Crozet Calendar Clinic: Robyn Eaton

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Robyn Eaton’s photograph of Mirador in Greenwood was featured on the cover of the 2017 calendar.

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.

The 2019 Crozet Calendar has been published and is available. As usual the printing is very fine. But what about the photographs? How do they look? Personally, I think they also look fine. But it’s not for me to say—I helped choose them. For a responsible second opinion I asked a friend for his opinion. “What does the calendar say about Crozet?” He looked at the calendar, then at me. “It says that Crozet’s a pretty atmospheric place.” Perfect, I thought, and thanked him.

Crozet is atmospheric. Each season in western Albemarle is rich in unique atmospheric effects. And it’s the pursuit and rendering of Crozet’s weather-influenced moments that occupies local photographers throughout the year. So it is fitting that their finest “atmospheric moments” characterize this years calendar.

“Atmospheric” is also a fitting way to describe the mood of Robyn Eaton’s fine photograph of snow-covered Mirador farm. In her image a deep and even atmosphere unifies the sky, farm fences and landscape. That unifying force comes from the sky’s gray color. Because it’s stronger than the subtle whites, the gray subsumes them. The result is a moodily understated image of a farm in winter.

Gray, to me, is the most compatible color in color photography. It compliments other colors and brings them to life. The hint of sunrise on the back layer of Robyn’s photograph is a good example. Though faint, that warm color has an outsize emotional effect because of the cooler gray/white tones that surround it.

But the values of gray vary considerably and rendering its most desirable depths takes thoughtful attention, work and, occasionally, some sacrifice. As Robyn recalled: “This photograph was captured in the pre-dawn hour. There had been a light snow the night before and I had a feeling that Mirador would be beautiful at that time of day. So I made a slight detour on my way to work. I probably spent 10 minutes at the location. But I was there at the right time to capture the light from the sunrise. I was late for work that day, but it was worth it!”

Another unifying element is the photograph’s structure. Robyn is ‘square’ to the scene so all the lines—particularly the bold horizontal lines of the foreground fence—are regular. That is, the fence lines are not distorted by being seen at an angle. In Robyn’s words, “I shot several different angles, but then squared off and shot the scene straight on. I positioned myself so that the fence lines were in the middle of the composition. By doing that, it also made the cabin more visible. In the end that became my favorite part of the photograph.”

Why get square to a scene? It’s purely subjective and doesn’t apply to every situation. But to me the squared-away stance simply feels right. There is a “justness” to a photograph when the lines are regular—when horizontals are horizontal and verticals are vertical. When those lines are true to themselves all other shapes in the photograph—the curves and diagonals—are also true to themselves. The resulting composition is “just so.”

Meanwhile, as everyone knows, atmospheric effects are fleeting. Snow melts, fog lifts, the sunrise weakens and that rainbow fades in front of you. Plus you have to get to work on time! So it helps if you are familiar with your surroundings and can get to your location quickly. Robyn’s familiarity with, and affection for, Mirador is life-long: “I’ve shot at this location many times. There is a pond in front of the cabin in the photograph, and when I was a child my father took me fishing for the first time at that pond. Mirador has always been a favorite place for me even before I started taking pictures.”

Other than Mirador, Robyn also steadily follows the well-known scene around Beaver Creek. But, she says, This year I’ve spent more time practicing photography by driving the back roads of western Albemarle looking for scenes that have been under-photographed. I keep mental notes of places to revisit at a certain time of day or year to see what the scene may look like and how best to capture it.”

Robyn shares her pictures on Facebook (Robyn Eaton) and Instagram (blueridgecameragirl).  “My Instagram is currently a private account (I had a public one but got hacked last year and lost access to over 700 postings).”

In summarizing her thoughts about photography, Robyn expresses a sentiment I believe is shared by all of the photographers who submit work to the calendar: “I get excited when I can share a photograph with others. I believe photography has the ability to change the way we see our surroundings. I believe a photograph can invite a conversation between people.” 

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