Cajun crawfisherman Roy Blanchard is accustomed to zipping along at 35 miles per hour in his workaday skiff through the Atchafalaya Basin, threading bald cypress trees and startling the white pelicans. I was not.
This was a new and emotional experience. I’d spent the past several years traveling to the Polar Regions to photograph icebergs, drawn to the grandeur of their light, space, texture and form. The cypress trees of the Atchafalaya in Southwest Louisiana are the major stars in a scene about as different as I could have chosen to photograph next, but every bit as elegant, and as humbling. With an iceberg, 80 percent of its mass is hidden beneath the water; with a bald cypress, even some of the roots are above water.
These majestic giants — those few left after clear-cutting in the late 1800’s — seem to float on the tranquil waters, their smooth reflections doubling the visual pleasure. It is nature’s haiku. This watery landscape is all the more moving because of the simplicity in color and contrast.
As darkness falls, the cypress silhouettes and their above-water, knee roots are intricate ink drawings against the orange Louisiana sky. You get the feeling you’ve been here before, in another life. It is a Zen-like experience.
Trees inspire. They populate fairy tales and great literature. John Muir worked to save the redwoods, John McPhee celebrated the humble Pine Barrens and Henry David Thoreau went to the woods to live deliberately. Writers, painters, photographers, even hikers have drawn inspiration and solace from trees.
Trees are woven into the fiber of our existence, yet cannot celebrate their own story. That is left for the writers and artists and, yes, photographers. My guide Roy has seen the giant cypresses thousands of times but still displays a reverence as we skim Bayou Benoit or Lake Fausee Pointe. He knows as well as anyone what will be lost if a proposed oil pipeline once again fouls the swamp in a dreaded encore of countless past industrial performances.
The Basin is nearly one million acres of woods, bayous, rivers, swamps, and lakes. The cypress trees are the sentinels, watching over a world mostly vanished. It seems imperative to photograph it now before it disappears, before what Atchafalaya environmentalist and author Greg Guirard has called “The Land of Dead Giants” is gone.
I feel a passion to photograph these trees. I am free within any natural landscape, with myself, my spirit and with others. I think it is because of my upbringing, walking miles and miles in nature and its beauty with my parents. I can be comfortable outdoors in almost any environment. From Antarctica to the Atchafalaya, outdoors I am at home.
As a music-lover, I hear a never-ending array of melodies, harmonies, and overtones. Nature’s arrangements are paradoxically complex and simple, stately and solemn, always inspiring. Roy’s maneuvering the boat for the best angle, the perfect light, is a time-honored Cajun waltz. We dance amongst the cypresses.
I take a great sense of pride in bringing a sense of these natural worlds to others who might not have the same opportunity to feel, breathe and experience them. Through my photographs, I hope to give others the chance to see life in an unfamiliar landscape, a faraway place.
My photography career has necessitated many pivotal journeys. One such photography trip in 1981 gave me the opportunity to encounter Ansel Adams in Yosemite. The moment was profound. I began to compose differently and more precisely, observing light with a visual clarity that carried through to the final print. John Sexton, a photographer for whom I have great admiration, soon afterwards schooled me in the use of my 4×5 Linhof Master Technika view camera. Master of the black and white print, Sexton is one of many extraordinary photographers whose work has both inspired and humbled me.
My photographer heroes are many. I am particularly drawn to the silent and contemplative world of Michael Kenna. His composition and presentation are exquisite. The images of Kenro Izu are masterpieces. His platinum and palladium prints of ancient temples and monuments are unforgettable. I appreciate Sexton’s perspective, black and white prints unparalleled in their luminosity.
It is gratifying for me to be a photographic instructor on voyages to Greenland and Antarctica, where I have met an amazing group of photographers from whom I have also learned. My recent workshops to the Atchafalaya Basin has been well received, and my next one in April is full.
My recent solo and group exhibition in the United States and Europe have been entitled “Ends of the Earth,” a collection of photographs from my adventures to Greenland and Antarctica. While I own a Pentax 645Z and an array of lenses, most of my recent work has been captured with two Canon 5dMklll’s, Canon 5dMkIV, Canon 1DXMkll cameras. My “go to” lenses are Canon 11-24mm f4, 16-35mm f4, 24-70mm f2.8 Mkll and 100-400mmf4 Mkll. I tend to gravitate towards wide scenes with plenty of sky and foreground detail. The Lee filter system is an integral part of my process, especially the 2 and 3 stop ND graduated filters as I try to get everything right within the camera during exposure. I use Adobe Lightroom for downloading DNG files into a catalog and folders with key wording. The majority of image-processing is performed with Lightroom, and I use Adobe Photoshop only when heavy-lifting or intricate work is needed. I use a couple of Nik Software plug-ins, but recently have become a fan of Luminar software. I print most of my own images, whether for exhibition, sale or personal use. I use mostly Epson Stylus Pro 9900 and 7900 and Epson P800 printers and Ultrachrome ink. My paper choices are Epson Exhibition, Museo Silver Rag and Hahnemuhle Fine Art paper with custom-made profiles. Of late, I have started to mount prints for sale and exhibition on DIBOND composite substrate.
Gallery Of Martyn’s Trees