Throwback Thursday No. 18

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Images from the Film Archives 2011

Spring Hillside — Smoky Mountain NP, TN  © jj raia

Spring Hillside — Smoky Mountain NP, TN © jj raia

After moving to North Carolina in 2010, one of the first nearby places I wanted to visit was Smoky Mountain National Park, so I made a short trip there in the spring of 2011. I went there looking for subjects similar to those that wound up in front of the lens of Eliot Porter that I’d seen in several of his books; those places where the forest exhibited a quiet elegance of color and texture. All of the previous photo trips had been in search of color during autumn, but I was curious to see what the hardwood forests of the Smokies would look like as the buds of spring began to appear.

I mentioned previously that knowing your local areas and conditions is important, and since I was new here, this trip turned out to be a bit of a disaster. I made the trip too early, grossly miscalculating when buds would appear, so the forest looked more like winter than spring. It wouldn’t be until 2013, after I switched to digital that I would really see what spring is like along the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Smokies. But it was a valuable trip in that I was able to get a feel for the light, and some of the places to revisit on any subsequent trip.

Driving to Clingman’s Dome early one morning, I arrived and encountered some fierce winds, bitterly cold temperatures, and a photographer’s nemesis: a bald sky. I also found that the light there might favor sunset rather than sunrise, and came away with some pretty lackluster photos. So I headed down on the Tennessee side with hands that hurt and a numb face, in hopes of finding warmer temperatures and less wind. As I wound down the mountain road, there was a mountainside that appeared surprisingly reddish in color, and quickly found a pull out to park that gave a completely unobstructed view  of it. I brought out the camera with the telephoto lens, and peering through the viewfinder, discovered that the reddish color was actually the buds of what I believed to be maples. I thought to search the hillside for some sort of pattern or design, but being in complete shade, everything appeared flat, though that did not bother me much, since I was looking for an abstract composition. Suddenly, the sun rose high enough to clear the mountain and spotlight one particular ridge on the opposite hillside that became the focal point of the image above. The sunlight made every branch and bud it touched come alive, projecting a warm, three dimensionality to the scene, while the areas remaining in shade retained the receding, somber blue tones.

I suppose, since that particular mountain face may get much more sunlight through the course of the day than most others, the transition into spring may have begun a bit earlier than the surrounding mountains; thus the earlier reddish color, and a lesson learned to consider for future trips. Of course it didn’t take more than a moment before the light began to spread across the scene, and was lucky to have had the camera already set up, because had I not, I would not have been able to do so in time, and lost the opportunity. As it turned out, this was the only decent shot from the entire trip, and simply because I just happened to be there to trip the shutter.

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