Category Archive: Seeing the Trees

  1. Toonerville Trolley

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    Tahquamenon Marsh

    The Tahquamenon River drains a vast marsh that is largely undeveloped and inaccessible. This landscape of marsh grasses interspersed with tamarack and black spruce has an austere beauty that I’ll admit is something of an acquired taste. Because it is so inhospitable to human habitation and so barren of useful resources it has remained almost untouched through all of history. This is true wilderness.

    One of the best ways to get an introduction to this landscape is to take a day-trip on the Toonerville Trolley Train and Riverboat. The trip begins and ends with a 5 1/2 mile ride in open coaches on a narrow gauge railway. The train ends at a landing on the Tahquamenon River where you board a ferry that cruises 20 miles to a spot just above the Upper Tahquamenon Falls. A half mile hike takes you to an overlook of the falls–a spot on the south bank that can only be reached in this way.

    I took the trip on a beautiful fall day when the color season was near peak. Tamarack are a unique tree that is both coniferous and deciduous–their needles turn golden and are shed in autumn. Black Spruce are tall, straight, and narrow and often have a dense cluster of  deep green branches at the crown. Though both trees have a scruffy appearance, they seem to thrive in northern marshes. I was looking forward to getting some shots of this remote landscape from the train. Until it started moving…

    I had anticipated the train going clickety-clack down the track, so had turned on the vibration compensation of my Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 lens. What I soon discovered was that train seems more to heave to and fro through the landscape–probably because the tracks are laid on marshy soils. Soon I was feeling frustrated and bored as it became clear I would never be able to capture a sharp image.

    After stewing for a bit it dawned on me that I could change tactics. Instead of trying to get sharp images, why not go with the flow and try for artistically blurred photos. So I turned off the vibration control and set the aperture to a small f/16. The resulting shutter speed of about 1/4 second was long enough to give my photos a impressionistic rendering caused by the gyrations of the train.

    For the rest of the ride I clicked away happily every few seconds–without even looking through the viewfinder! Of the hundred or so photos I took, perhaps a half dozen were keepers. They’re my favorite images from the day.

    Upper Tahquamenon Falls

  2. Birch Trees and Maples

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    In the fall of 2008 I was extremely fortunate to be chosen as an artist-in-residence with the Glen Arbor Art Association. For two weeks I had the use of a cozy apartment while I explored the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and surrounds.

    My wife, Joan, joined me for the weekend in the middle of my residency, and on a beautiful Sunday afternoon we decided to explore the area around Good Harbor Bay. I followed a two track off of a dirt road and discovered an enchanted clearing in the woods. An old orchard surrounded by a mature forest in full autumn regalia was returning to the wild. I spent a pleasant hour exploring its photographic potential.

    Off to the side a grove of young birch trees was colonizing the clearing. I was struck by the contrast between the green leaves and white bark of the birch trees and the glowing red maples in the background.

    As a young man I was much influenced by the art and architecture of minimalism. I knew the work of Mies van der Rohe, and was familiar with his aphorism “less is more.” In my own work I’m constantly trying to simplify my compositions—to boil my experience down to its essence. For me a successful composition includes only what is necessary and contains nothing I did not intend.

    So as I composed the image to capture my experience of this lovely scene, I chose a telephoto lens to narrow my field of view. I framed the shot so it would include only the birch trees and maples and I placed the birch trees on the right so that the diagonal branches would lead your eyes to the upper left and the field of color created by the maples.

    People have always commented that it is difficult to tell if my work is painting or photography. When printed on canvas this image particularly elicits that response. The individual leaves are so distinct it looks as though they were painted with a pallet knife.