Why do I photograph? Simple, sort of. It is the search for beauty in the landscape, an inexorable drive to create evocative visual expressions of what I see and feel at those special moments when the light, the color and the textures of a landscape unfold before me. I find it deeply satisfying to explore the rural back roads of New England and the other places where I photograph, walking through the fields, farms and hillsides, along the lakes and coastlines, at the transitional times of day between darkness and sunlight, watching how the raking light of early morning or late afternoon brings out the land’s textures in bold relief. In fog and rainy conditions, amazing transformations in the appearance of the landscape can occur as well. It is remarkable how exceptional light and atmosphere at these transitional times can transform an otherwise ordinary landscape into a magical scene.

A perfect example of this transformation from ordinary to extraordinary is my photograph, “Fiery Mist at Sunrise, Washington County, Maine.” I was exploring Cherryfield, Maine, way up near the Canadian border in late October 2008, taking photographs of the blueberry barrens. Just before sunrise, on my way to a location that I had scouted the previous afternoon, I happened to notice a somewhat nondescript little stream through a clearing in the woods. It was quite cold and a dense mist was rising from the warmer water of the stream. Suddenly, intensely orange rays of the rising sun penetrated through the brilliant orange foliage of the nearby trees, hitting the hovering mist, and the stream appeared to burst into flames. I quickly discarded my original plan, pulled off the side of the road, hiked along the side of the stream a bit, set up my tripod and photographed the ebb and flow of the orange mist for about 30 minutes. By that time, the mist had dissipated and I moved on. Several hours later, I drove by the stream again and I was awestruck by how remarkably unremarkable it all looked in the starkness of full daylight. There were not even hints of the magic that had transpired only hours earlier.

Why in my search for beauty in the landscape am I so drawn to New England and Tuscany? The answer with New England is obvious. It is home. I have lived in it for most of my life. I understand, on both an intellectual and a visceral level, the visual identity of New England. What makes New England look and feel like New England. I know the weather. I know the light. I know the people who live here. I know the land, from the hills and villages of Vermont, to the cranberry bogs of Massachusetts, to the rocky coast of Maine. I know the rhythms of that land, from the blaze of the fall foliage, to the dead quiet of the snow cover in winter, to the rebirth of the land in spring, and, finally, to the languid but way too brief days of summer. I know it like you can only know your home. And, as any photographer who focuses on the landscape can attest, if you want to make visually exciting photographs somewhere, you have to “understand” the location and visit it repeatedly in order to capture it in the right light.

The photograph, “Clearing Snow Squalls, Danby, Vermont,” in my portfolio of New England images is an instructive example. Danby Four Corners is a rural town of open farmland in southern Vermont in a valley surrounded by mountains. I have a second home 30 minutes away and have spent many dawns and dusks exploring Danby in all kinds of weather in all seasons. The farm in the photograph has intrigued me over the years, and I have photographed it many times, including at the height of fall foliage. However, on a particular day in January, a series of snow squalls had blanketed the area and the sky had been completely overcast. About a half hour before sunset, the last of the squalls receded and the sun penetrated through the cloud cover at the horizon. The sky turned into a breathtaking display of yellows, mauves and pale blue, illuminating the farm with a supercharged light that elevated that farm to a visual level that transcends its simple physical qualities. For that farm, like New England generally, is quite modest in scale. The outbuildings have been added to it over the years for purely functional reasons, arrayed like a row of randomly shaped children’s blocks. I am happy to have photographed it in spectacular light. That hard-working family farm deserves it.

Tuscany is different. I have never lived there. I first visited it in 1998, starting in Florence and gradually moving south through the Chianti region. However, it was only when I reached the area southeast of Siena known as the Val d’Orcia that I found the landscape that really captures for me the heart and soul of Tuscany. It instantly captivated me, and I have now visited the Val d’Orcia six times over a 12-year period, traversing the dirt roads weeks at a time from dawn to dusk. It is strikingly different from the grand landscapes of the American West that are all about “wildness”, natural places where man has not (yet) intruded. In contrast, the hand of man on the Tuscan landscape is everywhere, sculpting it with the archetypical elements of planted cypress trees, old farmhouses, and the cultivated rolling fields and vineyards that rise up and drop down toward the horizon. Consider my photograph, “Tuscan Plowed Field in Spring.” In the middle of a field that has been recently plowed, the farmer has deliberately left in place the strong but simple, graphical elements of trees, shrubs and grasses. It is obvious that the people who live here feel a special affinity to their land. They treat the land as if it were an artist’s canvas for which they have a responsibility to maintain its historic and aesthetic integrity.

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