Over time a pattern has emerged in my work. My signature style that resonates most deeply is that of black and white photographs with deep shadows. As I was editing this image I had an epiphany. The images reminded me of x-rays. When I think about x-rays I think about the way the are visual probes of our interior selves. It is a way of seeing what is on the inside. My photographs do the same thing. They reveal what is in my heart.
Over the past couple of years I have done less traveling and more cultivating of nature here at the house. Although I still love to travel, I have found deep contentment in my time at home and the infinite beauty that can be found in garden plants. What I enjoy about this the most is that it has brought a balance to life I had not known before. I don’t pass time between trips filled with anticipation and pent up desire. I enjoy each day the same whether I am at home or away which has led to a deeper happiness than I had ever known. Who knew that a potted plant could inspire such happiness!
This ghost fern lives in a pot at the foot of a retaining wall where I have created a little meditation spot with with a rock formation and a Japanese maple. The ghost fern is a hybrid of Japanese painted ferns and lady ferns.
This particular plant has shown remarkable resilience as I have watched it die back completely and return to full life over winters and heat waves. This spring I had thought it was gone and didn’t expect to see it return. It had mulched itself into dirt with nothing left on the surface but the spring rains brought it back to life and I was thrilled as it rose up out of the ground. During this summer’s record heat wave it turned brown and looked completely dead again but I kept watering it and again it had a rebirth of new growth.
The heat came back this week and a few days ago I was watering the plants from above instead of taking the few extra steps down with the hose because I was in a hurry and needed to leave soon. I adjusted the nozzle to the rain setting and thought about how I was trying to emulate the natural processes from Spring. Thinking about rain and how the leaves are designed to cradle the droplets caused me to turn off the hose and go down for a closer inspection. The beauty I saw compelled me to go get my camera and the new closeup lens I had recently purchased used from another photographer in town. The lens is a micro rather than a macro lens which means it is capable of reproducing at a 1:1 ratio. With this lens I could capture every minute detail of the interplay of water and frond.
The challenge of photographing with a micro lens is that you have extremely shallow depth of field and it is like using a microscope which means that even the slightest movement of the camera or the subject can throw the image out of focus. Since I was photographing in shade I had the further challenge of dealing with shallow depth of field due to the need for a larger aperture setting to offset the reduced amount of light let in by the higher speed shutter that would needed to freeze any movement in case of a breeze or a shaking hand holding the camera. I was supposed to be leaving soon to pick up a friend so I didn’t bother with setting up a tripod. I just bent down on one knee and started to photograph.
Over the years I have learned to let go of the shadow details in order to preserve the graphical quality of an image. The deep shadow values have become my signature style. My original idea behind letting the shadows go was based upon a study of Zen. Being present means letting go of thoughts of the past or the future. To represent that idea in my photographs I began eliminating the backgrounds in my photographs to lock the image into the present. All you can see is the subject in front of you and become aware of it’s beauty and my own breathing. This photography is a meditation practice that is supported by research that has found that simply viewing nature provides restorative health benefits to the brain and heart.
As I focused closer and closer on a single frond I let go of all awareness of time. I was surprised and delighted by the perfect circles of water droplets. I have photographed water on leaves after a rain storm and rarely do I see a perfect circular droplet. They usually have morphed into organic shapes based upon the variables of gravity and surface tension on the leaf that cause the droplet to give way and slide down the leaf.
I could see that this was starting to happen on one of the lower portions of the frond but I was there just in time to see the series of perfectly circular droplets. It was a gift.
I continued to photograph trying to figure out how to organize the chaos of nature into a simple graphic image. I forgot all about finishing the watering and immediately went into my office to download and start editing the images. That is when it hit me that these images were like X-Rays.
The last time I had x-rays made was after a surgery where I had to have a plate and six screws put into my bones to hold them together. The doctor reviewed the x-ray to evaluate the healing process. Looking at these photographs made me think that they were another set of x-rays I could use to check into to the health and well being of my heart at soul. The doctor’s voice in my head said that things were looking good! The phone rang and I realized I was now 30 minutes late. As I left I smiled and said to myself I will definitely need to schedule another follow up appointment to make more nature x-rays!