Friday, July 16, 2010


Cloud Ballet - 24, 2010

In music, the word Nuages recalls Debussy and Django Reinhardt. Both composed pieces inspired by clouds. In the context of photography, Nuages brings to mind a series of photographs Alfred Stieglitz made in the Adirondack Mountains during the 1920s and 1930s. This groundbreaking series, better known as “Equivalent,” was described by the Phillips Collection this way:

“A symbolist aesthetic underlies these images, which became increasingly abstract equivalents of his own experiences, thoughts, and emotions. The theory of equivalence…was infused by Kandinsky's ideas, especially the belief that colors, shapes, and lines reflect the inner, often emotive ‘vibrations of the soul.’ In his cloud photographs, which he termed Equivalents, Stieglitz emphasized pure abstraction, adhering to the modern ideas of equivalence, holding that abstract forms, lines, and colors could represent corresponding inner states, emotions and ideas.”

Stieglitz’ clouds were especially meaningful to me when I first came upon them in the 1960s because, beyond their obvious beauty, they were among the first photographs that told me that photography could be something more than reportage. When I first came into photography, I was drawn initially to the work of the early European photojournalists and then the more contemporary Magnum co-op photojournalists. In short, lots of reportage. Then I came across André Kertész’ On Reading, which I’ve mentioned here before, and Stieglitz.

The early history of photography tracked a line that began with fascination with self, followed by a fascination with place and then, finally, a fascination with presenting the history of the day. In the early Twentieth Century, the work of people like Stieglitz, Man Ray, Kertész and a few others introduced the idea that photography could be more conceptual, more like art. This very idea was controversial and continued to be so for another thirty years.

Cloud Ballet - 31, 2010

The clouds shown here were passing over the Boston Valley of western New York State, a few hundred miles west of Stieglitz’ Lake George country home. I don’t ascribe to them any “abstract equivalents” of my own experience. I’ve titled them Cloud Ballet because of the way they portray the interaction of lightness and tension. There’s give and take and just enough imbalance to suggest, say, Stravinsky rather than Debussy.

These photographs are a good example of what happens when you think you’re going to be out taking one kind of photograph and end up being captivated by something entirely different. I suspect it’s the joy of this very serendipitous kind of discovery, as much as anything else, that propels me back out day after day to make photographs. On this particular day, I had a few hours to kill surveying the red barns and babbling brooks of the Boston Valley before attending a family wedding. However, when I stopped briefly atop a ridge overlooking the valley, I realized there was far more interesting material in the sky above me than there was on the ground below.

Cloud Ballet - 25, 2010


  1. Those cloud photos are stunning! Wow! Amazing skies. What a beautiful series.

  2. The writing connects to the photographs in an amazing way, too. Real artistry.

  3. "there was far more interesting material in the sky above me than there was on the ground below."
    There often is. Most of us rarely look up, which is pretty astounding; I think we come to take it all for granted...
    For me, personally, I get very quickly bored with beautiful "vista" scenery photos: mountains, valleys, wonderful as the places and photos may be. I never get bored with sky photos.