A few weeks ago, this scene caught my eye as I drove along Upper Klamath Lake. The mountain’s reflection and the line of trees in the evening light conveyed a Zen-like simplicity that made me want to pull over and rummage for my camera. I thought I might stop by the side of the road, snap the shutter, and drive on but that’s not how it happened. It got complicated.
When I noticed the picture, I couldn’t find a place to pull over, so I turned onto the first road heading toward the lake. I rattled across a set of railroad tracks, descended a short hill, passed through a scattering of old houses and bounced down a rutted track to a chain-link fence that corralled towering stacks of 55-gallon drums. On foot, I found a trail that led to the shoreline. I could see my picture, but an industrial-looking metal dock jutted into the foreground. Slogging back to the car, I noticed I could see the image through the chain-link fence, so I cradled my lens in the diamond-shaped opening and made another exposure past the scattered debris.
When I got home, I loaded the images into the computer and started cropping out clutter, trying to recreate the dreamy atmosphere I remembered. I eliminated the human-made foreground until what remained came close to my original idea — but I had a nagging feeling there was more.
Eventually it dawned on me how the creative process often exposes us to the messy context of natural beauty. If there had been a place to pull over along the highway, I would have made the pristine picture that I first saw and continued driving. Instead, I was forced off the high road into the heavily altered environment of the Klamath Basin. As I bumbled my way around houses, muddy ditches, gates, fences, trucks, docks, and fuel tanks, I bemoaned the hodgepodge of my species. But working on the photographs from that outing, I began to appreciate the interaction of the human and natural scene. If I could be less obsessed with capturing my vision of an untarnished natural world, I’d be more willing to take in the whole picture. After all, humans have lived and worked along the shores of Upper Klamath Lake for thousands of years. Why pretend otherwise?
So I ended up with two very different photographic versions of my experience. The first is of Upper Klamath Lake — beyond time. The second is a snapshot from our time, framed by feral junk and the rumble of a passing freight.