I am a big fan of Eric Clapton, especially of his later years where he returned to his blues roots. I recall his “From the Cradle” CD where he really went back to the blues in a strong way. Not
sure why I am attracted to the blues but always have been as long as I can remember. What has this got to do with this post? Well, many years ago as I got started in photography I, like many others, experimented with black and white. Over the years I progressed through several camera formats, including 4×5 large format, with a basement darkroom. I would study the works of Ansel Adams and John Sexton and others. Studying Ansel’s zone system and using a modified Pentax spot meter is how I really learned exposure. This is one reason, even today, my primary camera mode is “manual” with spot metering.
While over time I came to shoot both color and black and white, I eventually began to shoot only color. Lately however, I find myself struggling with a desire to return to my earlier days of the monochrome capture. Every time I see a well done monochrome image I become increasing conflicted internally on a path forward personally. Why not just do both you ask? Good question. I really love it when I capture a beautiful color image with magical light. But the images don’t seem to have the same lasting power. A well done black and white print is not only beautiful but seems timeless. I also find that, for me anyway, I have to place myself in a monochrome mindset. It is a whole different way of seeing. Hard to do both.
Anyway, I made a promise to myself that the coming year I would refocus, return to my roots so to speak, and shoot monochrome for any personal work. While I will of course shoot some color in support of several workshops I conduct, personal work will be monochrome. It will be interesting to see my work by year’s end.
Each Spring and Fall I conduct photography workshops in the Missouri Ozarks. The focus is on the Ozark National Scenic Riverway and the mills, springs and rivers in the vicinity of Shannon, County Missouri. During my fall pre-workshop scouting, I came across a small cemetery at Akers, MO. Noticing it was established in 1861, I had to stop and explore a little further. I believe many photographers are drawn to old cemeteries, much like they are to old barn structures and abandoned buildings. There is something about the mystery of the history associated with these things that we find intriguing as photographers. As we click our camera shutters we contemplate what stories these places could tell us. Years ago, when I was a young officer in the military, my commander would tell me how he always explored the history of a new place he visited. He wanted to have a feeling for why streets or small towns had certain names. Sometimes what was discovered was quite interesting. Made for some nice trivia, if nothing else.
I explored the Akers Cemetery in part because it was established the year the American Civil War broke out. Or as some southern boys would call it, “the war of Northern aggression”. As expected I found one
gravestone of the era, that of 2nd Lt John Calvin Welch of the 9th Mo Infantry, CSA (Confederate States of America). There were small fresh confederate battle flags placed at each side of the gravestone and some rather fresh looking, albeit artificial, flowers at its base. It was clear current day family still visits his grave site and honors his service and sacrifice for what some post war writers would call “the lost cause”.
With a small bit of research I found that John Calvin (“Jack”) Welch was the father of 7 children. He enlisted in 1861 with Freeman’s Company, Missouri state militia for six months, after which the union forces captured and took him to Alton Illinois, where he was held prisoner until September 1862. Later he enlisted as a First Sargent in Co. FM, 9th Mo. Infantry. After fighting in the Battle at Pleasant Hill, LA, in 1864, he was promoted to 2nd Lt. He served under the command of Gen J. Shelby who surrendered to union forces at Shreveport, LA in June of 1865. After the war he returned to Missouri and farmed and was later elected County Collector. He died at the age of 74.
The image here of Klepzig Mill in Shannon County, MO also has an interesting history, which I will highlight in later blog. Having photographed this area for a number of years now, I have come to meet some very interesting and friendly locals. Several Klepzig ancestors have contacted me over the months and have talked of the mill and earlier times when the Klepzigs lived in the area and worked the mill. More to come on that in the future.
Next time you venture out into new areas, do a little research. What you find might not only be interesting but might offer some good leads on subject matter.
My wife insisting I needed to get a few things organized, prodded me into some house cleaning in my basement storage area. In one section I had some boxes holding some old photographic prints and other items from my film days of years ago. Quite surprisingly there were some prints I had saved, but properly packed, which I had long since forgotten. They were in great shape and I enjoyed reminiscing the times hiking and traveling around searching for photographic subject matter with my pack of Zone VI 4×5 camera and lenses. It’s rather interesting how I could remember some of the smallest details about when and where some of these images were taken. As I reviewed the prints with fresh eyes, I could better understand why I preserved these, even though in some cases I was not entirely sure at that time long ago. In the feature print here, “Ohio Forest”, I used a green filter and processed to lighten the green foliage. The result was a pleasant interplay of the light and darker tones, giving this image a sense of depth.
In this next image, “Window and Pickets”, I was attracted to the rough and worn wood patterns, and the play of the contrasting horizontal and vertical lines. I believe too that I may have been somewhat inspired or attracted to the pickets based on an image of Ansel Adams “Barn, Cape Cod, Massachusetts“, that I had seen in Ansel’s Guide, “Basic Techniques of Photography“, originally published in the early 90’s.
Another time while hiking in Ohio, I came upon this American Beech tree. It was along the side of a trail and the forest was well shadowed. One characteristic of this tree is the persistence of its leaves during the winter months. You easily spot these trees in the winter forest because they tend to retain many of their leaves, which have turned a light amber color. Taking advantage of the soft light I sought to contrast these characteristics against the shadowed background. I likely used a yellow or red filter to further enhance the luminosity of the leaves. Of course today it is much easier by adjusting color sliders in B&W conversion software such as Silver Effects Pro 2.
“Waltzing Trees” was taken in the Red Rocks hiking trails just outside of Denver, Colorado. I struggled for some time as to whether I liked this image. My son did however, and insisted I make him a print, which he still has on his wall. After I recently scanned the negative, I did some additional cropping and enhancements to the luminosity and have finally concluded that I do in fact like this image. I believe for me it is the diagonals in the background with the opposing leaning angle of the darker trees. Also the interplay of the dark and light tree trunks as if they are waltzing about. There is a lot going on here which just seems to hold my interest.
For the image “All Saints of St. Peters”, I use a wide-angle lens to really take advantage of the headstones in the adjacent cemetery. It was a late afternoon sun, which brightly reflected off the face of the church and really illuminated the cross on the steeple. An added compositional element was the band of sunlight shinning diagonally across the grass and lighting headstones in the mid-ground. I exposed for the highlights using a zone system modified Pentax one-degree spot meter. Exposing highlight for about a zone 9, I let the shadows fall because I wanted the keep the brilliance of the cross and the face of the chapel without blowing out too much detail. Keeping most of the cemetery in shadow help with the mood I wanted.
The last image here, “Hell’s Gate”, was taken while hiking in central Ohio. Maybe an interesting but unintentional counterpoint to my All Saints image. I was attracted to how the rocks encircling this small cave opening tended to almost ominously draw you toward the opening, inviting you to a place you don’t want to go.
I guess the lesson here is that it often pays to revisit old images (or negatives in this case) with fresh eyes. Acquiring new skills, experience, and technology, as well as a more developed vision, can bring new life to old forgotten images.
I am very much interested in your thoughts and comments. And of course feel free to share this post with others.