Crozet Calendar Clinic: Malcolm Andrews

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Malcolm Andrews’ photograph was featured in the 2020 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.

I was once asked what I wanted people to feel from a photograph of mine. “I want them to feel it’s theirs—that it’s their view and they’re inside it.”

Creating this desirable transfer of image ownership—from author to audience—is a delicate act. Not many photographs succeed in inviting the viewer in to take emotional ownership of the scene being shown.

But Malcolm Andrews invites us all the way inside his refined photograph of a dog in a kayak. We feel we’re also in the boat gazing across Beaver Creek Reservoir to the cloud-streaked sunset.

How did Malcolm transform his picture into our picture? A number of ways. Most importantly, he used an iPhone camera whose standard view is medium wide angle. That wider view brought more elements into the composition. Then those elements—sky, water, land, boat and dog—were spread out and separated. That clarified the composition and created a sense of deep distance—one that extends from the clouds on the back layer to the dog on the front layer. And it’s here, on the front layer, that Malcolm made two critical decisions that significantly elevated his image.

One decision was to state the small but luminous line of light above the muzzle of his dog. Compositionally, this slender space is the heart of the photograph. Without it the dog’s presence would be deeply diminished. Malcolm’s other decision was to include a fragment of the kayak’s wake. It’s just enough motion to animate the image. Without it, the kayak and the photograph are dead in the water.

“I’ve often felt that the best of my photos fall into two categories,” Malcolm said. “First, ‘serendipitous timing’ where I catch something unique and ephemeral that, perhaps, no one else saw the same way at the same time. Or, second, the kind of photo that ‘tells a story.’

“I have been trying to improve my photos by asking myself the question, ‘Does it tell a story?’ By framing Camden, my dog, in the corner of the shot while focusing on the subject of her gaze—the sunset—I was consciously trying to tell the story of that moment in one frame.”

When not looking for photographic opportunities in western Albemarle, Malcolm is a pilot for American Airlines. But these past few months there have been far fewer flights. I asked Malcolm how he was using his unexpected time on the ground.

“As a retired naval officer and professional pilot, it may come as no surprise that I feel the need for a sense of mission. A few years ago, I had an idea that I might someday like to do a book capturing the theme of “a year in flight” by collecting photos of different aspects of my work, aerial scenes, and landscapes. I knew that I did not yet possess the visual skills or writing acumen to make that notion a reality. So, I decided to start a blog, The Aerial Horizon, of my photos as a yearlong project to improve my writing and photography skills through the discipline of publishing and self-critiquing.

“That was seven years ago, and I continue to publish the blog today. Over that time, I have seen themes emerge in my photos and my skill in knowing how to capture an idea has shown improvement. My writing began with simply identifying what was in an image and evolved into pieces where I explore the thoughts that a scene evokes.

“The restrictions on camera use in the cockpit are tighter today than they were when I started the blog, so I rely on past photos for much of my content. To date, I have published over 1,000 images and have over 3,000 followers online. It has been an edifying experience, resulting in interesting project opportunities with other bloggers, authors, and even a filmmaker. Most importantly, the experience has shaped my perspective on the landscape and how I choose to capture it.

“Because of the restrictions on cockpit photography there are an infinite number of amazing sights that I have never been able to capture. Instead they are imprinted on my memory and provide fuel for how I think and write about my experiences. I look at a scene on the horizon in front of me and envision what the shot would look like. This visualization is the principal skill that I’ve learned and it applies to any photography.”

Photographs are thought revealed—as in Malcom’s carefully considered image of his dog in the kayak. But, we learn, much of what Malcolm currently sees from the cockpit cannot be revealed in thoughtful photographs. Instead it will be revealed in his writings and in more easy-to-inhabit “story telling” photographs from his temporarily land-based life.

The Aerial Horizon, on WordPress, at aerialhorizon.photography. 

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