Crozet Calendar Clinic: Deborah Ferreira

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Deborah Ferreira’s photograph won “Best in Show” in the 2014 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.

There’s much to admire in Deborah Ferreira’s intimate, understated and enduring image of a frosted tree on its own small island. First of all it isn’t a grand and sunny public scene. It’s the opposite. It’s personal, and transient. The frost may have lasted mere minutes before melting. The tree itself exists no more. But when the tree existed Deborah made a serious study of it. Because of that the eloquent scene lives on as an emblem of ephemeral beauty. It’s public now.

The story of Deborah’s relationship with this scene is, like her photograph, a small masterpiece of personal discovery and seeing. “It was my birthday and as a gift to myself my wife and I got in the car and took what she refers to as a ‘God Trip.’ This is when I grab my camera and go. No plans, no timeline, no ideas, no goals. She drives and I look. When I am struck by a view or image I give the command to stop, back up, turn here or there or turn around. I am free to shoot without question or suggestions. It’s fabulously fun and freeing!

“We were headed west on 250 and I was struck by the tiny frosted tree on its own island. Of course there was an immediate “Turn around and go back” command. We parked on the side of the road and I got out to fully take in the scene. What I saw was perfection—the colors and layers, lines, reflections and shadows. So many subtle details that made me love everything I saw.

“I worked a bit with composition until the edges of the frame included all that I loved and I felt the photo was balanced and interesting. Getting the little bit of the canoe on the right into the composition seemed important to me. I loved that it was there and its color matching the color of the frost on the tiny perfect tree. There was something satisfying and comforting to me knowing that a person could choose to paddle out to the tiny island and visit that tree.”

“This was a one-off image. It jumped out and grabbed me instantly. It was a sudden surprise that I did not expect. I think that is my favorite kind of photography.  I call it ‘a moment of grace’. It’s one that cannot be recreated or revisited exactly in the the same way again. That’s the magic.” 

“I’ve been haunted by views in which I had to turn around and go back many miles even if it meant I was late getting somewhere because I knew the moment would never exist again. I’ve trekked through high grass and mud and have even stood in the middle of roads to get myself positioned for shots I’ve wanted to capture. It’s so exciting and I’m so determined that it seems nothing can stop me. All time disappears. I’m on an adventure, a hunting expedition and the trophy is the photo. But for me it’s not just the end product. The effort and challenge of getting the photo is part of the thrill. It’s really so satisfying and freeing.

“An interesting thing happened shortly after taking this photo. I was driving by and noticed that the tiny tree was gone. I never knew what happened to it. Did a storm destroy it? Did a beaver chew it off? It was a complete mystery. That makes this photo even more special to me.”

And special to me. What Deborah describes is the essence of photography as I have experienced it. Photography is a way to be in the world. Having a camera in your hands is an invitation to explore and to discover meaningful beauty—and one’s self. Deborah’s image is the portrait of a tree, yes. But it is also the gift of an insightful self portrait she gave to herself — on her birthday.

“I have loved photography since I was a young adult,” she said. “In 1979, when I was 19, my boyfriend’s mom was giving away a pile of stuff. On top of the pile was a simple point and shoot camera. She offered it to me and off I went to buy my first roll of film. I used that camera for years until it stopped working. From there I used disposable cameras for awhile. It was surprising how many great photos I got with such simple cheap cameras, playing with composition and edge of frame. I realized what really mattered was the eye of the photographer.

“One of my aspirations is to have an exhibit in one of the nursing homes I’ve worked in. There are so many strikingly beautiful and poignant images of the elderly—a population that has been largely forgotten but one that holds so many stories and incredible histories that can be seen in their hands and faces.”

Editor’s note: The 2020 Calendar will be for sale in local stores and on the Crozet Gazette website in late November. The annual Crozet Calendar Photography Discussion with Sam Abell will be January 4 at 3 p.m. at Crozet Library. 

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