One early morning in June this year I was driving out from town on my way to a photo session. The weather forecast had predicted that a storm would soon approach from the South. And, quite so, large banks of clouds were drifting in from the sea. Once I reached the highway, just after leaving the city centre, I saw strange cloud formations in the sky. Below the general cloud cover, a layer of clouds formed an intriguing landscape, comprised of mountain chains, mist and valleys. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes, so much I was reminded of hatsuboku paintings.
Hatsuboku or “splashed ink” is a technique in Chinese and Japanese painting where, instead of black ink outlines applied with a tipped brush, only swabs of ink in varying intensity are applied to the canvas to indicate forms and shapes. On top of these large blobs of ink, a split brush is used to indicate highlights and shadows. Split brush (haboku) means that the bristles on the brush don’t form a tip but are more or less disorderly and randomly standing out from the stem. Sometimes only a roughly broken and split piece of bamboo was used. On close-up such paintings often occur rather abstract and confusing and the shapes start to form a picture only once the viewer takes a step back. Some of my favourite landscape paintings from Muqi, Yujian and Sesshu are painted in this style.
Traffic was very heavy that morning and I had to focus on driving. In addition, my view was often obscured by houses or trees. Therefore, I was looking for a place where I could stop. Soon I came over a parking lot beside the highway that, however, had two disadvantages. It was on the wrong side of the highway and it was full. Wrong side here means that it put the highway and some power lines between me and the cloud formations. And because the lot was full I had to park my car in an “innovative manner” and in full sight of a police car overseeing the morning traffic. The policemen were interestedly following what I was doing – but Finnish police tend to be nice and they probably understood that my irregular parking was temporary.
Then, I jumped out of the car with camera in hand only to learn that every passing car (and the power lines) were obstructing the cameras view. Therefore I had to get as high on the ramp as possible and stood on my toes. Now, finally, I could see over the power lines and my view would be unobstructed as long as no buses or lorries were passing by. Unfortunately, that morning a lot (and I really mean: a lot) of buses and lorries were on the road – and looking through the viewfinder I, of course, couldn’t see them approaching.
From time to time I was also casting a glance at the police car and wondered how much longer they would tolerate my presence there. On top of all of this, I noticed that the cloud formations were moving and, horror!, disappearing so I had to be very quick. Finally, however, I was able to make some pictures, even to compose the photographs despite becoming increasingly disoriented by all the noise and chaos around me.
Later, I wondered whether there is something metaphorical about my attempts to capture a picture of utter tranquility in the sky among the buzz of the modern lifestyle and noisy technology. But of course, afterwards I also wished I could have even more thoroughly composed every shot as there was a whole tapestry of motifs drawn on the sky. Sometimes, when I mention that landscape photography can be stressful and one is rushed by circumstances, people look at me as if I finally had become crazy. But landscape is not a theatre set, even if we sometimes treat it as such. One thing I learned from being in landscapes is that landscapes are living and dynamic things. Only terms like “scenery” are misleading us to think otherwise.
But, all’s well that ends well. One of the pictures from that morning, “Cloud Mountains I” just earned a nomination at the 14th Black & White Spider Awards. And that is for me more than ample reward for the hectic of that morning in June.