It is virtually impossible to get tired of the Virginia countryside, specially if you are a photographer. Even in winter, when local weather services constantly struggle to get their predictions right, a slow journey along the rolling landscape near Middleburg will reward you in ways that are hard to describe. Manicured horse farms with dark wooden fences, historical dwellings side by side with million dollar mansions, gorgeous horses lazily wandering along undulating meadows, and tree-covered country roads gently disappearing into the horizon. It is an incredible landscape constantly displaying the rich heritage of the state. During the snowy, winter months the city-slicker crowds with their late-model BMW’s are gone and the place finally slows down to its more characteristic, rhythmic crawl. It is the slowness, surrounded by incredible beauty, that nourishes your photographic soul.
I have to confess that I have never been, nor intend to be, a nature photographer. Not that I don’t like nature, but rather that judging by a lot of the work I continue to see out there, I’m simply not that good at it. But during this part of the year I would be remiss if I didn’t capture some of the simple beauty that autumn brings to Virginia every year in October. The intense colors and endless micro-scenes that surround us everywhere we go during this time of the year are simply magnificent. And while the wide-angled, grand scenery by itself is worth a trip to this part of the US in October, for me it is nature’s endless detailed scenery that attracts me the most. What can I say, it is a palette of colors that for a brief moment every year compels us to meditate about life, about beginnings and ends, and about a life ahead. The season softens our edges, and makes us see what’s around us in a whole new light. At some level, it humanizes us, and that is a very good thing.
From what I gather, not too many photographers associate rainy, gloomy days with great photographic opportunities. Frankly, I fully understand this feeling and have found myself in those shoes many times over the years. And yet, rain and everything that comes with it, do present some of the best opportunities to change your creative pace a bit, so to speak. Rain makes you a different kind of photographer, as everything from color patterns, wet leaves on the ground, and drops of water suddenly become the focus of your attention. Don’t know what to call the photographic (or psychological) transformation people go through when it rains, but it is there and it makes you see the world around you from a completely different vantage point. Personally, I find that people as subjects are suddenly not as interesting as droplets of water on a rail, or as the shinny reflection that comes off wet sidewalks and city streets. Maybe it has something to do with the allure of so many romantic movie scenes that take place during rainy days, or the way nature’s colors are accentuated by the rain, or how cloudy days relax us in a way that would be impossible during the sunny days of summer. Whatever the case, as a photographer I have developed a new appreciation for those days when nature takes us in dramatic and unplanned directions. They afford us the opportunity to get off that well-traveled road for a while, and we all could use a little bit of that. So next time it rains, give walking in the rain a try and you’ll see what you’ve been missing.
Some of the great things that come with living in large metropolitan areas are the mix of cultures and people that constantly come in contact everywhere you go. Granted, that for some folks those are also the very reasons why they wouldn’t be caught dead in such places. But no matter how anyone feels, there is no denying that cities are beehives of activity for just about every interest out there. And the more international the city, the more diversity its citizens will experience on a daily basis. This diversity has been quite evident during this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC. Take a stroll any morning around the uneven shores of the Tidal Basin and you will experience a slew of foreign languages being spoken, people dressed in varied outfits that reflect their country of origin, musicians banging away in some sort of ritualistic rhythm, lovers kissing under trees that glow with the majestic colors of spring, and the sweet aroma of exotic foods competing with nature for your attention. Photographs may not do it justice, but for the thousands of photographers out there who tried to capture the essence of this brief flowering and human spectacle, there was no better place to be. And to the Japanese people who kindly made all this possible with their incredible gift, ありがとうございます。(Thank you very much).
Paris? Kyoto? Florence? Of course. Washington, DC? Really? Yes, really. Like those magnificent cities east and west of us, this city by the river undergoes a major transformation with the arrival of spring. I’m even tempted to say that the city, and in some very dramatic way, gets in touch with its sensitive side. Even the light is transformed during this time of the year, with grey, overcast days giving way to skies that are so blue that you could be forgiven for thinking you were staring at the heavens in Provence. The longish days, with their mellow temperatures and orange morning light, are nothing short of nature’s unabashed public display of affection for us all. And everywhere you look, from the small John Marshall Place Park along Pennsylvania Avenue, to the mighty Capitol grounds, and beyond to the breathtaking Cherry Blossoms lining the Tidal Basin, you are rewarded by nature’s unselfish color spectacle. In this light, and under endless pink canopies that nature so graciously has shared with us for too brief a moment, it is easy to forget Paris, Kyoto, and Florence. In fact, they never came to mind. I had my city instead.
No luck yet. Today was supposed to be smack in the middle of the peak blooming period for the Washington, DC cherry blossoms around the Tidal basin. Unfortunately, this tree depicted here was one of the very few that had gotten the word that it is time to bloom. No doubt the 32 degree morning temperatures have something to do with this. Mother nature is simply playing havoc with tourist and photographers alike, as they have had to settle with watching the flower buds cuddle tightly on the long Japanese branches. But, there’s always tomorrow. And I have no doubt that the third official “peak bloom” prediction by the National Park Service will be a charm. After all, are we not supposed to be having some spring weather by now? Well, as they say in the great, power corridors in Washington, “someone didn’t get the memo.” But photographers are a patient lot, so we’ll be back there again.
For most city dwellers in our area, visiting a Virginia farm is about as foreign a notion as visiting the Turkish countryside. This, of course, is a pity, because nestled around the undulating hills at the foot of the great Blue Ridge Mountains are some of the greatest small farming operations in the country. Case in point: the quaint, and very prolific Everona Dairy Farm. Never heard of it? Well, you are definitely missing out. Going into its 15th year in operation, this family farm was the brainchild of Dr. Pat Elliot, who’s love for Border Collies led her to purchase some sheep so her dog could what Border Collies are good at. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, the farm produces six major types of cheeses, as well as a variety of specialty cheeses based on its flagship Piedmont cheese. Visit the small store at the entrance of the farm and you’ll be able to indulge in such creamy delights as the Mountain Run Swiss (yes, Swiss cheese from sheep’s milk), the irresistible Herbes de Provence, and wine lees-infused Pride of Bacchus. That will just get you started. Oh, and did I mention that they also make a delectable cheese-filled tapenade by the name of Rapidan Spread, as well as their own Market Crackers? I can only wonder where do these folks find the hours in the day to do all this. I frankly wouldn’t know, but one thing I do know for certain: dedicated farming families like the Wentz family and the dynamic Dr. Elliot represent the best our country has to offer. They are heroes in my book, and their untiring, around-the-clock efforts to produce first-rate dairy products so the rest of us can enjoy them without ever having to get our hands dirty, is nothing short of amazing. Everona Dairy definitely proves that our national treasures come in every size, just like the furry sheep that graze the fertile Culpeper County countryside.
Walking along the shores of the Rappahannock River during the early morning hours has to be one of those great experiences that you discover too late in your life. This gentle river meanders its way from the great Blue Ridge Mountains through Fredericksburg, Virginia and on to its final destination at the famous Chesapeake Bay. From the Battle of 1812 to the American Civil War, this river has seen its share of conflict, as it was a mighty geographical landmark separating dueling armies that considered it both a defensive barrier and an avenue for an attack. Today, as you walk along its quiet banks, it is almost impossible to imagine the river’s historical role in American history. But history is never far away from the slow-moving Rappahannock river, as any visitor to the colorful city of Fredericksburg would attest. And early mornings, when the dense, dawn fog begins to lift from the riverside brush along its gracious flanks, you can’t help but think that here, along these quiet shores, great events must have once taken place. It is a calmness befitting this silent witness to a roaring past.
Have you taken the time to enjoy the colors of the season? I hope you have, as nature provides us with a spectacle that is easy to take for granted when you have lived in the northern hemisphere for far too long. Having grown up in the tropics, I remember that as a child I constantly gazed at magazines full of photographs of colored trees and of leaves that formed golden carpets over the remaining green grass of the fall season. As a young man thousands of miles from this incredible color spectacle, I couldn’t help but daydream about what it would be like to live in a house with one of those big, orange or red trees adorning our front yard. It was a vision and a dream that lasted for several decades until I could feel, and for the first time, the cool breezes of an approaching winter under one of those magnificent trees. Every fall season I can’t help but remember those childhood dreams and that first time I stood face-to-face in front of one of those colored trees. It was magic. And it still is.
Taking photos of ponds is not how my day started. I was actually out taking photographs of what I though I would refer to as “things we normally drive by without noticing.” To do this I packed my Leica M9 and a 50mm Leica Summicron-M f/2 lens and headed out on a beautiful day to the Virginia countryside. I figured that if I just pull over to photograph whatever caught my eye, that I would come up with a pretty good selection of those out-of-the-way scenes that most motorist will never see when traveling from point A to point B in their hurried lives. As I kept pulling over every few miles to climb over fences and muddy-up my shoes in the name of photographic composition, but in short notice found myself fascinated by the reflections on the many small ponds that dot the area around Middleburg. Next thing you know, my chance encounter with one of these reflective ponds became the purpose of my photographic life for the day, and like one of the migrating geese that can’t resist the sight of water, I too found myself getting dirty just to catch a glimpse of the still reflections of trees and houses. To say that the light was perfect on this Saturday morning would be a gross understatement, and the waters were so still that they looked as if someone had painted them there over a solid surface. A simple gift of nature, but one that was well worth the mud on my shoes.
Yes, it’s that time of the year in our nation’s capital when all the photographers in the area convene around the Tidal Basin in DC to photograph anything that moves. After a brutal winter, it seemed as if everyone was out there enjoying the peak cherry blossom weekend, and to say that it was a spectacular day would be a gross understatement. It was like a mini-United Nations down there below the trees, with people from all over the world strolling amongst the trees and trying to suck-up as much of the scenery as possible. As in every year, there were picnics, tours, joggers, and lovers staring at the sheer spectacle nature had put up for them. I was particularly struck by that most rare of Washington scenes: lovers kissing out in the open. There is hope for this town!
Of course, the whole scene was a photographer’s dream. The light was perfect and provided you could avoid the occasional tourist wandering in front of your perfect shot, not much could go wrong in such a great setting. People were quite friendly too and didn’t seem to mind the hordes of photographers taking pictures of everything in sight. You couldn’t have asked for a better day.