v2.14 / Eric Kellerman’s Tenebrisms

There’s a poem I love by Heather McHugh that describes sunlight shattered by trees and water—an event without boundary, without order, yet somehow channeled by the eye, as if in deference to sight itself. In the opening lines, she says:

The sun that puts its spokes in every
Wheel of manhandle and tree

Derives its path of seashines
(Sheer centrifugality) from my

Regards. I send it
My regards. Some yards

Of lumen from the fabrika
Have come unbolted from the look

Of it (or likes of me) . . .

It’s the way I feel when I look at Eric Kellerman’s images of striped light colliding with dark torsos, scapulas, and the dunes of the mons veneris. The eyes (mine, at least) respond in kind—unbolted, loosed from all sense of origin, cause, effect. A complimentary esteem. To the tenebrisms: my regards.


Eric Kellerman

These photos form part of an ongoing series called Tenebrisms. The word “tenebrism” (deriving from the Latin for “darkness”) usually refers to a style of painting associated with Caravaggio and others, where deep shadow prevails and strong contrast is used to heighten the drama of the subject matter. However, my tenebrisms are far from dramatic; on the contrary, they are rather quiet, reflective things. No Judith beheading Holofernes here.

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Kim’s Downward Slope © Eric Kellerman

Like one or two other photographic styles I have evolved, the first tenebrism came about accidentally. The stripe of light, created by the flash of a snooted studio lamp through a narrow gap between two abutting boards onto a woman’s angled face, cast an interesting shadow—one that, following the contours of forehead, nose and chin, appeared to be the profile of another dark face superimposed. I call this photo Eclipse, for reasons obvious when you see it!

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Becky’s Dark Portrait © Eric Kellerman

The stripes my studio lamps and abutting boards generate are not as a rule smooth bands of undifferentiated light—for one thing, their passage through the narrow gap also endows them with interference patterns in the form of alternating substripes, both lighter and darker. These add variety and texture to the image.

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Elle-Beth’s Back and Side © Eric Kellerman

But best of all is the unpredictable journey undertaken by the stripe as it encounters the contours of a complex volume like the female body. Anatomical discontinuities are brought together by highways of sinuous light adjusting their routes, widths and intensities according to the terrain traversed. This is where the precision work begins, a choreography of muscle, bone, sinew and skin. Every small move, a single breath, a twitch, can make or break a photo.

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Laura’s Undulations © Eric Kellerman

As I’m a photographer who believes in improvisation, the sudden spotting of a potentially good tenebrism will certainly induce a frisson. “Hold it!” I hear myself shriek at my already very still collaboratrix. “Don’t move, don’t breathe, don’t think!”

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Portrait of N © Eric Kellerman

Serendipity beats meticulous planning any day . . .


Kellerman’s The Box was one of 2015’s “books of the year,” awarded by the Federation of European Photographers. See more from Kellerman on Facebook and check out his most recent book from Edition Galerie Vevais!

Feature Image: Anna’s Shoulders © Eric Kellerman

v1.14 / Katrin Koenning & What Should Not Shine

“It is well known that human beings under certain physical conditions become luminous,” wrote Charles Frederick Holder in his obscure little book, Living Lights: A Popular Account of Phosphorescent Animals and Vegetables (1887).

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“Luminous Protozoans” by A.L. Clement (one of several beautiful illustrations by Clement in the book)

With its UFO-like eyewitness accounts and pseudoscientific case studies, you won’t find this book on many library shelves. But taken from an artist’s point of view—a photographer’s especially—Holder’s declarations still hold true. People do grow luminous with rage; they glow with contentment; they sparkle with excitement.

What should not shine shines all the same, depending on the mood, the company, the right place and the right time. I feel every bit as convinced of this as Holder when I look at the photographs of Katrin Koenning.

In Koenning’s series, Glow, the banal bric-a-brac of life suddenly takes on a kind of cosmic significance. Water reflects its own galaxies; paper shines like a square moon, and the torsos of anonymous people flare up, like in Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo.”

Check out Koenning’s debut monograph, Astres Noirs (Chose Commune 2016), copublished with photographer Sarker Protick, another seer of the “living lights.” The images shine in silver ink—a lovely touch and perfectly in sync with the book’s idea.


Chapter XV: Man’s Relations to the Phenomenon of Phosphorescence

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© Katrin Koenning

DR. PHIPSON, the eminent scientist, states that he once observed certain phenomena in man, the light being a brilliant scintillation of a metallic pink color.

It is well known that human beings under certain physical conditions become luminous. In some cases among the ignorant great excitement has been occasioned, and the victim avoided as a pest, or something capable of dire disaster to the entire community.

In a small German village, an English physician discovered a man who was luminous at night, and who had caused much alarm among the superstitious.

Bartholin records an instance of an Italian lady whom he calls Mulier splendens, who suddenly found that, when rubbed with a linen cloth in the dark, her body gave out a brilliant phosphorescent light; so that she appeared in a darkened room like a veritable fire-body, an awe-striking object to her superstitious servant, who fled from her speechless with fear and amazement, thinking that her mistress was being consumed.

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© Katrin Koenning

Dr. Kane records a very curious instance of luminosity, probably electric, which played about his person. He was on his way with Petersen to an Esquimau settlement, in order to procure food. Their thermometer indicated 42 C. (44 Fahr). With their weary dogs and sledges, they had reached some untenanted huts at a place called Anoatok, after thirty miles march from the ship. “We took to the best hut,” says Dr. Kane, “filled in its broken front with snow, housed our dogs, and crawled in among them. It was too cold to sleep. Next morning we broke down our door, and tried the dogs again. They could hardly stand. A gale now set in from the south-west, obscuring the moon, and blowing very hard. We were forced back into the hut; but after corking up all the openings with snow, and making a fire with our Esquimau lamp, we got up the temperature to 30 below zero, Fahr., cooked coffee, and fed the dogs freely. This done, Petersen and myself, our clothing frozen stiff, fell asleep through pure exhaustion; the wind outside blowing death to all that might be exposed to its influence. I do not know how long we slept, but my admirable clothing kept me up. I was cold, but far from dangerously so, and was in a fair way of sleeping out a refreshing night, when Petersen woke me with, ‘Captain Kane, the lamp’s out.’ I heard him with a thrill of horror. . . . Our only hope was in relighting our lamp. Petersen, acting by my directions, made several attempts to obtain fire from a pocket-pistol; but his only tinder was moss, and our heavily stone-roofed hut or cave would not bear the concussion of a rammed wad. By good luck I found a bit of tolerably dry paper, and becoming apprehensive that Petersen would waste our few percussion-caps with his ineffectual snapping, I determined to take the pistol myself. It was so intensely dark that I had to grope for it, and in so doing touched his hand. At that instant the pistol became distinctly visible. A pale-bluish light slightly tremulous, but not broken, covered the metallic parts of it, the barrel, lock and trigger. The stock, too, was clearly discernible, as if by the reflected light; and to the amazement of both of us, the thumb and two fingers with which Petersen was holding it, the creases, wrinkles, and circuit of the nails, clearly defined upon the skin. The phosphorescence was not unlike the ineffectual fire of the glowworm. As I took the pistol, my hand became illuminated also, and so did the powder-rubbed paper when I raised it against the muzzle. The paper did not ignite at the first trial; but the light from it continuing, I was able to charge the pistol without difficulty, rolled up my paper into a cone, filled it with moss sprinkled over with powder, and held it in my hand whilst I fired. This time I succeeded in producing flame, and we saw no more of the phosphorescence. . . . Our fur clothing and the state of the atmosphere may refer it plausibly enough to our electrical condition.”

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© Katrin Koenning

Mr. James Moir of Saroch, Scotland, relates an equally strange personal experience, possibly connected with the electrical condition of the atmosphere. “In February, 1882,” he says, “this part of Scotland was visited by a furious gale of wind, rain, sleet, and hail. The gale subsided considerably about five o’clock in the afternoon. At eight o’clock the sky was fairly clear, when a black cloud sprang up in the north, and the night became suddenly intensely dark. With the darkness came a tremendous shower of hail. All at once I was startled by a vivid flash of lightning close at hand, but without thunder. At the same instant I found myself enveloped in a sheet of pale, flickering, white light. It seemed to proceed from every part of my clothes, especially on the side least exposed to the hail; and more particularly and brightly from my arm, shoulder, and head. Though I turned about pretty smartly, and shifted my position, I found it impossible to shake off the nickering flames. When I walked on they continued with me for two or three minutes, disappearing only when the violence of the blast was somewhat diminished. I felt no unusual sensation beyond the stinging of the hail, and no sound except that of the storm.”

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© Katrin Koenning

The adventures of John Stewart, who for many years drove a mail-gig between Dunkeld and Aberfeldy, Scotland, as given by an English paper, are well worth recording. On an extremely dark night, he and another man, climbing a rocky, heathery height in Rannock, were all at once set on flames by some mysterious fire, which appeared to proceed from the heather which they were traversing; and the more they tried to rub the flames off, the more tenaciously they seemed to adhere, and the more the fire increased in brightness and magnitude. Moreover, the long heather, agitated by their feet, emitted streams of burning vapor; and for the space of a few minutes they were in the greatest consternation. They believed that they barely escaped a living cremation. Of course their liberal share of native superstition, and the gloom of the night in the weird wilderness remote from human habitation, rendered their position the more alarming.

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© Katrin Koenning

A wonderful phenomenon is noted by a gentleman living in Cheltenham, England. He was returning from Great Yarmouth to his house, a distance of three miles, and took the road of the Denes, intending to cross by the lower ferry. Before reaching it, a dark cloud coming from the south-east, off the sea, suddenly surprised him, and drenched him with rain. He jumped into the boat, and when the boatman had pushed off, he remarked that every drop of rain hanging from his hair, beard, and clothes was luminous with white light, well seen, as it was very dark at the time. He afterwards learned that the same appearance had been observed by several pilots exposed to the same shower, and he attributed the occurrence to a species of St. Elmo’s fire.

v1.13 / Mike Jackson & the Age of Light

“If you attend to the work . . . you achieve, in effect, a direct link to your intuition, your real self.”

The end of one aesthetic movement and the beginning of another is a bit like the snake eating its own tail. Art doesn’t play friendly with well-defined historical moments. It holds a grudge against limitation. There are more Romantics now than you could swing a dead albatross at—more Decadents than Baudelaire could have imagined. Futurism sells. And the orphans of Impressionism rule the world.

Mike Jackson’s stunning luminograms extend toward perfection what many photographers in the early twentieth century began: the Bauhaus abstractions of Moholy-Nagy, for instance, or the “Designs in Abstract Forms of Light” by California photographer, Francis Bruguière.

To set the mood for Jackson’s luminograms, I want to open with a piece by Thomas Wilfred who, like Jackson, didn’t just work with light; he played it like an instrument. Wilfred called his art “lumia,” and developed the “clavilux,” a color organ, to orchestrate light as a musician orchestrates sound. The clip below is Wilfred’s Opus 140—something like what I imagine goes through Jackson’s mind, if not his studio.

Mike Jackson’s luminograms are available at MMX Gallery in London. “Each Luminogram is unique and only one Silver Gelatin print is produced of each image.” Get yours here!

And be sure to check out Issue 11 of Od Review for Mike Jackson’s extraordinary series, “The Child’s Landscape.”


MIKE JACKSON

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“Beside the Church” © Mike Jackson

I believe that there is a universality between all things. I feel that the eye selectively looks for these truths – and they are everywhere. I came to this conclusion after studying a beach in Wales for eight years. I found that the process of repeating the visits to the beach and the constant search for the new and exciting events that were happening on the beach made me realise, eventually, that it wasn’t actually the beach that I was photographing. I was using the beach as a learning tool to become more self-aware of my response to the universal truths that are all around us. The fact that I repeated the searching with very basic tools and no complications or distractions, such as multiple lenses or new equipment, made it easier for me to see and understand what was happening to me when I noticed something worth photographing. Listening to those hushed suggestions in the mind allowed me to trust in the smallest idea or impulse.

Discovering this basic fact allowed me to apply it to other work – and I started to realise that I could get the same sense of excitement from arranging cut out shapes on a table as I did from photographing the beach. So somewhere there is a connection.

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“Luminogram 514” © Mike Jackson

It was at this time that I started experimenting with directing light onto old photo paper in the darkroom. It seemed to me that it was as simple as it can get – just light on paper. Over time I found that I could build up a series of steps that allowed me to mold the light and have the photo paper translate what I was doing. It felt as if my thoughts were being directly recorded onto the paper’s flat surface. And yet the results were startlingly three dimensional. It felt as if I were sculpting with light – and I see now that photo paper has more in common with sculpture than with drawing and painting. It changes its very structure at a chemical level. Unlike paintings that are only added to, the photo paper is changed, as stone would be when sculpted.

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“Underpass” © Mike Jackson

The process grew over the months and I happily started to get repeatable results. When I got to this stage I began to be able to apply myself to the work – the reasoning behind it. I found it fascinating that you could produce work that has no real physical resemblance to reality, and yet your reactions to reality, your experience of reality, pushes your ideas and impulses towards making the marks in that unique one-off way. In effect you could produce a piece that reflects a memory or memories of a place, and the piece wouldn’t have to resemble that place at all. It doesn’t have to resemble any place, in fact. What is important is that the marks made are in honest response to my thoughts about that place. Reality could slip in there, but only as a reference – not as a fact.

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“Vase in the Morning Sun” © Mike Jackson

As you work on the Luminogram, it also becomes self-referencing. The decisions that you make are based on both yourself and what is in front of you. The marks are made with all other marks in mind – you build up the image as a living fluid thing, everything relating to everything else.

The fact that you are using minimal tools means that you are forced to reduce, to be quick and to react on impulse. You have to be very attuned to that inner spark which moves your hand. You have no time to question it – you have to have complete trust in what you tell yourself to do. 

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“-12” © Mike Jackson

If you attend to the work in this way, you achieve, in effect, a direct link to your intuition, your real self. But it is that link, that strange understanding that you actually can’t understand. It passes through and out. It is a stressful time – like juggling knives – especially as the process that I use has so many steps. One technical mistake ruins the whole thing and you are never able to visit that exact place again. I have dropped sheets of wet paper on the floor, burned them or incorrectly washed them. I work in an old shed, which is perfect, apart from bits falling down off the roof where the sparrows chatter and play – one small bit in my developing tray will ruin a whole piece. And I do feel a real sense of loss when that happens, because what I put into that piece is a struggle and something that I will never be able to do again.

 

v1.10 / Doug Fogelson & the Leaves of Sure Obliteration

“. . . my fateful collaborator (Chance itself) . . . “

“And while I know the best results are usually found in the tension between representation and abstraction, my mind is still pulled toward complete obliteration,” says Doug Fogelson.

Fogelson’s reflections recall for me a line from Wallace Stevens’ “Sunday Morning,” where death “strews the leaves / of sure obliteration on our paths,” and yet, she “makes the willows shiver in the sun / For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze / Upon the grass.”

I’m no maiden, alas—but do I sit and gaze at these photographs as if they were willows shivering in the sun? Yes I do. Yes I did. Yes I will.


Doug Fogelson

 

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“Ceaseless No. 1” LaPorte, Indiana © Doug Fogelson

The two main parts of my process are 1.) heading out into the landscape to photograph and 2.) altering the developed film with household chemicals back at the studio. When I am outside I’m looking for things to catch or hold my interest in a way that feels different than traditional landscape images. These tend to be cluttered spaces— there is something about either the lushness or relationship of “harmony vs. competition” of foliage growing that seems telling. I also like to use a method of overlapping multiple exposures along a roll of film so that space and time merge within the picture plane.

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“Creative Destruction No. 3” Presque Isle, Wisconsin © Doug Fogelson

The physical touch is important to both process and concept. On one hand we’ve affected non-human life around the planet in such invasive ways that every picture is a portrait of the Anthropocene, and on the other hand, the synthetic chemicals I apply to film provide a direct and violent visual metaphor to that same end. Reflecting climate change impact via the destruction of photographs can open a dialog around themes of beauty, change, loss, and responsibility.

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“Nadir No. 3” Hegewisch, Illinois © Doug Fogelson

As the emulsion melts from full “natural” color down to the three layers of yellow, magenta, and cyan, new forms begin to emerge. It is almost the reverse of watching a classic black and white image develop in the tray under a safelight. Layers of die coupler wash away and emulsions wave like tattered flags rapidly disintegrating. Bubbles can sit upon and burn into the film’s surface; sometimes these get fixed to the image. During the drying process salt-like crystals form, as can snowflake or branch patterns, and then everything flying in the dust gets stuck in the image too.

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“Creative Destruction No. 7” Ojai, CA © Doug Fogelson

It’s hard to get used to the loss as original pieces of film rapidly bleach out and go into complete abstraction. Try as I might this is a perilous endeavor and my fateful collaborator (Chance itself) often chooses the scorched earth policy over a strategic strike on the target. I often think of Rauschenberg’s Erased DeKooning piece as an inspiration. And while I know the best results are usually found in the tension between representation and abstraction, my mind is still pulled toward complete obliteration.

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“Twilight No. 8” Port Antonio, Jamaica © Doug Fogelson

Ultimately I am in love with the film’s potential to record light’s energy. This tangible plastic coated object has a capacity that repeatedly delights me and even during its demise brings something forth. Maybe this is another metaphor. The memory of a particular air, land, and the life experienced when I was out in the field becomes toned in acidic colors and the flat signifier slips out of register. There is the hint of discovery as each stage in the process reflects both growth and decay, mechanical reproduction, and the deepening human stain upon a porous earth.

 


 

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Doug Fogelson in Studio

v1.2 / David Shannon-Lier: Why I Take Pictures of The Night Sky

“We are ever more aware that we are tiny, ephemeral, inconsequential beings, but we can’t shake the notion that the things we do every day are important and meaningful.”—David Shannon-Lier

The night sky has always provided a sense of direction for what Cornel West calls the “featherless two-legged linguistically conscious creature born between urine and feces whose body will one day be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms”—you and me. David Shannon-Lier’s photographs pay homage to this ancient fascination with direction in its most elemental forms: light and line.


 

David Shannon-Lier

By way of introduction, I would like to talk briefly about a photograph that was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in December, 1995, called “The Hubble Deep Field” or HDF. It is one of the most astonishing photographs I have ever come across. The feeling the photograph gives me when I ponder it is the very same feeling that I am hoping to address in the Of Heaven and Earth series.

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The idea the scientists behind the Hubble Deep Field had was to take a really long exposure (essentially 10 days) of an ostensibly empty region of sky. When the image was processed, however, it revealed that this patch of sky is not empty at all. Around 3000 objects were identified, and almost all of them were galaxies. Let me say that again in a slightly different way: when you go out at night and look up, there are 3000 galaxies in every area of the sky 1/16th the size of the moon! 3000 galaxies in a square 1/28,000,000th the size of the night sky!

Even though we have spent the last 500 years expanding the scope of the Copernican Revolution (and the HDF perfectly illustrates how vast this expansion is), our notion of the importance of our own lives and actions has not shrunk in proportion. It is this rather beautiful tension that I am addressing with my photographs in this series. We are ever more aware that we are tiny, ephemeral, inconsequential beings, but we can’t shake the notion that the things we do every day are important and meaningful. It is why we make art, why we raise children, why we are kind to strangers, why we make big telescopes and take pictures of the night sky. —Shannon-Lier

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Reflection of the Rising Moon Over Our Home, Mesa Arisona © David Shannon-Lier

This photograph was made while I was in grad school and living in Arizona. In the very early stages of the project, all my photographs were made in my backyard for the simple reason that I messed up so frequently. It made sense to work close to the place where I ate and slept. In the photograph you can see some of the evidence of earlier tests. There is a mark on the fence that was the result of an earlier attempt at a photograph, most likely a failed photograph. There is also a small black mark on the outside corner of the patio, which was a part of an earlier test. When we left the house in Mesa, the backyard was crisscrossed with trenches and markings that I had made in my attempts to nail down my methodology. Seeing this picture, one of my classmates, Clarita Lulić, said, “Your neighbors must think you’re mad!” I took it as a compliment.

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Bisti Moonrise, Bisti Badlands, New Mexico © David Shannon-Lier

I made this photograph while we were living in Farmington, New Mexico. Farmington is a rather dull city, it must be said, but in all my travels, I was most drawn to the landscape there in the northwest corner of New Mexico, particularly a place called Bisti Badlands. It is a landscape unlike any other I have seen, filled with peculiar rock formations, badlands, petrified wood and mudflats. I spent most of those three months visiting that place. In fact, this picture was actually my third attempt at photographing the moonrise in this location. The first time I tried to make the picture I ran out of time; as a result, the set-up looked slipshod. I returned again only to have the sky cloud over during the moon’s rising, forcing me to return yet again. Each of these photographs generally took most of the day (say, from 10am – sunset) to set up. The exposures themselves lasted all night.

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Chalk Moonrise, Muley Point, Utah © David Shannon-Lier

I was living in Idaho at this time (my wife is a traveling physical therapist, so we travel a lot) and I decided to plan a photography trip to Arizona to see a good friend and excellent photographer, Thomas Locke Hobbs’ thesis show. When I was down there, I was talking to another friend and top-notch photographer, Michael Lundgren, who knows the southwest better than most. I asked him where I should visit on my way back to Idaho.

“Have you ever been to Muley Point?” he asked.

“No” I replied.

“It’s settled then,” he said, “you have to see Muley Point.”

I am glad I did. It is the most stunning view in all of the southwest and perhaps the entire United States. My thesis advisor, Mark Klett also spent a good deal of time photographing at Muley Point and made some really kickass pictures there. I have been back many times, including camping with my family. I made Chalk Moonrise on that first visit.

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Reflection #2 (Transit of the Moon) © David Shannon-Lier

I made this photograph when we were living in Mesa. It was the second time I had worked with reflections of heavenly bodies. My friend, Thomas, said it reminded him of Lewis Baltz’s Fluorescent Tube from the Nevada Portfolio. I like the comparison. I like the strangeness of not knowing what one is looking at. I think the title helps one along, but I am happy for it to live in the mind of the viewer as a strange symbol, or a magical fluorescent tube.

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Sweetgrass Moonris, McLeod, Montana © David Shannon-Lier

The fuzziness of the moon in this picture is due to the fact that clouds were passing in front of the moon as it was rising. In fact, I awoke in the middle of the night to rain falling on me through the mesh roof of my tent. I quickly got up and considered packing my equipment but decided to wrap my raincoat around the camera instead and hope these were only passing showers. I am glad I did. This was my only chance at getting this photograph as the moon would be too close to the sun the next night and we were moving from Montana the next week. I had wanted to photograph in this spot for some time, but it had taken me a while to track down the person who owned the land and get their permission to camp there and make a picture. Thanks again to Kent Hanawalt at Ellison Ranch. I sent them a print as thanks.

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Journal Entry from Failed Attempt at Bisti Moonrise #2 © David Shannon-Lier

Text and Photographs © David Shannon-Lier