Images from the Film Archives — 1994
Thunder Mountain Lake – Delaware Watergap NRA, NJ © jj raia
I had always wanted to visit Thunder Mountain Lake, deep in New Jersey’s Delaware Watergap National Recreation Area, but never realized until many years later, that in 1960, the area was originally slated for a dam to be built. Work actually began toward that end with the purchase of land, hundreds of homes and the relocation of the owners, only to determine almost 20 years later, that the plan was not financially practical and was abandoned! By the time I began visiting the area, it was already designated as a National Recreation Area, but without much in the way of oversight or structural improvements. That would take years to begin and continues today.
It was a drive of about 2-1/2 hours, and of course as was usually the case when I drove that far for a sunrise, it looked like I would get there too late. But I suppose it didn’t really matter since there were no clouds that day, and no color in the sky. But there was some color in the autumn foliage, and while walking around searching for a composition, I found a few snags standing in the water with reflections. The problem was I wanted the green duckweed on the water’s surface to be in the foreground and the only way to do so was to move closer. But wading into the water and getting soaked just didn’t seem like a viable option. Luckily, there were a few tree stumps I could hopscotch on to get into a better position out on the water, and while balancing on them, the tripod was lowered half submerged into the water. A polarizer certainly helped in fully saturating the color of the duckweed, autumn colors, reflections and sky, and probably made the difference in its success.
I did manage to stay dry on those stumps that seemed to be purposefully placed just for the shot, but I did have to take off the “foot” of each leg of the tripod to drain out the water. A week or so later after getting back the processed film, I was pleased with the image, but not as much as I’d hoped, so there was a bit of surprise when the publisher chose it for the cover of one of the calendars. It just illustrates exactly what my thoughts have been for years, that judgements made on any art, photography included, is purely subjective. Or “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.” This holds true for those who make judgements in any juried exhibit or competition; accepted entries or winners are strictly selected by people with their own preferences, perception and biases, snd should never be taken personally. Suggestions on improvements should be welcome, but choices can only be made by those doing the choosing.
A few cases in point. One of the very first “camera club” slide competitions I entered clearly illustrates judging biases or preferences. When my slide of a sunset came up (no surprise here that it was a sunset), she immediately said, “I don’t like sunrises or sunsets, and for that reason, this one is rejected.” It was rejected out of hand simply because of the subject matter!! Obviously, being a newbie to these things, that singular incident shaped much of my attitude toward judging, but it was useful to understand the process of judging.
Another incident really brought into focus my own misconceptions about another form of judgement in terms of art. My work was part of a group photographic exhibit for the inaugural exhibit in a brand new art gallery in New Jersey; a gallery that was to exhibit all forms of art, not just photography. At one point, I asked the husband and wife owners of the gallery how they would determine what work to exhibit in the gallery, and was it based on any study or background in art? “Oh no,” they said, “we never took any art in college or anything like that, we’re just business people.” That raised the question: “Who is it that decides what is art?”
There were other instances along the way, and I won’t bore you with each one, but needless to say, these encounters galvanized a determination to set my own standards. Photograph your own interests, at a level of competence with which you are comfortable. Follow your own instincts. Enjoy what it is you do; chances are you will enjoy the results!
For those of you who celebrate the holiday
Merry Christmas !!