Skimming the cream, skimming the cream, photographers are always skimming the cream. But are they happiest photographing only cliches at the peak times of year? Cream is wonderful stuff but too much of it will kill you. It will rot your creativity as well. While it is true that a cliché is someone else’s best seller there are many pictures to be made once the cream has been skimmed.
Speaking of cream, let’s talk about refrigerators. Not yours. I am reasonably sure that your fridge remains pretty much the same day to day, week to week, month to month. It is full of lots of good things to eat on every shelf. I am guessing that you have milk and juice on the doors, vegetables in the crisper, meats down below, more mustards than you can shake a frank at and lots of various kinds of dairy, bread and sauces to last several weeks of meals.
I am also guessing that that you have shelves full of all the necessary ingredients to make wonderful meals. You have sugar and flour, lots of spices, dried stuff in boxes and wet stuff in jars tucked away here and there in your kitchen. You may not have a gourmet set-up but there is enough there for any reasonable cook to whip something up pretty quickly without a trip to the grocery store.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with this. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You have outfitted your kitchen to satisfy any number of culinary choices. This is how it should be. It is good to open the refrigerator door and see all kinds of goodies to eat.
This essay is not about your refrigerator but instead it is about my refrigerator. (You thought I was going to write ‘my photography’, didn’t you?) You see, there was a time, not so long ago when my fridge looked a lot like your fridge. My shelves were packed with all kinds of stuff. I could reach in just about anywhere and be delighted with whatever I found. There were all kinds of leftovers, fresh fruits and vegetables, multiple kinds of cheeses and exotic stuff I didn’t even recognize. Who knew that garlic didn’t only come in spice containers and that chicken broth didn’t always start out as a dry cube?
These halcyon days though, I must sadly admit, are gone now. My refrigerator is mostly empty. Oh, there is an occasional yogurt milling around inside and I saw some juice make a brief appearance the other day but the vegetable and meat bins are empty and there are no plastic containers full of wonderful delights to be enjoyed again and again. Entire shelves are empty. It is quite frankly a very sad sight. It is a bare bones fridge- stocked by a guy who seldom cooks (is thawing considered cooking?) and usually can’t be bothered to do any serious grocery shopping.
The reason for this prince to pauper change? Well, in October we were blessed to have stay with us our great friend Maida who not only was helping me promote my two books on Vermont but she was also spending lots of time in our kitchen. Maida loves to cook, she loves to make things from scratch and she has to have all the right ingredients. Who knew chicken potpie wasn’t born frozen in a box or that soups didn’t hatch from a can? It was a magical time to be at my house and I miss my full refrigerator now that Maida has returned to the Land of Ahnold.
What has this got to do with photography you might ask? Well Maida was at my house during the time of fall color in Vermont. On those days you could go anywhere and point your camera anyplace and find wonderful things to photograph. Like my brimful refrigerator and pantry there were great things everywhere. With all the gourmet photo ingredients within easy reach every picture was a delicious composition.
But alas, Maida is gone, the last of the leftovers are gone and everything fun to eat and snack on has long ago been consumed and enjoyed. The leaves are down now as well, the branches, like my pantry (who knew I had a pantry?), are bare and compositions no longer magically appear fully formed in my camera.
Does this mean that I go elsewhere to eat and take pictures? Of course not! With a bit of imagination I can actually feed myself pretty well. I am not going to sit down and feast on a full pork tenderloin dinner (who knew that pigs had tender loins?) with homemade apple pie (she made the crust from scratch as well) for desert but I can find all kinds of things to keep my stomach happy.
Same with my photography. Everybody always thinks that once the leaves fall photography is pretty much done for the year. You can go down to the Gulf Coast in the winter to shoot egrets, herons and pelicans but most people don’t think about photographing at home until spring arrives and the world start to bloom and sprout again.
I am here to tell you that there are plenty of compositions to make even when nature’s cupboard seems bare. It actually isn’t bare at all, there is just a completely different, albeit less flashy, set of ingredients to use. It just requires of bit of looking.
Most people look at the November countryside and see what is not there- no bright colors, no gaudy landscapes, no clear blue skies. I look at the November landscapes and see new opportunities. I see a carpet of fallen leaves on the forest floor now richly brown and caressing still green ferns. I see bare backlit trees looking like glowing skeletons and ice rimming the edges of ponds and streams. First ice turns the watery edges of ordinary ponds into delicate borders of abstract arabesques.
November is also the time of first frost when fading seed heads and the remaining leaves are so beautifully encrusted with delicate crystals and shimmering patterns. November is the time of the year when the land reveals itself, naked to our eyes. No longer hidden behind veils of leaves, forests and meadows alike show their sensuous forms. Sags and rises are noted once more and every bump and burrow is there for all to see. It is a wondrous time to explore with your camera. You may not find a feast of photos wherever you look but with an open mind and a hungry eye you will be surprised at what you can cook up.
So quit pining for the glory days of seasons past and lamenting the long months of winter to come. Grab your camera and take your feet and eyes out for a walk. You will be surprised at what you can find. And don’t worry, Maida will be back in February. I can make it until then.