Inside this issue
Bayou Dreams: A Journey Home
A folio project
I’m Dusty Doddridge, a landscape photographer based in the beautiful rolling hills of Middle Tennessee in the vibrant city of Nashville.
Paddling through the ancient cypress groves in the soft mist of the early morning transports you to another place and time. These 2,000 year old trees in and around the Atchafalaya Basin exude a special kind of magic and mystery. Words and even photographs fall short of conveying the experience of silently floating through the water among these ancient trees decorated in fall colour and draped in Spanish moss. I’d been thinking about photographing the fall colours in the bayous for quite a while and in more than one way, it felt like coming home.
Going back nearly fifty years, I remember the best of times spent among the cypress trees along the oxbow lakes and sloughs of the Mississippi River with family and close friends. These were the places where we gathered to connect to the outdoors and connect with one another. Being out on the water early, in the mist and among the cypress trees was always a part of those special times.
Making photographs that resonate with yourself and especially others, isn’t altogether easy. Maybe that’s also a big part of the attraction to photographing the landscape. I’d done some kayaking in the past and had photographed in and around water before but never photographed in the bayous. This would be something completely new and easily some of the more technically challenging photography I’d attempted over the last twenty years. The creative challenge was exciting and provided the fuel to push through the long days of paddling and difficult camera setups.
While you can certainly photograph the bayous from the shore or use waders, it seemed the best way to really experience the miles and miles of cypress groves was by exploring and photographing from a kayak. The bayous are at their magical best in the soft light of the early morning, right around sunrise while the mist adds a quiet mood to the scene. But with exposures one minute or longer, there’s not really a great way to photograph inside the kayak and shoot handheld. This meant using my tallest tripod—around seven feet high—and anchoring the tripod legs into the bottom of the muddy bayou. Next, the camera had to be mounted onto the ball head before starting the exposure, all the while attempting to keep the kayak from floating back into the tripod and camera. On more than a few occasions, the camera sat precariously just a few inches above the water. It all became a process of letting go, literally and figuratively.
Of course, photographing in the low light at the margins of the day means doing a fair bit of paddling through the bayous in the pitch dark. This is altogether a different feeling and experience. Peace and quiet surround you while floating into the silent darkness although you can’t help but feel an eerie, unseen presence. More than a few times, pairs of red eyes from the resident alligators would appear before slowly submerging into the black water. Couldn’t quite shake the feeling that something was lurking close by, just out of sight.
Reflections on the surface of the water also provided an interesting visual experience. Paddling into the reflections of the fall colours and cypress trees felt like floating into a painting, a very surreal and mesmerising experience. Each day of exploring seemed to end with the physical exhaustion of paddling for miles and the overwhelming feeling of the landscape’s intense beauty and otherworldly qualities.
There has been a lot of wonderful conversation around the mindful approach to photography and slowing down. No doubt, photographing from a kayak is a great way to slow down. It often required thirty minutes or more just to get the camera in position to make a single exposure—all the while making sure the camera didn’t end up in the bottom of the bayou. It’s not at all surprising to see current or former large format film photographers create compelling images with such thoughtful compositions through a slower, more considered approach. Even though they may be shooting digital now, the process of slowing down and carefully considering compositions is quite evident throughout their work. Somehow, gliding through the water slowly and smoothly, seemed to help the mind to slow down and the compositions to flow.
I didn’t approach this photographic adventure with any particular outcome in mind. But, after processing the images in my home studio, it seemed that a folio project would be an interesting challenge to tackle. Beyond sharing images electronically, folios provide a tangible outcome of the creative process that can be achieved with just ten to twelve images, for example. It’s possible the folio could evolve into a monograph with many more images but that might be years in the making. A folio project continues the creative process from your field work as you develop the single images and begin to think about them more as a cohesive group. This adds to the creative decision making, especially around the colour harmony, aspect ratio, and sequencing of the images. Folios often include a portion of narrative that can accompany the prints to share more of the personal expression details for the project. While photographs can definitely stand on their own and communicate thoughts, emotion, or story, adding text can provide more clarity around what the photographer is trying to express. The combination of text with images can be an important step in the photographer’s connection to self and others.
Much has been written too, about the benefits of printing your own work.
In the end, the experience of photographing in the bayous was an incredible new adventure but more than that, it provided a connection to the past, to memories of people and places that had faded into the mists of time. Reconnecting to those deeply personal places and people refreshes the spirit and energises creating thinking and expression. I’m happy to have completed the small project and am already planning to return again, to see what additional secrets the bayous might reveal.