Whenever I fly, I always have my IPhone ready to catch an interesting cloud pattern and I have posted a couple of these here: storm clouds over the Chesapeake and the optical phenomenon called the glory. On a recent trip into Houston, I was half expecting, somewhere, as we crossed from Massachusetts and the Northeast into the South, to see a sharp line with blue color on one side and red on the other. It wasn’t that way at all – just everywhere majestic and beautiful.
Clouds and cloud patterns hold a very special appeal. What if we could soar like birds? And in another sense they speak of the changing, the ephemeral, and of something beautiful and nebulous that is only loosely held to the Earth.
The message here is that I am very drawn to dramatic cloud pictures and, of course, the most dramatic of cloud pictures are the storms. In turn, the most dramatic of storms are the super cells that can become tornadoes. 2013 was a devastating year for such storms in the United States, the most terrible being an EF5 storm in Moore, OK on May 20th.
There are people, who chase these storms for science and people who chase these storms to photograph them. One of the best storm photographers is Mitch Dobrowner. He has a recently released a book of storm images with Gretel Ehrlich. Dobrowner’s images are humbling and awe inspiring. There is an intense and frightening magnificence to these images – a sense of the omnipotent and the fragility of what we are. I am really hard-pressed to say which of Dobrowner’s wonderful images are my favorites. But I will give you two. First, there is “Rope Out, Regan, ND, 2011.” The second is one of his beautiful landscapes entitled “Shiprock Storm, Navajo Nation,New Mexico 2008.”
In great black and white photography there are always three things: first the light, second the vision, and third the technical ability to create a print with rich black, dramatic whites, and all the tonal range in between. Dobrowner is truly a master. And I have to tell you that when I am trying to recover from an intense work week there is nothing that reestablishes balance and bliss than great black and white photography.
It is often the case that you can find a photographer’s raison d’être on their websites in terms of a quote that they have placed in some prominent place. Dobrowner quotes enivronmentalist, anarchist, and eco-terrorist Edward Abbey (1927-1989).
“Our job is to record, each in his own way, this world of light and shadow and time that will never come again exactly as it is today.”
This seems a wonderful vision and mantra for all photographers – something to strive for and something that answers the question: is this worth photographing?
We ask why photographers like Dobrowner chase the moments and the light, even to the point of great personal risk. I believe this answers the question and our vision is so enriched by it.