With the new year starting, I decided it would be fun to share my favorite photos of the year. Never having done this before, I had no idea how hard it would be to cull my favorites down to a manageable list (and you may dispute that accomplishment!) and I couldn’t even begin to put them into a ranked order. The result of my efforts is a somewhat free-flowing organic presentation of my favorite photos and my thoughts about them. Here goes!
One of my favorite bloggers is Kim Douillard. Her blog, Thinking Through My Lens, showcases her photography and her writing. She posts occasional invitations to participate in photo challenges. Participating in her challenges always makes me more observant and helps me to see things in different ways. One of the most interesting challenges this past year was to find beauty in the apparently “ugly”. One afternoon while I was participating in this challenge, I stepped out of my car and looked down to see this: the ghost of a dandelion. Some mix of temperature and atmosphere had it stretching its sepals wide, rather than pulling them down tightly around its stem. I can never resist dew drops and those deep purple tips–wow! This dying dandelion stunned me with its surprising stellar beauty, and I wonder if I would have noticed it without Kim’s challenge.
Once you start paying attention and are attuned to new ways of seeing things, the world expands. During a fall walk in the woods, I stumbled upon these two time- and weather-withered mushrooms. Despite their fungal decrepitude, they enchanted me. They reminded me of long-time partners supporting each other, tucked together and observing the changing world. Their pose struck me as so tender, and the clarity and solidity of the mushrooms against the vague green background really appealed to me.
I love how a picture can capture an invisible process–something ephemeral–and make me wonder: How did this happen? On a morning walk in Orono one cold, cold morning last winter, I discovered this intriguing oak leaf. I imagine the dark leaf, over days, absorbed the warmth of the winter sun, melting the snow around it. This area must have refrozen at night until over time, this leaf created its own silhouette in the snow.
On another cold walk closer to home, the gurgling sound of a stream pulled me off the road into the woods to investigate. I was delighted by what I found. These ice formations, which I’ve never seen before, remind me of spinning tops, or pirouetting ballerinas. What alchemy of wind and weather crafted these beauties?
Sometimes I take photos that stick with me, though I can’t determine why. Something about them appeals to me on some fundamental level. In this picture perhaps it’s the shadows or the random distribution of balls of snow. Or the mystery of how they got there–as there no lines to indicate their path. I included this picture simply because I don’t know why I like it, but I do. Sometimes it’s enough to enjoy something without understanding it.
Here’s another photo that stuck with me and also highlights the link between my photography and writing habits. This ladybug obligingly posed on a plant in my bathroom. I love the simple lines and colors in this picture. It inspired me to check out ladybugs and write about them (here). Recently I’ve been adding words to my photos to create haigas (haikus with accompanying images). That’s been great fun! (If you’re interested, you can check out an earlier blog post here)
Ever willing to procrastinate (productively!), I often pull over on the way to work to capture some scene or another. Usually I’m taking pictures of sunrises, the river, or rolling farmland. Man-made structures rarely interest me, but on this particular morning I was intrigued by the curves of this bridge and the mixed reflections in the water. Something about those green lights with the white globes adds to the mix.
While some photo ops pop up close to home, traveling always offers new vistas and opportunities for photography. This summer I took a trip to Campobello Island with my book club. An early morning walk led me to a nearby beach and this scene. It’s not often I find a collection of spider webs beautiful, but combined with the streaking sunlight and sparkling dew, these captivated me.
Even when at home, I’m frequently tempted to drive down to the ocean, drawn to the long stretches of beach which soothe and reset me. The light and shadows and the interaction of sand and water in this sunrise photo feel mysterious to me. That single piece of driftwood emerging from still waters adds to the mood and pushed this photo into my favorites.
On this same morning, a bit earlier, I captured this scene. It has an entirely different feel to me. Not mysterious, just open and serene. I love the single gull and the reflection of color and clouds in the wet sand. Sunrise beach visits are the best.
I’ve taken hundreds of pictures of birds this past year and am ever thankful for the powerful zoom on my camera. Shortly before Christmas I arranged to meet someone at the country store in town. Waiting in the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of flashing wings. Intrigued, I walked over to investigate, and spied this pileated woodpecker enjoying his breakfast. I’m not sure what berries he was eating, but they must have been tasty as he lingered for quite a while, allowing me to capture this close up shot.
With the recent frigid temperatures, I ventured out early one December morning in search of sea smoke. I was fascinated by the way this structure (buoy? lighthouse?) emerged from misty waters. It looked like some castle of old–magical and mysterious. This one is definitely at the top of my list as a favorite!
Some days and places are just perfect for taking pictures. This is another photo from that frigid morning. I’ve always loved the silhouettes of winter-bare branches against the sky. If you look along the horizon, you can see tendrils of sea smoke lit against the clouds. The textured snow and the sparkles in the foreground are a bonus.
Several things struck me while I wrote this blog post. First, only one of my selected photos comes from the summer and one from spring. Just like I’m beginning to appreciate the subtle coloring of the female cardinal more than the flamboyant red of the male, I think I’ve begun to appreciate the journey and reward of discovering more nuanced or unexpected beauty in the world.
I am also discovering more and more parallels between writing and photography, and the role they have in my life. With both activities it is paramount that you show up and that you pay attention to the world around you. I always have my camera and a notebook with me. They are essential. While I actively looked for some of these pictures, many of them were serendipitous (the woodpecker, the eagle, the reflected bridge,…). If I hadn’t had my camera with me, I could not have captured them. This is also true with the notebook I carry. If I can’t jot down a phrase or idea in the moment, it gets lost in the day.
As I sorted through pictures, making decisions, I realized something else. Just like writing, taking pictures captures more than a single scene for me. I look at a picture and remember where I was, who I was with, what I was feeling. Like writing, it’s a way of making things indelible–capturing moments and imbuing them with significance. Writing and photographs help me time travel.
Finally, just like writing, taking photographs has become an integral part of my life. Both activities nudge me to slow down and both enrich my life. They remind me to take the time to look around me and to notice. To follow a flash of wings or a random thought to a new destination. To be curious and to think about what I’m seeing. To explore and to wonder. They help me to breathe and to be.
Some pictures that didn’t make the cut (because I couldn’t really limit myself!):
And if you’re still reading, to end on a more whimsical note, I’m going to include my hands-down favorite photo of the year. Though it isn’t one that I took (photo credit to my husband), it is one that I was involved in “choreographing.” It makes me laugh and captures spontaneity and fun–two things I wish to nurture in my life–and emphasizes finding the bright side of things (like incessant snow falls and cold temperatures!). (I also felt I had to include people in one of these photos so that I didn’t appear to be entirely anti-social!) Welcome to our winter tea party: