#1155. Giving Up, on photographs

By pascaljappy | Art & Creativity

Nov 30

Every year, nature around my home gives up its leaves, its colours, its fanfare, to the rain, wind and shortening of the days. To me, it feels like a plunge into darkness.

 

Annual sunshine charts suggest a gradual change from the hot highlights of summer to the gloomy depression of pale winter suns amid slate-coloured sky barely breaking through long blue nights. But that’s not how it happens here.

 

In late autumn, warm, bright days are still frequent. Hikes still require you carry water and shade. Kids still ride their bikes everywhere and pools still serve the hardiest open-air swimmers. Indian or not, it all still feels like a close relative of summer, with the added photographic benefit of more colorful foliage and crisper air.

This gradual flow from heat to warmth, from green to brown, is one of the more pleasant periods of the year to be around this part of Provence. But it invariably hits a weather front at some point in November. Not just a lull in this blissful Elvish passing of the days, but a sudden portal into barren, monochromatic, winter.

A few days of pounding by strong northerly winds and sheets of rain strips trees of their foliage, transfering it to a slimy brown sludge on the ground, and appears to suddenly switch cloud formations from the puffy summer cumulus to shredded wheat and lenticular motherships, with no going back. Even the sun seems on dimmer mode, whiter and colder.

 

Suddenly, my universe shrinks to a few square meters, as I sit like a rat behind closed curtains and next to a very bright light to keep my mind sane in the face of the months of impending bleakness.

Truthfully, the panic attacks haven’t been near as bad in past years. Whether by a silver lining of one of two evils, my ageing and global warming, or simply through lassitude of lassitude, I’ve been more able to enjoy the quiet seasons more for what they offer. Instead of clinging to every sign of the end of winter before it has even begun, such as the giant orchids (Himantoglossum robertianum) leaves already prepping for their February blooming frenzy, I now try to focus on the moment and meekly attempt to enjoy it for what it is. Instead of running away to the – now terra non grata – escapist Paradise of Western Australia for a long, hot fix of primary colours, I look the darkness right in the eye in search of solace.

The winter months themselves aren’t that bad. By December, the sun has reclaimed much of its clarity, warming houses through their bay windows, from the vantage of its clear blue background. But the fall, the actual fall of the leaves, revealing dark skeletons where shortly before there was leafy life, that’s still the hard part. Even looking at the photographs on this page twists something uncomfortable in my upper-belly. But I’m fighting it, partly by trying to find those moments when the combination of light, atmosphere and scenery produce that apparent harmony which dispels my irrational fear that’s something is permanently broken in nature.

 

Such a cathartic combo occurred last sunday, at the very end of the 3 days of severe weather that put an end to this year’s light months. The storm is about to repeat itself throughout the end of this new week, like one of those second blades in razor adverts, coming to finish the conversion of nature from joyful to desolate.

As the sun set, the soft mist rising from the ground combined with the falling afternoon light and muted colours produced one of those moments during which the world around you seems suspended in perfect balance. A fleeting wink from the Gods of Nature passing by to tell you it’ll be alright.

I grabbed my camera and stepped out to capture whatever would let me.

 

The first step out, by itself, was a bold move for me. I had no clue what to photograph, but wanted to try at an essay about that feeling, that uneasy attempt to find harmony in this fading of nature.

That moment when the trees give up their leaves to gravity, the light gives up its glitter to ambient humidity, and I give up all hope of baking in the sunlight like the lizzard that has to be my totem animal, all hope of colorful salades of tomatoes and peppers, soon to be replaced by cauliflower and other grey food. But that moment when all this doesn’t feel so bad, and even seems to correspond to some natural equilibrium.

Atmosphere would then have to be the name of the game. How do you convey a feeling visually, if not through atmosphere?

   

This of course begged the question of gear. My Hassy system has many strengths. For instance, stability. The first image under the title was taken at 1/8s with an 85mm lens, with no stabilisation in either body or lens. And most of the photographs below were taken in near-pitch-black darkness. While the EVF becomes a noisy mess of blurred colours, focusing is still 100% accurate and pictures come out just fine (if at the very limit of the body’s abilities).

 

But, in spite of those technical image qualities, it is not geared towards atmosphere. So my Otus 85 made it back to the mount, after months (years?) of disuse, to add some organic witchcraft to the images. The sense of 3D, vigneting and different contrast characteristics to the Hassy lenses make for a more natural rendition of what my eyes saw on the spot.

 

Of course, processing those images is difficult. I have mostly kept them as they felt. Early during my walk, the light felt soft and almost pink. Later on, dark blue set in, and only vague nebulosities of colours emerged from the global gloom. Although I was only out for about 30 minutes, the shooting conditions changed drastically over that period. Some later photographs, I left blue, as above. Others I corrected for white balance, as below.

 

And the dominant feeling also changed during the walk. While initially, nature almost looked like a painting, with its muted pastel colours and soft contrasts, it fell into a stark darkness in the second half, looking desolate and cold, as if the only warmth and colour could come from within homes. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be an animal or a homeless person when that time of year/day dumps its gloom onto your world with no possible escape.

 

Still, my purpose was to capture balance and harmony in this unsettling period. So, cranking up the light in PP and settling the white balances restored that feeling of serene normality, albeit far easier to contemplate on a laptop in the comfort of a home. The tree below is the tree on the left, above.

Viewing sidenote: if you’re reading this on a low power screen in strong light, many of the pics on this page will look much too dark. They are meant to be viewed in dark conditions such as those I made them in.

All this again shows how far photography strays from the reality most people almost religiously associate it with. All photography is interpretation. It was darker in the photograph below than in the one above. And this is the same tree in both. That’s the whole purpose of photography : suggestion. By selecting and manipulating a slice of reality at a given moment, we try to convey a feeling or evoke a story in the viewer’s mind.

I also tried b&w. And while the photos kind of work, they don’t seem to capture the same type of harmony, for which a balance of colours is essential.

Mind you, it’s no surprise that colour would be necessary to convey feelings related to a time of year where nature shifts in colour very abruptly. But it’s interesting to experiment and b&w did allow me to make photographs where colours really didn’t work.

This, below, was shot just a few days before, using the same lens … I wont lie, I can’t wait for nature to be back to full green mode. Lush, abundant, easy.

 

But forcing myself to walk out the door, when retreat under thick blankets felt more welcoming, did its thing. Trying to find evidence of balance and reluctant beauty, in what first looks like bleakness, partly eased my worries. It’ll take more to make me a man of winter, at least in this part of the world, but it’s a start πŸ˜‰

 

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  • Mike says:

    Once in a while, you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Promise one thing – you won’t touch the bottle, at least until Spring!

    If everything was always the same, nobody would ever appreciate anything. It is contrast, variety, change, that stimulates interest, passion, excitement. And “difference” is what photographers chase after.

    These shots are different. I couldn’t find a bicycle anywhere – there’s no trace of your swimming pool – the challenge of low light has stimulated an entirely new genre of images. In same, so much so that you can almost feel the atmosphere. The cool damp, the odd patch of thin sunlight stabbing through patches of the scenery.

    I think you’re quite right – B&W doesn’t quite make it – some colour, however slight, seems essential, to lift the scene out of its own shadows and draw the eye into the picture in front of it. B&W seems a poor substitute.

    I hope the horse has somewhere it can shelter from the weather, and the cold nights – I know some are left in fields, but even in this escapist paradise of Western Australia, animals need more than a rug to get them through till next spring.

    My wife says the car coming up the hill, on the winding road, looks like a scene in a murder mystery – she’s quite convinced of it, so perhaps you’d better let “les policiers” know next time you spot them.

    Pascal there are a number of images in this selection that would make wonderful, character filled enlargements. Just think – you could take Lily Tomlin’s approach (“turnabout is fair play”?), and display these photos during the warmer summer months. Like air conditioning. Emitting no greenhouse gases, because they would provide a cooling effect almost by perpetual motion – just BEING there.

    And having lost one very expensive lens years ago, because the damp got into it and caused fungus to grow in one of the more complex lenses inside it, I have to add that I appreciate your effort in taking these photos. I would have been extremely reluctant to take my gear out in such weather! Just look at what I would have missed out on, if you hadn’t stepped up to the plate, and done it for me, instead!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Pete.

      The obligatory bicycle is indeed present, in the 2nd pic (under the big brown tree) along with deck chairs and a football, perfectly aligned by some very kind owner who must have known someone would take a peep over his hedge for DS πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰

      What a great idea, to look at cold pictures in summer. After all, I do spend my winters watching youtube videos of Grizzlynbear, 4xOverland, and others touring WA off road πŸ˜‰

      The lens kinda had it rough on this shoot, but it’s nothing compared to the next post … That got a beating and I’m a bit worry of damage it could do to it (and I’m not sure how to deal with it).

      300mm in one day, yes, that’s a lot. Sadly, we do get that, and more. Last year, on October 2nd up to 500 mm rained on a little village East of here, killing 18. Here’s a video analysis of rainfall in the area. Sad times, I hope it went better in Mackay.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Murder mystery. I see it now πŸ˜‰ Spooky.

      I often run at night during the winter months. And that can be quite scary, as we have wild boar, and – not kidding – wolves roaming the hills. My wife came home a few days ago with a phone camera picture of a wolf on the road, 400 m from our house. Beautiful animal, but now I’m scared to go out alone at night.

      And now, your wife has added another layer of spookiness πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    PS – weather report – yesterday Mackay, in northern Queensland, had over 300 mm of rain in one day! Maybe your winters are “balmy weather”, by comparison!

  • The elements of composition, concept, and of course light, don’t come together in all seasons or places. Photographs that illicit oohs and ahhhs from an audience are most likely images of anomalies. Putting together a single image or group images that don’t rely on a gory red sunset, or other super charged moment in time, one that explores an idea for instance, is something I find interesting. Challenging might be the better word. Claude

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Claude. I find it interesting too. As you say, it is more difficult to return with a “winner”, particularly when not all people feel the same about that time of year. But it’s still very rewarding on a personal level πŸ™‚

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      These photos of Pascals all appear to be pretty much SOOC. A lot of those “”illicit oohs and ahhs” shots you are referring to Claude, are “illicit”** mostly because they’ve had far too much done to them during post processing. So many of them, in fact, to the point where they’re no longer “photos” at all – but “paintings”. “A chaqu’un son gout”.
      **(Hope I haven’t offended you – I know you meant “elicit”, in your comment).

      • pascaljappy says:

        Petre, I changed white balance and exposure, that’s mainly it. So yes, close to SOOC, which is a bit of luck, to be honest πŸ˜‰

      • No offense taken. Good to get it correct. Thanks.
        Yes the post process problem so to speak.
        My thoughts with any photo always starts with the composition. I haven’t seen any post process that saves a photo that is lacking in some regard. I also find post process key to revealing a composition. And all that is involved with that!

  • David A. Mack says:

    I think you did an excellent job of portraying your mood thru the visual and written art forms. It might have been more impactful if I’d known the time of day. I realize you are substantially more northern and thus darker than myself in Oregon (45th parallel), adding to the gloom. Anyway, excellent work.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you David. All those photographs were made at about 5PM, as the sun is setting. We are not very far North (43.3Β°N roughly) but quite far to the East of our time zone, so the sun rises early and sets early compared to, say, the Atlantic side of France. Italy would be even more extreme in this respect. Cheers

  • Dalals says:

    Pascal, your images are superb the tones and colours are so subtle. The gate shot is a “Wilson”, congrats – Dallas

  • One of the things I’ve found to help ward off seasonal affective syndrome (the blahs) is to replace all the light bulbs in the house with LED 5000K bulbs of whatever wattage pleases me at the time. Been using them for three or four years now and they seem to be worth the cost and effort.
    And, this is the time of year I break out my street photography lens and work on umbrella shots.
    Other than that I just try to fill in the gaps any way I can.
    My favorite shot in this group was the one with the auto headlights.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you, Cliff. I have very bright and white lamps which help when the going gets tough, but I’ve used them far less in recent years, thankfully. Sorry to hear that time of year bothers you too. The LED swap seems like a brilliant idea.

      Umbrella shots, that’s interesting. Umbrellas tend to hide people and make them anonymous. So creating a series of differentiated shots must force you to choose different settings, colours, … Or, on the contrary, you can go for near identical images, I guess. Both very interesting ideas. I’d love to see your results, if you’re happy with them πŸ™‚

      Cheers

  • Boris says:

    Love the images. So much atmosphere. I think they are some of your best images. And I vastly prefer the colors ones over the B/W.

  • Steve Mallett says:

    Pascal, I get it! It’s taken years but I have managed to come to find the love for the grey and washed-outness of the “dark days before Christmas”, as my Nana used to say. The shot of the gate is stellar.

  • Mer says:

    The colours and mood in these – very nice indeed. There’s a closed in slightly claustrophobic feel, helped along by the vignetting .

    Nighttime walks are wonderful and your pictures show it well. I agree, the black and whites don’t do it justice.

    A few days ago, my daughter and I went kayaking on the river, evening time around the industrial area. I’d left it a bit late and we were out there as the sun dipped below the horizon and light was fading fast. We parked our kayaks on a sandbank that’s exposed at low tide. During the day it’s a fun place to be, wandering around in the middle of the river, but at night it felt a bit magical. When weather and tides are right, I’ll head back one evening with my camera, but I’ll struggle to capture the feel of the placetime as well as you’ve done during your walk.

    Cheers.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Mer. I hope you can find that magical moment on the river, it sounds wonderful. My guess is that to capture feel, you don’t worry about rules and compositions so much and just point your camera at whatever feels dreamlike. Good luck, please let us know πŸ™‚

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Oh, Pascal, you have expressed your dread of the dark days of winter perfectly, enough so that I can distinctly feel your pain. And that’s saying a lot because I quite enjoy the somber, ambient light of fall & winter, much more than the sunny days of summer. Of course, I’m not a lover of hot weather, and as such, I look forward to the cooler days of fall arrive just as all the deciduous trees are putting on their party dresses of the most stunning reds, yellows & oranges. Even after the winds and rains have driven every last leaf from the branches, elegant silhouettes remain until spring. Fall is my favorite time of year, as if you couldn’t guess! Among your wonderfully evocative images, my favorites are: the landscape with the low cloud/fog forming a mountain behind the trees, and the mysterious car & headlights shot. Venture out this winter and keep shooting!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Nancee πŸ™‚ I certainly will continue to go out in various conditions, to see how the mood and feel evolve over time.

      I can just imagine the scenes you are describing, and the photographs you would make of them, finding regularity and motif in random crisscrosses of branches and trunks. It’s great that there’s food for fun for everyone thoughout the seasons πŸ™‚

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Wish you more and more comfortable feelings, Pascal.
    I totally understand the sadness of Nature going to sleep… you should see it here in Quebec; with our vast spaces, it’s “Desolation no 1” in November; later, with our Arctic climate, it becomes better, when the snow is fresh and gives that “magic Xmas” mood, and when we have a blue sky; the weather here is more sunny and dry, so this happens often.
    And I found your images fascinating: you know I respect the Hassy lenses for their “purity”, but never felt them “moody” enough to attract me; well, here, once you put the Otus… OMG, atmosphere in spades… there could be other factors, but to me at least, this is the most convincing comparison I saw on DS about their character ! Kudos and thanks πŸ™‚

    • pascaljappy says:

      Desolation nΒ°1, ouch. We always imagine Quebec so colourful and pretty in autumn. It just goes to show that transition periods between the more “standard” ones are disturbing in many parts of the world.

      Yes, the Hassy lenses are very clean and objective. Zeiss seems to have found a way to combine great technical correction with a lot of atmosphere and soul. Second to none, in my mind πŸ˜‰

      Cheers

  • Lad Sessions says:

    Pascal, Thank you for this evocative post, poetically expressed and with wonderful images, particularly in color. (I especially like the cloud peaking over the house.) You are absolutely right that interesting images can be found at all times and in all places, if we are but willing to go out and look. But you are also right in stressing the psychological benefit of getting out and “taking” photos–it’s an important way of coping with confining circumstances. I think that “forest bathing” in all seasons is vital, and the same is true of bathing in other landscapes and cityscapes as well.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Lad, your comment could not be more timely as I am deep into books about forests and forestry and very much considering buying a forest not too far from home to spend time there. It’s almost a physilogical need for me. I love trees so much … Thanks for the kind words πŸ™‚

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