The weather wasn’t what I expected when I arrived at Shore Acres. Although I grew up in an area known for its microclimes, usually I could expect the weather to be the same where I was and an hour and a half from where I was. So when the forecast at home showed a clear day, I jumped in my car and drove an hour-plus to Cape Arago to make photographs without a second thought. I should have known better.
This winter has seen over 90 inches of rainfall, and it clearly wasn’t through with me yet. Last week four inches of snow fell (the second snowfall of the year), and today, just after I set up my camera, more rain came. I draped my new homemade dark clothe over my camera and kept it dry. I, on the other hand, having only worn fleece and leaving my raincoat at home, got wet. Yet in a sense, that is how it should be. The prize attained too easily doesn’t taste as sweet once won.
The falling rain dampened the scent of salt water and replaced it with iron. It also dampened the sound, so that rather than hearing sea against shore, I heard raindrops against stone and leaves. After about fifteen minutes the rain stopped and a soft light broke through the clouds to cradle the sandstone, and Shore Acres looked different than it had on any of my previous visits. The rain gave the sandstone an appearance of softness that looked like wet clay that had just been sculpted.
I’m often asked what my favorite type of light is, and I don’t have an answer. Perhaps the question is more important to color photographers than those of us who shoot black and white. Each type of light causes me to see something new that I wouldn’t otherwise recognize, and to compose the image differently. In hard light I use the shadows to move the eye throughout a photograph, but in soft light like this, I use the highlights to guide the eye. In either light one sees new things, and that’s what’s most important. What I was seeing was fresh and different from what I expected.
I’ve known photographers who have visited here before me, and one of the joys I find is finding their images in the stone, seeing where they stood, and where they placed their tripods. Often those scenes are easily recognizable, such as an image Michael A. Smith took of his wife as she was taking a photograph, while at other times I only see an echo of the other image from the corner of my eye. Over time I’ve come to realize many of the old images are hard to find because the landscape has changed, or the subject may even have been wiped out because of the malleability of the sandstone and the harshness of the weather, like a word that has been erased from a page and then written over.
Because of the weather and the time of year, there were almost no visitors at Shore Acres, and I was able to photograph with my 8x10 camera for nearly four hours in a meditative state, listening to the sea and smelling the salt air. It was the combination of the rising wind and a second rain that finally convinced me to leave. Today tasted sweet, indeed.