Archive for the ‘Minimalist Photography’ Category

A few days ago, Oregon coast folks skidded on slippery roads and snapped lots of pictures. A once-in-five-years snow storm blew in from the Pacific.  A couple of inches, on that boundary between slush and real snow.  A few years ago, in Albuquerque, beautiful clouds foretold a winter storm. A few inches of drier snow covered our neighborhood, the thermometer was lower, enough to cover an agave for a day or so.  Midwesterners and Northeasterners will find all this amusing, I’m sure. SRE

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A monothematic photographic essay in subdued tones of an Oregon winter beach before the storm. Humbug Mountain, whose rampart is just visible in some of these photos, has a kind of Fujiama presence when viewed at a distance. In fact it is of volcanic origin. The beach was on this day mild for winter with no wind or salt spray, good omens for my camera’s lens.

The drift logs, rounded sand shapes, randomly set stones and Brush Creek tumbling into the ocean against a late afternoon sky. After awhile, my eye is fatigued with a surfeit of  possible images. SRE

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A northwest beach is a driftwood beach, and by that I don’t mean a stray twig or coconut shell washed ashore. Northwest driftwood is a defining essence  of the beachscape, as indigenous as the windblown capes. Driftwood here means immense weathered logs, washed up like toothpicks in Pacific storms, roots, trunks, limbs all sanded, and stripped to essentials, gleaming, buried in dark sands, giant tree trunks washed down in rainforest canyon floods, but mostly ponderous sections of cut logs, fallen from ships I suppose, or the Paul Bunyan scraps from clear cutting that have found their tragic ways to the sea.  Some driftwood is historic—it appears to be part of the sand, like shells or stones, and it may be that a timber from a San Francisco bound lumber schooner is buried in the strand, providing shelter from sandy winds as you enjoy a quick lunch.

The photographic possibilities of driftwood on the wild beach are literally without end.  Overcast to weak sun are the favored conditions for photographic detail, revealing beautiful wavelike woodgrain, writhing forms that have Hansel and Gretel overtones, or clean contemporary monotonic minimalism. Glaring light means blowout on silver highlights on weathered wood. The dynamic range is too great.  The forms are the thing, as well as wood grain detail, and of course the endless compositional challenges of driftwood scattered in sand and seaweed.


Text and photographs copyright SR Euston

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New Mexico Skies © SR Euston

In extreme northwest Victoria, Australia, where the outback begins, lies a dry eucalyptus land called Sunset Country. I have never seen this place, but the name itself is its own reward.  Imagine—the evocation of the mere word sunset. What comes to mind?  Of course dazzling reds and oranges, reflected in the water or across desert rocks or through the trees.

When we say sunset, it is always with this anticipation of color. For most, the more color the better. Pink, rose, mauve, purple, magenta, orange, silver, gold, copper. But in photographing sunsets, the boundaries of artistic license, it seems to me, are pretty narrow. Brilliant red can turn into the garish commonplace; evanescent rose can look washed out.

The problem with sunsets in the early days of color photography was the color itself. Sunsets could look horribly fake. But with Kodachrome, things changed. Does anyone old enough to have a Kodachrome slide collection not have multiple shots of a sunset over this or that famous landmark? The color’s the thing and the only thing. It was satisfying to end your slide show for friends with a fantastic sunset, maybe with a nice silhouetted tree.

Oregon Coast 4:45 PM © SR Euston

When color prints became common, sunsets presented different problems. Compared to the brilliance of Kodachrome slides, or now the digital monitor, sunsets printed even on the best photographic paper don’t often have élan. They lack everything except  the color red. That is, if the photographer (with new digital tools especially) hasn’t fiddled with the spectrum, color value, saturation and hue. And in my view upping the ante on color is exactly what many professional landscape photographers have done. I admit to a deep prejudice against what I think of as garish obvious sunset pictures in millions of calendars and magazines.

Sunset Reflection on Wall © SR Euston

The following pictures, by the way, are not products of photoshop miracles, though there is what I think of as reasonable digital darkroom editing. But as I rail about the garish, looking at these photos on the monitor gives me a slight tinge. Can these colors be real?  SRE

One Minute of Purple Ocean © SR Euston



Cold Front Passing, Oregon© SR Euston

Green River, Utah in Repose © SR Euston


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In the old days of snapshot film photography, “fog” was a bad thing. I remember as a kid being totally discouraged by some forlorn, low contrast murky prints. Either I had grossly underexposed, or maybe I had developed the film wrongly. Whatever, my prints would not be confused with Ansel Adams’.

Ocean Dome © SR Euston


With digital, leaving room for more experimentation, I am now fascinated by fog, as I must be, living on the Oregon coast. Otherwise, photo opportunities would be rather constricted. The camera would have long naps, especially from November through March.

Fog necessarily means making something out of very muted colors, often almost monotones.  And creating a momentarily ethereal impression using very low contrast. The typical rules of the zone system, the magazine mania for garish sunset contrast—such conventionalities won’t work with fog or any other misty landscape.

Diaphanous Mists, Sisters Rocks © SR Euston

Otter Point © SR Euston


The key I suspect is more emotional than technical. The fog and mists hide secrets. The lay of the land is on hold. Colors can melt to greys. Sunlight is more of a hint than a fruition.

My camera is sleepless in Oregon.       SRE


Silver Strand, Ophir Beach, OR © SR Euston

Red Earth and Fog © SR Euston

Coastal Drama, OR © SR Euston


Morning Mists, Tehachapi Mts. CA © SR Euston

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This place we are staying on the Oregon Coast has more than generous displays of nature’s awesome face, with wild nights of Pacific wind, magnificent rolling voluptuous ocean swells, heart stopping 25 foot breakers gilded with wind-tossed foamy salt sprays, gale winds roaring and whistling through the solemn moss-padded rainforests. But in all this excitement of the grand, it’s easy to forget the commonplace.

Exhausted by the waves and wind, I sometimes take a camera exploration among intimate images of the every day. In other words, just sort of looking around. Our place here, like many beachy places, is a bit rough at the edges—assorted old wood scattered about, homely worn picket fences, a gravel driveway filled with rainwater depressions, prosaic old windows framing the ocean, diaphanous worn curtains showing curving abstract waves. The other day, I saw  some sun breakthrough the stratus clouds, and presto: the camera was called!    SRE

Ocean Through the Window©SR Euston

Curtain Curves © SR Euston

The Gate to Humbug Mountain ©SR Euston

Impressionism in a Puddle ©SR Euston

Discarded Wood 1©SR Euston

Discarded Wood 2 ©SR Euston

Weathered Board and Batten ©SR Euston

Reflections in Car Window ©SR Euston

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