March 20, 2010
To celebrate Spring last weekend, my friend Mary and I headed to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. (Click the images for larger views.) Harper’s Ferry is about 60 miles west of our homes in Baltimore—a short and a very scenic drive, especially if you tend to get lost and have to take two lane roads to avoid backtracking—which no self-respecting day-tripper would even consider. After all, getting lost—assuming it isn’t overdone or dangerous—is part of the fun. Once at Harper’s Ferry, we drove through the town and up the hill to the graveyard overlooking the valley and the rivers. After hiking down to Jefferson Rock—so named for Thomas Jefferson who visited the spot in 1783—which is on part of the Appalachian Trail, we made a few pictures of the area and each other. That’s me atop Jefferson Rock, taken by Mary; and Mary below, taken by me—mutual muses.
I love the first photograph not because I’m in it (trying too hard to pose like Gary Cooper in the 1949 film “The Fountainhead”), but because Mary composed the image so beautifully. The shot is full-frame, just as she snapped it—complete with simple shapes artfully arranged, the sky area above, the boulders and hills below taking up most of the frame, each odd shape with its own look (personality), each contributing to the overall design. Most of the time when someone sends me a snapshot I immediately want to crop it to give it more unity, make it visually stronger, but in this case I didn’t even consider doing that. In my opinion it was already picture perfect. One way to better appreciate the aesthetic eye that made the composition is to reduce the image to lines only, as I’ve done here. Then it’s easier to understand how Mary arranged the photographic elements so that no two areas of the composition are the same size or shape (variety = visual interest), and the focal point—the human figure—is off to one side rather than centered, the saturated blue sky acting as its frame.
Meanwhile, in photo three, over Mary’s left shoulder, there is a partial view of what Thomas Jefferson would have seen—including us happy day-trippers—had he been there last Saturday.
In case you’ve never visited Jefferson Rock (and if not, we recommend the trip), here’s a bit of what Wikipedia has to say about the Harper’s Ferry area. The National Historical Park is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers in and around Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. The park includes land in Jefferson County, West Virginia; Washington County, Maryland and Loudoun County, Virginia. The park is managed by the National Park Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Originally designated as a National Monument in 1944, the park was declared a National Historical Park by the U.S. Congress in 1963. The park includes the historic town of Harper’s Ferry, notable as a center of 19th century industry and as the scene of John Brown’s abolitionist uprising. Consisting of almost 4,000 acres, the land marks the site on which Thomas Jefferson said after visiting the area in 1783, “The passage of the Potomac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature.”