Category Archives: Far Afield
2015 has been a lively year….one of visual and cultural extremes. Six weeks in SE Asia and four in the Outback of Montana. One experience of culture, the other of emotional beauty. Both so memorable where does one begin.
At the beginning, I suppose.
The Promise of Vietnam was exotic, a promise that had elements of hesitancy on my part as well as heightened expectations. We were returning to the war fields of the 60s and 70s, to a place where we lost so many young men, to a place where the war was lost. But where was Vietnam today?? Lots of stories about renewal and the embracing of Western culture without leaving their own behind. About the reunification of the country. So with my husband, a veteran of that long ago war, and our friends Mags and Allan, also a veteran who was based in Saigon, we set out to explore the New Vietnam. From the Mekong Delta to the mountains of Sapa we immersed ourselves in their cities, celebrating Tet in Hue along the Perfume River.
But before Saigon and southern Vietnam, we spent a week in Cambodia visiting the ruins of the Angkor Wat region. A photographer’s greatest challenge while traveling I have found is to capture the true essence of the area. In Cambodia I tried to capture the history and the grandeur of the numerous kingdoms from over a thousand years ago. My husband, Ellis, had visited Angkor Wat when he was in the army, and there were only the four of them walking the grounds which were heavily cloaked in the vines and trees of the forest. Today there are thousands of people from all over the world visiting, with busloads of tourists outside each ruin. So a bit of the mystery was lost and the imagination needed to be engaged. That and patience. I have found that patience is your best ally while traveling. Sitting and waiting and watching. I was able to get dozens of photographs of just the ruins because I had envisioned printing them using a technique that would make them look like the original photographs taken by the early French archeologist Henri Mouhot, who had uncovered the ruins back in the 1860s. It was a singular experience that has given me unique memories of a land that once not only thrived but dominated the entire region.
On to Saigon, the Mekong Delta, Na Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and Sapa, by planes, trains and automobiles. The trains seemed to be vintage 1920s, the cars and planes modern. The average age of those we met was 25-35, so it is a very young nation with a lot of “can do” attitude. Up in the Highlands on the border with China where the Hmong, Yao and Tay live, the cultures are intact and thriving, seemingly untouched by the communist regime. And everyone speaks English. What war??
I returned home with over 2,000 photos taken on my Sony a-6000, the perfect travel camera. I found myself almost giggling at the end of the day, having had so much fun roaming the streets of a very different culture, small camera in hand….almost invisible. Now I need to figure out what to do with 2,000 photos, mostly street scenes of people going about their daily routines.
And then there was Montana…….
Last July we took off for a Road Trip to Montana, a 5,000 mile wandering of the mountains and wheat fields and river valleys. In search of nothing but hoping for deliverance. We had had a death in the family and I felt the need to wander without any time schedule or compass. Each day was something to be discovered and cherished, no agenda to adhere to, no goals to be met. Just drive and wander the Big Sky Country of my parents. I was hoping to find some magic in the skies, and what I found was wonder. Daily thunderstorms and early morning stillness. Sunshine and downpours, skies filled with streaked clouds high in the sky and horses running wild down below. The openness and untouched (except for the barbed wire) beauty of the vast landscapes was exactly what I was needing, and Montana never fails to live up to the hype. I will return for another 5,000 miles, making Montana my home away from home.
In January 2014 a group of friends gathered in the Yellowstone River Valley at Bar B Ranch for a week of winter fun. I have always wanted to head to Montana in the winter to photograph the snow landscapes, so different from the spring and summer scenes that I have photographed for most of my life. I wasn’t disappointed. Although the real snow hadn’t arrived and the temperatures were on the mild side, the land still had the magical glow of winter. And of course there are the Big Sky Moments, where you can see the weather approaching from what seems to be 50 miles away.
One memorable drive was through the Lamar Valley on the northern boundary of Yellowstone, known for it’s wolf populations. Although we never saw any wolf packs, we saw their tracks in the snow.
One day while snowshoeing I was bedazzled by the patterns of shadows in the snowbanks. A simple thing, yet very powerful. Studies in black and white given as a gift to a photographer.
I would love to plan another extended stay in this area for another photographic excursion. You have to be prepared for weather and wind, but the drama that can develop are worth the layers of clothes one must wear.
This trip was lucky in that there was enough land definition in the hillsides to provide some graphic relief from the normal all white landscape. One hint to winter photographers, bring weights for your tripods to steady them in the wind.
Here are a few shots, there are more in the Gallery section….
Driving into the mountains above Santa Fe I was looking for a stand of aspens that I had photographed many years before. There had been a light dusting of snow the night before and the sky was again cloudless and bright. I didn’t remember exactly where I had been, so we were just exploring to see if anything would appear. I was wonderfully surprised by the artistry of the aspens once again. The low afternoon light made the thin, icy branches of the aspens iridescent. Once again, the aspens of Santa Fe had given me a spectacular show.
One of the fundamentals of photography is the realization that we are painting with light. Our brush is our camera, and the oils are the rays of the sun. Nowhere is this more evident than in Santa Fe, where I was happily visiting last January with my husband, Ellis. Every day seemed to be a gift of light. Visiting the Taos Pueblo I found the local church with the crosses etched against the crystal blue sky. The contrasts were inspiring, as I’m sure they were meant to be. The light seemed to be literally bouncing off the rooftops, making the sky the deepest blue possible.