Grand Canyon

This is a few of my favorites from the Grand Canyon, this past week. My wife and I went to Arizona for a short vacation. She did an ultra-marathon (running 50 miles) near Lake Powell and Page. Then we went to the Grand Canyon and hike the South Rim. I did lots of photography.

I’d not seen the Grand Canyon before, and she said I needed to. It was an odd experience. Scene after scene of stunning landscape, vast almost beyond imagining, with interesting, easy to abstract rock features everywhere. At certain points, walking, looking, seeing, the repetition of glorious scenes almost got . . . well, repetitious. Not boring. But at points, I stopped getting my camera out because I thought, “I already got that shot, a half a mile back, on a different rock formation.

Here then are some images that are my attempt to do some justice to both the vastness, variety, and abstract detail of the Grand Canyon.

First some abstraction. The rockface itself in the two images below resembles a fortress in a Tolkien novel. It, and the sun and shadows, got my attention and I spent some time photographing it. The “fortress” is huge in its own right, but really just one small feature in the vast canyon. The third image suggests the scale and the countless number of “fortresses” and “flying buttresses.” Take the same image at mid-day, and you’ll have no shadows. Come morning and later afternoon, and the shadows will be on the opposite sides of the rock faces.

A way to make the vast landscape feel intimate is to capture the right moments from the right viewpoint. The cool tones in the late afternoon image below, my standpoint, and the shape of the rock outcropping, hide the vastness of the canyon, and reduce the experience of scale, and calm the mind. The people on the top left, of course, get the big overwhelming scale of the place.

This sunrise shot also feels intimate, at least to me. Or, if not intimate, at least manageable, perhaps because the sun draws your attention, and you don’t get lost in the vastness of the scene it illuminates. The next image balances scales. The intimacy of my viewpoint, with branches framing the canyon, and the implied viewpoint of the outcropping under the branches on the left, balance the vast scene in the distance.

One way to depict the scale of the Grand Canyon is with panoramic images. I did this panorama using the auto-panorama function on my Fujifilm X-E3. In some ways this literal depiction of scope does less justice to the scale of the landscape since it makes everything look small–when everything is big about the landscape, except perhaps the Colorado River. This is the irony, I suppose, the irony of geology, that a modest river carved out the canyon.

The next image is the river and pink-red rock on the right side of the panorama. Put this image together with the panorama above and you get a sense of the scale and beauty of what you’re seeing.

The colors are stunning. The air was hazy much of the day, as it often is in the region. So I used the “dehaze” function in Lightroom to compensate when processing many of the images. The palette in the image below is pastel-like and it’s easy to understand why painters influenced by Romanticism loved the West. I’m not sure if Albert Bierstadt ever painted the Grand Canyon, but the next one is my nod to him.

I love how the Romantics often painted the oversized landscapes of the American West as sublime, often cathedral-like spaces of worship, with small humans tucked in some spot in the image, looking, overwhelmed by the scale and grandeur around them. Unlike Bierstadt, and unlike people in those Romantic landscape paintings, my subjects (and I) have smartphones.

Finally, the last two images are simply about texture, color, and shape. In the first one, you can see snow, which fell in the first week of March. It’s still winter, even in Arizona. The second reveals the lovely layers and colors that characterize the canyon.

This feels like “enough.” I took dozens more pictures. All are in some sense worthy of being in this blog post–if not because of the aesthetic qualities of my photograph, then the simple power of the landscape. There’s no other landscape as “Grand” as this one. I could have taken hundreds more. But by the second day, my camera more often stayed in my backpack, my smartphone in my pocket. If I had a couple of weeks, and time to spend carefully studying what I was seeing, or hike or riding into the canyon, I can imagine endless images vast, abstract, and intimate.

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