Old musings on recent photography have led to the resurrection of a completely different series I thought I’d given up on. Just last week I deleted a draft from March that I had started in excitement, but never finished because I couldn’t make the pictures work.


The thoughts were on Japanese aesthetics, and the abandoned series was a rather minimalistic one, captured in all of 15 minutes near the start of a Yellowstone outing during which I later busted my aging ski gear, cutting the trip short (I managed to limp out with frequent falls, discovering in the process that it’s not easy getting up from soft, deep snow when your skis are higher than you are).

I’ve long been attracted to Japanese aesthetic concepts, and I think I even grew up with the same book mentioned by Elatia Harris in her delightful essay (the cover looks very familiar and at least resembles one that was in the house). I think my own work is influenced by these concepts, in ways I’m slowly working out. What struck me most in the Harris essay was the idea of empty places in a composition, and I wanted to see if I could apply that in my current project Along Sourdough Trail.


But more on that in a future post. The images in the branch and shadow series shown here do not, in my mind, exemplify that compositional device, despite the large areas of nearly textureless snow. Rather, the train of thought was as follows: Starting from the thought of composition and considering some Japanese ink drawings in a book, I realized that empty space is much easier to achieve in that medium, where one can simply choose to put in only the desired elements. That’s much harder in photography (if one eschews image manipulation of that sort). I couldn’t find much blank space in my Sourdough Trail images, so I started scanning my entire photographic production, such as it is. I happened on the series here, and it immediately reminded me of the gnarled pines that often figure in Oriental pictures.


So I looked and fussed a bit, and realized I’d been doing it wrong before. I believe I was trying for darker shadows, which had the effect of giving too strong a texture to the sunlit snow, and was also hard to reconcile with branches that were more than black silhouettes. I decided to accept the lighter shadows, and found, this time, that I liked them like that. That was the key that opened the way.


At the end, I return to my hopes of explicitly trying out the compositional device of empty spaces. Have you ever been so taken with an idea or technique you just had to try it for yourself? Did it work out well? Did it evolve to become part of your personal style?