Landscape Photography by A. Jackson Frishman
I’m not much of a sunset/sunrise photographer these days. A colorful sky is not necessarily aligned with my photographic interests currently. But that doesn’t mean I’m immune to sunset’s charms – they’re still beautiful, and I did seize the opportunity to drive a little north of home for a particularly promising one a few weeks ago.
It didn’t disappoint. This is the kind of sunset I still love, a small gap to the west letting light through towards Idaho, creating a concentrated area of warm color complementing the subdued yellow of the wheat stubble and the blues of evening.
Three from a wintry day last week, white ground, white sky, white air with snow flying fast.
Wind shaped these hills, wind drives the snow, our human structures rest on the tracks of the wind.
This is one of those sets where I have no idea whether it will please anyone besides me. Such is the way of artistic play, I suppose – you don’t know anything’s there until you make an attempt, and it can be hard to tell if you’ve come away with a sketch, a plaything, a meditation or a finished work (and where one draws the line between the first three and the last is often far from obvious). Regardless, these were made during a spare hour on the Lochsa River in Idaho in the wake of a February cold snap. The interplay between green water and pale ice, sharp above the surface and smooth beneath, was fascinating, and I wish I’d had much more time to work with the environment. All these images have flaws, but they also have aspects that keep me returning for another look. Perhaps they will interest someone else as well.
It’s surely fraught to attempt interpretation of such images in public, but lots of thoughts simmered in my mind as I reviewed and processed these. I feel they’re a little too grounded to view as true abstracts, but they’re also not really literal and revolve sufficiently around abstract elements that one inclines to symbolic and emotional interpretations. Northern Idaho’s clear and vivid river water is always so beautiful and enticing, but however much I long to be an otter I’m always aware that it’s an inaccessible realm with an undercurrent of power, menace and danger inseparable from the flow and shimmer. The winter context brought out that dynamic more strongly, with the delicate but sharp crystals in the open air set beside the smooth, billowing, almost ghostlike ice below the surface. One perhaps thinks of suicidal ideation or legends of the rusalka, the seductive promise of a more beautiful, calm, simple realm whose reality is cold death. Or less gloomily, one can imagine two separate realms governed by very different geometries, inaccessible to each other but only divided by the thinnest boundary of surface tension.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for your patience with my ramblings. There’s an enormous amount of talk in the landscape photography community currently about “expressive” imagery and emotional content and whatnot, but very few photographers seem willing to dig into specifics. It’s all so subjective and evanescent, I understand the hesitation, and symbolism and emotion can feel like a lot to hang on a simple photo of ice and water. And of course making pictures of things that won’t be put into words is often the point; if we could talk about it we wouldn’t have to do it. But I must say, I wish more people would make the attempt. It’s worth an occasional try to describe the resonances of this strange thing we do, wandering the landscape plucking little fruits of mindful attention to feed our souls.
A cold and wet autumn morning in the Idaho Panhandle…
The snowline and the fogline seemed to be reaching out toward each other.
The defining feature of the Idaho Panhandle is the Purcell Trench, a deep valley running south from Canada, flanked by mountains on either side. Until quite recently, geologically speaking, it was filled with an extended finger of the massive continental ice sheet. By cyclically damming up the watershed of all of western Montana until breaking and releasing titanic floods, this valley and its river of ice long governed the fate of a vast swath of northwestern landscapes in catastrophic fashion, from the Rockies to the Pacific.
The Purcell Trench today is a bucolic and beautiful place of lush forests, winding waters and gentle meadows between steep mountainsides. But on cold wet mornings the valley fills with the pale ghost of its vanished glacier, a foggy vision of a world ruled by ice and water.
Northern Idaho really is a breeding ground for fog creatures. I missed a colorful but very fleeting sunset, but I was able to shoot a few frames of the cloudscape above Lake Pend Oreille before ski patrol rousted me off the mountain.
Jack Frost was exploring his shadow self, or perhaps channeling H.R. Giger, on the muddy basalt stones beside the Palouse River.
We had a lot of snow and cold between Thanksgiving and Christmas, until suddenly the switch flipped, the atmosphere warmed and the snow turned to rain. Everything of course started melting. Under such conditions, there’s one obvious place to go: downstream to Palouse Falls!
It’s our local icon, but however popular it may be, it’s hard to resist at high water. By the time we arrived, the afternoon sun was already low and largely blocked by the canyon walls, but it did come through for a while and light up the basalt and mist.
Full disclosure: I took a few more Photoshop liberties than usual in the image above with modifying that right patch of light so it didn’t spill to the edge of the frame. It’s far from a deceptive interpretation of the scene, but it’s nonetheless an interpretation.
The basalt feathers at the lip of the falls are always appealing, and the last light played nicely with them.
The power of this waterfall at high flows is awesome, and that power was emphasized as we got to watch someone lose control of his drone, which slowly lost altitude until the river swallowed it alive. I’m never a fan of drones and they aren’t permitted at Washington State Parks, so my sympathy for the operator was, shall we say, very limited.
Palouse Falls is pretty over-photographed for my tastes and I am often unsure whether I’ll be able to make worthwhile images there. But whenever I try I end up having a great time! It’s nice to live close enough to head out there when I see the river rising.
2022: A weird year for us. Photographically, it was… uneven, with a lot of fallow time but a few bursts of productivity. Most of my good photos this year were made in the fall, which is hard to complain about. I do note that this collection is dominated by white and cool colors, has not a glimpse of blue sky anywhere and has only a very little direct sunlight. Perhaps that says something.
A few things worth noting:
Without further ado: images!
Happy New Year!
2022 was a hard year for us due to a series of extended family crises and our adventures were rather limited compared to past years. I just didn’t photograph Eli as much as previously. But we did have some good times, and a lot of good stuff just didn’t make it in front of a camera at all, e.g. playing piano and trumpet, visiting with good friends, attending the opera, good times at a new school. It was by no means all bad, but we do have our fingers crossed for things to lighten up a bit in 2023.
His highlight of the year was probably our spring trip to Utah. It was a really tough trip for me for lots of reasons, but he had a blast and was especially enamored of the tight slots.
Though our outdoor activities were more limited, he did get to do a lot of acting, including the lead in a production of Peter Pan (a role he was apparently born to play). I’m no indoor event photographer, so pics were few and not great, but I got a couple.
And there was some mountain time, sturgeon appreciation and birthday pavlova. We’ll give it our best shot again next year!
Three quiet creekside scenes from October in the Wallowa Mountains…
I often wonder whether these subdued images please anyone besides myself. But they do please me. All three of these images were shot within a couple hundred yards of each other. I was attracted by the combination of the subtle but pretty autumn foliage above the gentle turquoise water. The fallen wood was ubiquitous in this area, and I quickly realized that rather than avoid it, I would need to embrace it and build my compositions around it. The scruffy untidiness of all the deadfall was a big element of the place’s character, and deadfall is an important ecological factor in these subalpine forests. Again, it may not work for many viewers, but for me the symbolism of downfallen trees underpinning the texture of the woods and offering new life played well with the seasonal melancholy of the leaves and the introspection of the cold stream.
Born in New Mexico, raised in Wyoming and Montana, the mountain west has always been my home. I come from mountaineering families on both sides: my maternal grandfather was a pioneering climber in the Sierra Nevada, while my father guided in the Tetons and climbed in China and Nepal. Both my parents guided for Outward Bound. I ran my first river at nine months old, and have been hiking and backpacking longer than I can remember. My other major influence has been my step-father, Stephen Bodio, a nature writer, falconer and traveler, and as fine a family member as I could hope to have.
I studied black and white photography in high school, under an excellent teacher, but failed to apply myself. After high school, I began guiding for ARTA River Trips, and my interest in photography gradually rekindled as I endeavored to share with friends and family my work in the finest landscapes of the American West. Meanwhile, I studied classical literature, philosophy and history of mathematics at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I am currently living with my wife and son in the Palouse region of eastern Washington.
Photographically, I travel light and prefer to shoot off pavement and explore unknown locations. My favorite landscapes include the unknown expanses and little-visited mountains of rural New Mexico, the canyons of Dinosaur National Monument, and the vast wilderness of Central Idaho.
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