I got to Venice at six am on Christmas Eve.
The sun was rising on St Mark’ s Square.
Bells were ringing all over the city, interrupting the serenity of the approaching dawn.
As I was walking, I captured this image totally off the cuff while I was heading to my hotel. The gondolas were lined up in the harbor, their shadows cast on the waters of the lagoon.
Dark and mysterious, they typified the secrets of Venice.
I checked into my hotel, a favorite spot with ex patriot Americans, I heard laughing and headed to the bar. It had been a long trek to Venice.
The Pope was on TV. I ordered a Campari and soda and toasted the holiday, along with a room full of revelers.
From Santorini, I headed to Italy.
To Tuscany. The land of the golden light.
I would be staying in Val D’Orcia, literally off the old Roman road, Via Francigena.
Tuscany is the place of Dante,Galileo,Puccini and Michelangelo. A rich artistic legacy that grew from an agricultural base and built a great cultural stronghold before, during and after the Italian Renaissance. It rivaled Florence politically and artistically.
Literally a valley of poetry, it presented a landscape which fascinated the great painters of the Renaissance and the Romantic writers of England and Germany and France. And, she charms us still today with her subtle hues and golden light.
I arrive late in the afternoon. The sun is low in the sky but it still paints the landscape…colors of dry clay and golden earth, hills green like moss and ancient farmhouses dot the landscape.
I am staying in the old stone farmhouse of a working vineyard. The workers are heading in, pulling their carts into an old stone barn, and waving to the guests under the portico. Time stands still in Tuscany. I finish my Chianti and call it a day. I plan on an early start in the morning.
Morning comes and I head downstairs to grab a quick coffee. But in Tuscany, there is no such thing as a quick anything. It is a slow place, a place where life is enjoyed and the simplest of routines are savored. So, in the dining room I have an espresso and fig focaccia, a specialty of the kitchen. I am warned by the staff to be back on time because dinner is pasta shuta, a favorite of mine.
I am off down the road in my rented SUV, my gear stowed in the back. When I say the road, I mean The Road. Via Francigena is a road the Romans built. Centuries old, it winds along the countryside, weaving in and out of the valleys and past the hills that are notched with ravines. My innkeeper has given me directions to some interesting places in the valley and I plan to spend my day meandering. So I wander, shooting images here and there and chasing the light around Tuscany.
And then, I came upon it. “It” being a spectacular place. As I rounded a bend in the road, I saw the old stone farm house perched on top of a hill, sitting like a jewel in an ancient crown, guarded by manicured orchards and spikes of cypress. The farm was the only thing still lit by the afternoon’s fading light. And, it was lit with a wand dipped in gold. As I got closer, I saw the earthy colors of the vineyard melding with the silver grey of olive groves and the graceful cypress. The beautiful palette of nature is before me…the burnt sienna of art classes gone by is a reality on this afternoon. That hazy golden light hangs over the vineyard, touching all the other colors below and seeming to linger past day’s end.
I set up my gear and I know that I am at the feet of the Masters. I am in the middle of the flourishing Renaissance. I look through my lens and sheer poetry comes back at me. I capture my image …the golden jewel farmhouse set in the crown landscape of umbers and greens and silvers. And, I wonder, how can this rich painting of nature be just part of an everyday landscape? But that is the beauty of it and that is the secret of it.
The mystery of Tuscany. A suspended place in time that has never surrendered to progress.
I head back to my lodging, knowing that I have possessed timeless Tuscany for a brief moment with the click of a shutter , the thought of pasta shuta and a glass of Chianti waiting for me.
Ah, Bella Campagna.
I awoke to find myself in a strange land, far away from my Southern Utah roots.
I was on a European shoot, planning to cover about fifteen hundred miles or so. I went to my window and gazed out to the Southern Aegean, out onto the bluest of blue seas, 120 miles south of the mainland of Greece.
Santorini is essentially what remains of an enormous volcanic eruption that occurred three or four million years ago. It is a place of great beauty and history. I grab a quick coffee and my gear and head out for a trek up to the top of the city.
And I say up because I am staying near the harbor and the rest of the city is above me. Far above me.
Actually, the whole town is really a harbor of sorts. The city clings to the top of a cliff, looking down on a lagoon. The lagoon flows through a break in the sea wall and boats sail in and out.
I start my trek up, pausing at intervals to view a calm sea below. The pace of life in Greece is slow but constant, children dart in and out of alleys, women carry their groceries on a long slow walk home. A fish monger leans out his door, enticing me with a fresh caught octopus. A few men are talking, laughing, arguing about a lamb being barbecued at a small taverna , sipping their first glass of wine of the day. I stop and chat along the way, engaging myself in their conversations. I laugh at their observations and comment on a chess move or two.
This is Greece.
Slow but energetic, it’s pace a seeming contradiction.
But, my journey is singular and I return to hiking the narrow streets , up to the top to capture the City from a perch high above. I am determined. Determined to make it to the top to catch the early evening view. To see the sea of legends in the moonlight.
It is said that the island was formed after a huge volcanic explosion several million years ago. And this Big Daddy of volcanoes caused the entire Minoan Civilization to perish. Known as Thera, her fury is thought to have been responsible for the legend of the lost city of Atlantis.
By the time I have climbed to the top, the sky is dark. The sky is as blue as velvet can be, it presides over this ancient city and frames the harbor with a matching cloak.
The domes of Santorini dance across the rooftops like little blue hats. A place as old as time but yet as lively and timely as today. I glance down at people walking and at boats bobbing on the bay…a bay with winds that seem to laugh at the land above.
I have been to Greece many times and I know the ancient stories and legends surrounding the place. And , I feel their presence up here.
Standing on top of the World.
Standing on top of Santorini.
I survey the City below, knowing immediately where I can capture my image. I find it in my lense. And then, click. There it is.
My Santorini captured in time.
I began my trek back down those cobbled steps. But in the distance, I smell the faint aroma of a familiar lamb on a spit.
Photographers have a love of spontaneity.
An image captured with just a single click.
Just that one single click that freezes time.
But, I am a photographer who shares that love of spontaneity with a love of returning to the past, to places I have been before. A lonely beach in Polynesia. The ruins of an ancient castle in Austria. The sense memory of perfume wafting over a field of lavender in Provence. Pondering the music of the stones at an ancient Native American site.
So, it is with the thought of revisiting and reacquainting myself that I return to Oregon every Fall. I return to revisit my sensory memories and to renew them.
I load up my 4wd and head out, up to Oregon for a four day shoot. Fall seems to have come early this year. There’s a definite bite in the air and the birds are sparse. They’ve headed south weeks ago, leaving just a few hungry strays lingering.
I stop frequently to see the ocean, venturing out on the towering cliffs. The mist has a chill in it, a salty taste of the approaching winter.
I drive a narrow coastal route, remote and still. I stop for lunch and to wade the tide pools that are tucked like pockets into the bottom of the cliffs. Nestled into remote beaches and caves, they glimmer like dark jewels protected by towering walls.
I head inland, passing miles of trees. Their leaves have turned a fiery red as per the seasonal decree of Mother Nature. They stand in stark contrast to to the dark and gloomy day that surrounds us.
On the third day, I came upon an amazing tree. I had to capture it.
An ancient Japanese Maple, it was in the final days of a glorious and fiery display, a spectacular collage of deepening autumn hues. It stood like a timeless patriarch in a secret garden of scarlet and crimson, it’s beautiful branches bending like the arms of a dancer.
The challenge now was in finding the light. The day was overcast and dark like all the mornings so far. It was chilly and damp, dark and gloomy. It was nothing like the blazing tree in front of me.
I studied the best way to bring to light the magestic stature of grace and strength of this iconic tree. I juggled my camera from a hundred different angles, hoping that some sun would seep in from somewhere. There just was not enough light.
And , as I was trying to capture the image from all these angles, an amazing thing happened.
The sun broke throught with a beam of pure white light.
I felt a shudder, a sense of elation.
Something magical had just happened.
It was Brilliant, my latest release.
I set out on my annual Autumn shoot in Oregon last week. It wasn’t my usual Autumn. But rather one with cloudy skies and thunderstorms. But you know, it was perfect in it’s own way. On the third day, it cleared some and I caught the warm days and crisp nights that I know so well…I headed out at sunrise to catch an early shoot at the Falls.
I followed the old road. It’s a winding old wagon road: two narrow lanes the traverse an old lava flow. Along my narrow trail, I knew I would get some of the best views of this amazing terrain. The mountains in Oregon are always favorites of mine. I think it is the challenges they represent. I would drop almost 2000 feet and catch the fantastic waterfalls below. It was warmer this early morning than in past days…fly fisherman were casting on the lakes, hoping to score some of the last of the season’s catch. I see things with the eye of a painter and the fisherman with their forms outlined against the shore and their poles arced, formed a painterly image in my mind.
I stopped for some coffee and to watch their lines dance around the shoreline, feathered flys bobbing in the early morning. My sunny morning had vanished into the clouds so I thought I best be on my way.
I jumped into my 4wd and hit the road for the Falls.
The drive is an easy one mile or so loop that crosses a firey red vine and maple laden ancient lava flow and then passes through an old growth of rain forest. From there, two spectacular waterfalls plunge over immense towering moss covered cliffs. The upper Falls dumps water about a hundred feet into a shallow pool. The water cascades into the pool and then trickles down through the underlying lava beds.
I was set to shoot at the lower Falls. It was very early in the morning so my light was bright. The Lower Falls streams its way down a two hundred foot glacier carved cliff, spreading out into watery ribbons along the way. Words like spectacular and awesome don’t even describe it. I captured my image as a light mist started coming down through the approaching fog.
I left the loop and headed for the River Trail. The Trail is a beautiful path in the Summer but now it was slippery from the mossy dampness. The river was moving fast, swollen from a freak early snow. It was punctuated with vibrant red and yellow leaves skirting down the water like floats in a parade.
It was still early in the day. But the sun was weak, more like an Winter’s afternoon that a blazing Autumn morning. The trail was gloomy and a drizzle helped douse whatever sunlight I had hoped for.
I sat in my 4wd and was happy to finish the last of my coffee as the afternoon chill approached.
A summer rain sprinkled across southern Utah, unexpectedly drenching me and the video crew I had dragged out before dawn. We had been out for hours, hiking and shooting.
We were deep into canyon country, the video crew documenting my photography while I documented the countryside.
We had come upon a field of wildflowers just about the time when the rain hit. Soaked, we waited out the showers in the meadow.
The wildflowers glistened, perfect for picking by my camera lens. As I was shooting, I heard a rustling to my right, I glanced over and two magnificent wild horses came bounding out of the woods. Above them, a rainbow painted a swath of color across the sky, forming an arc above us. If telling stories visually is what photography is all about, then I had hit the jackpot.
The photographer’s dilemma…what to shoot. For a photographer, time is everything. And there is precious little of it. Three amazing things happening at once in a hidden meadow and the urgency of capturing it all, not letting a single second slip away into time. I clicked away furiously, capturing all that the afternoon had to offer, an incredible collage of nature.
But, we had to push on. We were losing the day and soon we would be losing the light. We moved on , hoping to make it to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon within the hour.
And the light across the expanse of the canyon was like the glow over Umbria. The rocks. The ledges. The cliffs. All were bathed in a golden wash of light.
Magnificent. Inspiring. Holy.
These are all words I have heard used to describe the Canyon. But, I actually think it defies human description. Only my camera could capture the mystery of it…it’s stone majesty frozen in time.
We shot like crazy before we lost the light and then packed up and headed back to our camp as night was falling, a few early stars in the sky above us.
My plane cut down through a fluff of clouds. When it emerged, it revealed a stretch of blue water miles across. Afternoon was falling on the Cook Islands with a golden glow that reached from French Polynesia to the East and Tonga to the West. As the plane descended towards a single narrow landing strip, we could see boats crossing through small breaks in the barrier reefs.
The ocean went on forever. There are no land masses between these tropical islands and Antartica. Just water. Very blue water. And, it sparkled like diamonds and mercury glass shaken together.
We landed, grabbed our gear and headed out to capture the afternoon light. A seaplane dropped us at one of the most beautiful lagoons in the world, the legendary Aitutaki.
As a photographer, I am really just an artist who paints with light. My brush is a high definition capture system. The amazing color spectrum of the lagoon was my palette, in complete harmony with my vision.
I approached, hoping to hold the Universe in limbo for just an anxious second.
As I was shooting , a light summer rain begin to fall, chased out to sea by the summer trade winds. The sky cleared and I captured a perfectly pristine image of solitary oneness. A Castaway in Paradise.
This image became my newest release, Castaway.
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