In the 1990s my wife and I lived in the village of Olema. A half mile from our home, on Olema Hill, is the northern terminus of the Bolinas Ridge Trail. The trail rises steeply past beautiful northern overlooks of the valley below. I’ve spent many happy afternoons hiking there with my camera. When I think of a view that says “summer hills and Marin County,” I think of a photograph I made there on a June afternoon in 1998.
One day, around the summer solstice in 1998, the evening light beckoned me. I gathered my photo gear and drove up Olema Hill to the trailhead. A short hike up to my favorite spot, a rocky out-cropping, provided the panoramic view I sought. Spread out before my camera’s lens was the valley, bordered by Tomales Bay and the Inverness Ridge to the west and the lush knuckle-like folds of Black Mountain to the east. The light was gorgeous and I was in my favorite spot! As the sun dropped lower it back-lit the undulating hills, adding drama and dimension to the scene before me. I made several exposures with my view camera. Later after proofing the film in my darkroom, I identified negative #17 as the most evocative of these exposures. This piece of film was beautiful. It captured many of the feelings I have about the splendor of these rolling hills we live among. I titled my new image Tomales Bay and Black Mountain.
Making a print that expressed the beauty of this moment turned out to be daunting. Over the years, I’ve worked hard in my darkroom, laboring to express the beauty I saw that day. I made several good ones, which collectors acquired, but many more went into the recycle bin. After a while I gave up trying to make that print and stopped showing it in my gallery.
Flash forward to 2012. That year I re-tooled, changing my printing methods from the wet darkroom to digital pigment prints made in a fully lit room. I began scanning my original film negatives. As I became more experienced with the new technology I discovered that these new scans were yielding much more expressive prints than were possible in the darkroom. My spirits were buoyed when I revisited the scan of Tomales Bay and Black Mountain. The scan revealed subtleties in the film never before visible. Finally I was able to make the print I always wanted, true to the lighting I saw and the feelings I had on that summer evening in 1998.
Recently, one of my clients requested a large triptych for her new home. The design required we work from one of my existing singular images and divide it into three large vertical panels that would be framed separately. In searching through possible candidates, we settled on Tomales Bay & Black Mountain. There was no question that it was the strongest option. It worked fabulously as each panel has a strong element of interest, yet together it flowed as one piece of art. Her version hangs proudly in her Manhattan home. This week, I made the first version for display in my gallery. This one is in a single large 30×40″ frame, with a triple window cut in the mat. I call the triptych Olema Hill Triptych, but it’s also known as Tomales Bay & Black Mountain Triptych.
Although the single image version is still one of my favorites, personally, I prefer the triptych view – – it makes it feel more expansive and draws me to look at each panel in detail while still retaining a sense of the overall image. As always, I welcome your comments. Please let me know which of these versions is your favorite and why.