Lofoten Islands · Norway
It’s immensely flattering yet also rather amusing to think about how somewhere along the way in social media circles I’ve picked up the moniker (affectionately rather than sarcastically, I think) of “The Waterfall Whisperer” or some permutation thereof. I mean yeah, I get it...my portfolio’s chock-full of them and I do have a great personal affinity for them, but what people don’t see are all the failed photographic forays I’ve made and the thousands upon thousands of shutter actuations borne of them. My external hard drive smokes and whirs in affirmation of this every time I delve into my archives of mediocrity.
So when Nordic megatalent Stian Klo excitedly messaged me via Facebook that he’d finally found a couple of waterfalls within shouting distance for us to shoot--and that “they’ve got your name written all over them”--I knew the poor sap was setting himself up for some major, major disappointment. You see, I rarely ever get good photos the first time I meet a waterfall. Each one is unique, and it’s this uniqueness that I feel obligated to emphasize in their portrayals. I kind of have to cultivate a personal relationship with them first...get to know their faces, their forms, their many moods...before I really feel confident and comfortable trying to photograph them. As I explain in my Aperture Academy interview in August 2015, “Being able to visit a waterfall over and over again...allows me to at once develop a familiarity with my subject yet maintain an invigorating freshness to it. Conceptually, I actually approach waterfall photography as if I might photograph a human model, with my personal obligation to that model being to portray him or her in as unique, beautiful, and emotive a manner as I'm capable of.”
But with this upcoming ‘client’, there would be no such luxury. When I asked Stian--out scouting for us on location--when he’d like us to be ready to go, he messaged back: “15 minutes.” I’m pretty sure he was joking knowing that we were pretty hungover from the previous early morning’s shoot, but nonetheless I managed to finagle another 10 minutes on top of that just in case, especially since my cabinmates were both still only about 15 winks into their planned 40.
In any case, Stian was unwittingly calling in a very deliberate and methodical portrait photographer on a situation that really needed the speed and on-the-fly ingenuity of a street photographer. Needless to say, I bellyflopped epically and came away with pretty much nothing despite my 2-plus hours at the falls. The others in the group fared much, much better. And of course, anything on the plus side of the zero I registered is infinitely greater… :/
I returned to the van not so much dejected since I’d already foreseen what the outcome would be...but more perhaps embarrassed, even a little ashamed...because it’s really no fun to finally admit that the emperor’s naked as a newborn--especially when YOU’re the emperor. As if to reinforce the sobriety of the revelation, dense fog began to roll in, completely shrouding parts of this lake known as Sørvågvatnet from visibility beyond a mere hundred paces. Our trusty and talented guides Stian and Tommy Simonsen, though, sensed opportunity hidden somewhere within that stark canvas, and they graciously pulled off the road to see if any of us wanted to try shooting it.
Indeed, the minimalistic scenery here was in sharp (or rather soft) contrast to the striking visuals Lofoten had generously bestowed upon us to that point, and for me it was a bit cathartic to have an image materialize before my very eyes and really ‘speak’ to me on the heels of personal (and peer?) disappointment at the falls. Beyond some basic exposure and color temperature adjustments in Lightroom and the monochrome conversion, I did very little here in the development of this image...the simplicity of process dovetailing with the starkness of the scenery as if such parsimony were foreordained from the start. And although I knew I fared better at the foggy lake than the waterfall, I hadn’t the heart to tell Stian this out loud in that packed van given his earlier enthusiasm.
I figured I might get away with sort of, uh, whispering it to him sometime later...