Catskills – Oct. 6, 2019
Images from the hiking trail to Giant Ledge overlook.
Images from the hiking trail to Giant Ledge overlook.
Some of my favorite hikes have been during hazy days when the weather might have been a disappointed to other hikers. It’s true, on days where the atmosphere is thick with water vapor you don’t get those expansive views that put your own existence into proportion. However, what you do experience are scenes you can’t imagine are repeated often. It’s a unique perspective, and for a photographer, coming across a truly unique scene in this day in age is something special- something to cherish.
Hiking in less than “perfect” weather can also be an exercise in finding beauty in a scene where you might have to put in some effort. The impact isn’t instantaneous. Instead, it is a phenomenon that builds subtly until you find yourself in awe over something you can’t quite put into words.
For me, the above scene of deciduous and coniferous trees in early autumn, lightly dusted in snow and fading into the haze holds a richness in color and texture that is so striking. This is because it exists in a monochromatic, desaturated void of white fog. The depth is palpable, for the reason that in such a short distance those vivid colors and textures fade into nothing. Yet somehow that quality of fading into nothingness also suggests a limitless expanse.
I remember the moment I made this image very clearly. Fellow photographer and dear friend David Nieves and I were ascending Black Dome Mountain. I was following him as is usually the case. I’m always looking around while I hike. I’m surprised I don’t trip over roots or my own feet more often.
We had just reached a part of the trail that passed over exposed rock. It gave us a great view of the cloud filled sky above, and so I turned my head back in the direction we came from. There in front of me was this vast landscape with Thomas Cole Mountain sitting right in the middle of it all.
Moments later I saw an object move out of the corner of my left eye. Instinctively I reached for the small thirty-five millimeter camera I keep hanging from my pack knife. In one action I slid open its lens cover, and with no time to raise the viewfinder to my eye I pressed the shutter.
My arm was still moving after the image had been made, but I knew the scene was both bright enough and my film sensitive enough so that the image would not be blurred. However, what I wasn’t sure of was whether or not the angle of the bird would create a pleasant outline or not. With the wrong angle, or if I exposed the film at the wrong moment the bird would look more like a line with its wings invisible. I wouldn’t know until after finishing the roll and processing the film.
If I had visualized this image, set up a camera on a tripod and waited until this moment occurred, I’m sure I could have a more technically “better” image (e.g. higher detail, broader or smoother tonality, etc…). However, this photograph only exists because I had a camera I could access and activate in a matter of seconds. To me, that is evident in the image. This is probably because I made it. I was there. This is an image about my reaction to a place and an event.
It’s difficult to describe the feeling of being in the Catskill Mountains. There is a sense of awe which calms me while at the same time the action of adventure and discovery seems to keep my senses heightened. Being there grants you a perspective of your own scale in relation to the mountains, and the scale of the mountains in relation to everything else.
Looking out from Black Dome Mountain gave me that sense of calming awe- maybe it was a humbling feeling, and that excitement of adventure and discovery. You realize how small you are, but you understand just how much you are capable of accomplishing.
Later this year I will be backpacking the Devil’s Path and documenting the entire experience. It will cover at least twenty-four miles with an elevation gain of at least nine thousand feet. It traverses five of the Catskill high peaks with the option of adding on another two. I am certain that after completing the Devil’s Path I will appreciate this image with a whole new perspective.
Similar to the previous image, a technically “better” version of this image could have been made with a larger camera system, such as the medium format Mamiya 7 I hike with. The fact that it was not made with a larger camera tells me that it was a scene that I photographed reactively. It was not planned. I did not spend time walking around in place determining the best framing or the ideal angle to shoot from. I did not wait for the light to be “just right.” I simply photographed what I saw as I approached the outlook. This image is documentation of a reaction.
My primary camera while documenting the Catskill Mountains has been the Mamiya 7. This is a lightweight yet large, medium format camera system. However, having learned photography on the streets of New York I always prefer to have a camera I can quickly access, frame, and shoot with. The above images were made with a compact thirty-five millimeter point-and-shoot Olympus mju-II (Stylus Epic).
The Mamiya 7 is a great camera system for analog photographers looking to have a lightweight kit but still create images with incredibly high detail. However, small format camera systems, especially compact point-and-shoot cameras able to be controlled with a single hand allow me to create images as reactions. The two photographs above are examples of this. They may not seem look like reactions at first, but for each there is a reason for them having been made. There is an intimate immediacy behind them, because I had to make them as soon as I saw them.
I have a love for the thirty-five millimeter format. I see it as a journaling format. You can make “snapshots” of nearly anything. The immediacy such a small camera system allows for makes creating images you might otherwise think twice about nearly a nonissue. I mean, you have twenty-four or thirty-six frames before you’re through a roll, so go ahead and photograph anything that interests you. If it matters, photograph it.