Posts Tagged ‘Photo Essay’

In mid-September an early autumn storm loaded with copious moisture from a Pacific typhoon roared over the Oregon Coast. Rain was heavy, five to ten inches, with 70 mph winds on the capes, dangerous seas worthy of Winslow Homer, and 23′ breakers.

Often the most impressive displays of oceanic fury follow shortly after Pacific storms move eastward. As the cold front passed, we headed for Shore Acres State Park, near Coos Bay. Shore Acres is the place for storm watchers on the south and central Oregon Coast, and that is our destination, our pilgrimage to see the salty essence of oceanic power.

At the park, a trail leads through sitka spruce towards the grassy cliff and to numerous viewing angles. We first hear the bombardment, water thundering shoreward before reaching the cliff. A few steps further, and we see a great plume of water climbing 50′ vertically, rising almost to the cliff top in a powerful crescendo, until gravity brings down a  frothy white plume that splashes the roiling surf below and coats my camera lens with salt spray.

The surf  for a few moments is quiet. A momentary lull. But a new wave of big breakers then rolls in from the deep ocean, breaking near shore or against the cliffs, one after another, five or ten in a row, roaring like a cannonade, reverberating across the headlands, only finally muffled by the silence of the deep forest.

My photographs taken that day give only a few dimensions of the reality. The camera clicked and clicked, slowing as the computer tried to process so much intense light. Many wave pictures are now taken with a slow shutter, thus blurring and smoothing what is really wild and chaotic action. The fast shutter of these pictures emphasizes that wildness and chaos. But it’s the viewer who must anticipate the almost terrifying audible dimension of crashing water, the taste of salt spray, the smell of brine and damp forest, in fact all the senses and emotions when confronting such spellbinding nature as a Pacific storm. A photograph can only suggest.  SRE



all images © SR Euston

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It’s about a four hour drive from our place on the southern Oregon coast to Eureka, California, where our daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren (Boys 14, 11 and 8) live with a dog, a cat, five chickens and a duck, all on a kind of urban farm. We are spending Thanksgiving in Eureka this year, a “To Grandmother’s house we go” in reverse. As we leave on Wednesday, the weather in Oregon has just opened up after a storm. By the time we reach our daughter’s place in Eureka the skies have cleared. This holiday weekend has materialized the kind of weather residents of the wet and green northwest coast  take solace in.  Afternoons in the 60s, the evenings a bit chilly but the air full of remembrances of harbor and sea and winds and douglas fir and redwood forest. This wonderful weather imparts a holidayish patina, a warm autumnal mood  as we sit down to fresh turkey, fresh cranberries from our own Curry County,  and about ninety accoutrements of a good Thanksgiving feast.


This slide show is a sort of travel log of this Thanksgiving weekend,  beginning with shots of the rugged Curry County coast, then down Highway 101, the Redwood Highway, to Eureka. It includes a few family pictures, but features lots of photos of a picture packed place called the “North Jetty”.


The Humboldt South and North jetties, massive linear rock filled projections into the ocean,  protect vessels entering Humboldt Bay from notoriously dangerous Pacific storms. But more to the point for our son-in-law Tim, the North Jetty is a favorite surfing destination, and rolling long period waves are out the afternoon of our visit, as were wet-suited surfers out for a sporting chance at some pretty decent waves, peaking at 15′ or more. Tim has brought us here to find what we will.


The North Jetty is an a photographic puzzle.  Several other photographers were out, kneeling, craning necks, searching for a certain angle. But many who were carrying cameras seemed uninspired. For me, it  was my first real opportunity to shoot large waves from a side angle, as opposed from straight on from shore, opening up possibilities especially for B/W, emphasizing  the sinuous, emergent power of the long period swells. But equally interesting is the jetty itself. To exploit this subject, one must like geometry.

Contrasted with the oceanic rolls and swells and wave crashes, the jetty is one solid piece of Corps of Engineers construction, including seemingly randomly placed hulking concrete structures looking a bit like giant jacks—like the kind kids once and maybe still do play with. The camera sees shapes and forms and lines and mass in all this. And that is just the beginning, because all this solidity frames a churning kinetic sea.

On our return trip, we stopped in Arcata, and while Ann and Dawn shopped, I came across a couple of urban shots that ratcheted down the drama of waves into in a quiet mood of a dwindling late November day.   SR Euston  All Photos Copyrighted

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Our world can be overwhelmingly complicated. Despite the seeming simplicity of binary systems, this digital age is, except for the initiated, of mind-boggling obtuseness and sometimes depressing frustration.

Then there is deep science. No matter how moving it is to hear great physicists talk about the “elegance” or the “simplicity” of this or that set of equations, the rest of us know it’s beyond our poor faculties to even understand their weird notational language. And certainly we are all sinking into a labyrinth of informational, high tech and media overload, a world in which Google trumps sleep.

Art of the early 20th century brought a vision of basics, at least to the visual arts and architecture. Ironically, the industrial age stimulated a sparer vision. Clean lines, obvious geometry, apparently (but not really) simple composition. Color might be riotous or disturbing, but the external world was stripped of what the artist saw as superfluous. Photography followed, sort of.  Abstract pictures, by say Man Ray, were curiosities, but Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston etc. in the U.S. gave photography the aura of fine art. And the essence, as I understand it, was fidelity to the medium—sharp, accurate, clean but expressive.  All in all a tall order.

So here goes with what I often see in my viewfinder as non-complex, maybe even a bit simple.  A visual respite from complication. Most of these pictures are from the natural world, hopefully teasing the visually basic from the ecologically complex. A few shots are from the designed-built environment. Nothing manipulated by Photoshop. It is true I’m using the very digital tools I critique. But then consistency isn’t the thing it used to be.  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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Spray and mist. Not exactly promising subjects for a picture. Photography books advise you to take early morning or late afternoon shots. Strong shadows and light; definite, sharp outlines; bold perspective; strong composition with curves, verticals, diagonals and horizontals.

And yet for a contrarian with a camera, these are exactly the “rules” that are fun to break. In Yellowstone last year I had my chance to imbibe the sulfur air of the geyser basins, and to stand, camera in hand, hot mists breathing down my neck—literally—trying to capture, as much as is possible in a photograph, the encompassing miasma of the geyser fountains and mists.

There is something Dante-like going on as the steam swirls about and around, a kind of romance with sulfured earth and water. I try with the camera to get a bead on this phantasmagoric scene, but finally, sun blazing into a million droplets of mineralized water, I just point the lens and press the shutter, a lot of times, as the camera’s computer tries as hard as it can to process the intense light, creating those pixels of hot air.

Then, for a bracing change, there are the cold ocean mists and sprays of the Oregon coast in winter, when gigantic storms batter the outer Pacific waters into great circular rolling waves that crash on coastal rocks with frightening bursts of energy. At least frightening if you are on slippery rocks, camera in hand, trying to protect the lens from salt spray, and at the last minute before you guess a big one is breaking, you bring out the camera, shoot, and hope for the best. I shoot these pictures with a relatively short focal length lens, getting close to the action.

But watch out for what in Oregon they call sneaker waves. One winter afternoon after photographing storm waves at spectacularly beautiful Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel, we heard that a boy was washed off of a rocky promontory by just such an unpredictable fearsome wave.

It is wisdom to see the sea—nature—as still in charge.   SRE

Heat and Mist ©S.R. Euston

Twilight and Steam ©SR Euston

Fountain Geyser © SR Euston

Hot Spring Pool © SR Euston

Salt Spray: Sisters Rocks, OR © SR Euston

Morning Mists from Cape Sebastian OR © SR Euston

Dangerous Breakers © SR Euston

Storm Waves, Cape Arago, OR © SR Euston

Dark Sandstone Against White Surf, Pt. Lobos © SR Euston

Dark Rocks Against White Surf, Pt. Lobos © SR Euston

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In the Ken Burns-Dayton Duncan special “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” Yosemite and Yellowstone get the lion’s share of attention, both for their centrality to conservation history, and because of their iconic nature, double meaning of nature intended. Of the two,Yosemite is the most photogenic, with sculptured granite walls and domes, graceful but thunderous waterfalls, and an eye-popping entry viewpoint, made famous by Ansel Adams’ remarkable cloud-hugging, snow-glazed view, “Clearing Winter Storm,” C.1937. In fact, Ansel Adams and Yosemite were nearly synonymous for my generation. Never mind the dusty summer crowds or over crowded campgrounds, it is a place of nature-magic.

Edge of Upper Falls © SR Euston

Then there’s Yellowstone, the original national park, the most famous, one of the most visited, and in my view a pretty difficult place to get the sense of photographically. (Maybe this is because of the dispersal and scale of its most dramatic highlights, contrasted with the compact intensity of Yosemite Valley.) Ansel Adams’ photographs of Yellowstone never reach the exalted heights of his more numerous Yosemite art works. (Except maybe in his geyser pictures, wispy and moody.) The watercolors of Thomas Moran, which helped sell the park idea to Congress, are to my eye more satisfying, even though they hardly represent photographic reality.

This is my Yellowstone sampling, from an early August camping trip last year. Geysers, boiling springs, rivers and canyons—the places that thousands of tourists see every day in Summer. The steaming geysers and boiling thermal features are what intrigued me most, graphically and otherwise. And I admit that the foaming geyser picture —whatever its merit—owns its essence to Ansel Adams.      SRE

Great Fountain Geyser Terraces © SR Euston

Canada Geese, Yellowstone River, Hayden Valley © SR Euston

Hot Spring, Upper Geyser Basin © SR Euston

Lookout Point, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone © SR Euston

Great Fountain Geyser © SR Euston

Evening off Fountain Flat Drive © SR Euston

Geyser Steam at Sundown © SR Euston

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Rocks to me are akin to bones, bones of the earth, it’s skeletal frame that has been pressed and extruded and deposited. Rocks in one sense hold the meaning of life, because life has evolved in a medium of rocks dissolved, eroded, polished, blown, washed away, wore bare by human feet or by their chips and scrapes, cut into gigantic blocks of stone somehow put upright; rocks placed one on another to make shelter, to use as ornament, to defend the castle.

Rock photography is about solidity. Rocks are there, a bit like Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein. And they are quiet. They encourage contemplative visualization. Rocks are the finest blending of natural history and visual power, oftentimes overlaid with intimations of the mythic and mystical – the spirit of the land at its most basic. To see them  – really see them – is a near Zen practice.  SRE

Petroglyph, Three Rivers, NM © SR Euston

Volcanic Rocks, Jemez Mts., NM © SR Euston

Volcanic Deposits, NM © SR Euston

Coastal Upthrust, Oregon Coast © SR Euston

Canyon Rocks, NM © SR Euston

"In Place", Blue Ridge Mts., VA © SR Euston

"Castle", Hovenweep National Monument, UT © SR Euston

Blue Rocks, Catwalk, SW NM © SR Euston

Shoreline Rocks, Cape Blanco OR © SR Euston

Shoreline Rocks, Cape Blanco OR © SR Euston

Lava Cones, Craters of the Moon Nat'l Monument, ID © SR Euston

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Of all the snarky epithets given to Greens, “tree hugger” is the most clever. To laugh at someone who actually believes trees have something to say seems humorously innocent.

But of course it isn’t. I mean something to say about meaning in the grand scheme of nature. That meaning can be both ecological and mystical. I suppose for the anti-tree huggers trees have meaning also, the currency being dollars. Such is the diversity of society.

“Tree hugger” is rather funny term in one way. Few environmentalists I know hug trees with any regularity. It’s more likely that a forester out scaling the forest to estimate its board feet will come closer to hugging trees. Strangely, some foresters, certainly not all, seem to hate trees. Their excited anticipation at clear cutting a 100 acre patch of virgin timber might seem odd, but felling trees is their profession. For them, literally, a dead tree is a good and useful tree.

Select a favorite tree. Place the whole reach of your arms around the fellow. Feel its bark. Look up at its height. Touch its leaves, its cones, its needles. Size up the shape of its silhouette. Rounded? Tall? Slender?

Then notice the smell of the forest around. Western ponderosa has that delicious vanilla scent. Or inhale the tannic bite of falling oak leaves in October, or the winter smoke of pinon burning, or the tang of balsam. Here in coastal Oregon, it’s the rich damp salty smell of humus a foot thick, mixed with huckleberry and salal.

Some trees live for several thousand years, many western conifers for centuries, and even a run-of-the-mill apple can bear fruit after a 100 or more years. Compared to a large conifer, we humans work out our lives at the shallows of time. But then, we humans have done our darnedest to cut the trees down to our ages.  SRE

Winter Black Oak ©SR Euston

White Oak, Autumn VA ©SR Euston

Afternoon Light Sitka Spruce Forest ©SR Euston

Windward Sitka Spruce ©SR Euston

Shore Pine, Ocean, Sky ©SR Euston

Prairie Creek Redwoods SP, CA ©SR Euston

Friends, Redwood and Sitka Spruce © SR Euston

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