Finding Eloquent Light in a National Park

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Finding Eloquent Light in a National Park

By: Alexis Slater, WFU ‘16 | @WakeReynolda

Inspired by Ansel Adams and in celebration of the centennial of the National Park Service, I decided to embark on a journey to one of North Carolina’s National Forests, Pisgah, only a couple of hours away from Winston-Salem.

We were able to spend the morning at Reynolda House, absorbing Ansel Adams: Eloquent Light, hopeful for a didactic experience to help us better conceptualize and appreciate the wilderness. Because we are now in late spring, and the sun stays up until well past 8:30 p.m., we did not arrive at Pisgah until the late afternoon, approximately  3 p.m., which was plenty of time for a hike. We decided on the Catawba Falls trail: a short, 3-mile round trip journey that leads to a 100-foot waterfall in the forest. 

Vernal Fall, Yosemite Valley, California, 1948. Photograph by Ansel Adams, © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.


GIF by the author

We meandered through the trees, marveling at the luscious green of the re-born leaves and the perfect 75-degree temperature that characterizes spring. The trail meanders alongside the Catawba River whose white crested rapids provide a natural soundtrack to our afternoon. The way to the falls has a slight, but not overly exerting incline, and takes us over rock piles and through the river itself, precariously balancing on tree trunks cast across the water or tip-toeing from boulder to boulder. 

After about an hour or so, we made it to the base of the falls, where we could gaze up at the water pouring itself from rock to rock, cascading with great force towards the river at the bottom. Families, couples, and friends were perched all around, sitting and admiring the beautiful falls.

It was here that I began to contemplate, reflecting on our setting through the eyes of Ansel Adams. I noticed the incredible variance of tone created by bark peeled back to reveal the soft, bright inner wood and by trees and boulders casting shadows on the rich, brown soil, the vibrant green plants, the trunks of other trees, and on the large rocks littering the forest. I opened my eyes to the details, noticing the juxtaposition between the minute and the immense: drips of liquid traveling from one boulder to the next, a gap in the rocks, a small purple flower poking out of the ground otherwise brown and green, compared to the immense trees and the height of the hills surrounding us. 


Photographs by the author

I took it upon myself to try and capture the splendor of the incredible forest around us, and whipped out my camera phone to take pictures. I concentrated on depicting the lights and darks around us and on the contrast of scale, framing it in ways that attempted to magnify the beauty of the wilderness around us. While I could not delight in the careful development of the blacks and whites from a negative, I was able to play with the lights and darks of filters, choosing from a range of intensities and determining which one best emphasized the shadows and brightness in a way that might make Ansel Adams himself proud.

While these digital photos remove the experience of the light fluctuations in the gloss of the photograph paper, of seeing your reflection in the image, today’s mode of photography still allows us to experiment with lights and darks, with framing and moments, and to encapsulate what we appreciate what we find magnificent and beautiful.

And so, we encourage you, inspired by Ansel Adams, to get out and experience nature: whether it is a National Park or your own backyard. Pay attention to the details both tiny and grand, and capture what you believe is special, no matter what camera you have on hand!

And, don’t forget to stay hydrated with one of our Klean Kanteen water bottles, made exclusively for Ansel Adams: Eloquent Light at Reynolda House.  Through Sunday, May 29 only: these rugged and stylish bottles come with a $15 Mast General Store gift card. Stop by our store before and after your hike and tell us all about it!

Route taken by the author


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