Posts Tagged ‘landscape photography


agate bay

A couple weeks ago we were on our way up the North Shore, and stopped as we often do at Agate Bay.

Not far from Duluth, the bay contains traces of days when iron mining, shipping, a railroad, and a plethora of saloons made the town one of the busiest ports on Lake Superior. Now largely empty, the area around the bay is at once forlorn and, perhaps in part because of that, strangely attractive. Tourists come to look at the fenced-in lighthouse and comb the beach for agates. Locals walk along the bay and its shoreline footpaths. Seagulls call, and an occasional mournful horn blast from the taconite loading docks breathes out over the water. Nature is cautiously filling in the spaces where no one else lays claim. That afternoon, it was this apparent no man’s land, bordered by the obvious attractions, that I was most drawn to.

While I was there, vendors were quietly setting up for the weekend’s Heritage Days festivities.

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April snowstorm

I’m probably one of the last people in Minnesota who is still happy to see snow. And snow it did yesterday – perhaps 8″ in our area.

It’s been awhile since I’ve taken my camera out for a spin, so I stopped by Tamarack Nature Center in the blustery aftermath to see what Nature had to say.

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Tamarack swamp

This afternoon I was out driving around taking still photos for my video on the White Bear Lake water levels. En route to a water tower, I passed a location I’ve always intended to photograph, but never had. Seeing this eerie, swampy area from a new perspective, in the strong December sun, I just had to stop and take notice!

Tamarack swamp trees


Apparition at Devil Track River

In early July the temperature of the air and water were constantly fluctuating not only along the shore of Lake Superior, but in the microclimates of the many streams and rivers that feed into the lake.

As the sun passed behind some clouds and the air chilled, I saw a sudden mist form over the mouth of Devil Track River. It passed slowly, like a specter, across the rocks and water, and then was gone.


Sunset in Croftville

There’s a cold front on the way, and I’m preparing to say goodbye to summer. My next few posts will likely be of shots taken over the past couple months in one of my favorite summer places, along the north shore of Lake Superior near Grand Marais.

Sunset in Croftville


Kilve beach

Last September, while on a walking tour of the Quantock Hills in Somerset, UK, my husband and I spent the morning on perhaps the most amazing beach I’ve ever seen. Forged during the Jurassic period, the natural formations of fossil-embedded cliff, bedrock, stones, and today’s seaweed were endlessly interesting.


North Shore

I’ve been waiting all summer for a chance to go up to the North Shore of Lake Superior. It’s an area I love for its forests, shoreline, and the lake itself – which always brings me a peculiar sense of my own existence, perhaps best described as experiencing ‘heaven on earth.’

The other week I finally made it there, ostensibly to scout trails in preparation for a Nordic Walking Weekend Getaway I’m hosting in October. Not much time to take photographs, but I’d brought my camera anyway, thinking I’d continue taking various shots of the wide expanse of water, picking up where I left off last year. At the same time I was also wondering how, despite the glory of the lake, I might keep my images and experience fresh.

Fortunately, the lake was in an entirely different mood that weekend. Ensconced in fog, all I was able to see of her for three days was just a trace of waves next to the shore. It was as if she were lifting her dress to show just a little of her petticoat, creating intimacy and just a suggestion of the body I already knew underneath. All of the negative space created by the water disappearing into fog produced an understated, ambiguous effect – similar to that found in Japanese art, I later realized. It also served to draw one’s focus acutely to the shoreline.

In my last post I talked about recently feeling emotionally unable to meet scenes of overt beauty and grandeur with my camera. This foggy weekend in its comforting quiet and soft light was what actually helped bring back my sense of joy and excitement. How interesting, and significant, it was for me that this should happen on the North Shore, where my spirit as a photographer has always been most nurtured.


Summer stock

Over the last couple summers I’ve been quite a zealous landscape photographer – eagerly rising early and staying out late to explore and capture all the beauty I could find. This summer has been different. The time I’ve had available to spend outdoors more often than not I’ve been driven to use for exercise – walking, Nordic walking, running, or biking. I’ve taken trips into some striking countryside and not brought my camera along. The skies have been dramatic, with so many storms passing through, and I’ve felt like I “should” try to capture all the drama that’s been happening there, but I haven’t. I’ve done a few paintings to try to capture the effects, but mostly the images make an imprint in my mind’s eye, then slowly fade away. I ask myself, is being a photographer more about seeing potentially great photographs, or actually taking them?

I have to be honest and say that in my last post, even though I used the word beautiful, I’m aware I’ve been in a state recently in which  I can recognize things I know to be beautiful, but that the feelings that usually come with witnessing beauty have been absent for me. The emotions haven’t been there. I’ve found that when I’ve tried to capture a scene I know to be “beautiful” – the wild and majestic sky, the play of sunlight across water, etc., I’ve not been really up to it. Instead, I’ve found that when almost all the light is gone and I’ve turned my camera toward what’s in front of me, with no expectations of the subject or myself, I’ve found some satisfaction. Prairie plants, lake plants, things that are just there. I like that as subjects they hold little pretense. And I think because of that, that is where I found a little magic happening this summer.


Nothing stays the same.. but

When there’s good sky, you need to have places to run to and shoot from. For me, one of those places is some county open space accessed via an off leash dog park near my house.

Here’s a shot I took last June, during one of those dramatic evenings.

Almost exactly a year later I returned, eager to capture what was developing above me. I scuttled down my familiar dirt path toward the same vantage point, and found a chest-high fence had been erected to keep me (and the dogs) from exiting the woods. I followed the newly wood-chipped path toward another favorite spot. And the fence went there too. In fact, the fence had closed off access to practically all the natural views of the lake, islands and wetlands that I’ve enjoyed for so many years.

It was so disappointing. Meanwhile, I could see little glints of the setting sun through the trees, and little glowing slivers of the lake. Capturing landscape from within the park was impossible. Some dogs ran up to greet me, bringing their more positive perspective. To honor their enthusiasm, I feebly tried shooting a little bit longer, then headed to my car.  As I walked I could see the sun casting some striking crimson against the clouds, so I headed to the boat launch – the only place from which I could view the lake. I took a bunch of shots, but my take-away from the evening was not of the sunset but of the fence.

The lesson I’ve been telling myself from this experience was that nothing stays the same. There is no method or formula. You can’t take anything for granted. Sadness and loss and fences are part of life..

When I went to pull out the picture of the fence for this post, I saw my shots of the sunset from the boat launch, and was reminded of what a beautiful sight I’d actually seen.


On the path of the Tao

Mountainsides are newly green, orchids are fragrant,

In the mountain cleft… a house sits like a walkway;

After reciting some Taoist texts, nothing to do;

Holding a wine cup, I spend the day admiring the shimmering lake.

– Kung Hsien (1619? – 1689)  Poet and painter in the Taoist tradition, who, following political upheaval at the end of Ming dynasty when all his family were killed, fled to the mountains where he eked out a living by selling his work. This poem is one of several poem paintings done a year before his death.

Today I found myself driving by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Having an hour to spare, I decided to drop in and take advantage of a quiet day at the museum.

Having no agenda, I found myself drawn to a room of large Chinese landscape painting hanging scrolls  in the Taoist tradition. I have always been attracted to this form of art, without knowing much about it.

I love the Tao Te Ching, and it continues to inform on my outlook on life. Today I learned that Philosophical Taoism, based on these writings, was “fundamental to the early development of landscape painting and nature poetry in China.” This type of painting was practiced by the literati – also referred to as scholars – to describe an ideal way of living in which the individual finds meaning and peace in nature. Typically these paintings show a small figure engaged in contemplation, set within a tableau of mountains, water and clouds. The emphasis of literati art was as a practice of reflection, expressing aesthetics, values and feelings, rather than as a feat of technical skill and/or commercial success, though some were that as well. It was at its heart a personal, amateur endeavor, rather than one oriented toward public approval. Here is an example of one of the paintings I saw today.

As someone who’s spent many years as a student and then as a civil servant (the typical literati career), I realized for the first time how my own personal story and orientation as an artist mirrors in its own small way the lives of these literati. It was humbling and affirming to think perhaps I’m on a path that generations have traveled before me.

It also occurred to me  that most often it’s within the realm of landscape and nature photography that I find qualities akin to Taoist art – photographs that speak of nature as a source of beauty,  peace and wisdom that cannot be named. Practiced by photographers of all skill levels, the literati impulse is alive and well.

Since I feel this way about many of my own landscape photography experiences, I decided to see which images of mine might directly connect with the Taoist landscape genre. I worked up this one this evening – consciously choosing a shot that incorporated traditional elements.

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