Posted by: kerryl29 | November 3, 2015

Thematic Interruption: Missing the Trees for the Forest

Given the nature of a place like the Canadian Rockies, it’s endemic, I think, to become lost in the enormity of it all.  If you’ve been there, presumably you understand what I mean.  If you haven’t visited the region, you’ll have to take my word for it–it’s utterly breathtaking, on a truly grand scale.  (I’d like to think that the images I’ve posted on this blog over the last year-plus give some indication of what it’s like, but as a few commenters have noted, it’s very difficult to do the place justice with small renditions of the two-dimensional variety.

Mistaya Canyon Intimate, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Intimate, Banff National Park, Alberta

I suppose I’m as susceptible to the allure of the grand landscape as the next guy, particularly in a place where the landscape is so undeniably and irrepressibly grand.  When I arrived at a given location in the Rockies, I ordinarily saw the “wide scene” first, and began the process of making images of it.

Aspen Leaves and Grasses, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Leaves and Grasses, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

But if in fact there’s a distinction between my approach and that of the “average photographer” (if there is such a thing), it’s that I don’t stop after working to obtain a grand view.  When I’ve scratched that particular itch, I invariably start looking around for other, almost invariably tighter, images.  And, I inevitably find them–more easily on some occasions than others, but I almost always recognize something that I find compelling.

Mountain Patterns, Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mountain Patterns, Consolation Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

I’ve picked around the margins of this subject before, but I wanted to raise it again, directly in the context of a location as spectacular as the Canadian Rockies.  Part of my motivation lies in the notion that the intrinsic nature of a place isn’t revealed without an exploration of the intimate.  The grand view is so obvious that it scarcely needs to be mentioned.  But intimate scenes, though easily overlooked and oftentimes difficult to find, can be stitched together as a visual tapestry, to create a compelling vision of the place they represent.

Paradise Creek Icicles Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Paradise Creek Icicles Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

There’s an arcane word in the English language:  synecdoche.   It describes a figure of speech or literary device where a part is used to refer to a whole (or vice versa).  In a sense, a series of intimate images represents a sort of “visual synechdoche” of a place.

Aspen Leaves in Snow, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Leaves in Snow, David Thompson Country, Alberta

There’s a bit of a paradox that juxtaposes what I believe is my greater susceptibility to an “oh, wow” reaction to the immensity of the Rockies with my innate attention to detail.

Reflections, Reflecting Pools, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Reflections, Reflecting Pools, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

In past entries on this blog I’ve discussed how having cut my teeth, compositionally speaking, in the clustered, cloistered, chaotic landscapes of the American Midwest has made it second nature for me to look for intimate opportunities.   In my traditional stomping grounds, a “trophy shot” is often an intimate landscape.

Aspen Trunks, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspen Trunks, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta

The paradox is that it’s specifically the lack of general familiarity with places even remotely like the Canadian Rockies that leads to the overwhelming feelings of awe.  Basically, when you live in flatlands, where the landscape is dominated by residential and agricultural sprawl, a visit to the mountains, streams, forests, meadows and overarching vastness of the Rockies region can be overwhelming.

Reflections, Maligne River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Reflections, Maligne River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

So it’s the very same background that makes it simultaneously both natural and difficult to hone in on the intimate landscape in a region of sprawling beauty; natural because that’s what photographing on a regular basis in the American Midwest demands and difficult because visiting such a relatively exotic place makes it hard to see anything other than the grand view.

Water Reeds, Beaver Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Water Reeds, Beaver Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I hope I’ve been able to overcome the grand landscape fixation and demonstrate some semblance of the intimate beauty of the region.  If I have succeeded in doing so, to any extent, it’s a function of being able to look past a “get the shot mentality.”  Even on those occasions when I do go to a particular location with a specific shot in mind (and I do, in fact, do this on occasion) I always make an effort to move beyond that specific shot–whether or not I get it.  Whether I’m at a familiar spot or a new one, I’m always looking for ways to let the locale express itself to me.

Aspen Forest Floor Wildland Trail, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspen Forest Floor Wildland Trail, Jasper National Park, Alberta

The goal, ultimately, is to avoid missing the trees by being overwhelmed by the immensity of the metaphorical forest.  It’s an opportunity to complete the process of allowing the landscape, large and small, to speak for itself.

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Responses

  1. I have visited these places and know what you mean about the initial wow reaction. I just love the grasses in the yellow water and the pattern of colours in another.
    Your sentiments are exactly what I have tried to impart to a small group of photographs whom I teach when out on location so I have copied and pasted some of your wise words!

    • Thanks very much. Glad you found this post of some value.

  2. I’ve not been to the Canadian Rockies but this Midwest blogger did visit Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time in 2014 and was blown. Away…. It’s my go to place anytime I need to recapture the peace and serenity, that scrumptious sense of solitude, when everyday life gets to be too much.

    Great post. Fantastic photos. I especially liked this: Part of my motivation lies in the notion that the intrinsic nature of a place isn’t revealed without an exploration of the intimate. The grand view is so obvious that it scarcely needs to be mentioned. But intimate scenes, though easily overlooked and oftentimes difficult to find, can be stitched together as a visual tapestry, to create a compelling vision of the place they represent.

    Kudos!

    • Thanks very much for taking the time to comment.

      It’s been a long time since my last visit to Rocky Mountain NP but, as you might imagine, the Canadian Rockies are very similar (only more so–Banff to Jasper is nearly 200 miles of non-stop beauty). And, it’s certainly a place where you can find plenty of solitude, without all that much difficulty. For every crowded location (e.g. Lake Louise) there are dozens of empty ones.

      • I’ve heard Banff is beautiful. Now on my travel To Do list!

        • If I may–as a point of potential clarification–when most people speak of “Banff” they’re talking about the town of Banff (and the area immediately surrounding it). Banff National Park encompasses more than 2500 square miles; the town of Banff is located at the southeastern part of the park, which extends as far north as the outer reaches of the Columbia Icefields, roughly 180 miles north of Banff (town). The area around Banff (town) is quite attractive, but the town, as the commercial/tourist center of the area, is often crowded and bustling, and is probably not the best location to place oneself if you’re looking for peace and quiet or as a centered location to explore most of the park, or the adjoining parks of Jasper (north), Kootenay (west and north) and Yoho (north and west).

          Just wanted to toss this out there to counter any possible misinterpretation.

  3. Simply beautiful! Thank you for reminding us that it’s not always the grand view that we should be looking for, but instead, we should really immerse ourselves in a location and see the beauty there on the more modest scale. We miss so much if we don’t.

    • Thanks.

      Yeah, it’s just a gentle reminder. I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded to check the grand views; the intimates, however are often overlooked, unfortunately.

  4. I love to find the nuggets in the whole scene, I go out a lot in Wales, and on hills local to me South of Bristol. Grand views, and interesting details everywhere. A nice synopsis of your ideas.

    • Thanks very much!

  5. I am like you in that I like to get close-ups as well the grande landscapes. Beautiful selection well seen!

  6. There are so many grand views that might as well have holes drilled in the parking lots in which to place your tripod. Everyone goes home with those shots, but not many take the time to see the details and compose the shot in a way that makes it special. You do.

    • Thanks very much, Ellen!

  7. The aspen trunks and the water reeds are something I could live with very easily.

  8. ….what a sensitive eye you have been gifted with, and what a grand result

    • Thanks very much!


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