Join me, through a few photos, on a walk through the natural environment of Edmonton’s river valley, on New Years Eve 2010. I was out for an hour or so in the early afternoon. The sun came out and was brilliant but not enough to save from being bundled up against the -17C temperature. Although it was a bit frustrating at times trying to find the shutter through my mitts I did manage to take all of my photos without removing them and exposing my hands.
A few black and white photos for you, taken on the relatively quiet days just before Christmas 2010, in and around downtown Edmonton.
Some photos of the cold but colorful mornings in Edmonton, the first week of winter, 2010:
In my last post I spoke about how few of my landscape paintings are of snowy scenes. In this post I share what I aspire to – some of my favorite Canadian landscape paintings featuring snow.
Lawren Harris, one of the key members of the Group of Seven had snow in a number of his landscapes. Often this snow would be capping distant mountains but in Snow II it is in the foreground, heavily laden on evergreen boughs. A key observation illustrated by this painting is that snow doesn’t have to be white and certainly not when it is in the shadows. Shacks, a 1919 painting by Harris shows whiter sunlit snow on the ground and roof tops of an urban scene. Note though the color and value difference of the little bits of snow falling in shadows. The Drive is a masterful example of depicting sunlight and shadow on the snow. The difference is pretty subtle but to me it read instantaneously. As a final Harris example North Shore, Baffin Island show the snow/ice atop distant mountains. Again the lesson for me was the value and color difference between the shaded and sunlit snow.
I looked at reproductions of a number of Group of Seven paintings and used a value scale reference card to assess the value of snow in sun and shadow. I think in terms of a nine-point value scale with 1 being white and 9 being black. I observed that there was typically a 3 point value difference between the snow in sun and shadow – commonly a value 3 in the sun and a value 6 in the shadow.
A.Y. Jackson was another leading member of the Group of Seven painters. In his Winter Charlevoix County paintings we can see snow covered rolling fields with the delicate variations between the sunny and shady sides. In Houses St. Urbain we see an example of houses and snow, similar to Harris’ Shacks. Jackson’s Winter Moonlight gives an example of a painting of snow at night, in the light and shadow of the moon (how is this different from the sunny scenes?)
Finally a couple of examples of snow paintings from a couple of other members of the Group of Seven: A.J. Casson’s Winter on the Don and J.E.H. MacDonald’s Early Evening Winter (a great example that an area doesn’t have to be white to read as snow).
There are of course many, many other examples of snowy landscape paintings from the Canadian Group of Seven and if you explore the links given above you will come across other great examples. In a future blog I will share some of my favorite Tom Thomson snow paintings.
Living in a northern climate with a healthy dose of winter (usually with snow on the ground for 4 or 5 months, each year), I have to ask myself why I have so few landscape paintings with snow. I do like to take photos of snowy landscapes, often with the good intent of using them for painting references but so far there are not a lot of paintings.
Last night I was reading Deviant Spirits by Ross King and ran across this passage (on page 166) that got me thinking:
Although Quebec painters such as Gagnon, Cullen and Suzor-Coté had tackled snow and ice before, landscapists in English Canada generally steered clear. They recognized , as one critic observed, that to paint a Canadian landscape under snow was “unpatriotic, untactful and unwise.” Canada’s cold climate and deep snow had been a sore point at least since Voltaire mocked the country as “a few acres of snow.” As Jefferys put it “Our climate, winter especially, was regarded as sort of a family skeleton.”
So that’s the story I’ll stick with for now – to paint snow would be to perpetuate an embarrassing Canadian stereotype. Seriously though, I love snowy landscapes and have spent some time studying the more successful ones. Particularly, I have paid attention to the value range of successful paintings – how the values of snow in shadows compares to that in sunlight. I will no doubt be tackling the Canadian landscape in snow in the months and years to come.
One of my few successful snowy landscapes to date was my 2009 oil painting Winter Sunrise on the Rails . This painting was inspired by a photo I took in December of 2008 as I traveled by train from Toronto, home to Edmonton. The scene was from the back of The Canadian somewhere around the Ontario-Manitoba border, probably about an our east of Winnipeg. The sun was just breaking over the horizon and glimmering along the rails behind us.
I recently had a print of this painting made at RedBubble and I’m pretty thrilled by the way it looks framed up with a black mat.
Prints of this image, Winter Sunrise on the Rails are available for purchase at RedBubble as cards and prints of various sizes, matted or framed, if desired. The original painting is also still available for purchase.
Here is one of my earlier winter landscapes done back in 1993. This scene depicts the Moose River in Northern Ontario
There is a bit of a story behind this painting, but I’ll leave that for another day.
Here are a few of my photographs from this week in the middle of December. As has been the case with my recent photography, most of these photos were taken in the dim morning light or darkness of early evening. There was not a lot of color to be seen so I have rendered these images in black and white. A fair bit (15-20 cm) of snow fell this week in Edmonton so snow figures in most of these images.
This batch were all taken with my Nikon at 1600 ASA and were handheld
We’ve had a couple of days of warmer weather recently (I’m talking about the minus single digits Celsius) so I was able to do some outdoor iPhoneography. I have been doing photography with my Nikon in recent weeks since I can operate it with gloves on my hands but I’ve kind of missed working with the iPhone. The challenge of course is that the iPhone screen (on which the “virtual shutter button” lies) can only be operated with an ungloved finger. I can’t leave my hand exposed for too long but at these temperatures I can pop it in and out of the pocket of my parka just long enough to get a photo.
I’ve been exploring a new (to me) app: CameraBag. It features a number of treatments of photos which reminds me somewhat of what I can do with the Hipstamatic app. The big plus with CameraBag is that treatment can be applied to an image stored in the library and one can easily flip through the different filters after the fact.
One CameraBag treatment I’ve grown to like, particularly for winter nighttime photos is the “Silver” option. This option does offer a number of color tints but I like the blue for these winter shots. Here are three photos from last night (2010 Dec 14), in downtown Edmonton, in a moderately heavy snow, using CameraBag Silver:
I did adjust the contrast and brightness a bit on this last photo using PSMobile after taking it with CameraBag
I have some photos to share from a walk yesterday evening. It was shortly after 6PM. The temperature was -18C with a wind chill making it feel like -25. The snow was continuing to fall lightly as it had been doing through the day. Bundled up in my parka, snowpants, gloves and heavy boots I was comfortable enough at the start but half an hour later my toes and fingers were numb. I was thankful for the automatic setting and robustness of my Nikon that allowed me to take this series without removing my gloves.
I’m calling this post/series “Close to the edge” as my journey took me close to the edge of Edmonton’s downtown core (south along a deserted 96th Street) and then close to the edge of the river valley. I might also add that it was close to the edge of the weather conditions in which a sane person would be out taking photos.
96 Street ends at 101 Avenue with great views of and across the North Saskatchewan River valley
2010 December 9 – some great color in Edmonton’s morning sky
Some more black and white night images – of a couple of lovely old garages in my neighborhood.