Shadow, was an unwilling but capable subject). I think about the many phases of my photography.