Some time ago, I was traveling by commercial airlines from the San Antonio area to Boston. I am always fascinated by the ability to travel across the continent by air and I delight in the view from such an elevated platform. When the plane's wheels touch down on the runway at my destination, it always seems too soon.
This flight was just such an eye-full since nearly the entire trip we encountered various forms of exciting atmospheric conditions. This was a great time to try some of the photographic experiments that I like to play with when confronted with such great subjects: huge, towering thunderheads, long stretches of unbroken cloud cover, and unusual sunlit conditions. Often, these experiments are interesting but never materialize in usable photographs since the cabin windows so frequently are very poor in optical quality.
Things like age-crazing, general scratching and scuffing, and big gooey smears of hair gel take a huge toll on the ability to take decent photographs. On top of that, reflections of bright things in the cabin can dominate the view as well. To mitigate some of these issues, I usually try to bring with me micro-fiber cloths to clean the window, and it's also a good idea to wear as much dark clothing as possible to reduce reflections. This trip I was doubly-blessed with a high quality, clean window, and sunlight directions that minimized any reflections.
At one point in mid-flight we were flying near 30,000 feet (over 5 miles up) and traveling along between two layers of clouds: a very high layer of thin clouds, and a lower stratum of complete cloud cover (the earth's surface was entirely hidden behind it). The colors of the sky, where it could be seen, were absolutely entrancing– from a light cyan/turquoise near the surface of the earth (the normal sky-blue we see from down here) graduating to a much deeper and purer blue looking up above the horizon. When gazing up as high as I could see out of the window, the sky was nearly black, but still discernibly blue (maybe a blue-black or "midnight blue").
|FIRMAMENT, © Bill Brockmeier, all rights reserved|
I tried some different techniques to capture some of this scene, which overwhelmed me with the vastness of the layering of the clouds, and the pure beauty of the unadulterated colors.
I didn't look at the photos until several weeks after the trip, and when I did I found quite a few semi-interesting shots, but nothing that really stood out to me...until I came across one that I took as we flew between the two layers of clouds. The image really took me back to when I was observing and enjoying it in person.
Recently, I decided to go back to that photograph and try it out in large scale on canvas. After the photograph had been printed, coated, mounted, and framed I sat the completed work up against the wall in my studio and was amazed at how it had come out. It looked to me, and had the feeling, much like the abstract paintings that I so admire. Then it hit me. Turning it upside-down, I thought "let's make it a little MORE abstract." This new composition, which placed the earth at the top of the canvas and the sky below it, was definitely superior to the conventional view.
The very dark blue of the highest atmosphere was now at the bottom of the image, giving it much more a sense of stability and solidity. The light gray solid cloud cover was now a band of light towards the top, with the brilliant cyan/turquoise streaking between the two. The deep blue below, although actually a view of the high atmosphere appears to be almost water-like. But if it looks like water, where is the horizon, the distinction between the atmosphere and the ocean? The whole effect is a bit mystifying and one is reduced to the pure simplicity of enjoying the colors and the structure of the image, without being able to really ferret out what is going on.
The more I have looked at this image, the more it seems to me shrouded in the enigmatic mists of the original Creation itself. Some of the opening phrases of Genesis ("Beginnings") say that "...God made the expanse (the firmament) and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse 'sky.' And there was evening and there was morning– the second Day."
Note: this article is the first in a weekly series that will showcase my Very Limited Edition photographs. For more information on these editions and how I produce them, click here or on the Very Limited Edition link in the upper right.
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