Simply Stunning

I love scenic photography from out in the wild in spaces that feel almost untouched by man. Here in Montana I have plenty of opportunities to photograph such vistas and I cherish them. But I also love when art and architecture combine and add to the landscapes. I love to photograph buildings that fit their location so perfectly that you can’t imagine the space without them. Or exquisite masonry that adds a touch of elegance along a winding highway. Fountains and other water features are also favorites of mine. But of all of these human touches the ones I love best are always bridges.

Bridges to my mind are simultaneously symbols of journeys and connections. There is something hopeful about bridges. And there is also something powerful about them. I am no engineer, but the technology and math and philosophy that makes them work fascinates me. I don’t know the hows and whys that make the bridges work, but I realize that every time I go out on one it is an act of faith.
On Sunday I got the opportunity to photograph a bridge I have dreamed of for years. My cousin Kimberly was in California for a conference in Napa. That is as geographically near by as we have been in about four years. We couldn’t miss this chance to see each other so Friday afternoon I headed down to Oakland to rent a car and drive up to Napa. The trip was so worthwhile on many levels, but for the photographer in me the real treat was Sunday after her conference was over and she and I drove west to Highway 1 to see the sea and to cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

For a while the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world. I’ve seen and envied photographs of the bridge peaking out of dense fog, or lit up in rays of sunrise. It’s beautiful. I have been wishing to photograph the Golden Gate for years. And finally, finally, on Sunday evening I got my chance.
Highway 1 is beyond question the curviest road I have ever been on. I don’t get motion sickness, but after that road, I can certain understand where motion sickness comes from. My father had a description for roads like that. He would say it’s the kind of road that must have been “designed by a drunken architect following a sick cow.” We headed south from Bodega Bay through mostly farm country until we finally got to Stinson Beach and saw the Pacific. I love the Pacific Ocean. I love the way the giant waves crash in with such power and intensity. Kimberly and I walked a little ways out onto the beach, but not far, we knew we needed to keep going if we were going to reach the Golden Gate when it was still daylight.

As it turns out, we could not have planned our arrival any better if we’d spent hours checking websites, sunset apps, and googling locations. The clouds in the sky were just turning pink and the sun was sinking fast, but we had enough time to catch a scenic vista on the West side, to cross the bridge twice, and then to catch the last of the light at another lookout stop from the East.
Whenever I get to photograph things like this I turn into a bit of a kid in a candy shop. I’m very serious and I keep myself calm and thinking. Always thinking. What shots can I get? What angles? How can I do this differently? How can I make my images a cut above? But inside, I’m joyful. I feel the happiness in my heart as I am getting to see something wonderful and take it in and make it my own. Everything I photograph becomes part of me. Part of my story. Part of my life. Now when I think of the Golden Gate bridge it isn’t someone else’s images I’ll be thinking of. Now I’ll think of these, of that awesome night when Kim and I got to chase the light and watch wide-eyed as one of the wonders of the world was put on display for us.

I didn’t get to go into San Francisco and I still want to go back and explore that city. But for now, I look back at this weekend knowing I am never going to forget this trip. I am never going to forget that sunset. And Kim, I am never going to be able to say thank you enough for making this possible. Much love cuz. : ) Grazie millie! And thanks for taking the picture of me — that is usually what is missing in my travel pix. Tons of photos of where I am and none of me because I am always behind the lens.

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Excited and Terrified

Locations: near Flagstaff,Arizona — Glacier National Park, Montana — Bryce Canyon, Utah.

Some weeks ago a friend of mine asked me to submit images for a multimedia slideshow that would run in conjunction with performances by the Glacier Symphony and Chorale. I put it off and put it off, but finally I sat down to pull the images together and get them to the designer.

Locations: Merkle Sanctuary, Maryland — National Arboretum, Washington, D.C. — Keukenhoff Gardens, Lisse, the Netherlands.

Honesty I don’t know why I put it off as long as I did. This is an amazing opportunity for me. The Symphony and Chorale are wonderful. I love their work. And this is a way of displaying my images that I have never had before. Two nights, two shows, people who have no connection to me at the newspaper, and images that have virtually no connection to my work at the paper.

Locations: Oregon Coast at sunset — Chesapeake Bay, Maryland — Grand Canyon, Arizona.

You see, the images are going with songs about the beauty of life. I was asked to pull together images of life, earth, rivers, animals, the sky and the moon.

Most of the time when someone sees my work they see my newspaper work. That is my biggest audience by far. But the images for this show, these images are mostly taken from my personal work. Scenic shots from my travels around the world. Flora and fauna from everywhere I have ever lived. Basically I pulled together more than 200 photos of anything that I thought was beautiful. So, you have the moon over the Temple of Poseidon in Cape Sounion, Greece, flowers from the Keukenhoff Gardens, scenes from the Grand Canyon and my time in the Southwest all mixed in with the photos I’ve been working on of Glacier and the surrounding areas for the past two years.

Location: Glacier National Park, Montana.

I am going to be curious to see how the whole show comes together because in some ways it feels as if the only common denominator for all these images is me.

I am so excited to see the show. Excited to see how people react, what they think, whether or not they like my photos. But I’m also a little terrified. As I said, this is far outside my norm. It’s all new ground for me, and none of it seems to secure to my mind.

One of the things I learned long ago in photography is that you have to have a certain amount of confidence/arrogance about your own work to survive. In photography, like with all the arts, questions of “good” are in the eye of the beholder. Is it any good? Photographs can be judged on the technical stuff: color, composition, subject matter, framing, use of patterns, use of textures, use of shape, use of line, etcetera, etcetera. But the question always comes back to what can’t be labeled or neatly boxed up. Does it speak to you? Does it connect with your soul? It’s a question for individuals and for some the answer will be yes and for others it will be no. And you never know who is going to see your work, who is going to be doing the judging. Each person decides for themselves. So you never have any solid ground to stand on when it comes to your art. If you want to survive as an artist you have to decide for yourself that what you make is good — no matter what any other judge the world over thinks of it. You have to believe that what you are making is good and that it is worth seeing (and therefore worth showing). Your confidence in your own work, becomes your only safe place.

Location: Along the shores of Lake Ontario near Ajax, Canada.

I have been a full time photographer now for more than 12 years. I believe in my own work. I publish it every day in my newspaper. I write my blogs. I share my photos online. I believe they are worth being seen. Now I just have to hold onto that and I’ll be able to calm down about this weekend.

From Reflections — location: Washington, D.C.

Actually, there is one thing that I am really excited about as far as this weekend goes. One of the songs the was specifically about rivers and I have this collection of images I worked on for about three years called Reflections. The collection began by accident. One April evening when I was living in Maryland I went into the District to photograph the cherry blossoms. I love cherry blossoms. So light and delicate. So lovely. Before my time in DC I never had the chance to make them a regular subject of mine. I especially loved the contrast between the flowers and the monuments. If you have never had the chance to visit Washington DC for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, put it on your list of things to do before you die. It’s my favorite time to be in the capitol.

From Reflections — location: Washington D.C.

Anyway, I went out to photograph sunset and the flowers, me and everyone else. It was a perfect evening. As I made my way around the tidal basin area I caught sight of the fallen petals floating on the water, I decided to explore that a bit. I sat by the pool listening to cars and the people racing around me. And as I sat there I began to fall in love with the sunset light dancing on that choppy water. It made such interesting patterns. I stopped photographing the petals and started photographing the water itself. And I stayed and I stayed. And I could tell people were wondering what I was so fascinated by, but I tuned them all out. I was there for more than an hour, just watching the waves. When I got home I realized I had stumbled across a subject that was really worth looking at.

From Reflections — location: Flathead Lake, Montana.

That was the start of the collection. A collection of abstracts made of water and light. It has been one of my favorite things I’ve ever worked on, but I have never had an audience for this kind of work. I suppose the reason I feel so vulnerable in this is that when it comes to my newspaper work I have a thick skin, I’ve got that professional confidence, I’ve got the arrogance to say ‘I know my work is good enough.’ This weekend will be different. This time people are going to be judging the work I do for my own soul. Until now, the only people who’ve had the chance to see this side of my work are people I trust. So I am completely excited about the show. Simultaneously, I’m totally terrified.

From Reflections — location: Wayfarer's State Park, Bigfork, Montana.

If you are one of my Montana friends reading this entry the shows are this weekend. March 17th, at 7:30pm in Whitefish at the Baptist Church on Highway 93 and on Sunday, March 18th at 3pm at the Glacier High School Performance Hall in Kalispell. I will be at the show on Sunday. Ironically enough I’m taking pictures of the performance for the GSC.

From Reflections — location: Yellow Bay, Montana.

The name of the concert is Echos of Heaven. The official description reads: A multi-media intergalactic musical voyage conducted by James Stanard will reflect the beauty of the earth and the splendor of the heavens. The 70 voice Glacier Chorale and 30 voice Chamber Singers will perform music of Samuel Barber, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Zoltan Kodaly as well that of American popular composers: Henry Mancini, Burton Lane and Hoagy Carmichael. Included are beloved ballads such as “Star Dust”, “Moon River” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

From Reflections — location: Washington, D.C.