Hudson River Valley 2010

Hudson River Valley 2010 - continuing
Inkjet prints, 16.5 x 22"
I made these photographs during a three day journey along the Hudson River Valley in late September, 2010.  It was my first trip to the Hudson and because I wanted to see Olana, Fredrick Church’s estate near Hudson, NY, and the Bear Mountain State Park & Bridge I decided to confine my travels on this first trip to the space between these two destination points on the river.
I have always loved the paintings of the Hudson River Valley School  and the movement closely associated with it known as Luminism.  I love the way these painters have idealized and heroicised nature; I love the way their images invoke, celebrate and make palpable the experience of the numinous or the sublime in the American landscape; and I am particularly interested in the images that tend toward a quiet mystery or a stillness in nature.  This quality of silence in their work has inspired some of my earlier projects, for example my Lake Series and the River Series.
I had moved to Canandaigua, NY with my wife Gloria in 2008 after retiring from teaching 33 years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  And it dawned on me one day: I now lived only a few hours drive from the Hudson River Valley!   I began re-reading Barbara Novak and looked back again at my books on Luminism and the Hudson River Valley painters.  I studied with renewed interest the work and lives of many of the great 19th century American painters, especially Fredrick Church, Martin Johnson Head and Fritz Lane. 
At that time I was working intensely on two series of photographs for my project The Departing Landscape  - a project that now consists of ten different thematic groups of images which share the same overarching themes: Man’s alienation from Nature, the decay of the natural world, loss, longing and transformation.  It occurred to me that perhaps some images of the Hudson River Valley could be a poignant addition to this project.  It finally became quite clear that I needed to go to The River - to see it, experience it, and “picture it” for myself.


It was an exhilarating though sometimes frustrating journey.  Finding the right place to stand to take a really good picture turned out to be much more difficult than I could have ever imagined.  Simply getting access to views of the river was a daunting challenge because of the overgrown wooded areas, railroad tracks, various industrial complexes and the many forms of private property restrictions that kept getting in my way.   There was lots of urban scrawl and speeding traffic to deal with, and the huge intimidating bridges - though they provided dramatic views while driving over them - seemed logistically impossible for me to photograph from.  

I know from my work on past projects that photographing something this big requires a big, sustained effort: it requires lots of time and lots of driving and walking, lots of patience, practice and persistence.  I quickly discovered that being on the right side of the river at the right time of day - at any given viewpoint on the river - was an absolute necessity to getting the most interesting light and thus the most interesting pictures for those particular views.  Only familiarity gained from accumulated experience can teach you how to negotiate these kinds of challenges on the river.   

Click on images once, twice, to enlarge

Hudson River Valley, view from the Fredrick Church house, Olana

Hudson River Valley, view from Vanderbilt Mansion Estate river road

Hudson River Valley, morning view of Storm King Mountain from Cold Springs, NY

Hudson River Valley, evening view of Storm King Mountain from Cold Springs, NY

Hudson River Valley, view of Bear Mountain Bridge from Bear Mountain State Park

Hudson River Valley, Bear Mountain State Park

Hudson River Valley, Iona Island wetlands, Bear Mountain State Park

Hudson River Valley, Iona Island wetlands, Bear Mountain State Park

Hudson River Valley, Iona Island wetlands, Bear Mountain State Park

Hudson River Valley, wetlands and view of Catskill Mountains, viewed near Bard College

Hudson River Valley,  view from the top of Bear Mountain State Park

Hudson River Valley, view of Storm King Mountain (left) and Breakneck Ridge  from the Storm King Highway

Photographing the Breakneck Ridge
I was at the highest viewpoint on the Storm King Highway.  There is a small parking area for two, maybe three small cars; there are no guard rails, just big rocks you can walk out onto, so you can look practically straight down the cliff wall to the water below at some places on this point; and from up there the views in every direction are vast, amazing, awesome.  
It was early morning, the wind was very intense and the clouds were moving rapidly as the sun was rising over the ridge.  The light was going in and out and changing constantly because of the wind and moving clouds and the sun’s rising over the ridge.  I was experiencing some dizziness from the heights.  Every moment, every view seemed to be presenting new picture possibilities as the light kept changing.  Everything looked good, magical and fleeting . . .  I just kept photographing and hoping for the best because I had learned from similar past experiences that dramatic situations do not necessarily yield successful, interesting photographs.  

Hudson River Valley, view of Breakneck Ridge at sunrise from lookout point, Storm King Mountain highway 

Hudson River Valley, view of Breakneck Ridge at sunrise from lookout point, Storm King Mountain Highway 

Hudson River Valley, early morning. looking south from lookout point, Storm King Mountain Highway 

Hudson River Valley, early morning, looking south from lookout point, Storm King Mountain Highway 

Hudson River Valley, early morning, looking south from lookout point, Storm King Mountain Highway 


Hudson River Valley,  early morning,  looking south toward Bear Mountain Bridge

Hudson River Valley,  looking south at Bear Mountain Bridge, mid morning

Hudson River Valley, noontime, looking south at Bear Mountain Bridge


Now that I’ve actually gotten a little experience photographing the Hudson River Valley myself, and discovered how logistically challenging it is, I have all the more respect and gratitude for the painters (and photographers) who have spent in some cases their entire lifetimes working the Hudson River.
It’s incredibly easy to make an uninteresting picture, even of a stunningly beautiful subject like the Hudson River Valley.  After all is said and done, you (the viewer) are not looking at The Hudson River, you are looking at  some photographs I have made.  So I have taken whatever liberties necessary to make my photographs as true to my experience and my intentions as possible.  Everything is fair in love, war, poetry and photo-pictorialism.  
For example, I digitally removed various things out of the first photograph above - the Olana view of the river (such as boats, buildings, smoking smoke stacks) - to idealize the view more, to make it look more like how I imagined Fredrick Church would have seen the river in his time, from his beloved house.


The Hudson River Valley & The Departing Landscape
These last four photographs, below, are more obviously transformations of the original digital files I made of the Hudson River Valley.  The first three photographs were made for a series entitled Windswept Landscapes.  The fourth, light toned image was made for a series entitled Faint Photographs.  Both series are part of a large collection of ten projects, as mentioned earlier, entitled The Departing Landscape.

The Departing Landscape: Windswept view of the Hudson River Valley at Sunset

The Departing Landscape: Windswept view of Breakneck Ridge and the Hudson River - early morning

The Departing Landscape: Windswept Hudson River Valley, view from Cold Springs, NY at sunset

The Departing Landscape: Faint Photograph, Hudson River looking south from Boscobel Estate


The Hudson River Valley is an extremely large, complex subject.  It’s a wonderful light modulator; it’s a larger-than-life legend rich in social history; it’s also a tragic victim of the industrial revolution and the past 150 years of constant human abuse, ignorance and greed.  The river has suffered an onslaught of environmental attacks that have essentially destroyed its natural ecology.  While I was photographing on the river’s edge during my trip, a golf ball came floating by me.  I grabbed it and have kept it as a reminder of the impact we humans have had on the river and the entire planet.  
The Hudson River has become so horribly polluted that it has no choice but to leave us.  We have pushed it away and we can never have it back in the way that we once knew it through the eyes of the Hudson River Painters and the Luminists.  Even in their paintings they warned us of the impact of developing culture upon their natural world with various kinds of symbolism (such as the inclusion of an ax in the foreground of a landscape they were painting).  
The Hudson River, though remaining sublime in some essential way, has sadly become part of The Departing Landscape in which we find ourselves living today . . . and for me yet another symbol of loss and longing for something more. 
This webpage was posted February 7, 2012

To view more Windswept Landscapes  click here

To view more Faint Photographs  click here

To learn more about The Departing Landscape Project  click here

The River Series  click here

The Lake Series  click here

Costa Rica series  click here

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.