To my surprise, I discovered in preparing this post that I’ve scarcely mentioned my major project, called Sourdough Trail, which is a series of photographs taken near a short stretch of trail along Sourdough Creek here in Bozeman, Montana. Photo projects never die, but this one is, I would say, in decline. I visited quite often over the course of a year, but slowed down considerably in the following year. I had started the project just after having an epiphany of sorts about the use of focus; specifically, I fell in love with the possibilities of out-of-focus areas that were fairly complex in subject matter, such as foliage. (I recently looked back at the image that first impressed me that way, and it didn’t seem so special at all, from today’s perspective.)

So I was interested in complexity for this very pictorial reason, as well as others. The challenge was to find order in the woodland chaos, but that turned out to be easier than expected. I am usually consciously considering what I’m looking at, but I’m also seeing it at a gut level, and I’ve found that an intuitive sense of appeal is a good indicator of what matters to me and what “works” for me. That’s what I listen to. There are plenty of reasons I could give for capturing the images I do, but ultimately it comes down to that gut appeal. I think that very fact illustrates one of the themes of the series, that fleeting glimpses of complex realities can still have a redeeming, dare-I-say-it Zen-like integrity to them, even if they’re very different from the beautiful, very simple images more commonly associated with that mindset.

The history of this particular image relates to Sunil’s recent post on what one does with an artwork that doesn’t. The image was captured a year ago, in the form shown below in color. I took a first look at it, converting to black and white, a couple days later, with the intermediate result shown in the second image below. I’m pretty sure I didn’t give up on it then, but I did ignore it for a year.

Then I made another photograph along Sourdough Trail that was intended, in part, to have a similar, very light feeling to it. That recent one hasn’t proven satisfactory, though it did remind me of a direction I’ll pursue in future. More to the point, it served as the prompting I needed to return to the willows.



My first move was to lighten everything: a straightforward operation, though a non-trivial one, since different tones are lightened by different amounts. That yielded the third image, below. This felt much closer to my original idea, but as so often I found it difficult to lighten sufficiently; there’s something about darkness and rich blacks I really love. Finally, to evoke a sunnier feeling, I applied a tone-dependent tint I had created sometime in the past; it looked good to me here, yielding the image this post started with.


The image is not really final, though; the next print or jpeg could always be handled differently. Just now, for example, I was investigating the effect of slightly darkening the lower right corner in various ways for better balance. This would be the first local adjustment for this picture — previous operations applied to the whole image. The jury is still out on that (literally), as it is on the tinting, which is stronger than I’ve done in the past.

Incidentally, this image is like an inversion of another in the Sourdough Trail series (click the 3rd image in reading order). Taken a year earlier, that one has the cottonwoods not as the lightest areas, but as part of the dark background behind the bright willows.

So to alter Sunil’s question, have you ever let something sit, then come back to it to make it much better? Are you willing and able to let something lie dormant a long time? (Comments on the images are, of course, welcome as always. I’d even like to hear if you prefer the original color version, but please break it gently.)