[Editorial note: This is the third part of Infinite Possibilities, a series which started Tuesday, refuting the belief that “it’s all been done”/”there’s nothing new under the sun” in photography. This series was originally written in early August 2006, then expanded and published on my old website in late October of 2009, and now expanded again as I republish it mid December 2010.]
Part 3: The Ephemeral and the Ever Changing
Related to the idea that “Everything that can be photographed has been photographed”, and implicit within it, are these two interconnected notions. First is the notion that sets of things (leaves, flowers, sunsets, smiles, eyes, and whatever else) are basically all similar enough to be seen as the same. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “A tree’s a tree. How many more do you need to look at?”. Second is the notion that things don’t really change substantially. As the Bible puts it (Ecclesiastes 1:9): “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun”.
Despite popular opinions that “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all”, nature constantly springs forth new wonders, to momentarily see, before they’re gone forever. The veins in leaves, the curls of tendrils, the ice patterns in a puddle or by the edge of a creek, the forms of waves, the countenances of faces, the stains of mold on rotting logs, the ripples on a sandy beach, the reflections on undulating water, irregularly shaped patches of vegetation peeking through melting snow, and the icebergs calving from an ice shelf, are just a small sample of the plenitude of natural splendors that are each individual and ephemeral. This is especially apparent with (A) atmospheric phenomena – the shapes of clouds, mists rising from lakes in the morning, fog rolling inland from the sea, fleeting rainbows, lightning, tornados, the Aurora Borealis and the Aurora Australis, etc.; and (B) the play of light – light filtering through trees, breaking through clouds, sparkling on waves – reflected and blocked, highlighting this and leaving that dark, a different combination of color, direction, diffusion, and intensity, in every situation.
I particularly enjoy discovering and photographing ephemeral wonders, such as the tendril at the top of this page. Also, for those who want to their work to be difficult-to-impossible to copy (I’ve heard many photographers discuss that they dislike when people copy their work), an emphasis on the ephemeral is one key way to achieve this.
Additionally, let’s not forget about the many kinds of relatively rare phenomena, to photograph when they happen. Halley’s Comet only comes by once every 76 years, and some comets come by yet less frequently. The last time a supernova was visible to the naked eye from Earth was Kepler’s, in 1604. Eventually, there will be more. There won’t be another meteor storm as spectacular as the Leonids meteor storm of 2002 until after most of the readers of this blog have died from old age. While all of these are astronomical events, they’re all events that could be photographed on Earth with common photo equipment, and could be incorporated into any kind photography (such as landscape) which shows the night sky.
Closer to home, the Cascades have historically tended to have a major volcanic eruption every 30 years, or so. After a century of fire suppression, some national parks are succumbing to forest fires beyond anything seen since the invention of photography. Similarly, tsunamis, floods, hurricanes, ice storms, and so on, are frequently occurring in areas or in ways they’ve never happened before, in the history of photography.
It’s not just natural disasters. There are spectacles of all kinds that each happen infrequently, but when taken in sum, allow frequently for new opportunities. On the rare occasions when a number of variables come together just right, they can lead to once-in-a-lifetime wildflower seasons for an area, or wildlife population explosions, or fungal efflorescences, or the like.
The world is ever-changing, in a constant state of flux. Lakes fill with silt, becoming marshes, then meadows, then woods – often well within the span of a lifetime. Weather patterns change, and forests become deserts. Beavers constantly dam up and re-route watercourses. Rock slides change the shapes of our cliffs and mountains. Volcanic mountains erupt and become craters. Glaciers grind mountains to nothing, fill valleys, and then melt away. Everywhere you look, if you look carefully, you’ll see change happening around you.
I see change all the time, as I go about, doing nature photography. To give you a few examples from just my shooting within this past month:
• Earlier this week I went to a small wetland spot (along Woodbridge Road, across from the grain silos) where I’d photographed sandhill cranes each of the last several years. This year, instead of finding a wetland full of cranes, I found a freshly planted orchard full of fruit trees.
• A couple weeks ago, I was taking pictures at Hot Creek. There’s a protective fence (to keep people out of the danger zone) running right between two large, scalding hot springs. Why is there a fence between the two hot springs? Because the spring on the outside of the fence didn’t exist when they put the fence in, not too many years ago; and now that it’s there, it can’t be removed safely.
• A few weeks ago, I took pictures of a few hundred acre dead zone in the forest, by Horseshoe Lake, which was killed beginning in the late 1980s by poison gas seeping from volcanic vents.
• A few weeks ago, I went back to a small lake along highway 120, to re-take a photo of a log broken over a rock, under better circumstances. Unfortunately, someone hauled the log away, apparently for firewood.
So it goes: Things change around us, all the time. This doesn’t just apply to nature, as I’ve described, but also to the works of humankind. Everything.
Far from the world having little variance, many of the works of nature are distinctly different every time. Each of them presents an opportunity for new discovery, if you have the vision. Far from being static, the world is in a state of constant and rapid metamorphosis. Each fleeting phenomenon and each change in structure is a chance to share the sight of something previously unseen in the world.
As Heraclitus said, “Change alone is unchanging”.
Thanks for reading this.
Passiflora Tendril and Leaf Tip
All pictures and text are © Mike Spinak, unless otherwise noted. All pictures shown are available for purchase as fine art prints, and are available for licensed stock use. Telephone: (831) 325-6917.