I’ve been working on a personal series for some time without really knowing that I was doing so. The series’ evolution has been a long process which I started about 10 years ago. It is a junction of two distinct aspects of my life: fine art photography and weather.
I have always been fascinated by the weather and more in tune with it than most people. My dad was a navigator in the Navy and he brought his love for tracking the weather to me. We worked on a weather graph for one of my science projects when I was in elementary school. We always had a weather station at home to follow the air temperature, humidity, rainfall, and wind speed. I grew up in a place where weather was somewhat non-existent. Some rain, barely any wind and not much fluctuation in air temps. But as I got older I found myself in new places where I could use my knowledge of the cloud formations to predict the weather.
By the time I was spending every weekend climbing in the Sierra Nevada, I found myself interested in experiencing adverse weather at altitude. My favorite climbing became high altitude climbs: Mt. Shasta, Popocatapetl and Orizaba offered the potential for inclement weather because they were so high. I loved photographing at altitude because the sky looked so blue. I finally moved to Colorado with the main intention to experience weather in the Colorado Rockies.
Then, when I met my husband, and we planned a sailing trip to Tahiti, I had no idea how concentrated my focus would be on the weather. We watched the clouds and ocean 24 hours/day. When it was dark it was about “feeling” the weather. Did the seas feel different? Did the wind feel different over the course of the night? I technically lived outside for 2 years watching every cloud formation, measuring every breath of wind and feeling the humidity change. Sailing puts you as close to nature as you can possibly be.
It’s been nine years since we have been “home” from that adventure and I’ve been instinctively trying to stay in touch with the weather from home. Surfing definitely keeps me in touch with it but even that method is limited now with the kids at arms length. My photography business has stepped into that spare time that I would probably use to go surfing-at least for now. So, I have been using my camera to stay in touch as witness to the ever changing weather and beauty of life at what feels like cloud level (our home sits high up on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean).
My series titled “Ambients” is after Alfred Stieglitz. In doing more research about his “Equivalents” I found a certain comfort in realizing his path as a photographer is similar to mine: long and impassioned. Even though he was a phenomenal photographer, he wanted to produce work that communicated something more than what others were seeing in his current images.
Alfred Stieglitz, a great promoter of Modernism in America and an advocate of photography as art, began pointing his camera skyward in 1922. His images of evanescent clouds were meant to express his own fleeting emotional states and reflect the dynamism of a world in constant flux. Originally Stieglitz titled them “songs of the sky,” but he later came to call them “equivalents of my most profound life experience.” The works focus on abstract qualities of proportion, rhythm, and harmony, presenting pure form as music for the eye.
In 1922 Stieglitz read a commentary about his photography by Waldo Frank that suggested the strength of his imagery was in the power of the individuals he photographed. Stieglitz was outraged, believing Frank had at best ignored his many photographs of buildings and street scenes, and at worst had accused him of being a simple recorder of what appeared in front of him. He resolved immediately to begin a new series of cloud studies “to show that (the success of) my photographs (was) not due to subject matter – not to special trees or faces, or interiors, to special privileges – clouds were there for everyone…” He said “I wanted to photograph clouds to find out what I had learned in forty years about photography. Through clouds to put down my philosophy of life –…My aim is increasingly to make my photographs look so much like photographs that unless one has eyes and sees, they won’t be seen – and still everyone will never forget them having once looked at them.”
The Equivalents are photographs of shapes that have ceded their identity, in which Stieglitz obliterated all references to reality normally found in a photograph. There is no internal evidence to locate these works either in time or place. They could have been taken anywhere—nothing indicates whether they made in Lake George, New York City, Venice, or the Alps—and, except for the modern look of the gelatin silver prints, they could have been made at any time since the invention of photography. And because there is no horizon line in these photographs, it is not even clear which way is ‘up’ and which way ‘down.’ Our confusion in determining a ‘top’ and a ‘bottom’ to these photographs, and our inability to locate them in either time or place, forces us to read what we know are photographs of clouds as photographs of abstracted forms.
I have been beating myself up over this series. Even though many people love them and they sell out whenever I get around to producing individual pieces, I have had a very difficult time showing my photographs of clouds. I have thought them to be cliché and uncomplicated although beautiful. They do make my heart happy, but when I think of “where I am supposed to be as a photographer” I get down on them. I do think they are important in my evolution and they are significant enough to exist. There is so much more to why I continue to create these images and I am finding out more every day. They haven’t been an effortless project. Most of them have evolved out of a special process I created to make them have that special something. I hope they bring those who have started collecting them many years of joy.
Songs with Notes