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.
“Mother Earth wears white well.”
This quote, attributed to H.R. Meeks*, came to the mind of Gabriella Chase as she made her immersive photograph of a snow-free path at Innisfree Village. An image of baking also came to her mind: “Just like the powdered sugar topping on a beautiful cake, I love the way snow softens the landscape and makes it all the more appealing.
“It had just begun to snow as my son Jeremy and I were leaving Innisfree late one winter’s day. The Village is always a tranquil spot at the edge of the mountains, but I remember being aware of the absolute stillness that day save the falling snowflakes. And savoring, or perhaps imagining, the almost imperceptible sound of the flakes as they hit the ground, creating a pale carpet on the fields.
“I had often felt my eye drawn to the narrow, solitary path when departing the Village. I particularly like the straightness of the path juxtaposed with the zig zag pattern of the split rail fence on the left. The addition of the light snowfall, while the path remained visible, made the scene irresistible.”
Gabriella’s thoughts take us to the very foundation of a photograph—its stillness. In the age of universal streaming video, I often marvel at the survival of “stills.” But stills survive because people appreciate “the held moment” and photography’s unique ability to deliver those moments. If anything, the continuous stream of “motion pictures” has enlarged appreciation for the singularity, and the stillness, of photographs.
Stillness is made of several elements, most having to do with absence. We feel stillness when the wind abates. And when it’s silent. And when we’re within a significant depth and volume of space that’s without wind or noise. (An empty cathedral is significantly stiller than an equally empty closet.)
But can stillness itself be the subject of a photograph? Yes. I know this because I once devoted a year to making images the subject of which was stillness. It was during a year spent canoeing in America for a book titled Still Waters, White Waters. The project appealed to me because canoeing is on the still side of experience. So is my photography. I wondered what the match of subject and style would produce. The result is a personal body of work that’s an extended essay on stillness.
During that year I came to realize that stillness was best rendered when a feeling of imminence was conveyed. Within a large volume of unmoving space action was about to take place. A poised, expectant atmosphere existed. In advance of the action, all was still.
In Gabriella’s involving photograph the path is about to be covered with snow. For now, an invisible warmth keeps that from happening. But circumstances will soon change. The temperature will drop, the snow thicken. The wind will increase, the light fade. But in this moment the dark path beckons us to walk quietly between two halves of a white world while flakes of snow silently descend. It’s the animation the silent snowfall gives to the scene that brings it to life. The gift of Gabriella’s photograph is that it describes the sensation of facing that deeply stilled, but uncannily alive, moment.
Gabriella has been on the path of photography for some time. “I began taking photographs for others to view at St. Anne’s-Belfield School. The images I made were shown as prints outside the school division offices where visiting families could get a glimpse of various events, as well as a typical day at the school. The photographs were of students in the classroom, or during school performances, at recess on the playground, or even student art projects.
“Melissa Mathieson, who was the school’s media specialist, was kind enough to offer me that opportunity. She also encouraged my often unconventional photographs and angles. That experience motivated me to purchase my own camera and I began to take photographs elsewhere. They were primarily outdoors, either locally or during my travels.
“I particularly enjoy photographing landscapes and find inspiration throughout the year in Ivy, Crozet, Greenwood and White Hall. The moments just before a thunderstorm and the time during a snowfall are two personal favorites.
“I am grateful to be able to practice photography and believe it has heightened my ability to notice and appreciate details in our surroundings. And I’ve enjoyed the photography exhibits I›ve been fortunate enough to view in the past. My aspiration is to continue to learn and absorb from great photographs and photographers in whatever manner possible.
*H.R. Meeks is a son of Mary Meeks. Mary and another son, Steven, were the creators of the beloved (and much missed) drive-through display of holiday lights at Meeks Run on White Hall Road.