Photography, as an art and form of expression, is subject to so many influences both external, physical ones and those that come from within, that I’m sometimes baffled by the fact that it’s possible to make an image that speaks to a viewer of something more than just the objects in front of the camera. Many of the influences are measurable and controllable, but the ones that aren’t, those that reside in the mind of the photographer, are arguably the ones that have a much more profound role to play in the creation of evocative images, those that engage the viewer in a visual conversation.
Making landscape photographs is my passion, and as such the landscape and I have a fiery relationship. The simple mechanical processes in this relationship, are like the basics of any relationship: once you know how many sugars to put in a friend’s coffee you don’t need reminding provided you do it often enough. The intangibles though are much harder to pin down, the landscape and I can both be taken by foul moods when no amount of effort will even allow for a casual chat, while when we are in sync with each other, well, heavenly music and (often literal) shafts of golden light result…
While we may consider it fact that any relationship requires hard work, sometimes a relaxed, open mind free of expectation or pressure can lead to something altogether unexpected, deep and really rather lovely. For me these moments of connection most often come along when conditions are not at their best, sometimes something like bad, or (woe betide!) uninteresting weather can lower my guard just enough for something a little special to happen.
Usually my working method is quite an anxious process, involving lots of scrambling, clambering and general agonizing over subject, foreground, where the light is headed and whether I’ll be set up in time. In this instance though I felt as though the pressure was off, the weather was a bit bland, the location was unfamiliar and probably not at it’s best due to a recent fire. These conditions meant that I did not feel obliged to work the situation too hard, and I could relax and just enjoy being in a beautiful location, breathing the air, and feeling relaxed. I made a couple of (uncharacteristically relaxed) images in the late afternoon sun and for the conditions I’d have been satisfied with just those two results.
On the way back to my campsite for the evening I came upon the boulder in the main image and decided it could make a worthwhile subject for a night-time image, considering that I could make a decent composition of it while facing the south where most stars would be visible. Since the sky was still much too bright to start the exposure I decided to leave my camera set up and fetch my dogs from the camp, since they were my company for the weekend, and return to the camera.
Once I considered it to be dark enough I started the exposure. The less than ideal conditions persisted, as I realised the torch I wanted to use to illuminate the boulder had stopped working for no apparent reason, while the smaller back up was dim and getting dimmer by the minute. In the end it took about fifteen minutes to light the boulder with the dim torch, and by this time it was completely dark with no moon.
The return trip to camp was an anxious one, since I did not know the area well, had little light, and to add a bit of spice I had just remembered the trail I was on was named the Leopard trail, while the property bordered on the Cederberg leopard conservancy area. So it was with thoughts of being eaten by a large cat, and two usually calm but suddenly very growly pug dogs that I stumbled my way back to camp. By the time I arrived back at camp I was so shaken that I decided to sacrifice the image, and leave the camera out till morning rather than for a few hours like I had intended.
About six hours later I woke to the wind howling and bright moonlight shining into the cabin window. Some careful gathering of brave feelings led me to decide to venture back out to collect the camera, since now at least I’d be able to see where I was going, and in the meantime I had found a small canister of pepper spray under the car seat to amplify my courage. The trip back to the camera was not much less nervous than before (do leopards hunt in the dark or in moonlight?), and the scenery looked much different now, so I was concerned about getting lost. Through a careful combination of dumb luck and a reasonable sense of direction I found the camera, stopped the exposure, hurriedly packed everything up and, keeping the tripod out to use as crutch/blunt weapon, and nearly ran the return leg of the trip brandishing the tripod and pepper spray. Sleep was welcome after this little episode…
It was a few more days before I could have the film processed to see the photograph, and for the whole time I was sure the image was a failure, either because of the moonlight, dim torch or some other little technical error (Oh, do you take three sugars? Sorry!). I was very surprised when I collected the film from the lab, the image looked very different from what I had visualised, and while not technically perfect, seemed just a little special. If it were not for my relaxed state of mind and a lack of performance anxiety, I would probably not even have attempted this image because of the marginal conditions
Relationships contain stories and shared adventures, and in our relationship this is one of the epic ones, born from being at peace with each other and punctuated with some high emotion. What more could I ask for?