Last week brought some welcome rain to Point Reyes. We’ve been suffering from a drought that has all of us carefully watching our water usage. This rain freshened the air, brought the birds out and created lots of smiles on main street! I broke away from the studio to explore the Nicasio Reservoir. No, the water level didn’t rise appreciably, but the sky was filled with beautiful post-storm clouds and the light was gorgeous. Here’s one of the photographs I made using the panorama feature on my new Sony A7R camera. Click the image to see a larger version.
Twenty-five years ago this month I stood behind my tripod-mounted camera on a rock outcropping near Mount Vision on the Inverness Ridge. As I gazed to the east, a spectacular full moon rose above the knuckle-like creases of Black Mountain. In the valley, a thick luminous fog rose, gradually swallowing the mountain’s sensual folds.
This was the second consecutive evening that I had ventured to that high ridge in search of a magical moonrise photograph. On the first evening my timing was wrong, but I ended up witnessing and photographing a spectacular sunset before leaving the mountain. My return to Mt. Vision the next evening almost didn’t happen, but somehow I managed to make it to the top. It turned out to be one of the most memorable of many photographic adventures I’ve had in the Point Reyes National Seashore. I commemorated these two evenings in my book, Point Reyes 20 Years. Here are the essays I wrote about the making of Pacific Sunset and Mount Vision Moonrise. These two photographs are forever connected and etched in my heart and mind.
Pacific Sunset, September 1989
From atop the Inverness Ridge on Mount Vision, you can look into two worlds—westward to the calm esteros that spill past rocky headlands to the Pacific Ocean, or to the east where you’ll see the fat knuckles of Black Mountain protecting the Olema Valley.
On a late November day in 1989, I went to Mount Vision to photograph the full moon. I hiked the trail north to the overlook from where I’d photographed Snow on Black Mountain. The sun had not yet set as I scanned the eastern horizon for the predicted location of the moonrise. As my eyes adjusted to the still bright sky, I saw that the moon was already up; its ghostly form was disappointingly high above Black Mountain. By the time the sky darkened enough for a good photograph, the moon would be hopelessly out of my composition. My shoulders slumped. I sighed audibly and then packed my equipment to trek back up the trail. I loaded everything into the van, and slowly drove out from the trailhead parking area.
To the west, a fiery sun was poised above a bank of Pacific fog, illuminating it and the icy cirrus clouds above it. I pulled over abruptly, as there were only minutes left before the sun would plunge into the sea. Abandoning my custom of measuring the light with my spotmeter, I made a wild guess at exposure and took several frames of this remarkable scene. The result is Pacific Sunset from Mount Vision.
As I left the mountain that evening, I knew that I’d return the next night to try to shoot the moon again, but I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams what an incredible sight the next moonrise would be.
Mount Vision Moonrise, September 1989
As I loaded my car the next evening, I felt discouraged about my chances of making a worthwhile moon photograph. A heavy wet fog had settled into the valley where I lived. Pulling onto the highway, I had to switch on my windshield wipers in order to see, and the fog thickened rapidly as I drove up the mountain road. Halfway to the summit, I considered turning the van around and returning to the warmth of my cabin. But something kept me going up the mountain—the fog so dense now I had to put the wipers on high.
I was nearly to the top of the ridge with about 100 feet of elevation to go, when it happened. I drove right out of the fog. The darkening sky was clear, and a radiant full moon rose directly above Black Mountain. My heart quickened. And although I didn’t think about this until later, the very fog that had seemed my enemy became a generous partner. The moon shone brightly and magically. Below the mountain, a blanket of luminous fog filled the valley.
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.