Light at the End of the Tunnel: Windham’s Summer Theme

New Hampshire Forest, Early Morning

Art exhibits with a specific theme challenge the artist to think metaphorically. The theme of the current Windham Arts Alliance exhibit (which runs until September 9, 2022) is “Light at the End of the Tunnel,” and along with our artwork entries we were asked to submit a brief explanation of how our artwork(s) fit the theme.

Choosing one of my photographs of this particular spot was an easy decision for me. It’s near North Conway, NH, and I make a point of visiting it each time I’m in the area on a fall foliage trip. It has to be before sunrise, and it helps (though isn’t necessary) if it promises to be an overcast day, simply because that allows more time for taking pictures.

It’s a short walk — less than a mile — from the car park to the ultimate destination, which is a picturesque waterfall called Diana’s Bath, and it’s a nice path, slightly downhill, under dense forest cover. As you approach the waterfall you can hear the water, unless nature hasn’t been generous with rain lately (happened only once to me). The waterfall itself is in a sort of clearing, and so when you arrive there you’re emerging into relative light. Thus the “Light at the End of the Tunnel” motif does have something of a literal meaning in this context.

But it does have a metaphorical meaning as well. As I said, I’m starting this walk in darkness, and more often than not, my car is the only one in the car park at this point. So I’m alone, in the dark, and it can be a bit intimidating as I’m on the lookout (probably needlessly) for bears and (perhaps less likely) for persons with nefarious intentions. So it’s something of a relief to emerge into the light of the forested tunnel walk.

So where is the waterfall in this photograph, which is titled New Hampshire Forest, Early Morning? you ask. Several of my artistic mentors over the years have offered the advice: When you’ve got your picture, turn around and see what’s behind you. Well, the view at an 180-degree turn from the waterfall is basically the one in this photograph, though you can max out your lens to get, yes, an even more tunnel-like effect with light at the end, because by this time the daylight has begun to emerge in the clearing. I capture a few versions view and this, for me, is the welcome light at the end of my predawn, forested ramble.

Dabbling in Abstracts

Let me start by attempting a definition of abstract photography that works for me—that is, it’s related to my personal experience of attempting to create “abstract” images: photography in which the design is more obvious, or more important, than the identity of the object being photographed. The image could, for example, be composed in such a way that only the design is obvious, i.e., it’s just about impossible (or, at any rate, pointless for the purpose of appreciating the work) to tell what the object actually is. Or it could be an image in which the object is fairly obvious yet completely unimportant to the appreciation of the work. For me an example of the latter would be patterns in water made by the interaction of colors from a boat, the shape of which will be determined by the movement of the water. Such pictures may contain a small portion of the boat for scale or anchoring, but in the overall context this is minor compared to the design created by the colors in the water.

I don’t normally work with abstract images, but occasionally I get obsessed with a particular approach to it, due possibly to proximity to objects that yield abstract patterns, or to a desire to break temporarily out of my usual way of creating, to escape from a rut, etc. That was my motive recently for taking Kerry Drager’s online course in close-up photography. Kerry is a mentor and friend and is an outstanding teacher and creator of this kind of approach. The course worked for me because during my current obsession with close-ups, much of what I learned from him came to the fore.

Photo 1

I liked Kerry’s idea of finding “the picture within the picture.” Even in abstract work, you need a composition that makes sense: it’s not just a matter of “point and shoot.” I’ve always loved looking at maps, and sometimes when faced with a pattern out of which I want to get an image that makes sense, I’ll think of the challenge in terms of creating a map. Photo 1 (which is one I made for Kerry’s course) is a tiny section of an already small image of peeling paint, and I selected the green cross shape to resemble a crossroads within a 3-D map.

Photo 2
Photo 3

Rocks and trees, along with water, are two of my favorite photographic subjects. When I discovered the rock in Photos 2 and 3 on a recent stroll through the local park, I first attempted to photograph it as a rock but then realized that the very top of it had some interesting patterns that, if photographed creatively, could look like a sort of topographical map of mountains without it being obvious that the object photographed is a rock. Photo 2 is one result, and Photo 3 is what resulted when I moved in closer. (Both of these photos were taken with my iPhone using the Noir filter. If I want to make instant B&W pictures, I find that Noir tends to give me the results I’m looking for.)

Photo 4

Perhaps you’d have immediately guessed that Photos 2 and 3 were of rocks; perhaps not. (Some viewers might well have thought these were pencil drawings rather than photographs.) It’s more difficult, however, to “disguise” trees in making an abstract. Even though, in a good photograph, the design will predominate, the viewer will still recognize that the object is a tree. Today, however, studying the trees outside my building, I hit upon an idea: turning the camera (the iPhone again) at a slight diagonal. This introduces the challenge of making sure you have only the tree in the frame, nothing extraneous. And while it’s never going to “disguise” the tree, the resulting image (again, as always, if well composed), will have a more “artistic” look to it. This is what I hope I achieved in Photo 4.