Making Photographs: The Bolinas Ridge Triptych

Bolinas Ridge Triptych: 3 separate film negatives exposed December, 1991

The undulating ridges on the west flank of Mount Tam have long enchanted me. I first explored those sensuous hills in 1990. They rise abruptly above Bolinas, Stinson Beach and the Pacific just west of the San Andreas fault. The views from the Bolinas Ridge there are magnificent—stunning. I remember well the afternoon that I first drove the mountain road that brings you up to Ridgecrest Boulevard. There I found one after another breathtaking vista. Excitedly, I stopped the car every few hundred yards and bounced out to gawk! Occasionally I made a photograph, but these first efforts were not memorable. I returned many times during that first year and I began to familiarize myself with the landscape. Gradually, I found some favorite spots from which I composed some of my best images.

Field photo workshop on Bolinas Ridge in Mount Tamalpais State Park.

A year passed and I dreamt of making a new kind of photographic representation on the mountain, one that I hoped would express the feelings that this transcendent landscape stirred in me. So during the winer solstice of 1991 I journeyed again to the top of the Bolinas Ridge. I felt as if I were on top of the world–or looking down from heaven. I was drawn by the undulating, backlit shapes of the cascading hills made vivid by the winter low-lying sun. I hoped to make a new photographic composition— a three-part, sweeping panorama of this glorious view. It was clear to me that a single negative, even with a wide-angle lens, would be inadequate to capture the  immense view I envisioned.

I looked for the right place to set my camera while surveying this vast landscape– the wide vista of land, sea and sky. As I scanned, I was struck into a reverential silence. For a moment I felt light, as if I were floating above the landscape. I remembered when I first brought my wife, Jean, up onto these ridges, how she stood transfixed for a long moment as she scanned the view. And then she softly said, “Mount Tam is where God comes to rest.” I believe she’s right about that.

So on the late afternoon of this solstice day, I found my spot. On a hill above where the daring souls leap into the wind, lifted by their hang-gliders, I found a place to try my luck. The sun was at it’s most southern position, and it was about 30 minutes from setting. It was a perfect time to make the panoramic series of three film exposures I was hoping for. I set up my tripod, shielded the lens from the glare of the sun, and began rehearsing the shot. I moved the tripod around to and fro until I found the perfect left frame. It was important to try to make each of the three images compelling in their own right while combining them into a beautiful and expressive overall composition.  A foreground bush leading the eye toward the iconic jut of land that extends to the south of Bolinas became the left panel anchor.  As i panned the lens northward I noticed that the Point Reyes Headlands floated on the horizon in what would become the center of my three-part composition. And, delightfully, in that center panel would be some backlit ridges began rising behind the pines to connect the middle and the right panels in a dynamic and satisfying way. The lens I had chosen was perfect and, now rehearsed, I rotated the camera on the tripod to the left, leading shot and exposed, one … two… three!

Each panel is five foot wide. Compete presentation is over 15 foot wide.

The Bolinas Ridge Triptych is the most collected of all my triptychs. I have made editions sized from miniature (20” frame) to modern “float-mounted” three-piece versions spanning over 15 feet. By far the most popular sizes are both the 4-foot and 5-foot  versions, presented in a single mat with three windows cut to reveal the images and give the impression of seeing this spectacular view through windows in the wall.

A 5-foot version displayed in Marty’s photo gallery

Recently I returned to where I had created the original exposures so long ago. At first, I was dismayed to find that the pines that so elegantly bordered the bottom of my middle and right panels have grown taller and now block the view of the ridges. But, then I realized my triptych has become an historic record of a view that no longer exists. I feel fortunate to have preserved this spectacular view.

6 comments on “Making Photographs: The Bolinas Ridge Triptych

  1. Thanks Marty for recording the western Marin landscape so well. Those of us that live in, or enjoy visiting this beautiful part of California are fortunate to have your artistic talent to capture it so others who cannot visit easily, can still be awed by the area’s natural beauty!

    • Greg,
      The pleasure is mine. I appreciate knowing that you saw and liked what I have been doing all these years!

  2. Thank you. I have always admired this three-piece wonder. It reminds me of my experiences in the 60’s when you could camp overnight on Tam. You caught the feeling. Thank you.

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