Crozet Calendar Clinic: Gabriella Chase

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Gabriella Chase’s photograph is featured in the 2019 Crozet 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.

Photographers talk about light the way Eskimos talk about snow—there are many refined terms for it, each describing a different quality. But broadly speaking, light falls into two large categories: good and bad.

Good light occurs around dawn and then again around sunset when the sun is low in the sky, colors are richest and shadows lengthen. Bad light occurs from mid-morning to mid-afternoon when unflattering harshness dominates. That’s why earnest photographers develop the habit of being up and out in pre-dawn darkness, then traveling or sleeping during mid-day in order to be ready to work by late afternoon.

What appealed to me about Gabriella Chase’s photograph of Chiles Orchard was that the quality of its light was outside those broad categories. It was made in light more characteristic of mid-day, yet it lacks the harshness that makes mid-day light ‘bad’. Instead, her image has a paleness of tone that comes from the particular cloud cover of the day. In that sense it’s one of those subtle qualities of light that only photographers would notice and appreciate—like an astute Eskimo’s recognition of an ultra-fine snow in the Arctic.

That pale light unifies Gabriella’s photograph. Each leaf and each flower reflects the subtly shaded light—a light that seems to come more from the cool gray clouds than the warm sun. When the unified light and gray/green color combine with her straight arrow composition, the result is a declarative and cohesive photograph, one that draws the viewer deeply in and keeps them there.

Gabriella recalled the day and her reaction to it as a photographer: “The perfect October day presented itself, and my son and I headed to Chiles Orchard in the afternoon to try to capture the beauty of the fall apple harvest. The orchard was buzzing with both apple and pumpkin pickers that day. But we discovered this peacefully empty row of apple trees that was carpeted with lavender-like flowers. There was something orderly yet disorderly about it, which immediately attracted me. I stood in the center of the row to capture the image I had in mind and admired how everything seemed to intersect at a point in the distance beneath the ceiling of clouds.”

Crozet’s beloved orchards are one of the most frequently photographed subjects in western Albemarle. They are both bountiful and, as Gabriella said, ‘beautiful.’ Those qualities are evident from almost any distance and from many angles. So, to capture the visual beauty of the orchards, most photographers address them from a distance where the ranked rows of uniform trees present a pleasing pattern. Seeing photographs of those orderly rows of fruit trees always reminds me of my dad’s advice to me about how to make strong photographs: ‘Sammy, patterns make pictures.”

What Gabriella’s image shows us is that the tree patterning also exists deeply within the orchard. Her image also illustrates that there is more than one season of visual interest in an orchard. Most photographers come alive to the orchard’s beauty during the short season of bloom. But Gabriella was there at the time of fruiting. So abundant is the apple crop that it hangs heavily on the trees and litters the ground—causing, in her fine phrase, an appealing “order and disorder.”

Gabriella adds to that sense of order with her composition. It is an eye-level, straight ahead look down two rows of matched trees. This composition creates a sense of space and distance where, really, almost none exists. Furthermore, this composition is one we associate with photographs of roads and railroad tracks arrowing away from us to a distant horizon. As such the composition suggests travel. It’s no different here. The composition invites us to enter the picture and walk down the flower-filled path to an indistinct but beckoning horizon. In an orchard thick with densely planted trees heavy with fruit, that invitation is a most pleasant prospect.

When asked to reflect on the place photography has in her life, Gabriella replied: “I carry the camera my sons gave me a few years ago with me all the time, always on the lookout for something to photograph. I enjoy photographing a variety of subjects, particularly landscapes and wildlife in our area, and cityscapes and architecture when I travel to more metropolitan areas. Clouds and stormy skies have always been a fascination. White Hall, Innisfree Village and Sugar Hollow are favorite spots of mine. I especially like taking photographs in the fall and winter, and I’m a huge fan of snowy days. My photos, until now, have just been shared with friends and family who have encouraged my passion. The calmness of photography provides an almost meditative balance to the rapid pace of the rest of my life. That’s why I love it.”

Editor’s note: It’s time to submit your photographs for the 2020 calendar! Email your submissions to [email protected] by Sunday, October 20. 

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