Posts tagged: Blue Ridge Mountains
At a rcent media event, I watched as a friend showed another woman—a professional photographer—her latest post on her Instagram feed, the mobile application that allows anyone to take photos with a smartphone camera and then manipulate them, filtering to add color, texture, vintage graininess or even bizarre special effects, before posting online.
“That’s pretty, but it’s crap,” the photographer said dismissively. “Those photo apps let people who don’t know what they’re doing take a bad photo and then ‘save’ it by adding special effects. It’s basically junk.”
My friend laughed off the other woman’s dismissive and, to be blunt, rude, words and moved on.
I’ve heard that kind of exchange before and it always strikes me as foolish. Photo apps are creative toys, outlets for expression, not a threat to professionals. And there’s a reason they are so popular. A photographer with skill and the right equipment can take a technically perfect photograph. But sometimes technically perfect is just not real enough.
It’s the same with words. If I were to tell you that recently, at the Peaks of Otter Recreational Area near Bedford, Virginia, I walked a trail to the top of a mountain on a 67-degree weekday in October, climbing until I stood at the overlook gazing down at a forest of hardwood trees that were no longer photosynthesizing, and then when I had seen enough I took the rocky path back down, you’d have a pretty good idea of what I’d done and where I’d been. But I wouldn’t have communicated in any way what I felt.
But when I tell you that not too long ago, on what felt like a perfect fall day, breathing in cool air scented by forest smells of fallen leaves and woodsmoke from distant cabins, the sun warming my back, I climbed a winding, rocky, path crisscrossed by the roots of the gnarled trees that clung to the rich dark soil of the southwestern Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains and when I reached the stacked-stone overlook I stood still and silent as my heartbeat slowed, gazing out as far as the eye could see at a beautiful carpet of golden Hickory and scarlet maple treetops; when I tell you I stood there a long time taking it all in, acknowledging my instinctive reaction to the beauty of the season before turning to make my way back down the steep path, I bring you a little closer to my experience.
I think that’s the appeal of Instagram and other mobile phone camera apps. They let us take what we see and paint the image with nostalgia, sentiment and other emotions.
Of course, there’s a time and a place for artistic license. I carry a professional camera with me wherever I travel, and the camera on my iPhone 4s is surprisingly good. I shoot on both so I come home with a not just a photo suitable for traditional publication, but, because I love the creative flexibility, I usually post a lightly-filtered or focused version of the same image online on my Facebook page, Instagram feed and Tumblr blog. One captures what I saw, the other what I felt. But what’s most interesting to me is the reaction many people have to a filtered image. They look at it longer, closer. Perfect focus, balanced composition, color and scale, draw our approval. But emotion, the “junk” so many deliberately remove from their work, draws us in.
(Click “Continue Reading” to see an unflitered view of the cover photo.)
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at email@example.com
(Photo courtesy O. Winston Link Museum, Roanoke, Virginia)
Once you see one of his photographs, you never forget it. Inky darkness is frosted and silvered by pools of light. People and places, most in small towns in rural Virginia, are frozen in the moment. And always, dominating the scene in sometimes startling ways, is the presence of a massive engine, billowing a plume of smoke and steam.
O. Winston Link was born in Brooklyn, New York, 1914 and like most boys of his time, he had a fascination for the big steam engines that roared down the tracks through small towns and big cities across the United States. But it wasn’t until after World War II that he found an outlet for that fascination. While on an industrial photography assignment in Staunton, Virginia, Link traveled to Waynesboro to take photos of the Norfolk & Western Railway steam engines, the only railroad still running steam engines at that time. For the next five years he would spend more than $25,000 of his own money and countless hours photographing the trains and the people who worked and relied on them.
Today, the exhibit at the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, Virginia perfectly illustrates the power of Link’s single-minded devotion to chronicling the last of the giants.
When you see the photos, most taken at night and almost all done in black and white, they at first look like moments of photographic good fortune; being in the right place at the right moment to capture a tableau of ordinary life in the mid-1950s. Light casts strange and eerie shadows on the gigantic engines as well as across the land, houses and people in the photos.
But Link, who studied engineering before going on to become a professional photographer after World War II, and who was a skilled craftsman in his own right, was more than just a man with a camera. Nothing in his photographs was left to chance. He captured larger images by rigging a line of cameras to fire at exactly the same moment and then stitching together the photos.The people were placed, the composition worked out as elaborately as the lighting that illuminated the scene.
“You can't move the sun, and you can't move the tracks, so you have to do something else to better light the engines,” Link said. He chose to take his photographs at night and controlled every aspect of the photos. Through his lens and his genius with lighting, wiring dozens of bulbs to fire at exactly the right moment, replacing lanterns in the hands of railroad men even lamps in nearby homes, he conjured exactly what he wanted to see. And, ultimately, what he wanted us to see.
When the last steam engine ran in 1960, Link photographed it from behind a couple standing on the front porch of their home. It was the end of an era and the end of his project.
At the time no one was interested in photos of steam engines. That was yesterday’s technology. Photos, when he could sell one, went for next to nothing. He did better selling high-quality recordings of steam engines and whistles and it wasn’t until the 1980s that Link got the recognition he deserved.
Today, strolling through the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, next to the Virginia Museum of Transportation, studying the images he produced you are drawn into the scene, compelled to look closer for the tiniest details of the composition.
Link painted with light on photographic paper creating stark, indelible, dramatic images of mechanical dinosaurs rolling and belching clouds of steam on their way to extinction. To stand and look at his work is like being taken along on that historic ride.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org