While waiting for the wax to dry on my shiny linoleum studio floor, I've been working on my "At The Fill" book. Here is the introduction.
It is birdsong that draws me, and photographs that keep me. Those dense, brushy spots, where the Lincoln's and the Song Sparrows scurry, are a landscape that I have photographically mined for decades. The open grass sprinkled with Queen Anne's Lace, the tall Equisetum under the cottonwoods, the water's edge where the resident Great Blue hides, all are sources for images and targets for bird sightings. Birding and photography are two distinct kinds of focussed nonattention. You gaze into the tree, not looking at anything in particular, but your mind is ready to pounce on a flit of movement, your ears are ready to catagorize the contact chip call, and you have the thrill of connection with your memory of the Ruby Crowned Kinglet and the reality of one gleaning a few feet away. In my photography, I enter almost a trance-like state, open to possibility but not settling on any until I have a visceral sense in my body that here, now, is the right place. Here is the right configuation of complexity and density and layering that speaks to the inner need to organize it within a frame.
Both inclinations (obsessions?) of mine are abundantly sated at this one time garbage dump. The Union Bay Natural Area is a misnomer, as there is nothing natural about this intensively managed piece of accidental heaven in the heart of urban Seattle. We birders refer to the UBNA as Montlake Fill, or simply, “The Fill,” in the same spirit us old timers still call the gravel parking area to the east the “Dime Lot” ($1.75 last time I looked). There are microhabitats and micro landscapes galore in this 50 acres of marsh, grassland and nascent forest, where over 150 bird species have been seen over the years. “Best mud in King County,” is the tagline for the shorebird habitat along the main pond, referring to its propensity to attract stray vagrants during migration. You never know what is going to show up at the Fill.
My photography at the Fill is perhaps the closest thing I have to a meditation practice. If I were more enlightened perhaps I would not need the camera (or the binoculars) to truly see where I am, but I'm not, so the camera is my portal to connection. I begin from that place beneath my awareness. I lose the composing photographer’s eyes, and begin responding to the place from elsewhere in my body. I shoot a lot, but it is anything but random. I feel like I am approaching the photograph that is somewhere in front of me, and I feel it inside my body. A part of me is watching the picture happen, and I’m only half aware of a composition forming. This environment is too dense to structure it consciously no matter what, which is why I like to insert myself deeply into these spots. It is as though the complexity swamps the familiar responses to organizing inside a frame, and I can access a kind of seeing available only to the unconscious. This is where I do my deepest work as a photographer.
I can’t stay submerged in this state for very long. After a few minutes I feel done. Somewhere down there a photograph happened, and it’s captured on the card. I’ll look at it another time. Right now I hear a flock of goldfinches flying over.