Cirrus Above Thiksey

In the summer of 2013 I had the fortune of travelling to Ladakh, India, a remote Himalayan kingdom that is now far Northwestern India, bordered by Pakistani controlled Kasmir and Chinese controlled Tibet.  Ladakh’s high desert rises from valley floors at 12,000 feet to the mountain peaks at 20,000ft. Water from the Indus River is skillfully directed through lush fields then on to irrigate countless other valleys in India. The Ladakhis live in carefully organized communities of adobe homes where they maintain cattle and yak, pashmina goat herds, make mud bricks for export, hone their traditional crafts, keep cultural ways of life and practice an intense spirituality.  It is a place where monasteries seem to float above military bases and vast expanses that shimmer in the intense, clear light. Translated as “The Land of High Passes” Ladakh is a region of sunshine and snow, of dark temples and bright spirits.

I happened to meet fellow photographer Christopher Michel in Delhi when he was doing what he does best, photographing people with his happy-go-lucky-how-could-you-say-no direct approach.  We happened to have the same somewhat unusual camera and lens combo so I struck up a conversation.  Little did I know we would be traveling to the same place and often shooting standing shoulder to shoulder with several thousand other people.

Faster and Faster

One hundred and fifty thousand ethnic Tibetans were gathering in Ladakh for the ancient Kalachakra ceremony, a two thousand year old ten-day teaching given by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama.  I went as a student of life, to see and experience with camera in hand but no specific assignment or shot list.  It was not easy.  The mid-summer heat of India was as hard on the equipment as it was on the attendees.  It was difficult to breathe, move, and photograph in the dust, smoke, heat and an international crowd of so many, packed into a tight space and hurrying over long distances to get there.  There were near mob-scene moments as well as times of great kindness that transcended language barriers.  The intense sun cast deep shadows in the desert while the traditional adobe architecture had dark interiors often only illuminated with butter lamps and a single strong shaft of light.  The experience was overwhelming and required great openness to each moment, the physical stamina to endure heat and altitude as well as the willingness to play well with others.  

Every extra moment from sunrise to starry night was spent exploring the stupa fields, monasteries, city of Leh and village life with friends met along the way.  Chris’ focus on the essence of each moment was an inspiration and his photographs reflect his incisive eye, whether the subject was people or place. During the two weeks in Ladakh we did not share work or even review our own images.  There was limited electricity for anything beyond charging batteries.  Several weeks later I happened to come across a blog article about Chris’ work in Ladakh and immediately suggested a collaborative show to benefit Tibetan culture at Tibet House US.  Fortunately Chris agreed to my out-of-the-blue request and the curator of Tibet House US, Zola Nyambuu, was happy with the show we proposed.  So began the coincidental collaboration of “Envisioning Ecstasy.”

The show has forty black and white photographic prints of landscape, portraits and details of Ladakh during the Kalachakra.  These range from arid desertscapes to lush irrigated fields reflecting the mountains.  There are images from the Kalachakra as well as incongruous graffiti overlooking the capitol city, Leh.  Curious camels, luminous nightscapes and the famously painted Indian trucks balance the spiritual iconography.  A traveling circus with a lotus-decorated ferris wheel loomed above the vast desert providing an unforgettable personal and photographic experience.

“Envisioning Ecstasy” also has a conceptual aspect in the form of eleven large-scale lumenographic prints based on illustration based photographs originally sketched during the Kalachakra.  Two projected animations bring these drawings to life and complete the show. The story behind many of the documentary images was captured in Chas Curtis’ keen videograpy.  Chas’ evocative timelapses and captivating clips from ceremony to circus were seamlessly edited into a luminous video interview by Kyle Ruddick. The video is a multi-media presentation of “Envisioning Ecstasy” and will be screened at the opening. The show is accompanied by a catalog, Envisioning Ecstasy and a clothbound book, 108 Visions : Ladakh During the Kalachakra, thoughtfully designed by Michael Motley, which offers glimpses of the journey from small details to sweeping vistas.  Books and print sales benefit Tibet House US, which brings the concept of collaboration full circle. 

CCrowell_ClearLightMind_425px copy

All of this work was greatly enhanced by John Paul and Seth’s dynamic duo Art of Processing and Art of Creativity. The workshops are an intense immersive experience for honing artistic vision, voice and direction.  And of course any workshop with JP and Seth is a lesson in that all important art of playing well with others, one of my favorite photographic mantras.  Photography is often seen as a solitary pursuit and though it has it’s quiet moments, communal creativity widens the collective perspective. This golden rule underpins the entire show of “Envisioning Ecstasy.” 

“Envisioning Ecstasy” opens at Tibet House US, New York, May 20 from 6-8pm and is on exhibit until June 26. Two publications will be released for the show: a catalog, “Envisioning Ecstasy,” and a hardcover book, 108 Visions: Ladakh During the Kalachakra.  Please contact Tibet House US regarding show information and books. 

Learn more about Envisioning Ecstacy on The Leica Blog.

Find out more about Cira Crowell here.

Read more Alumni Success Stories here.

17 Quotes On Light

April 29, 2013 | 2 Comments |

Here’s a collection of my favorite quotes on light.

” Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” – George Eastman

“Science is spectral analysis. Art is light synthesis.” – Karl Kraus

“In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.” – Aaron Rose

“I find the light and work it, work it, work it.” – Janice Dickinson

“Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.” – Le Corbusier

“The substance of painting is light.” – Andre Derain

“What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time.” – John Berger

“Wherever there is light, one can photograph.” – Alfred Stieglitz

“In nature, light creates the color. In the picture, color creates the light.” – Hans Hofmann

“A picture must possess a real power to generate light and for a long time now I’ve been conscious of expressing myself through light or rather in light.” – Henri Matisse

“In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.” – Sir Francis Bacon

“Darkness is where we begin and where we end. We don’t usually see light traveling in darkness of space because we only can see its reflection on substance.” – Ala Bashir

“You can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in.” – Arlo Guthrie

“Why is it called ‘after dark’ when it really is ‘after light’?” – George Carlin

“There are two kinds of light – the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures.” – James Thurber

“There are two ways of spreading light… To be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.” – Edith Wharton

“The artist vocation is to send light into the human heart.” – Robert Schumann

Find more Creativity Quotes here.

Discover more quotes daily in my Twitter and Facebook streams.

Be more green!

You can make a difference today!

Make many small changes to make one big change!

And you’ll save a lot!

Take action now!

Here’s one idea.

Limit Light Pollution

Did you know that we could save electricity,live healthier and save wildlife by just flicking a switch?

New studies have suggested that light pollution has started changing the behavior of many nocturnal animals.  Many birds not only navigate by the magnetic north but they also find their way by following the night stars during their nocturnal migrations.  Unfortunately with so much outdoor lighting in any of the worlds countries – these bird groups are  becoming increasingly confused and flying into tall buildings and towers. in   In 1981,the light drenched smokestacks at the Hydrox Generating plant in Ontario, Canada. caused the deaths of 10,000.00 birds.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 4 million to 5 million birds die this way every year.

This environmental danger is not just restricted to wildlife.  It has been discovered that many people  suffering with sleep disorders, depression, insomnia, cardiovascular disease, and cancers stem developed their diseases from the alteration of the circadian clock caused by night-time lighting.  Other studies including two that were done in Israel have concluded that there is a correlation between breast cancer and outdoor lighting. these showed that women living in highly lite areas had a 73% higher risk of developing cancer then women from living in less outdoor artificial lighting areas.

So what happens when we start limiting our outdoor lighting?  Starting this July the French Government will become the world leader in preventing light pollution. With the hope of saving approximately two terawatt/hours of electricity per year the country will be mandating all commercial interior lighting to be turned off one hour after the last worker leaves. This, in conjunction with the turning off of all storefront and window lighting by 1am should save enough of electricity to light 750,000 homes.

Read more about the health effects of light Pollution here.

Read more about the wildlife toll of light pollution here.

Find more resources that will help you take action now here.

Find environmental organizations to support here.

As I set sail on my fifth voyage to Antarctica I’m wondering what the light and weather will be like this year.


In 2005 we had crystal clear skies that lit up with sunset color for 4 hours.

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.

Discover our 2014 fly to Antarctica sail south of the circle workshop here.

Oriens I, Death Valley, California, 1999

I missed the shot(s) the first time. When I got back from Death Valley a friend said, “Zabriskie Point? Again? Well, I’ll bet you could photograph it in a way that hasn’t been done before.” I knew what she meant, but her comment actually clarified another idea for me.

I had been deeply impressed by the way the light changed mercurially over time, continually transforming the landscape, from pre-dawn through early morning. It first lit the blue gray sky with pale pinks, then turned the far mountains from a cold brown to a hot coral, crept slowly across the valley floor to set Manley Beacon on fire (the crescendo in a magnificent symphony of light that most photographers favor), and continued to create moving pools of light in the foreground during a process that lasts for more than an hour. It is a wonder to behold and to fully appreciate it one needs to be still and vigilant for some time. Its full impact cannot be found in a single moment, I found it in many.

The solution? Make multiple exposures of the same composition throughout changing passages of light and then blend them together to create the impression of an extended moment in time.

I had made exposures of sunrise at Zabriskie Point, but I hadn’t made the ones I needed now. I had to go back. It took a year and a half. Knowing that so many unexpected things often happen, I prefer to make flexible plans, so I wondered if would return for an idea that ultimately wouldn’t work. I envisioned glorious light in every layer of the landscape. As I began making the exposures, I realized there was a flaw in my plan. If I selected the ‘best’ light in every area of the picture, all areas would demand equal attention. There would be no contrast. The final image needed shadow just as much as it needed light. I persisted, making exposures, without moving the camera, for more than an hour, of every significant change in light – and shadow. My original plan was useful but it needed to be modified as it was executed based on specific conditions, new information, and insight. To succeed, I had to listen not just what was in my head but also to the place and the process.

Later, as I looked at my transparencies the final solution presented itself. This new solution even highlighted my feelings about the place more strongly than my original idea. The result, different from my initial conception, but consistent with my intention, achieves a dramatic lighting effect never before seen at one time. Yet, throughout time, a similar sequence of experiences has been witnessed countless times by so many.

The light on the foreground is unaltered, or to be more accurate I should say is faithful to the transparencies that recorded it. The separate portions have not been modified substantially nor were they modified unequally – there has been no dodging and burning. Instead, the light has been reorchestrated with time, faithfully representing the existing light(s) but changing what can be seen in a single moment.

Nothing in the foreground, midground, or background has been added or removed. The sky, however, is an addition from another location. I found the smaller sliver of sky contained in the original exposures made the composition cramped. It lacked the vast sense of space found in the desert. The sky had in fact been the first indicator of the presence of the coming light, making a thousand transformations before its arrival. But the sky that morning was not particularly noteworthy. I could have spent a lifetime waiting for the perfect sky. I chose instead to incorporate another sky from another location that supported both the composition and the light. This sky I altered dramatically, both in tone and color. I did so to expressively complement the drama of the light below, to support it and not detract from it. While the lower half of the image is a matter of resynchronization, the upper half is a matter of recontextualization.

Neither method (resynchronization or recontextualization) yields a classically objective document. But the results of their application may yield artifacts that are truer to our experience of events than traditional photographic practices. If applied in specific ways, they can represent certain aspects of events more faithfully, such as the passage of time.

Making this image changed the way I think about and experience the essential elements of photography – light and time.

 

How many ways can thinking more predictively about change aid your creativity?

How many new ways can you think about fundamentals of your medium?

How can planning increase your creative success?

What can you do to encourage your plans to evolve?

 

Find out more about this image here.

View more related images here.

Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.

 

As far as magic moments go, few can compare to those fleeting moments when light streams from the heavens or wraps around objects, as if making visible some some divine presence. Kings and priests would pay dearly for the ability to place such signs at their command. You can have it for the simple price of an app.

Rays identifies highlights within an image and uses them as sources to render rays of light from …

Read more here.

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