Life and Death in The Prairie
The story is becoming more and more about home - what home means, how home feels, how it changes. I grew up in Florida. My family moved here from Cape Cod when I was seven. But I’ve always seen Florida as an unfortunate circumstance, a stain left in the carpet of my parents’ old dreams. It’s always felt like a temporary living space, one from which I’d eventually move and settle into a real home, one with hills and mountains and actual seasons.
But the heart has a weird way of setting roots where the brain doesn’t suspect. And over the last several years, the Juniper Prairie Wilderness has changed my perception of Florida. It has become my 14-thousand acre refuge out in the middle of the Ocala National Forest. And while I spend my week living in an apartment complex full of strangers, there’s a comfort in knowing that my home is out there, just an hour and fifteen minutes and a few paved roads followed by a few dirt roads away.
This is the second post in my Contact Sheets series.
Roll 004 - Mamiya RZ67
In my previous blog post, I explained my goal to create a zine about the Juniper Prairie Wilderness area and how it intertwines with my story. I will not be posting contact sheets from the two years I’ve already spent out there. You will have to wait until the zine comes out to see those. But I do plan on posting a contact sheet for every roll of film I shoot from this point on until the project is finished. And so far I’ve been enjoying the focus this project has provided. I’m no longer just looking for anything, but, rather, specific things that help to tell a specific story.
The first six images from this contact sheet play with this concept of home. A bear’s paw print pressed perfectly in the soft sand hints at the life that inhabits this place. Plucked feathers, likely the final remains from a fatal struggle, reveal that nature doesn’t only exist on the weekends. Things are happening all the time whether or not I’m out there. And it’s a sad reminder that no matter how much I love this place, it isn’t really my home after all.
I’m a stranger here, documenting the remnants of last night’s party. And it feels like I’m always just seconds late to the party.
Roll 005 - Mamiya RZ67
This weekend, I took a trail Alex and I call the South Fire Trail into the prairie. My goal this trip was to photograph a waterscape with my newly acquired 50mm lens, so this trail was perfect for that. It leads east from Forest Road 33 into a water-filled oasis we deemed the Bahamas. From there, you can take a trail north to Crooked Sapling Pond, which is a huge pond/lake/swamp directly in the center of Juniper Prairie Wilderness. I remembered some drowning saplings from a previous camping trip, so I headed there to see if I could grab a nice photo.
I shot this entire roll at the south end of Crooked Sapling Pond, standing almost waste deep in the swamp waiting for the clouds to change.
You can’t tell in these black and white photos, but these saplings are quickly dying. When I first discovered them a few trips ago, they were still green, up to their branches in the recently risen water. However, the water has not receded, and I don’t think these saplings will be making it past their youth.
For the first several images of this roll, I was trying to fill the frame and take what I consider to be a more popular landscape composition with the saplings anchoring the foreground and the clouds creating drama and tension in the sky. But for the last couple shots, I took a step back, and I think I like the results more for the purpose of the zine. The images instantly became more moody, and the isolation of these saplings drowning in this swamp is made more apparent by the extra space surrounding them.
I made a crucial mistake while I was standing out in the water, and that was stacking my red filter onto the front of my circular polarizer. The combination of the two filters required me to reduce my exposure by about five stops, and it was a fairly windy afternoon. But when I went to remove the polarizer, I realized the two filters were stuck together. And because the circular polarizer has a piece of glass that rotates independently of the main threads, I could not get them separated. In fact, they’re still stuck together as a write this.
So I’m standing in the middle of the swamp, the clouds are quickly changing overhead, and I’m fumbling with these two filters trying to get them separated without dropping them in the water, or worse, knocking over my tripod. It was an awkward procedure, and I’m glad nobody was there to witness it.
I ordered some filter wrenches from B&H that seem to be engineered for this purpose, so I’m not too worried about it. However, I was forced to use both the red filter and polarizer while shooting this entire roll, which consumed a lot of light. And even though my camera was on a tripod, the combination of the wind and my 1/15 second exposure meant I had to wait in between gusts to ensure the saplings were standing still enough to not be rendered blurry.
I am not sure whether any of these images will make it into the final zine. Even with the two to three years I’ve already spent on this project, I think it’s still too early to begin the photo editing stage. However, I am enjoying sharing each contact sheet I make on this blog, and I think just the process of creating these posts allows me to think more deeply about the direction and the mood of the story I’m trying to tell. And I think this will ultimately develop the story into something it couldn’t otherwise become.
Thanks for following along.