Each month a prize-winning photograph from the archives of the Crozet Calendar will be published together with a story from the photographer of how the image was made and commentary by Sam Abell about the merits of the photograph.
In my travels people regularly ask me where I’m from. When I say “Central Virginia” they say, “That sounds nice. What’s it like?” I say, “Well, it’s beautiful.”
But what does that mean? How does one describe the particular character of western Albemarle so that it will paint a picture of “beauty” in another person’s mind?
Is it the landscape? The seasons of weather? The history? The culture? The zoning? All of the above? And anyway, isn’t beauty “in the eye of the beholder”?
Yes, it is. And the beholder under consideration this month is the artist Janet Pearlman whose elegant, understated image of the landscape along Route 250 is currently featured in the Crozet Calendar.
Asked to describe her motivation to make the photograph, Janet replied, “I watch this scene all year. I drive by it every day when I travel from Crozet to Charlottesville. I enjoy its beauty in all kinds of seasons, weather and lighting conditions. As a result I have many pictures of this view. On this particular day I found the scene so compelling—breathtaking, really. It seemed like a gift from unseen forces. I love fog pictures and this one was over the top. A voice in my head was saying, ‘You have to stop!’’’
Months later, that voice was also heard in my head when I encountered Janet’s photograph. And it carried the same injunction: to stop. Stop and take in a particularly refined visual poem—one notable first of all for what’s missing from it. Absent are the conventions of beauty that surround us and commonly populate our photographs—the soaring skyline, blooming orchard, shimmering water and torched autumn foliage of central Virginia. In their place is a gently folded, almost colorless landscape shrouded in fog. Cars curve into a corner of the scene, adding their realism to an almost idyllic scene. Beautiful? Yes, in the eyes of this beholder.
Maybe it takes a painter like Janet to see the subtle strength and pictorial possibilities of a monochromatic scene like this. “For years I have taken landscape pictures regularly because I use them as a basis for paintings. I’ve painted since 1977 and turned to landscapes six years ago. For inspiration I watch Mint Spring Park and Mint Spring Farm. Those locations, and the pastures on the way to the park, speak to me. I’ve taken pictures of those fields in many lighting and weather conditions and have painted many pieces inspired by them. I also observe the farm on Rt. 240 with the view to the right on the drive back to Crozet from Charlottesville. I’ve taken pictures of that scene and painted it too.”
Janet also spoke about how photography entered her life and continues today. “As a teenager I acquired a camera. But taking pictures has not been my primary means of expressing art. I learned enough about the technical aspects of photography to know I am not well suited to it. So I use the Canon Powershot camera and not a more technically advanced camera. I carry that camera with me in the car. My smart phone camera isn’t good enough (yet). Because of the Crozet calendar, I’ve become more inspired to take pictures. But even when I don’t pull out my camera, I enjoy the weather and lighting conditions that hold potential for great images.”
Those elements—weather and light—give drama to Janet’s landscape image. But the underlying structure of the scene—the folded, layered land itself—is the foundation of her photograph. This uniquely folded landscape is also a primary reason I think central Virginia is beautiful.
Between the Blue Ridge and the “piney lowlands” lies the broadly graceful, gently worn landscape of western Albemarle county. Neither mountainous nor grandly level, this is an “English landscape” of soft contours and lyrical lines. There are places in the county where one can stand and see the landscape march to the mountains in fold upon fold. And, on certain days, fog fills the valleys between those folds giving to the landscape a deeply layered look. Artists, including photographers, live for those days.
As Janet says, “My drive is to let the beauty of life flow through me onto canvas. I am alive in my looking wherever I go, relishing the beauty around me. It’s a way of life, and a means to create a happy one.”
Janet Pearlman’s art is on display at the Crozet Library until Nov 20. Her website www.streamofyes.com contains examples of her paintings as well as a weekly blog about ‘how to create a more satisfying life.