Category Archives: Story Behind the Picture

Weathered and Worn | The Essence Shines Through

It’s interesting how visual artists gravitate toward certain subjects and how that attraction and subject matter can change over the years. This is why original work is more than just pictures on a wall or a computer screen. Once you follow a photographer or painter for a while their works become more of a dynamic connection between artist, viewer and story. You begin to see much more than what meets the eye. That’s also why I’ve always thought it to be a bit off-putting to group all artists as unsocial introverts. Those who have an honest commitment to their work are actually quite the opposite. They’re constantly reaching out to connect.

Nature subjects and landscapes represent the foundation from which I’ve built my love of photography. I always return to that foundation even while pursuing other subjects such as commercial assignments, product, portraits, etc.

However, over the last three years or so there’s been a certain subject area that is more and more represented in my stock library of images –  man-made subjects found in rural locations that are weathered and worn, particularly abandoned homes, signs, cars and other items often overlooked as eye sores and “junk.” With each of these finds are multifaceted stories – stories of a life or a family; of personal history that seeps into the very ground the dramas played out upon. The echoes in shadows and dimming light at sunset that retain witness to the trials and tales of generations.

There’s a certain beauty to all that rust and peeling paint. Objects exposed to years and seasons, the elements revealing an aged “essence.” Character evident in the bare brokenness.

Recently I came upon a wealth of these subjects during a road trip from Dallas to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Southwest Oklahoma, near Vernon, Texas and in Snyder, Oklahoma. I had traveled up that way to photograph wildlife and landscapes in the Refuge, which I was able to accomplish. However (as is often the case) it was what I didn’t have in mind that became the primary focus of my trip.

Mostly flat and rural, the landscape in that area is subject to dramatic shifts in the weather and almost constant wind. There’s a subtle feeling of being almost lost in time – of being left behind – to the old farms and homesteads, of people who stopped for a while and then passed on to other more populous places further west. It’s as if the 1930’s made an indelible impression up and down every rural route that crisscrosses this section of Oklahoma.

Old, weathered cars and buildings are often used as props and backdrops for outdoor portraits, especially high school seniors. It’s the contrast of youth with the aged objects that makes so many of these portraits work so well.

Why these subjects hold more appeal for me today than perhaps say 20 or even 10 years ago isn’t due so much to me feeling old. I like to think it has more to do with going through certain experiences in life, maybe being slightly broken and exposed to the elements. A peeling away to an essence, a truth that’s more lasting. Maybe not as fast and shiny but a wisdom of character that prevails.

It was just last night that I had a conversation with a good friend from high school. We talked about brokenness and the building of character and courage. It’s one of those universal laws that applies to nature, life and faith. He mentioned how it also applies to sports teams too, particularly how the big name college football teams that go undefeated for more than a season or two eventually are much more likely to fold and collapse once they face serious opposition. They go too long without being humbled.

You’ve got to put yourself out there to be broken, weathered and worn. Maybe to be initially pushed aside and overlooked. But with patience and hope something so much more begins to shine through. That’s what I look for. That’s what catches my eye.

EndoftheLinebyJimCrottyFW Holy City Chapel Wichita Mountains Oklahoma by Jim Crotty 2 OutWheretheHeartWandersbyJimCrottyFW WeatheredandAgedbyJimCrottyFW Left to Time | Altus Oklahoma by Jim Crotty Vintage rides at amusement park near Quartz Mountain Oklahoma by Jim Crotty Vintage rides at amusement park near Quartz Mountain Oklahoma by Jim Crotty

Beyond Colorful Leaves | The Photographer’s Challenge

“November Nightfall” is an older image that I’ve posted previously. However, I’m posting it again to illustrate an important point for nature photographers to consider, especially this time of year during peak autumn color.

As a visual artist and landscape photographer I feel it’s important to not get so anxious over the changing color of trees when capturing the essence of autumn on and in the landscape. I make this point partly due to the fact that I scheduled my Hocking Hills weekend workshop for the last weekend of October, when most of the color is off the trees and the leaves will be on the ground. But I also want to challenge myself and my students to look beyond what we think will be pleasing to those who view our work and explore what it is in the simplicity of form, texture, light and shadow that speaks to our artistic vision. That’s where the REAL photographs begin to emerge.

This image, of the Crescent Moon setting behind a tree line at dusk, was captured in Hocking Hills in late November. It is a ridge line just outside the entrance to Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve. Many of my personal fall favorites from Hocking Hills – the ones which carry the most meaning and memory for me – were captured during November, long after the crowds of “leaf peepers” have left the Park and autumn’s glory lays scattered on the forest floor.

I’ve always found autumn to be more about the almost mystical quality of drifting light and lengthening shadows. Of course it’s always rewarding to find a beautiful grouping of changing Maples, Oaks and Dogwoods but there is so much more behind, over and under the beautiful color.

The landscape photographer is a storyteller and in telling the story of autumn he or she must be willing to explore beyond the common and obvious. The trick is not to try too hard because when there is too much thought and deliberation the resulting image conveys more of a methodical attempt at being different versus just simply reflecting both uniqueness and the originality of the photographer’s creative vision. In other words the discovery of a beautiful image framed in-camera that most casual observers would not have noticed.

The reaction and connection to that drifting, mystical light of sunset in October or the texture of a single leaf, long fallen. There are a million stories of the season hidden in an acre of forest floor or tall grass meadow. It is the artist who succeeds by delivering the narrative to an audience who too often only views the colorful highlights of a multi-act performance. The photographic artist – the landscape photographer – goes deeper, stays longer and engages in a fall landscape that is multifaceted and layers deep in the splendid tale that is the turning of a season.

The Runner-Ups | My Top 10 Photographs of 2010

Pixels and Pics: My Top 10 Photographs of 2010. The post on my blogger blog, Pixels and Pics, put together on New Year’s Eve. But there’s more. Eight additional images that I sitting in my “top images of 2010 file.” I was thinking that New Year’s Day 2011 – and – would be the appropriate time and medium for showcasing these “runner-ups” –

January Morning in Zion National Park

Sky at Sunset @ Rockbridge State Nature Preserve, Hocking Hills, Ohio

Sunset on the Spring Equinox @ Broad Creek, South Carolina

May Morning @ Ash Cave, Hocking Hills, Ohio

Message in the Sky

Flags in Window @ Clifton, Ohio Continue reading The Runner-Ups | My Top 10 Photographs of 2010

Common Ground and What We Bring to a Photograph

“Goodnight Moon.” I never made the connection between this image and what I remember as the favorite book I’d read to my daughters at bedtime, when they were younger. It was the suggestion of a friend. I was motivated to not only revisit this image – without a doubt one of my top five nature and landscape photographs – as well as the heartwarming memory of those times that all parents can relate with – the wonderful innocence and love of those “early years.” That stack of books on the nightstand, and saving “Goodnight Moon” for last. I started reading to my daughters as soon as they were old enough to sit up and follow along, probably just after they each turned one year of age. And don’t let anyone say that reading to kids when they are that young doesn’t make a difference. It does. Now nine and 11 they excel in reading and English. My oldest, Emma, has been placed in pre-AP English as she begins her journey into middle school, this Monday.

And there’s no doubt to the positive impact of stories at bedtime has on mom and dad. The memory of first reading that book while she sat on my lap and we looked out the bedroom window in that house in Salt Lake City. I would point to the Moon rising above the nearby snow-covered peaks of the Wasatch Mountains and her eyes would go wide with wonder and then shared smiles. I am blessed beyond measure.

It was perhaps seven or eight years later that I captured this image in another location of shared experiences. The full Moon rising above the hilltop garden that sits behind the Inn at Cedar Falls in the Hocking Hills, Ohio. The evening following Thanksgiving. The light in the sky that evening was beyond ethereal. And then over the eastern horizon Luna came calling.

The signs that are sent our way are wonders to behold. They’re everywhere around us, everyday. It’s only a matter of slowing down, letting go, listening, observing with more than just the eye.

Every once in a while the photographic artist succeeds in capturing the connection between the outward, external presentation of subject and light and the internal, spirit-filled essence that is our love and common ground, and then we glimpse something that transcends time and the confines of the temporal and worrisome. We’re joined. We’re moved. We love.

The friend who suggested this connection between image and favorite bedtime book is also a parent. She saw something in that image that was always there for me but wasn’t fully aware of, until now. Shared experiences, moments that move the spirit and soul. A single photograph, also shared, and we connect back to what moves both artist and viewer.

Goodnight Moon.

November Moon by Jim Crotty by Jim Crotty
November Moon by Jim Crotty by Jim Crotty

A Tale of Two Mornings

From the back deck of my home I have a wonderful vantage point of the eastern horizon, perfect for capturing sunrises during the summer. Still my all-time, personal favorite location for dawn and sunrise photography is the hilltop behind the Inn at Cedar Falls in Hocking Hills. My back deck in Centerville is a good subsitute when I’m not there at the Inn in what I and others like to refer to as a “sacred place.”

Sunrise for landscape photography is a pure pleasure that I relish in. The peaceful beauty can not be matched. It’s God’s way of saying to us “here, another blessing of a new day, to start again, to renew.”

The following two images were captured in the cool stillness of dawn on the early morning of Monday, August 3d, 2009. I was well up before the light began in the eastern sky. I was greeted with the sight of Sirius (the brightest star in the sky) following my old friend of winter – Orion. The first harbinger of the cooler, golden days of autumn has arrived.

Photographer Jim Crotty captures the pre-dawn sky
Photographer Jim Crotty captures the pre-dawn sky
Sunflower Photograph by Dayton Photographer Jim Crotty
Sunflower Photograph by Dayton Photographer Jim Crotty

And then again what a difference a day makes. Pre-dawn this morning, August 4, 2009 and I’m awakened by the most spectacular show of lightening and sound of thunder seen yet this year. From the covered safety of my kitchen window I set-up my Canon 1D Mark III with a Canon 28-70mm f.2.8 lens on the tripod and fired 30-second exposure after 30-second exposure, hoping to capture just the right lightening strike. The following image came closest to what I had in mind –

Lightening Photograph by Dayton Ohio Photographer Jim Crotty on August 4 2009
Lightening Photograph by Dayton Ohio Photographer Jim Crotty on August 4 2009

Here again I’m reinforced with the belief that the artist captures best that which is closest to home, and oftentimes the most striking of nature and landscape photographs result from the subtle and oftentimes overlooked beauty that lies just out the front or back doors. This coming Saturday, August 8th, I will be presenting more images and talking about how the best photographs can be obtained just outside in one’s backyard at Dayton’s Wegerzyn Gardens. This is a one and half hour program on the basics of nature photography, being offered free to the public through Five Rivers MetroParks. It’s also a follow-up to the same program I presented to about 40 people at Wegerzyn on July 11th. The problem is that since then an article ran in the Dayton Daily News (with the headline error of “Local Artist to Present Free Workshops” – Five Rivers does; Jim Crotty does not), along with the fact that my number was given to register versus that of the Park office, my phone has been ringing off the hook. I’m estimating the turn-out to be twice that of July 11th. There’s only going to be so much I can cover in such a short amount of time to such a large group, but I will do my best.

My own, full-day workshop on nature and landscape photography is set for September 26 at Cox Arboretum. The fee is $89 per person and the group is limited to 20 people. That particular program filled within two weeks of announcing the details and I now have a waiting list 10 people deep. The good news is that I will be working on the details on another, similar full-day program at Cox, possibly on nature  and landscape photography in the winter. I’m thinking about a Saturday in January or February, 2010. The best way for people to receive an early notice and get signed-up is by registering for my e-mail newsletter.