Spring Voices, 2011
Each spring I pledge to take pictures of the garden that are in some way different from what I’ve done before. This spring was no different. The azaleas were at their prime last week. The dogwoods were blooming. Everything was new and fresh.
I went out with the camera and started taking pictures of the azaleas. We have lots of azaleas, so many that each year I also pledge to thin them out some. But I never do. I hate to throw plants away and I’ve offered so many to my neighbors that I’ve worn out my welcome with them. So I have this annual ritual of cutting back the leggiest of the azaleas and moving the ones that are in the way around.
The problem with azaleas, anyway, is that like so many beautiful things their beauty is short-lived. You get one or two weeks of blooms, then it’s over. A good rainstorm can knock the blossoms off, making the season even briefer.
The other thing about taking pictures in the garden this time of year is that it makes you realize how the time you'd think would be best for doing these kinds of pictures—the sunniest part of day when everything is brightest—is actually just the opposite. Or maybe it's fairer to say that if you’re going to take pictures at the brightest part of the day you’re going to need to focus on taking certain kinds of pictures, generally close-ups.
The problem is the light. It's too bright. If you have a garden that’s out in the open and subject to even light, you can get some very nice pictures. But if your yard is like ours, with most of the flowerbeds are shrouded by the shadows of tall trees or even just “dappled,” the contrast between the lights and the darks is so great as to make it difficult to make good landscape photos. (The answer is that you do landscape shots either early in the morning, late in the afternoon or when it’s overcast.)
So I took close-up pictures of azaleas. I thought I was doing this just to warm up. But it turned out to be the primary activity. All the other pictures I took were not worth keeping.
Variation on Azaleas, 2011
And to get back to my original point, I tried to visualize new ways to portray the azaleas. Because I believe there are always options, no matter what it is you’re talking about, I was convinced that if I just concentrated enough I’d come up with all sorts of new and interesting ways to visualize these flowers. Only when I got outside and was actually taking pictures, almost nothing came to mind. As I’ve lamented before, just when you think you can be a little cocky about finding something to photograph anywhere, you have the photographer’s version of writer’s block.
It was windy when I was taking these pictures, so I slipped into one of my standard motifs, which is to slow things down. I slowed the shutter speed to see what kinds of patterns the azaleas proscribed. I even twisted the camera a bit from side to side and front to back to see what that might produce.
Ha! Most of what I got were images that made me either dizzy or certifiably nauseous. At the calmer end of the scale, I got a few of what I’ve come to call my “Frankenthaler” flowers. If you’re familiar with the large floral paintings of Helen Frankenthaler, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, the photo below is a good example of my “Frankenthaler” flower style.
Another Variation on Azaleas, 2011