Saturday, May 16, 2009

Watkins Glen 2

images from Watkins Glen State Park, New York

With the hard and continuous rains all night, the waterfalls are running fast and loud in the morning. I spent the night in a hotel, then went up the Glen in the morning. It was sunny for the most part, although still cool and very wet in the Glen itself, the trail slick and wet in spots. I had several conversations with camera buffs and photographers: when you're hauling a tripod and bags of gear up and down the trails, it's hard not to be obvious about what you're doing. All this trip, I've been having good talks with strangers in scenic places of natural beauty. It feels good to be so open and unpretentious about what one is doing—and make no mistake, when I'm out making photographs, I am working not on vacation—and to encounter people with similar interests and attitudes. Somehow, we find each other, on the road, as we touch the edges of each other's individual journeys. I wander, but I am not lost.

This upstate Finger Lake region was gouged out by the relentless grinding of stone by the ancient glaciers. The Lakes themselves are claw-marks on the face of the North American craton.

The surface rock in this region is mostly friable, easily gouged: sedimentary rock from an ancient shallow sea, mostly shale, sandstone, and related sequences.

The rock erodes into ledges, stair-steps, and crumbling vertical cliffs, making these deep angular gorges everywhere there is a cliffside for a river to dig into.

There are waterfalls everywhere here, particularly in spring, particularly after such heavy spring rains as have been arriving in the region all this year. (What makes it bad weather for me to camp out in, on this trip, and which also sometimes makes my inner day equally gloomy, also makes for some spectacular waterfalls, rivers, and other natural forces, and also a wealth of spring flowers everywhere.)

These photos of Watkins Glen are from the second day, after the rain. I was getting into the geometry of the rocks and the moving water, the contrasts of light and dark, the sheer power of the place. It is truly sublime, and recommended to all those who appreciate natural beauty. There are secret beauties here that reveal themselves only to those who take time to look for them. This is a cave to please any water-loving Dragon.

In making a photograph, I usually look for a long time—to see, rather than to merely glance at—before raising the camera to my eye to compose the image in the frame, and release the shutter. I sometimes wait a long time for the light to be just right; for the sun to move just enough to touch the stones I want to illuminate.

It is also a process of discovery, of course. Of seeing what is revealed in this moment of this day, which will never exactly repeat itself; it might approach it, as a strange attractor, but we also are not the same from day to day. So I make an image from what I find, sometimes quickly, sometimes at length, yet always after looking long and deep into what the light reveals.

Not every visitor sees the world this way. Not even every photographer. I have been deeply influenced in seeing before making by Frederick Franck, who in many writings on art and art-making constantly reminds that art is a process of discovery, or revelation, of response. Whether you paint, or draw, or make a photo, as Franck says: You are not copying nature, but responding to nature in full awareness, to the way nature expresses itself in that object.

Photography, the word itself, means painting with light. Photo-gravure: the hand of the light making its own portrait in the moment the shutter is released. I can't help but think that I have nothing to do but choose to make an image from what has been revealed today, this moment, in this location—and that is all I contribute to the process. It is praise, as the poets must praise: praise of the world, and its revealed self, in all terror and beauty, praise of the world as the embodiment of the Divine, which speaks to the Human in us, in the artist, calling us to respond to it with our art, with our making, with our creative response to Creation.

Even though the water pounding over the shale makes a huge roar, particularly after a rainy night, this is a cathedral of silence, in which one can become still and here those voices within, that are the Whispering. Those voices of inspiration that lead us to respond with appreciation, immersion, reconciliation, and prayer. Even at the heart of the waterfall's roar there lives a kind of silence.

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