Jewels Among the Weeds

Those of you who have read my posts or newsletters know that I have, for a long time, made my living solely by creating and selling landscape photographs of the natural world. For years I practiced and refined my art to create images that expressed the beauty of the light that illuminated the glorious vistas I found here at Point Reyes and in the desert Southwest. These are the images that, for my wife and me, have literally kept food on the table and a roof over our heads. Because this is the work that sustains us, it’s difficult to justify the time it takes to make other kinds of photographs, such as the closeups of glass and liquids I created a few years ago.

The classic landscape continues to beckon, and although I am grateful for the good ones made and how they have provided us, another hunger burns inside. With a small but persistent voice my hunger reminds me, “follow your heart.” I heard that voice the other morning while walking in the wetlands searching for a classic landscape. It was remarkably cold and the field was covered with frost. Even so,  I was not inspired and couldn’t find the spark of creativity.  Then, something caught my eye…  something sparkling. There were jewels among the tall weeds to the south. I walked over to look, and then knelt to look closer. I could not believe the remarkable beauty I found in this space smaller than the palm of my hand.

Photographing St. Mary’s Church in Starlight

There’s an incredibly beautiful old wood-frame Catholic church on the village square in Nicasio, California. I first photographed St. Mary’s Church in 1998. It’s not just the simplicity of it’s small white frame with steeple & cross that caught my eye, but the beautiful way it’s sited. The church is situated on the east side of the village’s town square and backed by some of California’s finest rolling oak and rock-studded hills. The scene there beguiles and transports the viewer to a time more than a century ago.

Recently I have been revisiting my favorite landscapes to photograph them under the stars. Last autumn, I returned to Nicasio to attempt a starry night photograph of the church. Unfortunately, distracting shadows cast from night lights ruined my image. I returned several more times, but each time I was foiled by the effects of the ambient light. Regretfully, I finally gave up.

Stars Above Nicasio
This July, a series of seemingly unconnected events eventually led me back to Nicasio and St. Mary’s Church. During early July, Jane Anderson came to my gallery to invite me to photograph the starlit landscape at her Nicasio ridge-top property. Jane owns a collection of my work and was drawn to my recent photographs featuring the night sky. I gratefully accepted her invitation and began photographing there, eventually making Galaxy and Ranch Road, which pleased all of us. Jane kindly introduced me to her neighbor Elaine Doss, who also was receptive to my photographing from her land. A warm association began, but I had no idea that our friendship would lead to my making the photographs I had earlier thought impossible.

Glimpse of Nicasio: Secret Places, Quiet Lands
At the end of July, I accepted an invitation to join a group of artists, who were painting landscapes of private lands around Nicasio for an art exhibit/sale to benefit the Nicasio Historical Society.  Glimpse of Nicasio: Secret Places, Quiet Lands, takes place October 13-15 at the Druids Hall in Nicasio. I was surprised to learn that the exhibit celebrates the 150th Anniversary of St. Mary’s Church! Now… if only I could get those pesky lights turned off, maybe I could make a starry night anniversary portrait of this iconic church.

The Stars Shine Above St. Mary’s Church
Elaine Doss knows just about everyone in Nicasio. As president of the Nicasio Historical Society and a former schoolteacher there, her friendships and ties in Nicasio run deep. I asked Elaine if she could put me in touch with the folks who could turn off the lights on the Nicasio Village Square. Elaine put me in touch with Eric and Kent, members of the Nicasio Volunteer Fire Department and with Bob and Max Brown, who own and manage Rancho Nicasio. Beyond the coordinated & generous efforts of these folks, several other conditions were required to make this photograph; we needed a weekday night, clear skies, and no moon.

I vigilantly watched weather reports and finally on Sept 14, with clear skies forecasted, I met with Max at the Rancho to learn how to turn off their outside lights. Kent returned my call and said he’d meet me at the square to douse the Fire Department’s night lights. Everyone showed up and the stars shone brightly that night! Working between 9 – 10 PM, I timed my long exposures between the headlights of passing vehicles. I created two fine photographs of St. Mary’s that evening, one each from the north and the south of this picturesque old church.  These new photographs will be included in the upcoming exhibit/benefit sale at the Druids Hall in Nicasio. Thanks to everyone, especially Elaine!



Kehoe Beach at Midnight

Last Friday conditions were promising for night-sky photography. A moonless night combined with unusually clear skies inspired me to try my luck at Kehoe Beach. I was excited, hopeful as I packed my gear for the drive out to the northern coast of Point Reyes. I had photographed at Kehoe many times over the years, but this would be my first time to explore the view during a starry night. When I arrived at the trailhead, the last visitors were leaving, returning along the trail to their vehicle. As I walked toward them, I heard their happy chattering grow louder and saw the light from their flashlights grow closer, bobbing in rhythm with their steps. I would be alone on this beach, on this starry night!

I love photographing at night. Under the clear darkened sky, time spreads out. The experience deepens and more seems possible. I wander slowly during these hours of maximum darkness and let the compositions come to me. For several hours the light remains the same, the only changes are the slow movement of the stars and the shifting of the landscape shapes as I move about. There are moments I am dumbstruck by the vast, unfathomable space of the heavens, delighted by the beauty of these bright stars slowly revolving above…filled with wonder, having to stop, unable to even point my camera.

On this night at Kehoe Beach, I gathered myself again and walked slowly along the beach to the north where a favorite bluff beckoned. As I passed by it, I turned back to admire its strong profile glorified by the star-splashed sky to the south. I made several exposures. This one is my favorite:

Turning around to the north, I saw the great land mass of Point Reyes, magnificently curving toward McClures Beach under a canopy of stars:

I decided to wander south on the beach to see if I could find a familiar tidal pool I had photographed another time under sunlight. But before I left, I made one more photograph of the line of bluffs that shelter much of Kehoe Beach:

In a few hundred yards, I found the tidal pool. And although I had hoped to catch the starry sky reflecting on a mirrored surface, the wind that night prevented such visions. Nevertheless, the beautiful shape of the pool provided a striking foreground for this view to the south:

The air started to feel damp as it does in Point Reyes as the evening deepens. I turned around to discover the cause. Wispy clouds drifted high overhead, coming my way. These clouds felt magnificent and powerful. It was time to go. I made this last photograph of as midnight approached: