Because of or in spite of forces beyond our control, the condition of being lost in thought can feel deflating or enriching. These works were created during such moments in life. They are expressions of reveries tied to specific moments in time, having less to do with photography and more to do with sentiment.
November 3 – 38 leaves, 38 stems and 38 hearts for 38 years of life. For a brief period of time that typically aligns with my birthday, the Boston Ivy vine that lives on my brick house peaks in saturation and hue across the autumnal color spectrum. As midlife approaches, this annual die-off is a reminder that beauty peaks past its prime.
Michigan’s southernmost wilderness – Nordhouse Dunes – became a place of constant retreat during the first year of the pandemic. On that vast stretch of beach, a single stump grounded my every trip. At all times of day and in every weather condition I searched for it, drifting north or south with the current, mostly submerged one week, high and dry the next. The stump is a work of art without assistance and the search continues.
We came upon one another while wandering in a vast wood, two solitary animals. After a brief courtship of silence, we circled in wide berths and settled ten feet apart, me on my belly, squirming forward six inches at a time, an earthworm on a damp forest floor, close enough to touch, our breath in rhythm, eye contact through a 100mm macro lens, stitching you together one frame at a time, the most meaningful portrait I’ve ever made.
Chaos & Calm: The time was well past midnight when I rappelled into Dairyland, a massive ice climb on the southern shore of Lake Superior. My breath hovered without movement, illuminated by a headlight that flickered once and then died, bringing chaos from calm. Guided only by the light of a gibbous moon, I began to climb as high clouds swept in. Darkness neared complete as I pitched a tent in the woods above. Well into the next day a winter storm raged, plastering trees with a coat of white, bringing calm from chaos. On that night that I’ll never forget, I forced creativity from the only camera I had, a point-n-shoot, in order to calm the chaos that raged within.
The Spot – Through a crack in the rock, through turbulent water, into darkness, I swim. The humid air heavy like breath. The full acoustic spectrum of a subterranean sea pounding my soul. The chamber itself a reward, a logical stopping point, except for that crack that keeps going, except for that which can’t be ignored. Probing deeper into the cold, to the ledge at cavern’s end – the spot – sucking and surging from knees to chest from head to heart. The way out is not the way in, an underwater passageway following the light rounding a bend past the crack full circle in which I swim.
Lost to a macro lens with focus pulled tight. Lost to Photoshop with music cranked loud. Inverting everything in order to find something. Lost to nature in order to find my way.
Every summer I solo kayak around Grand Island, a several-day retreat of self-reflection where my most meaningful interactions with nature occur. In Trout Bay, at the base of a sandstone cliff, a razor-thin beach protrudes from Lake Superior. It is a cathedral where I often stop. While lying there on the verge of tears, my head fell sideways to meet the gaze of a frog half-buried in sand, inches away. For a long time we laid there, the two of us, and not once did you flinch or blink or cry or otherwise acknowledge my presence.
While hammock loafing one late-summer day in Huron National Forest, I re-read a book about the structure of the universe in which Albert Einstein is said to have loafed for a year in his youth, “wasting” time. He went on to formulate the general theory of relativity, which blew open our understanding of the cosmos. With that thought in mind and with an afternoon left to waste, I began experimenting, holding a monocular to the lens of a point-n-shoot camera until a partial circle emerged. Adding movement across the forest landscape, combined with a slow shutter speed over which I had no control, created images that resembled distant planets. I made nine of them, one for every planet in our solar system before Pluto was evicted. Had I not read the book, I would not have made the images.
In early March 2020, before lockdowns, I was quarantined by my employer because of contact with a person who had possible contact with an anonymous person who tested positive for the coronavirus at a conference of thousands of people. So I found myself inside for 11 days. The rules of my self portrait were simple: only shoot photos of the night sky from a skylight window and only use one photo from each night in whatever composite emerged. I yearned to feel the touch of the moon, but it never touched back, suspended in time and space eternally.
The passing of time does not negate beauty. As spring blooms with chlorophyll and light, I turn my attention to the past, to the leaf matter that has survived more or less intact, against all odds, against winter. In life, each leaf grew to be indistinguishable from a gazillion others just like it. In death, each decayed uniquely and crossed my path randomly. Some are returned to the dirt in support of future trees with leaves. Some are preserved. Every year I collect more and add them to the circle. And years from now when I too am in the dirt, some future homeowner might uncover some box in some dusty hole of my basement and wonder about the inspiration for their collection, the leaves that refused to be forgotten.