February 16, 2010
ANDREW COLLETT FINE IMAGES
This Case Study is a little different. Here, what is on display is the iPrimate ability to write richly-textured prose – a desirable skill for many projects.
Andrew Collett is a Canadian photographer who loves the character of the land, and the secrets it reveals. He started his career in the business side of visual design, and it was a number of years before he realized he had his own artistic vision to express. In photography, he found a powerful medium into which he could pour his creative energies. However, he’s definitely more visual than verbal, and in this case there was the need for two Andrews to collaborate to achieve a perfect combination of words and pictures.
THE CHALLENGE: To create six stories that describe six photographic images of Algonquin. The stories are printed and provided as added-value, companion pieces for purchasers who are considering buying an image. Each story recounts how the picture came to into being in Andrew Collett’s thoughts and words. This personal connection adds a characteristic appeal to an image that may occupy a place on your wall for years to come, and it provides a point of difference versus other images from competing photographers, which have no explanation of their context… and are less because of it.
I invite you to view these pictures and appreciate the writing that accompanies them. The words beneath each image paint a picture in words of what you are looking at. Read on.
One of the most engaging qualities of Nature is that it waits for you to discover it. The landscape in this picture is really just a messy, old bog; and, if you zoom by it on the highway, that’s the way you’ll see it. I’d seen this patch of Algonquin a thousand times before, but one morning I caught a glimpse of it at sunrise, as I passed by. Just one look; that’s all it took to make my discovery. I knew I’d be back. Early summer would be best for the light, so I planned a 3 a.m. wake-up in mid-June, and made the hour’s drive to the spot. Composition is the most critical element in transforming this shot from a bog into a beauty spot. I knew I wanted to use the strong, castle-shaped thicket of spruce trees as a central element, but it’s the trees in the foreground that are the most unlikely part of the scene. Not beautiful in a conventional sense, their natural texture and shape provide the strength for the rest of the scene to lean on. I could have called this picture “Swamp and Dead Trees”, but it wouldn’t do it justice! Instead, I called it “Algonquin”, because that’s what it is for me. More than any other image I’ve ever captured, this sums up Algonquin – a primitive, wild, messy environment that’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
I had been storing this Zen-simple image in my memory since I had come across it at the end of a day months before. One of the most challenging tasks for a nature photographer is to capture the ‘less is more’ quality of minimalism. In my mind’s eye I had seen a long view of the faraway hills with a breathtaking sunset to complete the scene. Nature had other plans, however! On this rainy day, all the layers were blurring into each other, creating the delicate restraint of a Japanese brush painting in muted tones, punctuated by the sharp, vertical brushstrokes of the reeds in the water. And that rock! Have you ever seen such a simple, unremarkable object literally own a composition? That rock knows where it stands. Its strong, uncomplaining silence spoke to me. I had really only suited up in my raingear that morning to test some waterproof camera gear, but as I watched the gentle light wash across the landscape, I realized I was being given a gift – a whispered verse describing the beauty of the morning rain. I shivered – and not from the cold!
Sunrise is a golden opportunity. However, even the most picturesque sunrise can fail to deliver if the artist can’t pull something a little unexpected from it. Every day, the sun traces much the same path as it climbs into the sky; and most photographs show it high in the frame. On this morning, however, as I waited for the sun to clear the trees, I kept feeling my eyes being drawn downwards to the sunrise reflected in the water. Two triangular outcrops of reeds make a watery gateway to welcome its arrival. Magically, the image separates into perfect thirds. The sun anchors the bottom, swimming in molten gold; the middle ground shows the shadowed water of the creek ; and at the top are the mist-shrouded spruce trees. And… right on the topmost edge is a gentle visual echo of the sun’s halo. On some days, I see hidden treasures I may have completely missed the day before. It’s all about waiting patiently for one’s creative muse to arrive, just as the day waits for the arrival of the sun.
SPIRIT OF THE LAND
I love spruce trees. They’re the humble foot soldiers of the glorious visual triumph that is Algonquin. But how do you take something as ordinary as a spruce– a common mongrel in a nation rich with pedigreed pines – and make it extraordinary? You wait for the right moment. A frame filled with a line of spruce trees is not extraordinary in the harsh light of midday. However, there may be a few seconds during one part of the day when the convergence of complementary elements can take your breath away. In this case it’s early… about 5:00 a.m. The mist is burning off the creek below, the dew on the pine needles glitters with the backlight of the rising sun, while the foggy forest beyond falls into faded green shadow. There’s a ribbon of light that winds through the water in the bottom third of the frame which – remarkably – is a passageway cut through a solid layer of lily pads by the local beaver population. All in all, I’d have to say it’s a symphony of visual notes that comes together in thrilling harmony! When I gaze at this scene intently, I can believe I actually hear the faint strains of choral music in my ears. A host of Canadian nature lovers raise their voices to sing the praises of our landscape! From the humble spruce to the hard-working beaver to the celebrating Canadians, this is the spirit of our land.
WAITING FOR TIME
“What if?” is the most important question for a visual communicator. To answer it takes imagination, foresight and (for a photographer) pre-planning. I seek out intriguing locations, and I usually do my scouting in the middle of the day. The light around then is directly overhead, which is not helpful if you want to conjure up a ‘mood’; but you don’t shoot on a scout. You think. You envision. And you plan. What struck me first when I came across this scene was the geometry; it’s not something you see a lot of in nature. These limestone rocks are so acutely angled, and so perfectly finished, it’s hard to believe they weren’t carved by hand. They suggested an other-worldly landscape to me… and that got me thinking “What if?” What if I came here really, really early in the morning and framed these dark, dimensional shapes of pitted limestone so that they loomed up out of the foreground? And what if the beginnings of a distant sunrise was just starting to work with the clouds to create a dividing line between lake and sky, while its hopeful, early light washed the flat, watery plane of stillness in front of it? It would be… almost… surreal. Just so – a haunting stillness almost equal to the ten million years this scene has spent waiting for time.
Nothing is quite as satisfying for the soul as a quiet walk alone in the forest. As one presses into the woodland, the cares of the material world fall away, freeing one to understand the infinite depth and breadth of nature. Time wheels backward, slowing to a crawl, and a universe is revealed in every tiny detail. On this autumn ramble I came across a stand of sugar maples that had shed most of their leaves, carpeting the earth in myriad shades of red, orange and yellow. Through the lens of my camera the visual palette was almost overwhelming, until I found this fallen birch tree which provided a pale, textured purity in counterpoint to the leaves’ rich riot of colour . It’s said that the still life photographer makes photographs rather than takes them. The elements gathered are often unremarkable in themselves, but the photographer’s composition elevates them to convey the essentials of harmony, and a satisfying sense of wholeness. In this case, the shutter clicked just once, and I knew that I had captured something very close to perfection here on the forest floor.