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.
“This too shall pass.”
That was Camilyn Leone’s innermost thought as she made this deeply layered photograph from the Afton overlook on Route 250. But she wasn’t thinking about the fleeting nature of light or the departing storm clouds. She was thinking of the effects of the pandemic.
“As I was making this photo, I thought about how different life is with Covid and about how I missed going out and being with people. Nevertheless, the sun still rises and sets. This too shall pass.”
Camilyn made this photograph on Dec. 17, 2020, during the darkest week of the first winter of the Covid pandemic lockdown.
“My child, Casey, and I were just leaving Harris Teeter when I said, “Let’s go watch the sunset over Afton Mountain.”
“There was a storm that day and I knew that there would be clouds and ice. So I checked the temperature to make sure that we could get there and back home before the roads started to freeze.
“I’ve always wanted to take photos from the 250 overlook. It’s ironic that it took a pandemic to get me up the mountain, just a few miles from my home. We were just desperate to go somewhere. There were many people stopping to take photos and enjoy the sunset. We were not alone!
“We got to the overlook at 5:00 and I started taking photos with my iPhone. I took a few with Casey silhouetted against the clouds. But then I noticed the curve of the wall and how nicely it led the eye out to the mountain. By then it was getting dark and I thought about moving my car so the headlights shone on the wall and lit up the foreground.”
Camilyn is right about why the photograph works. It succeeds because of her inspired move to use headlights to illuminate the stone wall. Without that added light the wall would be too subdued relative to the rest of the image. Illumination of the foreground allows the composition to be balanced and layered. Visual and human interest begins with footprints in the snow, reaches over the wall into the valley and climbs into the clouds.
But is Camilyn right about the pandemic? Will it “pass?”
Obviously, that is the question on everyone’s mind now.
After all, 15 months have passed since Camilyn made this photograph and formed the thought that Covid would inevitably pass. Has it? Will it?
The phrase, “This too will pass”, has a deep history, though not one rooted in the Bible as many people (including me) think. The phrase arises from a request made by a medieval Persian ruler. He wanted his Sufi poets to produce a statement that would always be true. They created a ring on which was inscribed the words, “This too shall pass away.”
It is difficult to imagine a thought more truly and universally applicable to human affairs than that expressed in these memorable words. Nor is it possible to compose a phrase more descriptive of that perpetual oscillation from good to bad, and from bad to good, which has been an eternal characteristic of the human condition. Nothing is permanent. Change is inevitable. The cycle goes on. Good times come to an end. So do bad ones.
Meanwhile, in March 2022, while we vigilantly wait for the cycle to reset, what does the phrase, “This too will pass,” say to photographers? A great deal.
Photographers have an acute understanding of the ever-changing nature of life. Before their eyes the world is a continuously shape-shifting mosaic offering opportunity and its opposite. That is especially true of documentary photographers who aim to capture human experience in unstaged and meaningful moments.
But then, abruptly, the light changes. The composition dissolves. The moment passes.
Against this hard truth photographers have but one defense: Be attentive. See change coming. Take action in advance. Quickly! Use the car’s headlights to illuminate the rock wall before full darkness descends.
Camilyn’s astute understanding of how to slow, if not stop, time is a consequence of her photographic education and experience. It is a path I well understand having traveled it myself. She learned photography from her father and practiced it in high school and college by working on student publications.
“I carried a huge camera bag with several lenses that I would change out depending on the situation to be photographed. I learned how to develop black and white photos and loved spending hours in the photo lab and darkroom. But now, I just want to be quick and in the moment.”
To that I say “good.” Because—pandemic or not—moments too shall pass, never to return.
Camilyn’s prints are viewable at Old Trail Lodge, Green House Coffee and Crozet Library; on Instagram @camilyn_leone and at camilynleone.wixsite.com/website.