Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Void

Eugene has been blitzed the past week by a serious arctic system. Since last Wednesday the temperature has not emerged above freezing, plunging into single digits and lower (Fahrenheit) every night. 

I know what many of you are thinking. Big deal. That's winter. But for Eugene it's quite unusual. We're used to mid 40s, overcast, and wet. Instead it's been sunny, white, and frigid. The snow which fell last Friday normally would've normally melted by now. But it has lingered for days. The city doesn't plow or use salt, so the streets are still white and frozen as I write this on Wednesday morning. Schools have been closed for 5 days. Every day the forecast promises a thaw, but every day that future thaw date is extended further. It's like the friend who says he needs a couch for the night. He never announces when he will leave exactly. Surely it can't be too much longer? But every morning he's still there. 

On the plus side, I've gotten a good chance recently to shoot snow. In monochrome, snow is an endless playground. It's so malleable. If you shoot it one way it can be snow. But look at it from another angle and it's the void. It's pure negative space. So I've had fun the past few days mixing sky and snow and content and emptiness up in formal stew barely recognizable as Eugene. It's my familiar haunt but every corner is brand spanking new. 

I guess I knew all of that about snow before. It's not like I'd never seen it. I lived four years on the east coast. But this is the longest it's ever hung around Western Oregon. Snow and I have really gotten to know each other this past week. We've become, well, not exactly pals. But we're no longer strangers.

I'm reminded of an ancient Japanese concept, and since ancient Japanese concepts sometimes confer an aura of mystique and wisdom on blog posts, let me mention it here: Kikkoman-Soya.

But there's another ancient Japanese concept which is more topic-worthy, and that's Nōtan, the study of light and dark shapes as they interact in imagery.

For a black and white shooter like myself, Nōtan comes in handy. It's not the subject. It's the translation into shape. Photographers could learn a lot from Nōtan

Of course I'm not the first photographer to play in the snow. Shooters have been exploring snow's negative space forever, from Callahan... Giacomelli... contemporary shooters like Dimitri Mellos...

....or David Maisel.

But for me the snow master is Friedlander. He had a way of confusing the character of his subject without eliminating the essence, and he did it through his trademark layering style. 

Take foreground, middleground, and background, throw in some snow and shake well. Who knows what you'll find? Friedlander does this with all types of landscapes but in snow he seems to really shift into gear. The white stuff is like his supersecret sauce. It's the Kikkoman Soya of photography, adding visual confusion. That's a good thing.

So Friedlander has been in the back of my mind lately as I roam the white streets. How can I mix snow and non-snow and confuse myself? Sometimes it helps if I spin circles quickly. Then the world gets very confusing. I get dizzy. The snow is slippery and usually I fall down after spinning just a few circles, and the snow and non-snow combine all over my ass.

But I don't let that stop me for long. I've gotta get right back on that horse. I lift myself up, brush off the non-snow, and keep searching for the void.


John said...

Friedlander's the best

F. Martín Morante said...

Don't forget Koudelka. Cheers! Nice post.