Sycamore and Thunderstorm was made at Four Mile Point off of Route 385 just south of the village of Coxsackie, New York. It was October 2010 and the last of the fall foliage had nearly disappeared leaving the landscape in its pre-winter austerity.
This is my favorite time of year to photograph because the bare trees reveal their skeletal structures and the true beauty of their forms. It was late morning, windy and warm with a hint of rain. I sensed that the conditions might be right to photograph this subject so I packed and drove to Four Mile Point as the calm weather began to intensify into something more powerful. I had attempted to photograph this magnificent river-sculpted sycamore several years before and failed totally. Always in the back of my mind as a great subject, this tree and I were eager for another try. I arrived with my 8×10 inch camera and went to work. The wind began to blow steadily and seemed to be following the tidal movement of the river. Generally, with large format photography, exposures are long and strong winds can cause havoc with foliage and anything that moves. Under most circumstances this would be undesirable, but wind is a natural element and can be used to creative advantage. As I composed this image, dark clouds began to form before me and I heard the rumble of nearby thunder. Thinking that this was a little odd late in October, I decided to wait and watch. Moments passed and the thunder and dark clouds increased. I was now confronted with a powerful, dramatic and very unexpected scene. I adjusted the exposure to last for four seconds. Long enough to allow the movement of wind and river to define themselves but short enough to keep the camera steady in a heavy wind. I made three exposures. Lightning flashed around me and drops began to fall. The sky opened suddenly and without warning the full force of the storm was upon me. Because of the size and amount of equipment needed for this type of photographic work, I could not stow it away from the storm, so I had to stand fast and wait it out. I covered the camera with a large plastic bag, closed my backpack, pulled up my coat hood and braced myself. What followed was an amazing and somewhat unnerving experience. Being so close to the water in this type of storm, I imagined being electrocuted or at least knocked down. As I held onto the tripod-mounted camera to keep it upright, I watched the rain and wind roar violently around me. The ancient sycamore swayed as it probably had a thousand times before. Then, as suddenly as it began, the storm ended. I removed my hood and listened as the fast moving freight-train storm roared on to its northeastern destination. I packed and started out, hopeful that this would be a meaningful image. Today, I print this negative as a very large silver gelatin photograph. The large size helps translate the immense power of river and weather and the calm, steady countenance of this beautiful tree-creature which has experienced more of the raw power of nature than any human being could ever imagine.