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The Accidental Chronicler

Updated: Apr 29

chronicle verb : record (a related series of events) in a factual and detailed way

Other than smartphone photos for family and friends, I generally don’t photograph to record anything. My goal is simply to make compelling images of natural scenes and occasional man-made things. Except for the changing of the seasons, there isn’t much to chronicle in the natural world – things usually don’t change significantly over the span of time that I have to observe them, so there is no real “series of events” for me to record. (For you geologists out there, I guess I’m taking the stance of uniformitarianism within my lifetime.) Even when things do change in nature, it would usually be very difficult to predict what changes would occur! And, other than slow decay, human constructions rarely change either.

That said, I have recently found that some of my photographs have in fact become part of two series of events, although I would hope they do so in a way that goes beyond the factual. The photograph below was made on the trail to the Schonchin Butte lookout, in Lava Beds National Monument, California, some years ago. We see a gnarled juniper tree, with a murky view of Mount Dome in the background, resulting from smoke blown in from distant wildfires.

The trail up Schonchin Butte is now closed due to damage from the Caldwell fire that burned through much of the monument this past summer. (Catastrophism!) My guess is that the juniper pictured was killed, and perhaps destroyed, by the fire. I will return when I can to see if it is still there and, if it is, I will attempt a photograph it from the same vantage point for comparison with this photograph of the living tree. If it is still standing but burned, a second photograph could result in a nice diptych when combined with the one shown.

The first photograph below shows two grain elevators with a couple of potato sheds between them. These are located at a rail stop called Stonebridge, just east of Merrill, Oregon. The second photograph shows a portion of the far elevator, which was demolished in 2016. And the third photograph shows a visually and mechanically interesting device that was part of the demolished elevator. I was fortunate to record these when I did!

The next two photographs show the two potato sheds that can be seen between the elevators in the first picture above. When I passed by about a month ago I glanced over to look at them, and was surprised to see just skeletons. I drove closer, and saw a group of workers disassembling the wooden frames of the sheds. So in 2021 all that will remain of the complex that I originally photographed will be the near elevator.

I have no intention of changing the way that I photograph, other than what changes might occur “organically” as I mature as a photographer and a person. (“Mature” being a euphemism for “get old” in the case of the latter!) But the above cases lead me to think that I might benefit from occasionally considering the potential impermanence of the things I photograph.

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