Even with the windows shut tight, the frog-song coming off the pond these spring nights is so loud it can keep you awake. The peeping, screaming, grunting or gulping sounds of each frog can reverberate all the distress already roiling around in your head. Or, if you settle your mind and limbs into the rhythm of it, it will lull you to sleep.
On the night of an almost-full moon I photographed clouds over the pond. Then I inverted the image in Photoshop, to depict the water below that teemed with new, noisy, messy and mysterious life.
In the middle of the vast woods at Connecticut Hill, New York’s largest wildlife management area, a horrible squawking-beeping made me jump. My cell phone, usually useless there, was suddenly lit up and alive.
“Emergency Alert. Snow Squall Warning until 10:45 AM EST. Sudden Whiteouts. Icy Roads. Slow Down!” I read aloud from the screen where a yellow triangle with an exclamation point was prominently displayed. I looked up at my hiking buddy.
“Let’s turn around,” she said, and we turned and bolted back out the way we’d come. Even my frail arthritic dog hightailed it over the icy trails with urgency as, very quickly, the snow started falling. In our haste to be out of there, I didn’t stop to photograph the heavy sky, the barely visible trail, the snowflakes coming down, first as minute dust-like particles and then growing bigger and faster. And more dense. Later, safely at home, in Photoshop I pasted together images of tumbling rocks and foamy residue from a sandy beach to remember the adventure.
Making a landscape from a human face. I thought I’d try this, at least once. So I took a negative image of an old classmate and pasted it onto a mackerel sky. My effort was going well enough until I tried to add scattering, the fine white haze that one sees at the horizon. That lightening up of the sky at the farthest point one can see, just before it disappears beyond the nearer more solid landform, has always drawn my focus. But I guess I should have highlighted it more subtly. My photography instructor, who knows all about capturing light and making light work, wasn’t buying it.
Praying for sun. Although the winter sun in Upstate New York is cold and bleak, just a few hours of it can help melt huge snow mountains flanking both sides of doorways and driveways. All this snow would be depressing except that it sneaks up on you, falling silently from the sky either in fat fluffy flakes or tiny hard hail-pebbles. Either way it’s a surprisingly beautiful event even without the sun.
There was a mysterious dark disc seated in the middle of the pebbly rooftop at Cornell’s Heating Plant. For me, it immediately became a hardened gloomy sun in a sky dense with snowfall.
It was not one of my better days. The sun was cruel and cold in a colorless sky on the morning a container of blueberries fell and burst all over the front seat of my car. I continued on with my errands, getting caught at every traffic light on the way downtown, picking up mashed berries each time I stopped for a red light. Finally at the county offices, I found a good parking spot but the pay station kept rejecting my credit card and I had no coins on me. So I dashed in to quickly to pick up the papers I needed. And, as I’d feared, my car was ticketed by the time I got back out.
Life can be harsh. Some days it’s difficult to leave the safety and comfort and predictability of home. My photography shoots don’t always end up in cozy lit studios, green valleys with pretty horses, or intriguing mountains of material wastes. At Cornell’s Hydroplant and Lake Source Cooling Plant there were ridged metal plates, grates and grinders, and all sorts of machinery with moving parts. Signs warned, “Keep Back,” and I did. And later, in Photoshop, I collaged several steely sharp-looking parts to create a hard merciless sun over a landscape of mashing metal.
“You look radiant,” an old friend told me just as I was thinking about how horribly ancient and spent she, herself, looked. How she looked didn’t really matter though. After years of not seeing her, it was clear she was still an inspiration to me.
They say you attract what you radiate. I’ve always appreciated people who exude warmth and positivity. And I’ve always wished I could have an uplifting effect on those around me. But, of all the things one could radiate—warmth, positive energy, joy and happiness, peace, light, …love—I’m pretty sure I suck up or drain more than I radiate.
In Photoshop, after a photo shoot at Cornell’s Hydroplant, I warped the image of a well-used mop into a furrowed field, and positioned a pile of old hose over it to be some sort of heavenly body, perhaps an alien planet. Something other than a sun, since it wasn’t reflecting or radiating anything.