Important Photos – Mushroom
In earlier days I worked with an earth education organization that was trying to do vital and different work in helping kids and adults build life long relationships with, and understandings about, the planet. It was good stuff, and as you might imagine, it was pushed away by mainstream education. At the end of those years a friend in the group went off to make a difference in the way Alaskan adventure companies ran their businesses; he started down a path of green tourism before it was a word. I was beginning my journey in photography, and the two of us fell out of touch. I can’t remember what brought us back together, but in the mid-90’s he asked if I might come up to Alaska and photograph one of their camps in Denali. Get myself there, no pay, a tent out back, and food. It was an easy choice. I had a blast with his like-minded staff, but many days of rain were frustrating given my “assignment” of showing the lodge and cabins in sunny, blue sky light.
While I still felt new to the photographic journey, it was all I did. I was a new instructor at The Santa Fe Workshops, had just moved to Santa Fe, and photographically was still in the tradition of everything being sharp from front to back. By chance, right before I left for Alaska, I heard Keith Carter give a presentation at The Workshops. His work at the time was deeply rooted in the east Texas communities close to his home. Technically he placed shallow focus on his subjects, giving the rest of the image a dreamy, magical quality. He mentioned that he used one camera and one lens.
In Alaska, on a particularly wet, cold day, hunkered down in the tent, my spirits sank a bit, wondering if I would even make a good image for my friend, let alone for myself. That afternoon there was a slight break in the weather, the clouds started to part a bit, and uncharacteristically I grabbed my medium format camera, one lens, and nothing else. No tripod, no camera bag, but I am sure, I brought along the words of Keith Carter. And off I wandered in the woods around the camp. That is when I found the mushroom. It was huge. It’s presence called out to me and I sat down in front of it, placed the camera on the ground, pushed the lens into vegetation, opened the aperture, and made an important photograph, different than my sharp front to back photos. I have often said that I had a choice of making an image that might go into a guidebook on mushrooms, or making a photograph of a mushroom that seemed like a leprechaun might come and rest under it. That day, wet, cold, and empty of images, I pulled out a story from a photographer in a very different genre, and made something new. Something important.