2013 Calendar update: at the time of this post I only need $39 more to fully fund the project! Of course, once it’s funded you can continue to preorder through kickstarter to guarantee yourself a calendar! (see the link if you missed my earlier announcement).

Last weekend my girlfriend, Aubrey, and I headed south to Oregon’s Smith Rock for some rock climbing. Smith Rock is a large block of Basalt and Tuff sculpted out by the appropriately named crooked river, and is considered by many to be the birthplace of modern American sport climbing. The guide book alone has over 1800 climbs listed, ranging from small boulder problems to 1,000 foot multi-pitch adventures. We were there to do a few medium grade trad and sport multi-pitch climbs to satisfy Aubrey’s urge to be attached to a rope. And I even managed to take a few pictures along the way.

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Smith Rock at Sunrise, Eastern Oregon

Smith Rock : Prints Available
Smith Rock and the Crooked River at sunrise.

The Tech: Canon 5D2, 24-105mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/11, 1/15th
Notes: panoramic stitch of 4 exposures.

Since Aubrey usually does most of the leading, I get a lot of time to sit and ponder life as I belay. Sometimes I think about my scientific research, or perhaps a photograph I’d like to make, but a lot of the time I just listen to the rustle of the leaves and feel the sun on my face. All the while slowly feeding out the rope. It’s a lot like waiting for the light to change – you can’t let down your guard, and you can’t move. You’re stuck. You’re forced to take a moment where you are physically tied down, but mentally unfettered. For an impatient person like myself, it’s both a difficult, and quite possibly a beneficial process. Then, the time comes to spring into action. Where do I put my legs? What piece of gear do I pull out, and when? What will the weather be doing in an hour? Which composition of elements will feel most elegant? Is this the moment that I should click or clip? I find myself asking these same questions whether behind a camera, or on a rock. And in the best of moments even those questions fade away. Time stops. Nothing else matters.. these are the truly precious moments of clarity that I live for. I suppose it is the Western version of meditation; instead of mentally forcing all thoughts out of my mind, I physically put myself in a situation where no other thoughts are allowed to enter.

Rappelling, Smith Rock, Oregon

A Bird in a Rut : Prints Available
Aubrey rappels down from our ascent of the climb ‘Birds in a Rut’ near Smith Rock in eastern Oregon.

The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-35mm mkII, handheld
Exposure: iso 100, f/22, 1/100th

As I belayed, and my mind wandered, I discovered a lot of similarities between photography and climbing. I also stumbled upon one big difference. For both climbing and nature photography you can buy guidebooks that will tell you everything you need to know to either ascend a particular route, or take a particular photograph. The difference is that you’ll never meet a guide-book climber who calls themselves a pioneer. No – everyone is very careful to give credit to the first ascent. You don’t see that in nature photography. In fact, it’s easy to find copies and classics that “artists” claim as their own originals. Sometimes it’s done knowingly, and sometimes unknowingly. I suppose I have a few myself. It’s impossible not to as there is no record for who was where first as there is for climbing. Ultimately, however, if the goal is achieving that moment of photographic Nirvana, it makes no difference, as long as you do in fact get there.

Me, on the Spiderman route. Photo by Aubrey.

Still, there comes a time for many when they would like to do something new. Something no one has ever done before. You do certainly get a little extra “high” from those moments. As a relatively young artist and adventurer, however, I sometimes wonder for how long those moments will still be available. There will come a day when every peak has been “bagged” – both by climbers and photographers. After all, mountaineering legend Fred Beckey got most of the North American ones already. What do we do then? Forget about what’s been done. Focus on yourself; do what you do for you. Unfortunately, in the increasingly iWorld we live in that seems to be more and more difficult to do. Don’t climb a mountain to take a photo so you can tell your friends on facebook. Remember that you’re doing it for you. People will recognize, and appreciate, the authenticity. And, as it turns out, it’s in those genuine moments that that precious moment of clarity is easiest to attain. And for those moments when you just need to have a moment of pure, uncontested and honest originality, there will always be an endless sea of boulders awaiting their first “micro-ascents”, or macro-photographs.

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Field of Dreams, Teasel and Fall Color, Eastern Oregon

Field of Dreams : Prints Available
A field of Teasel in late morning backlight in early fall in eastern Oregon. Unfortunately these photogenic plants are actually an invasive species in America.

The Tech: Canon 5D2, 24-105mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 1/25th
Notes: 7 exposures blended with Helicon Focus for depth of field.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering where, when, and how I could make a unique photograph. And of course, what others might say about it if I’m successful. In fact, I had one in mind for our trip to Smith. We were going to get up at 4:15am, climb a mountain, take some pictures and then climb a 300 foot rock Aubrey had picked out. When the meadowlarks started singing (my alarm) I decided the morning would actually best be spent dozing a little longer in the back of my truck. When the sun finally started shining I was out in the rabbitbrush, chasing light, and sometimes rabbits. It was entirely unplanned, but I had a more honest and pleasurable moment of photographic zen than I imagine I would have had otherwise. Incidentally, it turns out that the view I had in mind was not actually all that exciting after-all. I relish moments like that. The more they happen, the easier I find it to simply focus on the moment, and do what I do for myself, and trust that interesting photographs will come.

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Blooming Rabbitbrush, High Deserts, Eastern Oregon

Indian Summer : Prints Available
Blooming rabbitbrush, illuminated by the morning sun in eastern Oregon.

The Tech: Canon 5D2, 70-200mm, handheld
Exposure: iso 100, f/4, 1/400th

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One Comment to “Indian Summer – Smith Rock, Oregon”

  1. Mike Putnam says:

    Floris, this is a beautiful collection of images from Smith Rock. The photographs do an excellent job of capturing what it feels like to experience Smith Rock’s high desert beauty and its rocky spires. Beautiful work.