The snow was just beginning to fall as I made this exposure. I was so fixed on the image I was after that it took me a little time to see the magic in the moment. I made several more exposures working with these marvelous surprises from above.
Once the image was scanned, I retouched the snow. I hadn’t intended for it to be there when I first set up the shot. I was hoping to create a very spare abstraction with a single focus — the ripples in the water. When I was done, I realized removing the falling snow was a mistake.
The random patterns were beautiful, like constellations. They made a larger process visible. Moisture fell from the sky above, collecting in a pool, and over time condensed under the surface of the water. What was above the surface pointed to what was below it and to the surface itself. Everything was interconnected.
I thought at first the lack of focus was a shame but reconsidered this when I realized it was one more visual cue to depth in what would otherwise have been a very ambiguous space. The snow made space visible. Yet, while the variable focus of the falling snow aided in separating space, it didn’t pin it down definitively. It was only one more suggestion layered on top of many others.
I decided to exaggerate the falling snow. I rendered the effect. That too was a mistake. The composition quickly became too busy. There was an easy, natural, grace to the relationships that already existed. Adding or subtracting from the larger pattern created an imbalance. The balance that was there wasn’t obvious at first. It was the kind of balance you could experience. But, it was hard to describe.
It took some time for me to both realize and accept that the image was perfect just the way it was. I’m glad I took the time to prove this to myself. That confirmation was important to my artistic growth.
Since then, I’ve redoubled my efforts to include even more unaltered images in my work. (This image might not qualify, as the color has been exaggerated.) I’ve always included a few unaltered images in my body of work. Often, they look like altered images. Some of my altered images look unaltered. I’ve deliberately set up this tension. I’m happy to report that a majority of viewers assume that my images have been altered. I’d rather they make that assumption than that they haven’t been altered. Every photograph has been altered to some degree, though some are without a doubt more altered than others. The ambiguity set up in my work serves to heighten an awareness of the process of looking itself.
I had an interesting experience when a friend asked me to describe this image recently. I couldn’t remember whether I had altered it or not. I couldn’t tell from looking at it either. It was the first time that I could share with my viewers a state of not knowing when looking at my work. I relished it. Because I couldn’t remember, I really had to look hard. It’s ironic. It can work both ways. The more we know, the more the world is full of wonder. The less we know, the more the world is full of wonder.