IMPRESSIONS

When I go out in the world, camera in hand, the pleasures of the visual world are my subject. I usually approach photography with an open mind, not planning exactly what I would like to photograph. I find that this spontaneous approach is more creative and rewarding than simply taking straightforward photographs of, say, a mountain or a bird. Sure, I do that as well, but I don’t consider those pictures my best work.

I love finding a subject that resonates deeply with me; something where light and subject and mindset and photographic technique come together to illuminate the mystical and spiritual qualities of the world. My work follows the long history of artists and writers who strove to capture those elusive qualities: the Canadian Group of Seven artists who portrayed nature as an experience of immersive light and form; the Zen poets who spent summers working on fire towers in the west; the photographers Ernest Haas and Eliot Porter who used color photography to tell fresh visual stories about nature. All these artists used their imaginations and artistic skills to explore the world in new ways.

I print this series of photographs on Japanese Unryu paper. It is made from mulberry trees, and the fibers winding through each print lend a natural touch that perfectly suits the impressionistic subject. To see more of my photographs in this genre, and to see what sizes are available for ordering, go to the part of my website called Zen Impressions

in the Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California, USA
A SENSE OF FLOATING:  On our October visit to Yosemite Valley, the Merced River was reflecting the golden cottonwoods, and this leaf floated on the surface, suspended between water and sky. Its golden color celebrated autumn in Yosemite, and the wet and shaded areas on and around the leaf reflected the vivid blue sky.
RAIN FOREST AUTUMN
RAIN FOREST AUTUMN:  The Usnea lichen is the longest lichen in the world. I found this specimen in Olympic National Park, where there were hundreds of similar strands draped off the branches of a Bigleaf Maple, reminding me of the Spanish Moss of the deep South, though they are not botanically related. I returned to the location four days in a row, refining my vision of what I wanted to capture, and eventually the lighting was just right.
WINTER INTRICACY
WINTER INTRICACY:  I live in Michigan all winter, and one of the joys of the winter weather is the presence of winter fog. On days when there is snow or wet soil, and when relatively warm air blankets the landscape, fog forms, draping the landscape in mystery. This Sugar Maple tree is elegant in its form, and it almost seems to be weeping, with the tears of the more distant trees ringing a farm pond.
SMOKY SUN
SMOKY SUN: We were on a long hike to Blue Glacier in the Olympic Mountains. On our fourth morning of the backpacking trip, we awoke to choking forest fire smoke. We didn’t know where it was coming from, and we had 18 miles to hike back to the trailhead. We made it to the next campsite, and the following morning the smoke was even thicker, turning the rising sun a brilliant orange-red among the conifers. That’s when I took this picture. As we approached the trailhead, we asked other hikers about the smoke and learned that it had blown in from other parts of the northwest, so we weren’t in danger. It wasn’t great for the lungs, but it made for an incredible photograph.
BLUE MOUNTAIN MORNING
BLUE MOUNTAIN MORNING: I am drawn to simple and graphic compositions that distill a landscape to its essence. For this photograph I stood in an alpine meadow and captured the conifers silhouetted against one of the towers of Wiwaxy Peak. It captured a mood, not of bright sunlight but of a time during what photographers call the blue hour at dawn.
WHEN FROST IS ON THE PUMPKIN
WHEN FROST IS ON THE PUMPKIN:  I bought this big pumpkin from an Amish farmer’s roadside stand in late September, then set it, along with a matching companion, on each side of the house entrance. There they remained until winter, when I had to move them in order to make way for snowblowing. I set the pumpkins out in an open place, and after a freezing rain I noticed that this one was glazed with a thin veneer of ice. The patina speaks to me of age and autumn and the arrival of winter.
ZEN PINE
ZEN PINE:  I loved the shape of this long Jack Pine branch, complete with cones, and I photographed it with the shimmering lake in the distance.
EVIDENCE
EVIDENCE:  For most of my lifetime, scattered forest fires were out there, occasionally burning up forests in the West, but the threat was manageable. The U.S. Forest Service treated fires as a war, with ground troops and aerial bombardment and a military-like chain of command. Eventually Smokey triumphed and put the fires dead out. In the last ten years, fires have become a far greater threat. When I took this picture, we were in Alberta, Canada, where the conifer forests have been devastated by Mountain Pine Beetles. Ignited by lightning or a careless camper, these millions of trees burn like hell itself. Here a birch leaf is shown against a setting sun turned into a ball of reddish-orange by choking forest fire smoke, generated by scores of fires across Western Canada. Every breath we took felt like we were chain smoking. The problem: global warming caused Canadian winters to be warmer, allowing more pine beetles to survive. The infestation of these insects killed trees by the millions. Then, with the hotter summers we have been experiencing due to climate change, the forests dry out, making them tinder for any source of ignition. We have ignored the warnings of global warming for a century, and now we are reaping the whirlwind–and the fire tornadoes.
GOLDENEYE IN EARLY SNOWFALL
GOLDENEYE IN EARLY SNOWFALL:  Before the high country lakes freeze over, female Barrow’s Goldeneyes spend their hours repeatedly diving to feed on aquatic insects on the lake bottoms. I have photographed these birds repeatedly, but this is among my favorite pictures because it captures the duck among the ethereal pattern of falling snowflakes. Soon the duck will have to fly far away, where it will spend its winter along the Pacific Ocean.
When autumn rain starts to fall
WHEN AUTUMN RAIN STARTS TO FALL:  It was an autumn day in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with a bit of bright yellow color and absolute silence and stillness after a steady rain. I started playing with the idea of branches and raindrops and color, and created this image of out-of-focus raindrops clinging to branches, with autumn colors behind. I love this picture, which captures the essense of a time in nature.
CASCADE MEADOW
CASCADE MEADOW:  Hiking in the clouds which were softly blanketing a subalpine meadow on a perfect wildflower day. Pink Mountain Heather and Red Mountain-heath and Mountain Arnica were bright against the foggy backdrop of the day. I find that foggy skies are perfect for wildflower photography, because the vivid colors of the flowers don’t have to compete with the intense blue of a high-elevation sky for attention. 
AUTUMN EMBROIDERY
AUTUMN EMBROIDERY:  One year I took a December walk along our lakeshore. The fog rested thickly upon the lake, and I was struck by the remnant autumn colors on this native Spirea, against the featureless expanse of fog. One of the benefits of photography is the personal focus I can achieve in a Zen state while searching for photographs. The beauty of the world, with graceful branch lines and rich colors, reveals itself to my eyes in these moments of quiet but exquisite passion. I intensified the colors a bit because I liked the look of the photograph that way. It is art, not a faithful rendering.
AUTUMN FUSION
AUTUMN FUSION:  Autumn in the upper Midwest is vivid with sights and scents of turning leaves, and is among my favorite places and times on earth. I photographed a variety of autumn landscapes and details, then went into the darkroom later that year to print my favorites. I accidentally left a sheet of exposed photo paper in a box, then pulled it out later for another print. The resultant accidental double exposure was a lucky break, because I loved it! I then set out to reproduce by intent what I had produced by accident, and eventually produced exactly what I wanted: an impressionistic view of autumn. I loved this picture so much that I now print it using digital techniques.
LUMINOUS AND ETHEREAL BLUES
LUMINOUS AND ETHEREAL BLUES:  Ice caves are ephemeral features in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, forming where water seeps through cracks in sandstone or limestone, then freezes when it reaches the cold air outside. Icicles form, mimicking cave formations of stalagmites and stalactites and columns. Except that these are translucent, and colored by minerals in the surrounding rocks. The ice can be blue or green or yellow or clear, often all in the same proximity, creating crystal ice palaces that appear and reappear each winter like a natural Brigadoon. For this artwork I chose to combine different photographs of ice in a variety of colors, from two different locations.
ENTERING THE DREAM STATE
ENTERING THE DREAM STATE:  One of my recent projects is to photograph autumn leaves in a more impressionistic manner. The world is filled with sharp focus photographs, but I chose a more dreamy approach, in which the out-of-focus portions of the photograph are just as important in conveying emotion as are the points of focus. Autumn color has always attracted me, as my brain seems to be hard-wired to love shades of scarlet and pumpkin and sunshine. These colors are so ephemeral, and they represent the plants as an explosion of beauty just prior to entering the long dream state of winter.

 

Author: leerentz

BS and MS in natural resources, with early career work as an artist and nature center director. Became a full-time photographer in 1990. Sells photographs at art shows nationwide. Publication credits include National Geographic, Alaska Magazine, National Wildlife, Audubon, and scores of other magazines, books, calendars, and electronic media.

5 thoughts on “IMPRESSIONS”

  1. Lee:

    Love seeing all of these impressionistic pieces in one place. I look at the first piece in the article every day I sit down at my desk at work, as it is right in front of me, just to the left of my monitor. I also now know what my next purchase of your work will be. I love the composite work of the ice caves. The colors are amazing and thinking about where they come from is always very “cool” to me. Keep up the great work!

    Michael D. Brandt
    BRANDT LAW GROUP
    1200 – 5th Avenue, Suite 1950
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  2. it’s these, usually, unusual encounters, that make the photographs more vibrant in their subject matter, because, you’re, capturing the things as they’re, happening, without any plans to.

  3. Wonderful – photographs and words alike. I’ve always felt this way about my motivation and drive to photograph too, but you expressed it so clearly. Thanks for sharing these words. I don’t want to isolate a single “favorite” among all these beautiful photos of course, but “Autumn Fusion” is really fantastic!

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