A Little Adventure Helped Me Discover Macro Photography

 It had been raining most of June, and even though it was the middle of July, the air was still crisp like it had recently been raining.  I got out of the car and took a deep breath of relief after a 12 mile slightly scary off road drive and inhaled some unfamiliar fresh air.  The air smelled sweet and I could taste the evidence of the mornings dew.  Something we hardly get to experience in Denver, let alone get to experience at such a high altitude.  We had stopped at Animas Forks ghost town on our way to pick up the costumes for the Sound of Music musical that the Silverton Arts Program camp was putting on at the end of July.  Normally, a off road drive in the front range would not bother me, but I was inexperienced, young and this was the farthest I had been from a city without my parents or future husband in my 21 years of life.  Needless to say, I was uncomfortable.  

Animas Forks is nestled 11,200 ft in the San Juan Mountains, just 12 miles northeast from Silverton, CO.  To get to Animas Forks, one must have a 4WD vehicle and travel over questionable roads.  If you continue on past Animas Forks you eventually go over Engineer Pass and into Lake City.  A popular road for off road adventurers.   It was early enough in the morning that the road was still muddy in parts and there was large puddles on the road from all the rain in June that had not yet evaporated.  I was travelling with the theater director,  her husband and the program director, all relatively old in my 21 year old mind set.  Even though we were not traveling over Engineers Pass, and Animas Forks was our turn around, I was convinced something terrible was going to happen on this sightseeing errand.  So when I exited the car, a sigh of relief was to be expected.

Animas Fork Mill, 2002
It was July 2002 the summer before my Junior year of college.  I was one year into my photography program and at this time I loved photographing old building, especially ghost towns.  There was a strange attraction to photographing historic building and towns that just seemed to one day be full with life and the next day abandoned. Near Silverton, where I was staying to do my internship, there are many ghost towns nearby from the silver boom of the 1880’s.  So it came to no surprise when Carol the program director invited me along on their errand.  

When I got out of the car and began to get my bearings I assumed that I would do what I always do when I encounter a new town to photograph, and go for the most compelling buildings first. Unexpectedly, that is not what happen. I don’t know if it was my anxiety from the drive or the lack of oxygen from our high elevation, but I saw the landscape in a new light.  The sun was peeking out from the clouds that were rolling off the San Juan Peaks and I could feel the mixture of warmth from the sun and the crisp cool breeze on my face.  As the clouds began to clear the peaks, snow capped mountains were visible and patches of snow speckled in various parts of the valley and around Animas Forks.  Vibrant color patches were splattered everywhere from the wildflowers that blanketed the valley, flowing off the mountains, rolling around the old buildings and right up to the road and under my worn out sneakers.  

First Flower I Photographed Next
to The Dirt Road Where We Parked,
2002
The scenery held my attention hostage, and I must of had a perplexed look on my face, Carol stopped taking pictures and came over to me, grabbing my elbow with her little hands.  With her petite stature, against my 6’2 frame her arms must've been at her shoulder height to grab my elbow. She lead me down to the town singing in her animated voice “let go explorrrrinnnnnngggg!”  I unfroze and giggled at her sweet song and I reached down removing my Nikon N60 film camera from it bag. We walked through the town and building exploring our history. We weaved in and out of outhouses and mills, climbed up old buildings and down into foundations with nothing left.  Finally, we began to make our way back to car, but the first images I saw when we arrived still lingered.  “Carol,”  I mumbled, “Carol, I need to take a few more pictures.”  Carol, barley hearing me, looked back and nodded.  At this time the theater director and husband were in their car, seemly a little annoyed but resigned that they would need to wait a few minutes longer.  I saw a patch of wildflowers on the the side of the road.  I went over to them and sat down on the ground getting cold mud all over my jeans.  I only had a 35-70mm stock lens that came with my camera, but I attempted to take my first macro photograph.  I could see through my lens the color variations from the flowers blending into each other.  They were blurring in and out of focus, creating new colors, and speckles of light.  Water droplets from the previous night's dew or rain dripped off the tips of the flowers reflecting the scenery around them. New shapes formed or at least they became more visible and I could make out all the little hairs, veins and imperfections of each flower petal, stem and leaf.  I could follow each twist and turn of the stems twisting up and around the other flowers, creating a bond to each other.  It was magnificent.  I heard Carol in the background breaking my concentration.  “That is what I love, getting close up of flowers!  You should teach that in your class.  The kids would love it!”  I stood up and smile, “I love it, I want to get closer.”  “Maybe that will be your new direction?” Carol smiled and got into the car, I followed close behind.     

We made our way back towards Silverton, stopping by Howardsville to pick up the costumes from storage.  The rest of the drive back, I didn’t think twice about the rough road but starting thinking about my new photography adventure.  I did not teach Macro photography in my kids art class that summer, but once I got back to school in the fall I had notebook full ideas and began execute them in my color 1 photography class.  Little did I know that I would explore Macro photography for the next 15+ years.  It would become the subject of my senior thesis show graduating college in 2004,  and I would later teach this specific niche in the classroom.  My photographs would be published in several publications, being the main subject of many solo art exhibits and it would eventually lead me to writing about it in a blog. Looking back, I love remembering about how it all began and why I fell in love with Macro photography.



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