OK. How to explain this photograph, especially to people who think of me as a “landscape” photographer? Let me start with the basic facts. I made the photograph on one of my regular walks in The City, which almost always start at the Caltrain station and the head off in various directions. On this morning I headed straight north towards Market Street. But “straight” doesn’t mean fast, and I mostly walked slowly and looked a lot — at things that I might not otherwise see. The light was beautiful, with the early morning sun beginning to break up the San Francisco fog and cast soft light on the urban landscape. At one point I passed this freeway on-ramp, with its obvious potential for puns based on an old popular song
Yes. I’m putting off trying to explain this photograph. I’ll just drop a few hints. First, think in terms of landscape, but “urban landscape.” There is no clear line between the landscapes of people and the landscapes of what we call the natural world, and this is just a bit closer to one end of the spectrum. Then, there is that beautiful light and the lovely Bay Area summer morning sky — the same sky that might appear in a natural landscape not more than a few miles away. And I think if you look closer you might possibly find a few little surprises in the photograph that demonstrate that perhaps there is more there than you might first think. Isn’t that a beautiful curve from lower right and up toward the sky? And how in the world is it that the street and the freeway are empty of cars on a weekday morning in downtown San Francisco. Beyond that, I’ll leave you to figure the rest of it on your own…
Billboards tower over a service station in morning light, San Francisco
There are many kinds of landscapes to photograph, and I like most of them. This one happens to be an urban landscape, a subject that I like a lot. I made the photograph on one of my periodic walks through parts of San Francisco. This one, as most of them do, started at the Caltrain station very early in the morning and headed straight up toward Market Street. This gas station is right near a freeway interchange, and probably ideally situated for people arriving in or departing from downtown San Francisco.
I know that a scene like this may simply baffle some viewers, especially those who are more drawn to nature and natural landscape photographs with their depictions of unspoiled beauty. I understand. But even in the city there is beauty, and the light was especially wonderful on this morning — blue sky with scattered fog breaking up created a soft but still directional quality to the muted light. My eyes first went to the billboards, whose backsides here tower above the surrounding buildings — urban mountains or cliffs, perhaps? But alone they did not seem to make a photograph. But then I saw the light on that wall with the “PRINTING” sign, and the contrast between the blues of the sky and wall and the hot reds and yellows of the corporate colors on the gas station.
Monsoonal clouds above the Pacific Ocean, Big Sur coast, California
Driving along the central California Big Sur coastline in mid-July we experienced a very unusual coastal summer day. Summers in this area typically feature morning and evening fog and relatively cool temperatures, interspersed with clearer days when the temperatures might rise to near 70 degrees. But for a few days this July, California was affected in an unusual way by a dissipating tropical storm and the early phase of El Niño, and we had unusual manifestations of light and atmosphere and more. There were thunderstorms, some of them quite heavy. The ocean was smoother than usual and the swell came from the south rather than the north. Layers of unusual monsoon clouds filled the sky.
This photograph belongs to what I categorize as both minimalist and imaginary landscapes. I wrote more about this in my previous post, so I’ll keep it short here. The idea is to work with simple materials and often not with an obvious central subject, to focus on some kind of subjective reality rather than creating the illusion of objective depiction.
Brown Pelican in flight above Moss Landing, California
Here we have (yet) another in the continuing quest to get the exactly right pelican photograph. Actually, I’m joking — I don’t know what “the” right photograph would be, and I do know that there are almost infinite variations in these birds and the ways that they can be seen. Each individual looks at least a bit different, and they appear in all sorts of different surroundings: against the sky, against the water, close up or far away, overhead, at my level, below me when photographed from bluffs, midday or golden hour light, how the bird is orientated relative the light source, and on it goes.
This is another of the big group I photographed at Monterey Bay last summer, when the promise of whales surfacing near the shoreline took us there on short notice. Indeed, the whales were there and they were remarkably close to the shoreline. But nearly as remarkable was the absolutely huge number of birds that also showed up, including the pelicans.
Looking towards the Bavarian Alps from the Salzburg Castle
I’ll admit that this photograph has one of the more unusual compositions among my photographs. Late in the afternoon on a summer day, I made the photograph from within an upper courtyard of the Salzburg Castle during our visit to that part of the world a couple of years ago. We were actually staying in Bavaria, in the portion of the distant mountains that is in Germany, but we arrived by train in Salzburg, departed the same way, and managed to travel down to the flatlands and visit the city on a couple of other occasions.
The castle is a spectacular place, located on the high ground above the old town and a bend in the river and having a commanding view of the surrounding flatlands and all the way to the mountains. As impressive as it is to us today, it must have been far more impressive when it was built. From this vantage point I was just able to see over one of the upper walls toward the mountains, and the backlit, hazy sky glowed. I suppose that the photograph is all about shapes, mostly abundant rectangles, but also the triangular shapes of the roof of the white building. The mountains echo those shapes, but inverting the tones — where the white buildings are the lightest things in their part of the image, the mountains are the darkest things in the upper rectangle holding the distant landscape.
Brown pelican flight above the shoreline of Monterey Bay, Moss Landing, California
Rediscovering this photograph and a few of its buddies makes for a bit of an odd story. Earlier today I got a message telling me that one of the drives attached to my computer was nearly full. That seemed a bit surprising, but it also was clearly an issue I had to address, so I set about looking for unnecessary files on that volume. In doing so I “discovered” a folder full of raw files and a few Photoshop files that I had apparently transferred to the computer last year… and then forgot. Most of the files there turned out to be unneeded, and I reclaimed 5GB of disk space by deleting them. But among there were s small number of shorebird photographs that I had forgotten.
The photographs came from an amazing and surprising spur-of-the-moment visit to Monterey Bay last June. For weeks I had been hearing stories of whales coming very close to the shoreline, and I had even observed a few from the cliffs in the Big Sur area. A news story claimed that they were now inside Monterey Bay and even coming very close to the beaches an Moss Landing — and friends had photographs to prove it. So over the hill we went to go there ourselves. When we arrived we were, indeed, impressed by how close the whales came to the beach — I had no idea they did that. But as impressive was the huge collection of birds that was perhaps attracted to the same food sources that drew the whales. I had never seen such numbers of these birds along the coast. Among them were a large number of brown pelicans, so many that photographing them was almost too easy.
Dawn light comes to the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada and Mono Lake.
Some years back I visited Mono Lake very early one morning with my brother, Richard, who is also a dedicated landscape photographer. My recollection is that we had arrived separately in the eastern Sierra and somehow ended up meeting here near the town of Lee Vining and heading out to this familiar spot before dawn to make photographs.
I never know exactly what will turn up here. Yes, I can always photograph those tufa towers, but I’m usually often interested in special atmospheric effects: haze, clouds, broken dawn light, the glow on the peaks of the eastern Sierra, reflections in the morning-smooth water. We began by photographing fairly conventional photographs of the tufa towers before the light arrived. It was a cloudy morning, though the deck of clouds was broken, allowing some light to make it through the gaps and a momentary band of light to strike the mountains as the sun came up beneath the far edge of the clouds in the east. I must have made this photograph fairly close to that moment. Most of the scene is in shadow, but bands of light appear on the peaks, and a bit of softer light illuminates the foreground tufa.