Sculpting the Winter Landscape

By Sunday, February 9, 2014 grafphoto

Recently I came across this quote from conservationist and author John Burroughs (1837-1921) that quite astutely described the uniqueness of the winter landscape.

“What a severe yet master artist old Winter is…. No longer the canvas and the pigments, but the marble and the chisel.” ~John Burroughs, The Snow-Walkers, 1866

chiseled winter landscape

Light of the Ice Phoenix : Winter chisels the surface of Lake St. Clair in Southeast Michigan, USA. | D800, 14-24mm

It made me think about the differences in color palette and form between the other seasons and winter in a way I suppose I haven’t thought about in the way an artist thinks about the medium they are working with. When you read it, and especially after having been out photographing it, it makes perfect sense.  When I researched a bit more what his essay “The Snow Walkers” was about, I found the first paragraph starting with:

“He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in the winter.”

The sculpted icy shoreline of Lake St. Clair, Michigan

The sculpted icy shoreline of Lake St. Clair, Michigan | D800, 14-24mm

True indeed, each season has its own unique offerings to appreciate, which can be one of the benefits of living in the midwest as you get to experience them all.    But for me personally, I would put forth that winter creates a bit more of an interesting subject to work with than the rather uniform aspects of summer.   As soon as Spring starts wrapping up, it seems like the environment goes into a very static state around here.

For me, I think it has a lot to do with what Burroughs mentions in how the medium dramatically changes.   Sure, Fall is a rather dynamic time, as well as Spring – but the mediums are different.   Water in various forms becomes a rather dominant element of the landscape.  The seasons move from a rather delicately painted landscape to one pushed, pulled, scraped and carved.   I imagine this in my head quite literally, an artist figure changing their interaction with their tools and medium in poignant ways.

All of that hammering and carving may not make it the most pleasant to experience first hand, but I think there can be no argument about the uniqueness of the results that make winter the season of sculpture.

Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • I love the color palette of winter – the whites, blues, browns, and greens – so different from any other season. Sometimes gentle and cool and other times harsh and cold, but I find myself marveling at the colors as much as any other season and sometimes more because the colors are often so isolated.
    RoseAnne Holladay recently posted…In Defense of WinterMy Profile

  • These are absolutely stunning images Mark! I can’t believe you’re making me miss winter!! I kind of like how my seasons have switched now that I’m spending my winters in southwest USA, but this is making me think again about the great white north. Thanks for sharing.
    Anne McKinnell recently posted…Abandoned Car in the Desert (and some fun processing techniques)My Profile

  • I loved living in San Diego, but I missed the season changes and grew weary of summer all the time. Your photographs here are masterpieces and I don’t say that lightly. The foregrounds of unique ice sculptures are beautiful, but the skies, those skies are the best. Do you mind sharing what kind of processing roughly you used on these?
    David Leland Hyde (@PhilipHydePhoto) recently posted…Golden Decade Photography Exhibit At Mumm Napa GalleryMy Profile

    • Mark says:

      Hi David! Thanks for the kind remarks. You know, I often like finding hidden drama in skies. A pretty bleak grey sky can turn quite dramatic at the right moment. I thought the whole morning was going to be a bust here, but when the clouds started breaking up, I saw an opportunity coming. The first is an exposure blend just to get me to a point where I didn’t have so many blown highlights. Then I typically take it into Photoshop and start playing with luminosity masks to darken and enhance contrast, a trip through Nik Color Efex Pro to add a ND Grad, and some tonal contrast, and a final round through one of my new favorites… MacPhun’s Intensify Pro. I really like its ability to add some nice finishing touches on an image to make it pop.

  • When I think of your photographs I think of the words, gray, perfection and sculpture.

  • pj says:

    Interesting… out here in the desert the seasonal changes aren’t that great, except for the heat, though I’m far from an expert on desert seasons. Out here though in a land of rock and sand, the analogy of carving out an image with hammer and chisel makes a certain sense.
    pj recently posted…ignore the boxMy Profile

  • Tom Whelan says:

    Such beautiful skies and icy foregrounds. I really like the icy lines in the vertical. The muted colors suit your quotes – and complement the other Lake St. Clair images you taken in the past.
    Tom Whelan recently posted…Snow and frostMy Profile

  • Amazing photos. Amazing nature too. No season changes here in Brisbane Australia and I will admit that it’s nice being able to go to the beach all year round (for a swim and a surf) but I did enjoy photographing the seasons when I lived in England and I do miss it at times. Still, it’s nice to see your work Mark. Not quite the same as being there in person but better than missing out altogether. So thanks.

    • Mark says:

      For the time being, I suppose I have to appreciate what I have. The all year round beach / ocean access seems quite tempting though. Perhaps one day I will have had my fill of winter pictures and decide for something new! 🙂

  • At the moment, we are experiencing an overload of winter’s beauty. Several subzero nights and now around an eventual foot of fresh snow to sit on top of the 6-8 inches from last week. While I complain about the cold making my fingers split, it does such amazing things to not only the landscape but all life in its environment. All the seasons are full of wonders. And viewing the pushing and pulling that winter does to the moving and sitting waters is a most pleasing experience.
    Lake St. Claire has given you some marvelous pleasures.
    Steve Gingold recently posted…02.02.2014 All Quiet on the Eastern FrontMy Profile

  • Both of these are awesome images, as I would expect from you. I was stationed in Hawaii for 2 years and enjoyed my time but I dis miss the changing of the seasons. Those changing seasons also change differently depending on your area. That’s the beauty of nature as an artist. Your scenes above can take on a whole look and feel when a quickly moving snow storm transforms the scene entirely. It’s all a gift for us!
    Monte Stevens recently posted…1325My Profile

  • Earl says:

    Indeed winter is the more harsh and extreme season, especially in the more northern areas, and as such offers greater photographic interest — only not so much around here.

    I love how in the quote John Burroughs expressed the harshness of winter — “marble and the chisel.” Fitting!

    Beautiful images, Mark. The sky certainly competes with the water and ice for drama. Your D800 and that 14-24mm lens made for a great combination. It’s been some time since I’ve used my 14-24…this makes me want to use it again, although I can’t equal your success. 🙂

    • Mark says:

      I think it depends on how much your normal environment changes. As I have mentioned in other posts, this particular spot near me is under dramatic change this time of year. In the South, perhaps not so much chiseling needed. 🙂

  • Guy Tal says:

    Another quote you might appreciate:

    “To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.” -George Santayana

    From a fellow lover of seasons.


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