Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pinch Me

Cameras captured my imagination long before photographs. As a child just pointing the things at any old object and pounding away on the shutter of the Instamatic was a joy. Doubly so if a flash cube was attached. I also saw folks with fancier things that click and whirred and that just filled my little brain with boundless mechanical, photographical envy.

My photos were generally awful and the good ones were barely worthy of storage deep within some drawer to be viewed once every other decade. I liked taking pictures but not so much the photographs themselves. I suppose at a young age that's not unusual. But it's also because of the temporal shift between the time a film picture was taken and the time that a photograph arrived. That delay dislodged my interest in the thing that I had created.

My father had a old Voigtlander that he had picked up while in Germany during the 60s and that was my gateway drug to 35mm. The photos got better but the technical aspects of photography were beyond my grasp or interest at that point. I learned some basics, the Sunny 16 rule and depth of field, but I couldn't put exposure and composition and story together in a way that was even remotely compelling.

Shortly after I graduated from high school I managed to pick up my first SLR. Good times. I began to study the technical and scientific aspects of making good photos and prints. The photos got better. I practiced a lot. Tore through many rolls of film and spent far too much money on developing and print making. 

When I discovered great photographers, Stieglitz, Adams and Rowell, I began to understand ways of seeing. Their photos made me focus less on the act and more on the result. And the places they visited, captured and rendered opened me up to artists like Bierdstadt and Cole who gave me a whole new appreciation for light and composition. But most of all, these many artists showed me the Sierra Nevada. A magical place where fantastical vista intersected with talented artists and birthed works of art that spoke to me deeply.

The Sierra Nevada was a place I had to visit.

And I am here.

This evening we drove up Route 120. We had been on the road the better part of the day. San Francisco was behind us and we had come through the pass at Altamont and crossed the Central Valley and climbed up through Groveland. We checked into the inn and grabbed dinner at a local diner. By 7 p.m. we were finishing our meal not twenty miles from the mecca. We were all a bit tired but with plenty of light I could not resist pushing on and seeing the valley for the first time. If things worked out, we would even catch some magical light as the sun descended in the west.

We were not disappointed.

Seeing El Capitain and Half Dome for the first time was moving. Despite forty-six years on this planet and a highly rational brain it was one of those pinch me moments. And those moments just continued as we descended into the valley and saw each of the storied sights as we drove along. With only two hours before dark we barely had time to catalog things before turning westward. I can't wait for each and every one of the next few days. We won't go deep on this subject, but we'll certainly have a chance to get below the surface of this remarkable place.

Pinch me.


  1. Oh man are you one lucky dog. I love Yosemite. I remember standing down below El Capitain and just wondering if it might touch heaven it was so high up. I will never forget the experience and I'm sure you won't either. Thanks for sharing and bringing back some great memories. Have a safe trip and tight lines.
    p.s. There is a little camp area below Yosemite with some small trout in it. Right above the tiny little town Fish Camp. Its a small creek, but just in case :)

  2. The Sierras are first backpacking and snowshoeing were in them. However, it's embarrassing that I lived in California for 4 years and never made it to Yosemite. I'm looking forward to your photos!