With the human eye, we see blacks and grays at night. Brightly colored panoramas are not the norm! We take this for granted. The complex architecture of the eye allows us to see in dim light, but with the loss of much of the color, we'd expect at high noon.
Photographic film, though simpler than the human retina, can discern color at night. Here in the Seascape Series are numerous images of the sea taken after the sun has gone down. In some cases, such as “Windansea Rock 8:30 p.m.,” I’d tread carefully on the beach in the dark night after leaving the camera shutter open for nearly 10 minutes.
Most of the Seascapes were taken by time exposure with a 4-inch x 5-inch view camera mounted on a tripod. Color transparency film was used to capture the images, either in the 4-inch x 5-inch single-sheet format, or using 120-roll film in the 6-cm x 12-cm format. Exposures generally varied from 1 minute up to eleven minutes and were selected using a hand-held light meter pointed at the horizon and using some adjustments to exposure and aperture learned through trial-and-error. The Seascape images were digitized on a "drum scanner" and printed with pigment-based inks on watercolor paper using the "giclée" process. A few of the Seascapes were taken with a Hasselblad H4D-60 digital camera though the maximum exposure on this platform is limited to 32 seconds.
In the Seascapes, everything (except the horizon and perhaps a protruding rock) is moving during the photographic exposure: ocean, waves, clouds and sunset colors. But the film does not see the motion; rather it records the average motion over the exposure time. As a result, Seascapes have a very sharp horizon line bathed in the softness of a planar ocean and adorned by a seemingly watercolor painted sky.
Lacking wave structure, Seascapes become a universal representation of ocean – every ocean, every horizon -- yet with a diversity of color and unique texture that still surprises! It is the randomness of the creative process dictated by circumstance and chance (weather, tides, sunset color, lighting nuances, and perhaps clusters of surfers) that make these photographs transcend the “snapshot.” As such, they begin to bridge the gap between photography as an objective record of the world around us and other more subjective and interpretive art forms.
Seascapes are available through Joseph Bellows Gallery (josephbellows.com) in La Jolla, California.