Verdigris

SSA Photography (76 of 400)

Sometimes the loveliest composition is the most simple.  This photograph of the mossy trunk of a fallen water oak (Quercus Nigra) was taken in the Nocatee Preserve south of Jacksonville, Florida.  The day was extremely overcast, and the photographs that I came to take were not turning out as I had hoped.

I saw this tree lying astride the path, and I took a dozen or so photographs of it from various angles.  As I was leaving, I decided to put my macro lens on to see what I could capture with the lens and ring light setup that I use.  I took a few test shots of the tree, with the aperture as far open as it could go, and I did not think anything of them until I returned home to see what had turned out.

Life is often like this, recognizing the beauty only in hindsight.  This is by no means my most treasured photograph, but it is special insofar as it was a happy accident that reminds me never to dismiss even the most mundane subject.  With the right angle and eye, most anything can turn into art, even a dime-a-dozen fallen water oak in the middle of a North Florida swamp.

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Carmel Bay

SSA Photography (240 of 400)

On vacation, I do not keep the same hours I do for work.  So getting up before the sunrise was rare, but since everyone else was still asleep, I decided to leave a note and go for a walk.  I made my way down to Scenic Drive in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, just as the sun was coming up.  I was born and raised on the East coast, and so to have the sun rise at my back when I looked at the ocean was a new experience.  The marine layer was thick as I made my way down the coastline.  The house at the left of the photograph is the Walker house, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  He said that he wanted to design a house “as durable as the rocks and as transparent as the waves.”  He achieved this with his uncanny ability.

I love Carmel, and I feel a special kinship to the place.  I always feel creative out there, surrounded by the beauty.  I understand why Robinson Jeffers called it home, and why so many other artists like Steinbeck were so inspired by this area of California.  If I ever win the lottery (and I have a few eggs in this basket), I will find my way out there for part of the year.  For now, I will look forward to the next visit and the next morning stroll.

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Brynn’s Leaves

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I would like to say that this was a candid shot, and that it only took one “take” to get it right.  I would like to say that, but I cannot.

I caught my niece Brynn throwing individual leaves in the air to watch them float back to the ground, and I asked her to do it again so that I could get a picture of it.  She grabbed a pile of leaves and threw them towards the camera, which, if Kemper had done it, I would have taken as a sign of protest, but Brynn does not have a mean bone in her body; so I just figured a bit of context would be in order.  I told her that I wanted to see her having fun throwing leaves into the air, and so this photograph was born.

Brynn is a sweet soul.  For Anna and me, she is easy-going and carefree.  I know that this is not always the case for Claire, but Brynn is her daughter, and no mother can be so lucky.  Claire is a phenomenal mother, and our relationship has grown substantially since the kids were born.  Brynn is only a year younger than Kemper, and so they have grown up together.  He is very sweet with her, just as she is with him and Nora.  She tries to mother Nora, which is fun to watch – as our little nugget weighs just about as much as Brynn.

Brynn has had some health and development issues, but despite these hurdles, she has not lost her love of life.  As a working parent, I am not sure how Claire manages to balance her exceptional responsibilities as a principal of a K-8 school with being a full-time, single mother.  I am in awe.  I would like to think that I could do it if anything were to happen to Anna, but I would lean so very heavily on Claire for guidance, because she has navigated the way so successfully.

I was never close to my cousins growing up.  They lived far away, and I regret not knowing them better.  I will always remember my cousin Charlie teaching me how to play chess, but I hate that I wasn’t closer with them.  I am so happy that Kemper and Nora will grow up with Brynn, and that the three of them will be as thick as thieves.  I am also grateful that Claire and I have passed our childhood squabbles into the relationship that we share now.  We lean on each other, which is a far cry from the button-pushers we were (well, mostly I was) growing up.

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Falling Behind

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As the lone photographer on nature walks (Kemper stayed behind), my place is in the back of the queue.  I used to feel as if I needed to walk with the pack, and would scurry to keep pace, missing many photographs to do so.  Soon, though, I stopped and thought how rare it was for me to be out in nature in North Carolina, and also how it was my vacation as well.  North Carolina used to mean fly fishing for my dad and me, and we still fish on occasion, but my attention has shifted to photography in the past three years or so.  He relishes the role as my “spotter,” and so we are still engaged together, even without fly rods in our hands.

We both used to loathe walks, but something about the woods of North Carolina evinced a change in us, and we willingly go on hikes through the fallen logs and chaparral of the dense undergrowth.  Anna tagged along on this hike, and she kept pace with me at some points and at others she walked ahead with my dad.  When I stopped to change lenses (from telephoto to macro ), they evidently had lost interest in waiting for me, and I quickly lost sight of them.  I caught up in about fifteen minutes, after finding a bunch of polypore mushrooms and an intriguing shelf mushroom.  They were happy to wait and chat as I ambled up the path back towards the car, and I was happy to watch my footfalls, lest I miss the photographs I once raced past to not be left behind.

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Outcropping

SSA Photography (138 of 400) This photograph was taken a few summers ago in North Carolina.  The afternoon presented a small break in the rain that had been falling consistently for nearly a week, and so we put on our boots and braved the trails that were muddy in parts and wholly impassable in others.  The green of the forest was indescribable.  Everything glowed with a vibrant verdigris, especially the moss that grew on the rocks and the fallen trees.

This patch of moss was unique, insofar as it hung from the rocks instead of clinging to them.  Perhaps the moss just followed the water that always trickled down from the mountaintops during the summer rains.  Certainly the water had enough nutrients for any living thing to subsist.  The bright, almost neon, chartreuse was stunning.  When I got back to the cabin, the rain having begun to fall again, I was somewhat morose.  I am not sure if it was because our hike was cut short, or because I was stuck inside once again, when all I wanted to do was walk around with my camera and capture the beauty of Western North Carolina.

Whatever the reason, my displeasure at the situation made this photograph monochrome.  I am sure that I have the original on a hard drive somewhere, but I have come to know this photograph as black and white.  When it cycles through the slideshow in my office, it is monochrome, and it reminds me of my grumpiness that day.

Photographs are queer like that, I suppose.  They capture a moment, but the moment is so much greater than what actually registers on the sensor as a photograph.  For me, the act of taking a photograph is a holistic experience.  When I look at a shot I took, I remember where I was and how I felt about the shot when I took it and when I edited it.  Some memories have been lost along the way, but the important ones persist.  Even the thought of that rainy July day four years ago has stayed with me.  If I ever begin to lose my memory, my photography will become all that much more important.

My photography is a record of my journey through the last ten years of my life, a journey that was filled with tempest and the afterglow of a rainy afternoon, when everything appears that much more green after the rain has passed.

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Leaves of the Fall

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Beyond any other pursuits, photography included, I am a writer.

I went to Wake Forest on a creative writing scholarship, and even got a full ride to Dartmouth for the same.  (I chose Wake, because in high school I didn’t drink or ski, two prerequisites to attending Dartmouth, I was informed.  I am forever grateful I made that decision, though I do have flights of fancy every so often as to where I would have ended up had I chosen the Ivy League track…)

The first real writing endeavor I undertook was when I was seven and wrote a short story about a kid surviving in the wilds of North Carolina.  It was wholly implausible, but at 15 typed pages (for a seven year old), it was a veritable novella.  When I was sixteen, I began writing what would turn out to be my first novel.  I completed it at Wake, which is to say, I wrote the words “The End” when it seemed appropriate; however, in my mind it remains unfinished and unpublishable in its current form.  Every so often I get a wild hair and re-write sections of it.  Some day, I will dedicate myself to rewriting it, and perhaps I will even submit it for publication.  It’s working title was “The Last of the Romantics,” though this gave way at some point in college to “The Leaves of the Fall,” which is what it remains to this day.  I love that title, and the symbolism that is packed into those five words.

I have gone through phases of dedicating myself to the craft of poetry, and then to drama, and then back to poetry, and then plays about writing poetry, but I always land back at the novel – that unfinished magnum opus that may never be.  I have written a couple of others in the interim, and a number of short stories – some of which I am more proud of than others – but none that I am so proud of as to submit them for any competition or publication.

In the end, I have always written for myself.  It was a release when I most needed it, and like my earlier post on melancholy, this desperation was a bountiful muse.  Now that I am in a happier, softer place, I do not need writing as I once did.  The craft will always draw me.  We are different poles of the same magnet, pulled together at all times, but somehow never quite managing to forever join together and fulfill our attraction to one another.  In some ways it is like a subtle addiction.  I can kick it from time to time, but when I let myself, I relapse into the world where I am consumed by writing.  These little daily epistles satiate me, for now, but they are like methadone to a heroin addict.  Although they replace the visceral need, they are a poor substitute for the real thing, the thing that I crave even when I am not actively thinking about it.

I generally do not stage my photographs.  I take them as they come, as they are presented to me.  In this way, my photographs are documentaries of how I encountered the world, rather than fictional accounts of how perfect I wanted the world to be.  In this case, I gave into my addiction, in part, and posed this water oak leaf on a stone staircase on the property up in North Carolina.  I wanted a shot that corresponded with the title of the novel.  I wanted cover art for a book that may never be bound.  Perhaps this is wishful thinking, or perhaps it is a subconscious recognition that some things I just cannot escape.

Unlike alcohol or any other addiction, I can be consumed with it without being consumed by it.  I am still whole the end of a poem or a chapter, perhaps even more so, having gained a bit more insight into my psyche.  I can live with that.

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Winter Willows

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I leave today, I’m packing light: a suitcase, some toiletries
The rolling hills and willow trees of Carolina wait for me

-Benjamin Gibbard, Carolina

When I set foot on Wake Forest’s campus, I knew it was home.  It is often difficult for me to recall the details of every important life moment, especially if I didn’t put much stock in the moment at the time.  Yet I remember pulling off of Silas Creek Parkway, and seeing the hedges at the entrance to Wake’s campus like it was yesterday.  It was the Fall, and the leaves had already begun to fall as my dad and I pulled through the gate and onto the main road into the campus.

Carolina is still home in many ways.  It is home insofar as I have deep, sometimes painful nostalgia for it.  Nostalgia comes from the Greek meaning an aching for home.  I ache to be back in the foothills, to be back when the leaves turn and fall.  For a long time, I ached to be back at college, but now that I am in a job I enjoy, in a place I love, I do not covet the thought of being back in the dorms and going to class every morning.  Too much has happened in the interim, and I am not the person I was when I was eighteen and stepped foot onto the campus.

Having said that, in many ways, I am more that eighteen-year-old now at thirty-four than I was at twenty-two when I left, or even thirty, when I hit the reset button and chose to fundamentally change who I had become.  To all who met me, I was a happy, laid-back person, who had the capacity to find the joy in the littlest things in life.  I was more this person than perhaps I gave myself credit for being, though at the time, I considered it quite the facade.  Today, I am returning to (or perhaps becoming for the first time) the person I so desperately wanted to be when I was at Wake.  As they say, selfishness and self-seeking have slipped away; I have a new outlook on life.  I comprehend serenity, and I know peace.  For me, North Carolina embodies these promises, and so, one day I will pack my back, to where the rolling hills and willow trees of Carolina wait for me.

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