Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

It’s been getting pretty darn cold the last few mornings in Point Reyes. We’ve been wearing gloves, hats and double coats as we take the dogs for their daily morning walk. I keep on sniffing the air for moisture above, but alas not a snowflake to be found. The last time it snowed in these parts was nearly twenty years ago when we awoke to a beautiful sight on the morning of January 28, 2002. 

Oak and Standing Stone in Snow ©2002-20 Marty Knapp

Last weekend, on Saturday afternoon, the sky took on a leaden, anticipatory cast. It was bone chilling cold and if I  didn’t know better, I’d have thought I was looking at a “snow sky.” December’s low-angled sunlight, the chill and a low heavy sky will do that to a native New Englander.

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful…

Back in the warmth of the house I daydreamed of long past winter childhood memories. The phone jangled, awakening me from my reverie. It was a call from a fella who was standing in front of my gallery. He was wondering if I had any photographs featuring an iconic oak tree and standing stone on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. I was well aware of the place, having driven past it for more than forty years. In fact, back in the nineties, I made a photograph there that featured the old oak and companion stone under a full moon with a lone cow grazing nearby. I walked down to the gallery to meet him and show him a sample of Moonrise at Treerock. Hmmm, that wasn’t the view he wanted…. He preferred one taken from the side that showed the separation between the tree and the upright stone.

And since we’ve got no place to go…

I thought for a  moment and remembered I had made just such an image on the morning of a rare north coast snowstorm. I hurried home to find the original negative from 2002. As I scanned the film, the lyrics from a classic Christmas song started playing in my mind’s ear:

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
I couldn’t resist–The refrain and title is linked to a melodious rendering by Frank Sinatra.

Oak and Standing Stone in Snow has never been shown in my gallery or on my website. It’s a companion piece to the better known Snow and Ranch Fence which was made on Olema Hill when I first awoke to discover the snow that January morning in 2002.

It’s Sunday evening as I write these thoughts down. The temperature is dropping again. Do you think we just might get a little snow on the coast this winter?
I’ve got my fingers crossed!

Snow and Ranch Fence ©2002-20 Marty Knapp

Shooting the Stars: Walking Beneath a Starry Sky

The following includes excerpts from the essays of the book SKY WALKS: Celestial Photographs. The excerpted text is set in Italic.

Since childhood I’ve been fascinated with the unfathomable beauty of the starry night sky. These early experiences have had a profound effect on the way I see and think about light…. Light emanating from the darkness or backlighting my subject, still draws me close.

I was introduced to astro photography by my friend and fellow photographer, Hadley Johnson. Hadley accompanied me on several trips to the high deserts of southern California. We worked both at the Alabama Hills and at Joshua Tree NP, where he shared with me the essential techniques needed to record the Milky Way with my digital camera…. I remember shivering in the autumn air, one evening, as he explained the exposure and other photo techniques I would need to use to successfully capture the stars in a darkened sky…. The first successful image I made of the stars was during that night in October. 2014.

Boot Arch, Milky Way although not included in the book, is shown it here as it marks the beginning of an exciting six year journey photographing the night sky. Boot Arch was made at an iconic arch in the eastern Sierra at the Alabama Hills. I waited for the moon to set so the sky darkened enough to reveal the Milky Way’s fantastic stream of stars. You can see some of the glow of the just setting moon backlighting the rock to the right of the arch. Hadley lit the underside of the arch subtly with a tea light.

On a subsequent trip to Joshua Tree, several of us rented a house just outside the entrance to the park. From there we spent several nights exploring the night-time terrain during the wee hours around midnight. On one windless evening, just outside of our lodging, I set the camera on a tripod and pointed the lens at the North Star.  Fifteen exposures were made via an intervalometer over a one-hour period. The camera rested for a minute between each three-minute exposure. While the camera did its thing, I went inside the house and made myself a fresh-brewed cup of java. Voila! Later, the exposures were stacked together to make Star Circles.

The excitement of witnessing and photographing the wonders of the night sky in the desert was a revelation. As I drove back to Point Reyes I mulled over a creative Idea. I was returning to a landscape where, for many years, I had made many classic daytime landscapes. What if I revisited those scenes of those favorite locations, but this time with the Milky Way rising and setting instead of the sun? And so I did! It felt as if I was visiting brand new worlds as I photographed the starry night at once familiar locations. Drakes, McClures and Kehoe Beaches to name but a few! All three of the following  photographs are featured in my new book. Click on the images to see the larger versions.

My creative juices were now flowing! I continued photographing the starry night sky at coastal locations near my home, alternating those explorations with forays out to the drylands of eastern and southern California. In the next installment, come with me as I return to the desert with a new camera and deepen my search for celestial photographs.

To be continued….

Split Image Triptychs: Seeing More in Divided Images

The First Triptychs:
From three separate exposures
My first and best-known triptych, the Bolinas Ridge Triptych, was created from three separate film exposures, shot one after another, in order to display a more panoramic view than I was able to make in a single exposure. I chose my tripod location carefully so I would have inviting details in each of the three frames as well as a captivating scene overall from the three combined images. The individual frames must be pleasing to view in themselves, but the combination becomes something other–more than the summation of the parts.

I continued looking for three-part synergy in the landscape… for potential scenes that could be strung together in this manner. I added several more of these panoramic-style triptychs to my catalog during this early period of work. It was a while before it occurred to me that another kind of a triptych, the divided, single-image triptych could also be worthwhile to explore.

The First Split-Image Triptych
An art collector in New York contacted me. She wanted a more rectilinear triptych for a particular space. My panoramic triptychs were not going to work. I knew that I couldn’t create something on demand as the beauty of the light and the moment cannot be readily invoked in my kind of photography. I wondered if I had an existing single image, that could be divided nicely in three vertical slices–that would exhibit the hallmarks of a beautiful triptych, ie. each panel would contain fascinating compositional elements and when seen in total would become much more than the three parts.

I began the process of dividing candidate images into three parts until I found one we both liked. The single image known as Tomales Bay and Black Mountain became the Olema Hill Triptych. It’s named after the hill I stood on when making the original exposure. I noticed that when the image was divided, my eye (and presumably yours) is drawn to the individual features of the overall composition. We simply pay more attention to them. Notice the Inverness Ridge and Tomales Bay in the left panel, a foreground bush and rolling clouds in the middle, and the lovely folds of Black Mountain in the right section. Take a moment to look– first at the single image and then the triptych to see how this works.

After creating this initial split-image triptych, I began searching my files for other single images to divide. I discovered that Tamalpais Ridges & Fog works wonderfully and the triptych derived from it has become widely collected. Examples follow:

It turns out that the best examples of the divided image triptych tend to come from my most collected single images. It’s as though the seeds of harmonious division lie dormant in some of the strongest individual compositions. The split-image triptych also lends itself well to larger framed artwork presentations.

A few more examples,  including a brand new triptych of my finest seascape at McClures Beach, are posted below for your comparison and enjoyment. The single image from which the triptych is derived is followed by its split-image version.