It’s been said that all politics are local. This is an attempt to take a huge global issue and bring it home. What effect will climate change have on Whatcom county? It’s hard to know for sure but if we do nothing about the warming of the planet, then I think these scenarios are not outside the realm of possibilities.
This project is the brain child of Warren Sheay, a local climate activist. He wanted a way to wake up the local population to the realities of global warming. So he approached me about doing it through photography. A photograph has the ability to convey a sense of reality better than any other medium. You can draw it or paint it but an “artists rendition” as a photograph is a lot easier to relate to.
The hope is to create a sense of awareness of the problem at a local level so than collectively maybe we can secure our future.
We all lead busy lives. We have places to go. We have people to see. We have things to do. We rush to a meeting. We dash off to lunch. In the process we miss the details of the world around us.
I spend all day working in downtown Bellingham, Wa. I’ve recently made it a point to spend some time everyday walking around town noticing the details that tend to elude us. The light and shadow on the side of a building. The way the angles of different buildings come together. The way the clouds interact with the architecture. It’s the details that make life interesting. These are some of my impressions of downtown Bellingham.
Vasquez Rocks is a 900 acre county park in northern L.A. County. It's named for Tiburcio Vásquez, a notorious bandit, who in 1873 and 1874 used these rock formations as a hideout. Vasquez and his gang terrorized California from the 1850's until his capture and hanging for murder in 1875. He fancied himself as a latter day Robin Hood and a defender of Mexican-American rights. Consequently, he is viewed by some in the Hispanic community as a folk hero.
In more recent times Vasquez Rocks was discovered by Hollywood. Starting in 1935 it has been used in countless films and TV series that continues to this day. It is so popular with location scouts that the prominent uplifted rock formation has been nicknamed “Kirks Rock”. That would be Capt. James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise. Vasquez Rocks was used many times in the original Star Trek TV series, each time representing a different planet.
These rock formations, formed by earthquake action from the San Andreas fault, provide a fascinating photographic opportunity. The light, shadow and textures provide an endless source of inspiration and are a joy to photograph. What follows are a few of my interpretations of this varied landscape.
Water in many of it's myriad forms from a variety of locations. Probably the most powerful force on the planet but at the same time, the most soothing.
Trees play a larger part in our lives than we often realize. Not only do they provide food, shade, oxygen and things like houses and paper but their roots go deep into our culture. It was eating from the Tree of Knowledge that got Eve and Adam in trouble with their land lord, while sitting under a Bodhi tree the Buddha gained enlightenment and it wouldn’t be Christmas without its tree. Trees show up in literature as well. The Ents, large tree-like creatures in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, help save the day. It was a large tree that was used as a symbol of friendship in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. That’s where Boo Radley left little gifts for Scout Finch. It’s in the forest that we find refuge from danger and in many cultures it’s the home of the nature spirits. The tree is also where we look to find out who our ancestors are by looking them up on our family tree. Living in the Pacific Northwest we’re blessed with an abundance of trees of all types. With proper vigilance, they will hopefully be with us for a long time. Knock on wood.
“Only with a leaf can I talk of the forest,” -Visar Zhiti
It was a typical Alaskan winter; white. I was tired of photographing white. As a respite from all the snow, I went to the municipal greenhouse in a city park in Anchorage. This is where the city grows all the flowers and plants that they place around town in the spring. It was warm and green and they were more than happy to let me wander around with a tripod and camera.
That was many years ago. Although I didn’t know it at the time, that was the beginning of this project. It wasn’t until recently that I became interested in plant leaves again, which started with the rhubarb leaves in our backyard. Something about the shapes within the leaves caught my attention but ultimately it was the relationships between the leaves that I found most interesting. It would be easy to anthropomorphize these relationships: one leaf covering another as if to protect it or two leaves in a loving embrace. The truth is that for me it’s mostly visual. The shapes that are created when one leaf wraps around another. The way the light recedes as we look further into the plant, revealing a hint of more in the shadows.
Early in the project someone asked me the names of some of the plants. At first I was embarrassed that I didn’t know all of them. Then it dawned on me; I’m not a botanist. Taxonomy isn’t the point. I’m much more interested in the poetry, so I gave myself permission to put the science aside and concentrate on the visual.
The more I’ve worked on this project, the more I realize that paying attention to the details is the best way to understand the whole. By concentrating on leaves I have a greater appreciation of the whole ecosystem. What happens at the micro level is just a mirror of the macro. As someone in Greece once said to me; “Watch the leptas and the drachmas will take care of themselves.”
If we take care of the leaves, we’ll always have the forest.
Notations in Passing
One of the many things I find fascinating about photography is how differently a camera perceives motion. We see motion more like a video or movie camera; life passes before us in a never ending stream. We watch a continuous narrative where it's hard to tell where one moment ends and the next begins. A camera has the ability to slice time into much smaller segments. Usually the camera captures portions of time that are parts of seconds, a time span so brief that it might otherwise have gone unnoticed. A brief glance, the play of light on a hillside, can be cut out and studied forever.
The camera can also be used to capture longer slices of time and present it in a way that is completely foreign to our perception of time. Things move differently; colors blend, objects take on different shapes. Our world changes. This is a view that is unique to the camera.
While walking thru the urban landscape, I'm looking for colors, shapes, and textures. In attempting to predict how the camera will perceive them, I realize that it's really a collaboration between me and the process. It's a fun way to work that is always full of surprises.