Correct me if I'm wrong--or feel free to disagree--but there's something phony about this picture, something wrong, something even eerie. It's mine; that is, I took it. But I can't help but think I created something, well, grotesque.
Created may be a misnomer. I had nothing to do with the creation of this scene--it's just a gnarly tree, not particularly old, on an open plain southwest of town, with dawn as a backdrop. But the image is eerie. If I'd ever use it for anything, it would be some kind of horror story maybe, an image to hint at something monstrous being afoot.
All of which is not to say it isn't stunning. In a way, it is. Even memorable. But it's ingredients are memorable too, even though they couldn't be more commonplace. It's the composition that's somehow foreign, and I know why.
The foreground, you can't help but notice, is brightly lit. I was out chasing the dawn, and I'd left my camera's little flash on; so when I took the first shot, I got a flash. What that means is that the light in this picture isn't real, isn't familiar, isn't what we see--any of us--when we spot a tree at dawn. The light that brightens the scraggly tree is phony, fake. It's abnormal. It's something I think we recognize as being impossible.
It's eerie, just a bit horrific. Just a bit. I like it, not because it's beautiful but because it you just can't look away real quickly. You can't just thumb your way on to the next landscape. Something's eccentric about it. It's not real. Maybe the right word is that this strange photograph is bewitching. And I like that--but it's not real.
The day I took it, the morning show began with a stunning vein of unearthly reds and oranges, just a stripe that slowly opened into a theater of color. See it on that first shot? Eventually, it opened wider and taller, beautifully.
Some skies don't need foregrounds I try to give them. Some skies--morning and evening--are there own masterpieces. But me and the camera try to people them, find characters for these massive, dazzling settings.
The thing is, out here in the country, mid-winter especially, finding subjects for a foreground isn't particularly easy. No matter. In a big showy dawn like this one, everything--absolutely everything--get clothed in elegance. Even a line fence is dressed for the occasion.
I like that idea. At dawn--not just any dawn either, but the ones that really step out in radiance--at dawn, it seems as if all the world is redeemed. Can I use that word?
It's bleak mid-winter, there's nothing on the horizon of this shot that's anything close to alive, a weed patch. Down deep beneath the frost line, there's some roots with some play in them, I'm sure. But what's here above ground is all dead.
Dawn doesn't care. It bestows definition, gives weeds a radiance I'm sure they love.
Some sod-busters called cottonwoods like this one nothing more than weeds. With the dawn behind it, there's a prairie here everyone but rarely takes the time to love. It's just plain gorgeous.
There are mornings when dawn doesn't require a flash. The Yanktons, who used to live here before the white folks came, had it right: dawn opens us to awe.