Sometimes those little extra touches make all the difference in the world.
On my first voyage to Antarctica, I was thunderstruck by its immensity. The vast untouched silent spaces were overwhelming. It was a supreme challenge to suggest this sense of scale in the comparatively small images I was producing. This was even more challenging in an environment without human figures or man-made objects.
One of the ways I approached this challenge was to make images filled mostly with space and populated by tiny objects. You can create a powerful sense of scale if you can present large things as being tiny without creating a sense of distortion at the same time.
Some objects bring magic with them. Include the sun, moon, or evening star and you’ve added a magic moment. The bigger you make them, the stronger the magic moment becomes, but no matter how small it’s always magic. Did you ever notice how when a tiny figure is included in an immense landscape picture that the images becomes about the person? I’m always amazed at how something that occupies 1% of the total image’s area can make such a difference.
I marvel at how we overlook the dramatic distortions inherent in making small images of very large things, like mountains. On the one hand, this strikes me as funny, in both senses of the word – comical and strange. On the other hand, this is magical; you can hold the earth in your hands. Suspension of disbelief is responsible for much of the magic of looking at realistic images.
Initially, this image was made without the moon, which was added later. The moon makes this image stronger in many ways, taking it up a notch. The moon also changes the nature of this photography. Without the moon, this image can be seen as a literal, historical document. With the moon, this image becomes an aesthetic object with a heightened emotional emphasis; a poem rather than a piece of non-fiction. While both versions hold up, I prefer the version with the moon. I choose which version to show based on what’s appropriate for a given use. For instance, I show the version without the moon in my editorial body of work Antarctica. The same means are not appropriate for all situations.
What small things could you include to make a big difference?
Which small things make the biggest difference?
Does how you include them increase or decrease the contributions they make?
Is their inclusion appropriate for what you are trying to accomplish?
Seth Resnick loves wine. So does Greg Gorman. The two of them have taught me most of what I know about wine. Through them I’ve come to appreciate wine in new ways and with a new depth of understanding. They know that if they drink wine with me, I’m going to ask a lot of questions, to learn as much from them as I can and to appreciate the wine I’m drinking with them even more.
On many of our Digital Photo Destinations workshop adventures, Seth and I share wine with our participants. On our 2013 Antarctica South Of The Circle Voyage we bought enough wine for the entire group to try a new wine at the start of each evening meal. As we embarked from Argentina, we selected only Argentinian wines, mostly reds, found at our favorite wine store in Ushuaia – Quelhue. Something that we looked forward to each night the wine started conversations, lifted spirits, and strengthened our community.
Here’s a list of the seven best wines we had during our voyage; each ranked on a scale of 1-10 (10 highest). You might enjoy them too. I use the iPhone app Wine Notes to record my impressions and usually include a picture of the person I drink the wine with along with the label in each entry as part of this journal. These are my only opinions (with input from Seth). Be mindful that I like my wines like I like my people, with character.
9.1 Malbec Achaval Ferrer / Finca Bella Vista Perdriel 2007
A truly elegant wine from old vines in volcanic soil riddled with complex flavors that are so beautifully blended they are hard to separate and keep changing from beginning to end and through its extremely long finish. It’s often appropriately referred to as a “chimera”.
8.9 Cabernet Sauvignon Luigi Bosca 2010
Big, bold, full-bodied. Beautifully balanced structure with a great beginning, middle and end, with a long finish. Red fruits, cherry dominant with hints of chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon and distinctive earth flavors.
8.8 Malbec Tapiz Black Tears 2008
Smooth full body with great mouthfeel (maybe a touch chewy) and solid structure and tannins. Big berry flavors, currant dominant. Complex layers. You can taste that it came from volcanic soil.
8.4 Tannat Quara 2009
Really big, complex, and earthy (especially on the nose). Fast, but lingers long with hints of cinnamon and tobacco. It’s unusual to find this grape on it’s own instead of blended.
8.4 Cabernet / Malbec D V Catena 2010
Red fruits (cherry, raspberry, strawberry) with a hints of mint and eucalyptus. The smoky earth flavors from ashy volcanic soil gives it rich character.
8.4 Cabernet Sauvignon Gascon / Finca Escorihuela Gascon Reserva 2009
Elegant, rich, full, classic cabernet that doesn’t hide the earth it was grown in.
8.3 Malbec Tomero Gran Reserva 2008
A classic Malbec in every sense.
Wine is just one of the things that makes our workshops unique.
Only 9 spaces are left.
My daily log of my most recent voyage to Antarctica is now live.
Feb 10 – 20 Seth Resnick and I lead an intimate workshop aboard the Sea Spirit to cross the Antarctic circle with many highlights along the way including sites we’ve visited many times before Deception Island, Half Moon Island, La Mer Channel, Plenneau Bay, Cierva Cove, Neko Harbor, Paradise Bay and others we’d never seen like Torengsen and Cuverville Islands. The locations never look the same twice, changing dramatically with season, weather, and light. On this voyage, at first calm and sunny, the weather turned windy offering many moody images.
Plus, you can compare them with images and stories from 2011 and 2009 too.
My free screensaver features beautiful images and fascinating facts on Antarctica.
Antarctica is stunningly beautiful! Explorer Roald Amundsen said, “The land looks like a fairytale.” The coldest, windiest, driest, highest, most isolated continent contains 90% of earth’s ice and 70% of its fresh water, regulating global climate and sea levels.
As I set sail on my fifth voyage to Antarctica I’m wondering what the light and weather will be like this year.
In 2007 we had weeks of low hanging clouds and low lying fog.
In 2009 we had high thin clouds that diffused the light with a golden glow.
In 2011 we had rain, sleet, hail, snow – if it was wet it was in the air.
Now, in 2013, I’d love to be surprised with something different. But what would that be? A combination of the intense color of 2005 and the sculptural form of 2007?
Each voyage, I’ve hoped for at least one calm passage across The Drake. They have a phrase to describe this body of water - “lake or shake”. I’ve only seen the “lake” in the colorlful photographs of Eliot Porter and I’d love to see it with my own eyes and make my own photographs. Though I’d be happy to continue “paying the price” to visit Antarctica, I’ve had enough “shake”, which is one reason we plan to fly to Antarctica in 2014.
My free February desktop calendar features an image from Antarctica.
In 2007 I visited Plenneau Bay, Antarctica, which lies just past the famous La Mer Channel. This was the only Zodiac cruise where all the workshop leaders (Michael Reichmann, Jeff Schewe, Stephen Johnson, Bill Atkinson, Ian Lyons, Seth Resnick and I) rode together while Chris Sanderson recorded the event on video for Luminous Landscape. Locked out of this area by ice in 2005, we were delighted to have access to the area many people call ‘The Iceberg Graveyard” because the shallow bay frequently traps ice.
We found a floating sculpture garden made of ice in a stunning array of forms. We found frozen sea creatures, both real and mythical. We found Viking ships and space ships. We found pyramids and grottos. One iceberg impressed us above all the others. We first approached it from one side hoping to glide across the pool of water in its center and through an arch on the far side, but we discovered the arch was too shallow to pass through. Double backing, we then approached it from the opposite side. We gasped collectively when we saw what another angle had to offer. The ice had been sculpted in what appeared to be a Grecco-Roman façade complete with a central arch and accompanying rhythmically repeating columns. To this day we still have a hard time believing that this was a naturally occurring form and not man-made. This was one of those unforgettable moments that changes the way you see and think about the world as you become aware of possibilities you hadn’t previously dreamed of.
Despite the rich subject matter, it was challenging photographically, as we had hours in an area we could have spent days and consequently moved through it rapidly, which forced us to work like action photographers. At one point in our magical voyage, I teased Michael that he was encouraging very bad habits – shoot first, ask questions later. But I made the best of it knowing that I would never see this again and while I was doing so I realized that this push outside of my contemplative comfort zone would encourage me to acquire skills that would prove useful in other situations. They have been useful in many other unforgettable moments.
Which mode are you most comfortable in?
How can switching between contemplative to active modes help you?
Every voyage I’ve made to Antarctica has revealed new dimensions in the subject – weather, light, seasonal changes, annual variations, and my growing understanding of the region have all contributed to this.
With so many wonderful places to go, why would you return to the same location more than once?
Let me count the ways.
1 You’ll see more of and learn more about a place.
Increase your understanding of the places you photograph and your photographs will become more interesting.
2 You’ll have an opportunity to get the images you missed.
Try making a short list of the shots you missed when you shoot. Even if you never return this activity will prompt you to be clearer about why you missed the shots and you can take steps towards remedying this in the future. If you do return, you’ll have the beginnings of a working plan that will greatly increase your productivity and success rate.
3 You’ll have an opportunity to refine the images you made.
You may have made images that barely made the cut but would shine if they were reframed or made with different equipment or in different conditions. For this reason I recommend you review not only the images that worked on your previous trip(s) but also the ones that didn’t asking yourself why they didn’t and what you could do differently.
4 You’ll see new things as your vision matures.
Having first found the images that come to you more naturally, you’ll later find yourself challenged to look for other kinds of images, which will stimulate your creativity and increase your visual versatility.
5 You’ll see changes in the place.
Time reveals. Weather, time of day, seasons, and the accumulation of years change a place. They change us too. These changes can become a wellspring for many images.
6 You’ll learn more about yourself.
While it’s true that you can learn more about yourself when you experience new things, it’s equally true that you’ll learn more about yourself when you re-experience them. You’ll find that your relationship with a location will change over time, as you experience more and mature. You’ll see not only how a place has changed but also how you’ve changed – and how the place has contributed to your growth. These types of insights are harder to achieve in new locations. Because the perspective with which you look at thing is different, the types of things you learn are different.
7 You’ll get to spend more time in your favorite places.
Just as you can’t go everywhere, you can’t return to every place. Return to the places that call you. Passion kindles the fires within, which will be visible in your images. Passion energizes and recharges us. A large part of the reason we do the things we do is because we enjoy them.
Unfamiliar locations challenge you to see new things in new ways, familiar locations challenge you to see the same things in new ways.
Just because we see new things doesn’t mean we will see in new ways, in fact the times when we are grappling with so many new variables are often the times when we fall back on our habits. When we see the same things again we are forced to see in new ways and/or deepen the ways we see them.
Even with a lifetime of adventuring, you can’t see it all. Your question is do you want to see a lot or do you want to see deeply? You’ll want to strike a balance between the two, surveying the many opportunities before you and choosing to return to one or a few of the places that call you the most. Exactly what balance you strike at any given moment is up to you.
No other photographer is more influential to me than Eliot Porter – save my father. I knew Eliot through my mother’s long collaboration with him designing and overseeing the production of over twelve of his books during my formative years. His influences on me are too numerous and wide-ranging to list them all here. A few stand out from the rest.
Eliot was a pioneer who elevated the use of, appreciation of, and collectability of color within the medium of photography, aligning his distinctive style with the subtle and complex palette of nature.
Eliot was probably the most widely published fine art photographer of his day. He was at the forefront of a handful of photographers that defined a style that would later characterize an entire genre of photographic environmental advocacy. It was during the production of Eliot’s book Intimate Landscapes where I was first introduced to digital imaging. When I saw the Scitex machines used in the 1970s I instantly wanted to use them for artistic rather than commercial purposes, but thought it might be a lifetime before I could afford what my mother called a “million dollar coloring book” until I got my own copy of the first version of Adobe Photoshop, which was a dream come true. The posters my mother designed to promote the book and exhibit ultimately became some of the Metropolitan Museum’s most successful, far exceeding the reach of the originals. I learned that an artist’s effectiveness could be dramatically extended beyond rare original works of art through publications made available to large audiences.
James Gleick’s (the author who popularized complexity sciences and fractal geometry in his best-selling book Chaos) choice to join forces with Eliot on their book Nature’s Chaos confirmed my opinion that Eliot had intuitively sensed a deeper order in nature than was conventionally seen and portrayed this in his images. Eliot’s background and continuing interest in the sciences informed his art.
Eliot described his book The Place No One Knew, a portrait of Glen Canyon before it was flooded by a dam, as a eulogy because it was released after the flood waters began rising and affected public opinion too late to stop the destruction of the canyon’s destruction. Hearing about both the successes and failures of advocacy through the arts, I decided that while I wanted to make my own contributions in this area, that there were plenty of other artists contributing in similar ways, and that new ways were also needed. He knew this when he threw down the gauntlet one day and said to me, “You know, it’s going to be your generation that decides whether we will hand down a habitable environment to future generations.”
Even more influential to me than his photographs was the man. In his 70’s and 80’s, Eliot was physically fit (walking 5 miles a day), adventurous (travelling to remote locations like Iceland and Antarctica), mentally sharp as a tack (loving intelligent respectful debates with anyone of any age or background and often playing the devil’s advocate just to see where the conversation and the other person would go), and actively socially conscientious (continuing his long-standing participation in organizations like the Sierra Club. He was a shining example in so many ways.
People keep asking Seth Resnick and I why we keep returning to Antarctica.
We’ve made four trips and every trip was different. We visit new locations; there are over 40 locations cruises land at and with each visit we get to visit an average of 12. The ice conditions are always different; one month can make a big difference. Surprisingly, the thing that we’ve found makes the biggest difference is the weather, which affects the light dramatically. We saw riotous colors during four hour long sunsets on our 2005 Peninsula trip and “nights” where the sun only skims the horizon but never truly sets south of the Antarctic circle in 2009. Every time we go, we keep wondering how much more could there be to see and how different could the conditions be and every time we’re surprised that we discover so much more and that locations we know look so different. Each voyage has had an entirely unique character.
The two most sublime landscape experiences I’ve ever had were at Sossusvlei, Namibia and in Antarctica’s The Gullet. The Gullet was the remotest, purest, whitest experience I’ve ever had. It felt like being in a frozen heaven. Quietly cruising on mirror calm waters through the dramatic mountains of Crystal Bay to find the narrow channel through The Gullet (like seeing clouds cascade off high peaks to touch the water and be frozen in place) and through to Margueritte Bay lit up by endless hours of midnight color was one of the most beautiful 24 hours of my life. Many of us didn’t sleep that ‘night’ because we didn’t want to miss anything. We knew while we were there that few people on earth had ever had an experience similar to the one we were having.”
Email me at jpc@digitalphotodestinations if you’d like to join us.keep looking »
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