Fires were vicious this summer in southern Colorado, and when that happens, many photographers go to the fire. I waited until a full moon rose and clouds passed by our cabin late one night, and in the deep dark light of the midnight sun, the smoke from the Three Forks fire made eerie waves as it moved in southwesterly wind.
I’ve always found the absence of right angles in ghost towns interesting; it speaks to the idea that such towns were transient, almost ethereal in their existences, as if the residents knew how quickly the boom would bust.
St. Elmo is one of these towns, and it’s a place I’ve been visiting since I was two. I have family in the area, so it was customary that we took a 30-minute jaunt into Elmo when we could just to enjoy the cool air at 10,000 feet and soak up the history of the Denver & South Park railroad.The town enjoys a boom again now as off-road motorcycles and ATVs pollute the quiet trails above town with unmuffled cries of “blaaaat” and dust that never settles.
Yet the buildings remain, and near the Home Comfort hotel, a white picket fence, trim and lace curtains evoke a time when the steam whistle of a train engine was not just the sound of industry, but of hope and future.
Movement and conflict for the eye have always been an obsession for me. How does an image allow the eye to enter, to move, to stop and contemplate? I was strongly influenced in this long ago by the work of David Plowden (click the link to see), and ever since have sought to visually examine the ways in which we exercise our vision.
I was winded, feeling the altitude–uncharacteristically–of the strenuous hike, but it could also have been the surroundings that were stealing my breath. Dead trees littered the ground amidst others still standing as upright mausoleums, their white and cement-hard skeletons tactile adventures as my fingers gently moved across their bases. But as I looked to the east in a boulder-strewn slope, a handful of trees unlike any other on this earth, a species most anyone will be unlikely ever to see in person, held stubbornly against time and weather as they have for a millennia.
Elated, I scrambled up the rockfall for several hundred feet to the top of the slope, and the aura of this tree–this tree!–that was a sapling long before the First Crusade, perhaps even as the Roman Empire stood united, enveloped me and overwhelmed my senses, for I knew I was in the presence of an ancient.
Did I nearly get in a car wreck when I saw this image by the side of the road?
One can’t photograph in the American Southwest without coming under the influence of Georgia O’Keeffe. Spend time with her paintings, her locations, her philosophy, and one can begin to fathom the subtle and complex beauty of the natural world, and thus the puzzle of the above image: If you wish to understand its careful and intricate composition, you must first examine the work of O’Keeffe.
And the flower that is the picture will blossom.
I am a formalist in my compositions most often; in other words, the forms and structures of objects are of great visual inspiration for me. Translation: I like abstracts. Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, de Kooning, Clifford Still all carry great emotional weight for me, and often, my photographs exhibit this influence.
I have a habit of venturing out into the worst kinds of weather: blizzards, electrical storms, violent thunderstorms. Why? Bad weather makes good photographs. So as powerful thunderstorms charged with strong lightning moved east of our cabin in central Colorado, I jumped in the truck and sped toward them, hoping for strong evening light as a visual emphasis as the sun broke beneath the clouds.
I turned onto a muddy forest service road, threw the truck in 4H, turned my back to the sun, and composed my shot–and waited. And with the last gasp of daylight, the sunlight broke from the clouds and lit the ranch. Magic, I say. Magic.
I have always found nature’s curves fascinating, especially since humankind seems to prefer straight lines while Mother Earth avoids them.
*Additional note: Someone asked me via e-mail how I produced this image in Photoshop. My answer: It wasn’t. It has been color-corrected and sharpened, since it was shot as a Raw image (.CR2, not .DNG), but otherwise was produced in-camera. A good question!