Jun 24 2012

Ansel Adams’ Problem & Ours

Like countless other photographers, one of my early sources of inspiration was the work of Ansel Adams.  Even when I knew nothing about photography it was obvious that this man’s work was phenomenal.  I continue to this very day to be inspired by his photographs.

A couple of days ago a friend sent me a link to a website that focuses on Ansel Adams work in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I have most of Adams’ books and there are very few images from this park in them.  The website I went to indicated why.  Ansel Adams found it difficult to photograph in the Smokies.  In a letter he wrote from these mountains he told a friend, “they are going to be devilish hard to photograph…”  Considering the fact that I have spent more time photographing in this park than any other I found his comment to be quite amusing.  The Smokies are filled with extraordinary beauty; how could the great Ansel Adams find them so difficult to photograph?

I forwarded the link to my blogging partner, Rob Sheppard.  I pointed out to him how I was intrigued by Adams’ comment about photographing the Smokies.  Rob responded to my message by saying,I think Adams definitely was attuned to the West because he grew up there and spent most of his time there.”   If you are familiar with Ansel Adams’ work you know that most of his famous images were, indeed, made in the West.  Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevadas are featured prominently in his work.  That was the landscape he knew best and his familiarity with it helped enable him to capture the spirit or essence of that region.

In my note from Rob he went on to talk about how familiarity with a landscape affected his own work.  He wrote, “I think I am only beginning to really ‘see’ the chaparral because I have been photographing it for a few years now.  Georgia O’Keeffe once said “seeing takes time.”  She was no doubt right.  I remember how frustrating it was when I first started traveling out West to photograph.  I was rarely satisfied with the results.  Now, after dozens of trips out West I feel more comfortable and familiar with the environment and it shows in the photographs I take.  The more time you spend in a location truly does make a difference.

I suspect that what is true in photography is also true when it comes to seeing God in Creation.  Here, too, it takes time.  There are not a lot of “burning bushes” out there (see Exodus 3); God seems to make Himself known in much more subtle ways.  This means that we will likely have to spend a good bit of time becoming familiar with our surroundings to see and hear all that God longs to reveal to us.  Certainly God can speak to us anywhere, and we should always be open to that possibility, but it is likely that we will see and hear Him best in our home environment or the places we are most familiar with.  Has that been your experience?

–Chuck

*The link to the website on Ansel Adams and the Smokies can be found at http://knoxart.org/exhibitions/higherground/ansel.html.  You’ll find several rare and unpublished images here.

(I took the top image at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the middle image of Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park, and the bottom image  of Mesquite Dunes at Death Valley National Park.)

 

 

 


Feb 22 2012

God’s Amazing Artwork

Over six hundred years ago the Italian author and poet, Dante Alighieri, said “nature is the art of God.”  I would be the first to affirm Dante’s sentiment but recently I have been reminded of just how outstanding God’s art revealed in nature is.   The last few days I have been working on scanning slides I took during my first fifteen years of photography.  Last night I worked on some images I captured at Arizona’s famous Coyote Buttes.  Looking at these pictures I found myself once again in awe of the Master Artist’s work.  The sandstone formations and patterns found at Coyote Buttes are mindboggling! 

Looking at the images made me stop and think about all the wonderful “art work” I’ve seen in nature.  I thought about the beauty and symmetry found on a dewy spider web.  I remembered being overwhelmed by the colors and patterns in petrified logs I saw at Petrified Forest National Park.  I thought about the intricate detail and beauty I’ve seen when I’ve looked closely at seashells, flowers and insects.   I remembered with great delight the first time I saw the dancing patterns of the northern lights in Alaska.  All of this led me to think about God’s artwork that few people ever get to see.  Through the lens of a microscope one can find incredible beauty.  At the same time, the Hubble Telescope is constantly sending back images of galaxies and nebula that look like great works of art.  The universe is filled with beauty that few, if any, will ever see!

When I was quite a bit younger Ray Stevens had a hit song that declared “Everything is beautiful in its own way.”  That the world is filled with much beauty simply cannot be denied.  I know some say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” but for each beholder there is plenty of beauty to see and acknowledge.   As we recognize and enjoy the beauty we see we should offer thanks to the Artist who created it.  The wise writer of Ecclesiastes wrote concerning God, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (3:11)  There is certainly nothing wrong with pointing to the beauty we see around us but let us not fail to give credit where credit is due.  God deserves to be worshiped and praised for sharing His art with us. 

When I was in New Mexico a couple of months ago I visited the Georgia O’Keeffe  Museum.  I enjoyed looking at her wonderful work but was amazed at how many security personnel were on hand.  It was obvious that the museum recognizes the value of O’Keeffe’s work and is determined to protect it.  I concur that her work is valuable but nowhere nearly as valuable as that produced by our heavenly Father.  For that reason we need to do everything we can to preserve and protect the works of the greatest Artist there is.  Wouldn’t you agree?

–Chuck

(I took the top two pictures at Coyote Buttes in Arizona.  The spider web was photographed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The petrified log was photgraphed at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.)


Dec 18 2011

Seeing Creation After Bethlehem

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14

Even though I was a history major in college I do not consider myself much of a historian.  Still, I do remember that at the time of Christ many Greeks believed that matter was evil.  Only things related to the spirit were considered good.  This philosophy affected many early Christians.  There was the belief among some early followers that the body and all things material were corrupt.  One can only imagine how those holding such a view looked at the natural world.

Today we can say with confidence that the material world is not evil.  We know from Genesis 1 that the world was created by God and that He declared it “good.”  But even if we didn’t have this passage, the birth of Christ also makes the same positive affirmation.  How so?  Simply by His willingness to take on human flesh in the Incarnation God affirms the goodness of the material world and Creation.

Although you rarely hear people declaring the material world evil these days there are still many who make a clear distinction between things sacred and secular.  After the coming of Christ I am not sure that even this is a valid distinction.  The coming of Jesus as Emmanuel—God with us—reveals the truth that the divine presence permeates all of the world.  As Emmanuel, God remains present in and around us.  This means that if we truly have eyes to see then we will discern His presence in Creation and in those around us.  Jesus himself said “the kingdom of God is in your midst.”  If we look closely we will see it all around us.

While I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a couple of weeks ago I had a chance to spend some time at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.  In additions to her delightful paintings, the museum displays a number of sayings from the famous artist.  O’Keeffe once said, “seeing takes time.”  When it comes to seeing the divine in this present world it does, in fact, take time.  But if we will be persistent in our looking and open to God’s wonderful surprises, we will discover that the God who made Himself known through the Child born in Bethlehem is still very much in our midst.

–Chuck

(I took the two pictures above on my recent trip to New Mexico.)