Inside this issue
The Art of Leaves
Nature’s artistry on display
Hank Erdmann is a photographer and photographic educator who resides in Will County, Illinois. He has photographed throughout North America, making the Midwest his primary geographic area of interest. A love of history, especially the maritime history of the Great Lakes, kindles a special interest in the ports, shorelines, islands, hardwood forests, prairies and other natural areas of Lakes Michigan and Superior and their surrounding environs.
"My photographs are an expression of excitement and joy at seeing a fleeting moment when nature takes light and subject and creates an image that leaves a lasting impression in my mind. Occasionally, I'm fortunate to record such images.
Growing up in the western Great Lakes region of the US wandering and exploring the hardwood forests of Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan it seems I’ve always been enamoured with trees and the leaves that fill their branches. I could never thank my parents enough for not only allowing but encouraging my wanderlust of the environs of my youth. I remember numerous times picking up a “pretty leaf” or staring at leaves on branches, bunches of leaves on the ground or in pools of water, or for that matter whole trees. I’ve always just been amazed at the colours, veining, and shapes of leaves, being amazed at the lines within their surfaces creating patterns and textures. Trees are truly wonderful and interesting plants, the structure of the branches and the leaves upon those branches are portraits of their personality. They shade us from summer heat, block the cold winds of winter, provide us with nuts and other foods, but mostly they improve our visual environment and nourish the artistic soul. Trees are the stuff of poets, writers, painters and definitely photographers.
It is no surprise then when I started photographing the natural world that my focus would quickly turn to leaves and trees as primary subject matter. As I started building my library of images I noticed that I had unconsciously been developing a theme of images around the subject of leaves. I didn’t look so much for such images as I just made my mind attuned to noticing such opportunities as I wandered through any environment. Part of this awareness was the early stages of the process of seeing artistically. I became acutely aware that when I noticed contrast, I found images. Now as I wander, I look for only one thing; contrast and leaves are often a study of contrasts.
My leaf images are in some ways, a fallback. In any season, in just about any light, especially subject matter small enough in size to allow for the use of a light diffuser disc. When nothing else is happening photographically, especially when in an environment not exciting for its landscape features, these little vignettes of nature abound. I’ve even found leaf shots where there’s not a tree in sight, leaves do blow around!
Early in my photographic life I read books and attended workshops and seminars to improve my art and learn my craft. I kept reading and hearing the photographers I admired and saw as mentors suggest and promote the concept of shooting themes. Themes can be project oriented or ongoing processes. For me, the themes I’ve developed as I’ve made images over the years are definitely more along the lines of ongoing interests, or maybe more like ongoing obsessions. There are certain subjects in nature that spark my interest and leaves are one of my most foremost interests. Studies of leaves are simply images I greatly enjoy making and will continue to do so as long as I photograph.
There is artistry to a leaf that I find hard to put into words. In looking at leaves, the colours and veining, the patterns and textures, I get a good feeling. Leaves are nature’s artistry on display. Whether it be straight forward literal sharp images of groups of leaves, a whole leaf, or a piece of a leaf; or impressionistic images of the same using soft focus elements, subject movement or layered slices of the same image, looking at and photographing leaves gives me pleasure and wonderment at the perfect randomness of nature. The art of the leaf stirs my soul.
Artistic impressionism comes from such things as sheer natural beauty but also from the mystery contained within the subject matter. Where does the colour come from? Why does the veining take the structure it does? Why are the edges smooth or serrated? Why is the backside colour of many leaves a pastel version of the front? Why are some leaves thin and some thick? Science can and does answer all such questions and those are easily researched if one needs the answers. For me, it is the wonderment at such that fills my eyes and makes me want to photograph them in a manner that is clear as to beauty but also allows for the mystery within. Those elements allow me to share my wonderment with the viewers of my work.
When I get good feelings or vibes at looking at a subject, it is a key to me that I’m much more likely to have that same sense of the feeling I had at the time of making the image and that it may come through to the viewer of that image. A sense of feeling, a sense of beauty… for beauty’s sake, and a sense of mystery all contribute to great images. With such elements you may make great images, with just one of two, you can make great images, without such elements you make documents, often interesting but rarely stunning. As I move from a forty year occupation in photography back to the avocation of photography that was my initial involvement as a youth, I find that images that stir and nurture my soul, artistically and otherwise, are the only images I’m interested in making. Many of these images are what a good friend of mind calls “book images”. These are the kinds of images we made initially for ourselves. Back in the heyday of nature photography “coffee table” book publishing, such images might also find their way into a book where publishers otherwise would have little or no interest in those same images.
My conversion from occupation to avocation fits so nicely with such “book images”, the kind of images that truly celebrate the artistic nature of leaves. Finding such image opportunities and making the images, but not worrying about finding a commercial audience is very freeing artistically. Instead, sharing images through my blog and presentations and all the various social media opportunities, allows me to share the celebration of the art of leaves and the art of nature to a much wider audience. Ridding yourself from commercial considerations with respect to subject and composition frees you to make the images you want to make, the images your soul requires, the images the artist in you requires.
Take time in your own future wanderings of this earth to see the art of nature. Look at a leaf, study it, stand transfixed in its beauty and wonder at the mystery of how it came to be. And if you also have your camera with you, you’ll have an opportunity to make an image that not only satisfies your artistic desires but shares with your audience; the beauty, wonder, and mystery that is the art of a leaf, and that is the art of nature.