Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time


Skyscrapers (1062, EM1)

We spotted these massive structures while driving down SR 163 in northern Arizona a couple of months back, not too far from Monument Valley.  What’s missing here, I think, is a sense of scale.  They look a lot smaller (and closer) than they actually are (my best guess is maybe 5 miles off in the distance?).  Anyway, I walked about a hundred yards into the scrub and got down in the sand so that I’d be aiming the camera just slightly upward.  And, of course, the scene was sidelit to backlit.

It took little imagination to see these formations as something other than a desert landscape.  To me, it looked more like a decaying urban skyline, perhaps a skyline torn by war or a natural catastrophe.  I also never saw the image as anything but black and white.  In the bright late morning sun, the colors were a good deal less than “natural”.  The backlit buttes and spires were also simply silhouettes against the bright, white clouds.  Color is sometimes just a really bad idea………..



4 Responses to “Skyscrapers”

  1. TomDills

    Funny, I gave a talk to a photography group last evening, and one of the members asked me if I ever converted my photos to black and white. I answered that I don’t, because i have a hard time seeing in black and white. This is definitely an example of where it probably works better than color ever could.

    Monument Valley is definitely on my wish list, partly due to photos like this one.

    • Paul Maxim

      Actually, I’d love to sit down with a bunch of photographers and have a discussion about what it means to “see in black and white”. I mean, how do you mentally turn off all that color? My guess is that what people are actually doing is focusing on tonal range. At least that’s what I think I’m doing. I’ve found over the years that an image that’s “too busy”, with lots of tones randomly distributed across the frame, usually doesn’t work in black and white. For me, black and white works best when the tonal range has some kind of spatial balance, when some objects are relatively bright while others are nearly black. But I really don’t know what it is that makes me perceive that scene as “balanced”.

      I would highly recommend keeping Monument Valley on your list. Not because of the photographic opportunities – it’s all been done about a zillion times – but because of the actual experience. Take one of the guided tours (it’ll cost about $85 per person) and spend a lot of time talking to the Navajo guide. These guys are good. I know I learned a lot………

  2. Earl Moore

    You certainly had an interesting sky working with you on this one, Paul. Those diagonal clouds “lines” help to pull one’s eye back into the image. I noticed the building/skyscraper connection immediately.

    I most often use color but b&w is a very powerful median in its own right. With finesse it can convey powerful feelings and emotions…perhaps I don’t use it as often because I sometimes feel I can’t do it the full justice it deserves.

    • Paul Maxim

      Yes, that was one of the most interesting weather days I’ve seen in the southwest. Large cumulus clouds rolled across the sky, sometimes turning brownish in color as they reflected the desert below. Not to mention the fact that it was windy and chilly – it was later that night that it actually snowed for a few minutes in Monument Valley. And yes, without the diagonals formed by the clouds I don’t think I’d have even considered this picture.

      I think you’ve hit on a very important point, Earl. Black and white is, I agree, more capable of conveying “powerful feelings and emotions”. So if that’s what’s in the back of the photographer’s mind, he (or she) is likely to be very selective in choosing the images that they want displayed as black and white.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: