I had been photographing the Canadian landscape for nearly 10 years before I decided to move into the world of large format photography. Although I was very pleased with the work that I had produced up until this point, I had developed a strong desire to go back in time and explore the very roots of the photographic process to better understand how pioneer landscape photographers had captured their images through the more slow and deliberate method of working with the large format camera. The ability to view the world with both eyes through a large ground glass, shielded from the distractions from the outside world by a thin veil of dark cloth would allow the artist to forge a deeper connection with their subject matter at hand. This was a tool for the patient artist, a completely different way of seeing and capturing the world on film that would take a great deal of time to master. My intuition was telling me that the quality of my images would only improve through this more deliberate, meditative process of slow photography, inevitably taking my work to higher level as a result.
In the fall of 2014, I find myself in the province of Quebec following a country road along the banks of the Batiscan River. Descending into a small valley the landscape suddenly became shrouded in heavy mist and I could faintly view falling waters through a section of trees. Pulling over to investigate, I followed a short trail to find this incredible horseshoe shaped waterfall spanning the entire length of the river. I immediately became enveloped by a blanket of cool moisture formed by the churning waters and became visually lost in the linear, silky textures of fast flowing waters coursing over rock. The mist was so haunting that it felt like I had accidentally stepped onto a movie set of some science fiction film, with a smoke machine creating the ghostly atmosphere, somewhere just out of view. Looking up past the cascades through the vague, ambient light, I noticed a solitary island with trees whose hazed silhouette appeared more like a castle fortress made of stone, rather than living forest. What was even more amazing was that the mist was ever so slowly creeping towards me, temporarily obscuring the island from view, only for it to retreat several minutes later as if it were materializing out of nothingness.
This was one of the most haunting visions of nature that I had ever seen and while I had brought my medium format camera along on the trip, I felt this incredible spectacle of nature that was unfolding before me was demanding for a more contemplative approach through the use of my 4 x 5 camera, before its mosaic of intricasies could finally be revealed onto film. I spent the next several minutes of just simply observing my subject, forming an intimate visual connection before finalizing my composition. Placing my camera as close to the falls as possible, I allowed the diagonal tier of tumbling waters to take on the form of a birds wings in flight as the foreground, centering the mystical isle in the distance. Each time the trees would become partially veiled by the changing mist, it evoked a greater mystery to the scene which became my cue to expose a sheet of 4 x 5 film. Hypnotized by the mystical light and dancing waters, this process went on for several hours and I couldn’t help but think that I felt I was at the mercy of some unseen force, unable to find the will to remove myself away from this bewildering place even if I tried.
The break came around midnight after I accidentally bumped the camera from its position, spoiling a long night exposure to end my tenure of standing on the same slippery rocks for nearly 8 hours. I knew that I wanted to resume the next morning so I carefully removed my wood camera, leaving the tripod standing and proceeded back to my car for some rest. Excited and unable to sleep any longer, I awoke at 4:00 am from the comfort of my sleeping bag to find my way back to the river and panicked at the thought of having lost my tripod sometime during the night until my headlamp caught a familiar glint of shiny aluminium legs partially submerged in water, appear from the dark. Placing my 4 x 5 camera back onto the tripod, I resumed my composition and at first light realized that the ethereal mist was moving to the same eb and flow as it did before, as if the landscape were alive and breathing. What happened next I would never had anticipated. Around 9:30 am the light began to get brighter when I noticed a subtle shade of blue begin to appear just to the right of the trees. The landscape was clearly in the process of metamorphosis when suddenly the very first beam of light in over two days pierces through the vapoured landscape from the powerful rays of a rising sun and for a brief moment, transforms the cascading waters into a beautiful ribbon of gold. Stunned by the unforeseen heavenly light, I forced myself to remain calm in fear of losing this once in a lifetime photograph. I carefully talked myself through the necessary steps required to execute a large format capture; ensure the optics are clear of moisture, close the lens down, engage the shutter, insert the film holder careful not to jar the camera from its position, take a light reading and with cable release in hand, pull out the dark slide hoping that the moment still presented itself before finally releasing taking the photograph. I managed to shoot only a few transparencies of the godly light when the fog began to burn off from the relentless energy of a waking sun and watched in amazement as the last remaining fog funneled its way into the sky like a giant vortex, reverting the once outer-worldly scene back to that of the mundane.
The brilliant rays were so blinding that I came close to losing my footing on the wet boulders and falling into the river. I could hardly believed what had just happened. This whole time I spent photographing this scene felt like some kind of enfolding, endless dream. What was it exactly that had drawn me to this place? What compelled me to remain standing next to a waterfall for over fourteen hours only to be rewarded with one of my finest images to date gifted by a single golden beam of light? What I had witnessed that morning was nothing less than a super moment of nature. A phenomena that I have seen on several occasions during my 250 000 km journey photographing the Canadian Landscape that I have come to describe as the eternal convergence; an extraordinary alignment of light and land at a spectacular point in time that defines the quintessential essence of place. A photographic moment so elusive and powerful that this truth can never be recreated again and once seized, relinquishes the need for the artist to ever return. I would have never have been able to capture Wings of Light had I resorted to hastily setting up a composition, taking a photograph and moving on to another location. I instead relaxed to the contemplative rhythm of working with a 4 x 5 camera, allowing the subject the required time to commune with the light seeker at the highest level possible through the traditional art of large format photography. That morning I managed to render an unrepeatable, timeless moment, frozen forever on a single frame of 4 x 5 in. colour transparency film that will continue to live on as a photograph, long after the artist, the viewer and the landscape are gone.
Wings of Light – Quebec, Canada.
30 x 40 in.
Edition of 23