In 1990 I visited the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite National Park. I was eager to see some powerful American landscape photographs. In their collection of work by the American masters, they had several dye transfer prints by Eliot Porter and for a very decent amount of money. However, at this time in my life, I was not ready for Eliot Porter. I simply did not appreciate the subtle content of his intimate landscapes. I was just too naive in my own photography and too much of a freshman to understand the quiet whisperings in Porters photography. Like many young photographers, it was the dramatic landscapes in ”Hallelujah Light” which attracted me. Hence my disappointment. Today I have turned 62, which today is supposed to be the new 40 (I doubt though) and have matured in the intimate direction and I really wish I had bought one of Porters dye transfers that day in Yosemite 26 years ago.
Intimate landscapes have over the years gradually become my own passion. I am also no longer waiting for dramatic sunrises. I prefer to spend these early hours in my bed. Chaos images of stones, wood and water in grey weather are my favorite subjects nowadays. Quite often I am asked what I see in a messy shrubbery or in a slope of rubble. My answer is complexity. It is about finding a smart distribution of objects and geometry inside the frame of the viewfinder. It is a demanding and intellectual process which needs your full concentration. The classic ”making order from chaos” is not for everybody. You need to be one with the landscape around you. Today, when people are mostly living in cities and nature is something they only have contact with during weekends or holidays, the relation to the wild landscape is often on the naive side and far from relaxed. It was the relaxed and close relation to mother nature which was the expression in Eliot Porter’s photography. Being one with the elements around him and therefore able to find the backbone and geometry of the untamed chaos. For some people not powerful enough to be interesting. Even for Porter understanding from the outside was a problem. Once when Porter had a slide show for National Geographic, he was completely misunderstood by their editors and he left their headquarters without getting published. A total blunder in my opinion. For those of you who are interested to search his work out, you should try to find his book ” Natures Chaos”. To better understand his work, we have to remember that he was working with early generation color film and not at all with the same quality film as you can find today. Therefore you might find his photographs a bit strange in color, but at the same time, they are really special.
Down below I will show you some of my own images made as a homage to this iconic photographer who has inspired a whole generation:
“Rolling Stones #1”, Trysunda Island, Ångermanland, Sweden, July 2014.
Trysunda is an island in the Bothnic Sea, inside ”The High Coast” UNESCO World Heritage. This area is dominated by the unique red Rapakivi Granite and you can find old seabed 285 meters above sea level. The land has risen this high since the inland ice melted away some 10 000 years ago. That means an average of 2,85 cm per year which is a world record. Along with this jagged coastline, you can find beaches with millions of colorful pebbles which have been ground into smooth and rounded shapes by the motion of the sea. I have been here several times during the nineties and shot this beach on film, but his time I used a Hasselblad H3DII-50 and HC 50mm II lens plus a tilt/shift adapter to get everything in focus using the Scheimpflug Effect. The light was diffused sunlight, which is my favorite light for these kinds of landscapes. I made this photograph with Eliot Porters shot ” Wave-worn rock, Hellnar, Snaefellsnes, Iceland, 14 July 1972” in my mind. My image is very different, but the inspiration comes from Porter.
“Rolling Stones #2”, Singö, Uppland, Sweden, October 2014.
Another rock and pebbles shot. This one from the coast north of Stockholm. It was made during a two-day workshop. We were spending a whole afternoon on the coast and we did not really find anything that triggered us to take pictures. However, just before sunset, it started to rain. The rock got wet, and the landscape went through a dramatic transformation in color. The thin layer of water saturated the colors to fantastic levels. All of a sudden we had more rock & pebble landscapes than we could handle. Also here I used my Hasselblad H3DII-50 with HC50mm II lens and a tilt/shift-adapter. This to get everything in focus in one shot.
“Cubismo”, Iceland, July 2015.
An attempt in the cubistic style. Always when I shoot basalt rock formations my thought goes to Georges Braque and his cubism. I found this composition specially cubistic in its constellation. There are, like the previous image, only two colors. There are yellow and different shades of blue-grey, which are each other’s color antipodes. The soft light from overcast conditions is sculpturing the prism-like rock pieces in a full tonal scale. I used a Hasselblad H3DII-50 with an HC 210mm lens.
“Mesquite”, Death Valley, February 1999.
This morning I had been shooting the sunrise over the sand dunes of Mesquite Flats. On my way back to the car I passed through this shrubbery of Mesquite bushes. In the middle the bushes I found a trapped tumbleweed. Its orange color contrasted nicely against the grey surroundings and shone like a stop signal against me. At the same time, the rising sun was blocked by some passing clouds which made the light soft and cooperative. I immediately put my tripod down and I worked as fast as possible, composing and adjusting my view camera and managed to take the picture before the sun came out of the clouds. I was only able to expose one sheet of Velvia 50 with my Linhof Technikardan 4×5” camera and Schneider Super-Angulon 90mm lens before the sun came out of the clouds and the light got too hard.
“Breaking Wave”, Snaefellsnes, Iceland, June 2015.
Along the western coastline of Snaefellsnes, you can get a nice elevated view of waves crashing against black volcanic rock. I wanted a moderate motion blur and experimented with different shutter speeds. I found 1/2 second being the one I liked the best. The combination of motion without losing the structure of the water was what I was looking for. I shot maybe 50 different shots with this composition and picked this one as my favorite. As often in my case, I used grey weather light to ensure a soft contrast and a still getting a full tonal scale in the final file. I used a Hasselblad H3DII-50 and the standard HC80mm lens.
“Willows”, Steninge, Uppland, Sweden, December 2014.
Soft winter sunlight is probably the only direct sunlight I like to work with when I am shooting intimate landscapes. The tired sun was just above the horizon and its rays were filtered through the atmosphere. This gave me a warm light with just a little extra contrast. In this case, the contribution was a change in color temperature between the foreground and the background. I worked a long time with this composition. Since I used a 15mm super-wide-angle, every single centimeter in position made a different composition. I wanted the corners to have branches coming out as diagonals. Something I often look for. This way the composition stabilizes even the most chaotic shrubberies. This was about as chaotic as it gets. The sunlit willow, however, was framed by the tree in the foreground and with the corners, in place, the image still got some order. I used a Nikon D800E and a Zeiss Distagon 15mm shot at f16. The closest branches were very close and I wanted everything to be sharp, hence the stopping down to f16.
“Ice”, Lofoten, Norway, February 2017.
I have always been inspired by American painter Jackson Pollock. His chaotic paintings are organized like fractals. Every small bit of his paintings shows the same rhythm as the whole painting itself. Here I accomplished a close up expressing something in the same direction. I was fascinated by the repetitive patterns of geometric figures. To get the best influence of the light I attacked the image from an angle above. This also made it impossible to cover the depth of field in just one exposure. To solve this problem I used focus stacking using 8 focusings at f11. I used Helicon Focus software to do the calculations. The result was an image which is razor sharp from top to bottom. I used a Nikon D800E and Zeiss Otus 55 mm.
“Kelp”, Lofoten, Norway, January 2018.
Photographing stranded kelp is something I really like. However, sometimes the complexity of its chaos can be just too busy to sort out. To find a composition which shows a nice rhythm of shapes and color is an intellectual challenge. I spent about half an hour before I finally found this composition which had both harmonies in color and in shapes. I tried it in horizontal and vertical format but found the square composition being my favorite. Again the depth of field was impossible to cover in just one shot, so I used focus stacking using 6 focusings at f11 and had Helicon Focus software to make them into one super sharp image. I used a Nikon D850 with a Zeiss Otus 55mm lens.
“Autumn Chaos”, Abisko National Park, Sweden, September 2017.
Abisko National Park in the high North of Sweden is my favorite location for intimate landscapes. In September the autumn colors are peaking, which adds complexity and beauty to the birch forest in the park. Here the scene was very chaotic, but the logs on the ground give the image the direction and geometry needed to bring enough order and to make the composition work. I used f16 to get enough depth of field to make the image sharp from foreground to background. I used a Nikon D850 and Zeiss Otus 28mm.
“Burgundy Forest”, Gevrey-Chambertin, France, October 2013.
I often want my images to have everything in them sharp except for water. In this case, I was in a Burgundy forest right after two barrel tastings of the excellent 2012 vintage. The wind was blowing really hard, making a sharp image impossible. My alternative was either to give up and go home for further wine drinking or trying to do something with my camera. I decided to go for the second and soberer alternative and to use the power of the wind to blur as many as possible of the branches of the tree in my composition. I, therefore, waited for the maximum wind and used even the lower ISO setting minus 1 stop to ISO 50 on my Nikon D800E. This gave me a shutter speed of 0,6 seconds at f16. Enough to get the moving branches to come out blurred. The lens was a Zeiss 35mm 1.4.
“Low Tide”, Lofoten, Norway, September 2017.
This is perhaps more a sand shot than a waterscape, but it is a part of the coastal landscape of Lofoten. At low tide the beach and its sand, with its wonderfully complex ripples, get visible. From just the distance of 1,5 meters (the full hight of my tripod), these ripples look like aerials of islands and water. A phenomenon which strengthens the theory of the world being fractal. Here I shot the sand from an angle facing right towards the brightest part of the sky, which gave the image a backlit character. I used six focusings and focus stacking to get the whole frame in perfect focus with wonderful detail. Since the scene is more or less monochrome in blue it also works very well converted into black&white. Nikon D850 and Otus 1,4/85mm f 11 at 1/80 seconds. ISO 64.