Crozet Calendar Clinic: Tristan Venables

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August Winner: Tristan Venables

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.

Want to get away? How far?

At college in the mid-60s, I wanted to get as far away from Lexington, Kentucky as I could. The antipode of my location was somewhere in the vast, empty southern Indian Ocean. The nearest civilization was Perth, Western Australia—by some measures the most remote city on earth.

It took 30 years but I eventually made it to Perth and was charmed by its climate, architecture, unique remoteness and its citizens. One of the citizens I could have met there was the young Tristan Venables who is now living in Crozet, as far from his Perth home as he can be.

What brought him halfway around the world? Tennis. After a distinguished competitive career in Australia and Europe, he’s now the esteemed director of tennis at Keswick Hall.

He’s also a photographer whose atmospheric image of a boat disappearing into the mist on Beaver Creek Reservoir is the photograph of the month in the Crozet Gazette calendar. How Tristan made the image is noteworthy:

“I’m on my stand-up paddle board, which moves around on its own terms. I need to make little adjustments to my position all the time when I see something worth photographing. This particular day a row boat containing three people slowly passed me. I immediately thought I had to capture them.

“But I needed a little luck to get the correct line. Several of the shots were closer, and the detail was greater. But this image enhanced the feeling that the rowboat was about to disappear between the trees and head through the mist towards the mountains in the background.”

I was struck by the difficulty of making thoughtful, critically composed images from the constantly shifting platform of a paddle board and asked Tristan about his process.

“I get up early to be out on the still water. The board gives you different vantage points—more original than just seeing the creek from the road. Being in the middle of the body of water and paddling to slightly different spots can be the make or break difference of a good photo.

“When I’m out there, I pay attention to what feels pleasant and aesthetically pleasing. I’m interested in creating photographs that I would like to see over and over again—ones that bring me a calm feeling. And, to me, having people somewhere in the scene gives the photograph more context.

“I am also a regular photographer and carry my camera wherever I go. But if I sleep in, it feels like I’ve missed the first window of the day with the light just waking up the world. And to be on the water when fog is hovering over it is special for me.

“In the movie ‘The Emperor’s Club,’ Kevin Kline speaks a memorable line: ‘As I’ve gotten older, I realize I’m certain of only two things. [The first is,] days that begin with rowing on a lake are better than days that do not.’ I always think of that statement first thing in the morning and hope to have time to get down to the lake and make photos.

“I use the current iPhone. It’s waterproof and makes fine photos. We are amazingly fortunate to live in the era of having such advanced technology in our hands. The ability to adjust the image immediately after the shot is a huge benefit versus having to wait and use the old school method. And adding a subtle filter or customizing the exposure helps bring out the mood of an image and enhances elements of the composition.”

I asked Tristan about his other interests and the direction of his photography.

“Nature is certainly one main focus. I grew up in a beach town in Perth and have always been drawn to water. Beaver Creek is a phenomenal part of this community and the water calms me. I also frequent the walking trails in Crozet. On snow days the trails and railway bridges make for excellent subject matter and really give a feeling for what we have in this region.

“I am also an artist. I paint and draw caricatures, or humorist portraits as I like to call them. That comes from a life-long fascination with people’s facial features and characteristics. My dad had the same fascination. I got the observant eye to critique things around me from him.

“I also studied contemporary arts and graphic design at university in Australia and have always been extremely visual. This is why I love the creation of the iPhone. To have the ability to video call (Facetime) my family in Australia at any moment or to be on standby to capture an image that will only be there momentarily is incredible to me.”

Tristan on Instagram: tristanvenables.illustration. And website, venablesillustration.com. 

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