An Alternate Yosemite
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The catch, as proposed by my friend, Chuck Nadeau, was simple: We would conduct a trip to Yosemite, and the people on the trip would set aside the seemingly ubiquitous digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras favored by most advanced photographers.
Film, digicam, pinhole, Polaroid, iPhone, medium format cameras, etc., were fair. Whatever we brought, we would have to learn – or relearn – how to find camera controls. We would have to learn to see in new ways; we would see an alternate Yosemite. And for those of us using film, some pleasure would have to be deferred, since we weren't likely to see the finished photographs for a week or two after our trip ended.
Our group of photographers would travel to Yosemite as autumn, the season of turning, slowly gave way to winter. The Merced River would drain the last of the melted snowfall from the high country, even as clouds would sweep into Yosemite Valley on rising currents of cool air. Daylight at this time of year would be in short supply, and, especially on the always-shaded south side of the Valley, the air would be cold.
The poignantly transient nature of life would be on display, as the last colors of autumn grudgingly morphed into the bare branches of aspens, black cottonwoods, and maples.
There were ultimately eight of us who traveled to Yosemite. Tom Turmen was from Tennessee, Ted Taylor, from Southern California, Robert Kidd from Rhode Island, Stjepan Gardilcic from Ohio, Richard Nolthenius, from Santa Cruz, California, the aforementioned Chuck (from Chico, California), mythic Ken Rockwell, who has always carried a soft spot for film cameras, and myself.
The photo above, and the one below, show a little maple that looked like it was on fire, and which sat just across the road from our accommodations at the comfortable Cedar Lodge.
Winter was definitely coming to Yosemite. Yet I was struck by the amount of color still to be found in and around Yosemite Valley. Pacific Dogwood was bright red in places, so were some imported red maples.
For me, this was a good trip to document the transient nature of life, if only because I ran a couple of rolls of black and white film through my 1954 Rolleiflex. The old Rollei, a camera which I think epitomizes the pinnacle of the Machine Age, belonged to my mom for many years. One day, when her eyes were no longer able to look down into the magnificent mirrored viewfinder to see what was there, my mom insisted I take the camera. (I'll try to post some of the Rollei images I made on the trip in another post, after my film comes back from the processor).
Most of the time, though, I used a little Panasonic LX5, a digicam with a wide and fast and sharp lens. I also made many photographs with my iPhone, using the iPhone's native camera app, as well as the wonderful Hipstamatic app, which gives photos the look of film.
Richard brought along his ancient Minolta A1 digicam. When it snowed, on our last day, Richard discovered that while the camera itself still worked, the battery had a difficult time staying warm enough to function for more than a few minutes. It would revive for a short time after he warmed it in his pocket.
Robert brought along the fantastic Nikon F6, Nikon's last pro film camera. Like me, he spent a lot of time with his iPhone, too. I had fun photographing Robert on various reflective surfaces, like car windows and, above, on the back of a driver's side view mirror.
Chuck chose to only use his iPhones; yes, he has two of them, a 4 and a new 4S. He also brought along a special tripod just for his iPhone.
Tom brought along a beautiful Leica rangefinder, with a few lenses. For aesthetics, I think Tom's camera was easily the match of my Rolleiflex.
Ted brought a variety of cameras, too, including his muscular Pentax medium format camera. And Stjepan switched between his film camera and a little Canon S95. The more he worked with the S95, the more he came to appreciate its worth as an artistic instrument.
Ken chose his own Leica rangefinder, as well as his own Canon S95.
Besides views of the soaring, granite cliffs, and the patches of autumn color, there were some spectacular reflections in the Merced River. Above: morning light on El Capitan is reflected in the Merced River.
Above: a duck conveniently swims into El Capitan and the sky's reflection, turning the scene into a piece of abstract art.
We also spent time photographing at Fern Spring, "Yosemite's Smallest Waterfall." A slow shutter speed blurred the water, while the leaves and moss held still for me.
Perhaps my favorite photograph came at the end of the second full day of the trip, at the Wawona Pioneer Village, an enclave of historic architecture, miles west of Yosemite Valley.
We all found ourselves photographing the lovely old covered bridge. I spent some time thinking about how to convey the sense of that old bridge with my little digicam, and ultimately I decided to make a more restricted view. Trying to show it all – the bridge, the water, the sky, the adjacent building and forest – just took in too of the view much for my taste. This time, I decided, less would be more.
As I made my photographs in the crisp air, I experienced a sense nostalgia. It was the sense of roads taken, of wonderful places I have been and people I've met over the course of my life. Where did that nostalgia come from? Maybe it came from the creativity that went into making those photographs at the covered bridge. Maybe that creativity let me live in the moment as well as connect on a deep level with my own history.
And if that's true, it's as good a reason as any, at the turning time of the year, to spend a few days with a camera and a few friends in a place like Yosemite.
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