Precious silence often accompanies a fresh and heavy snowfall. The contrast between it and the sounds we normally tune out, calls our attention to it. We go outside to watch and listen closely. We even seem to breathe easier as the snowflakes make a barely perceptible sound. Before the shovels and snowblowers come out, before the sounds of laughing kids and car engines turning over, there’s that moment when we stand still and relish the quiet.
I made this photograph in one such moment. I remember it well because it was one of those instances where, after I made several exposures, I lingered a while to listen to the stillness and watch as the evening light gradually diminished. For me, the sensibility of silence in this image is reinforced by the iron “guards” standing at attention with their spears, oblivious to the cold, wind and coming darkness. The regularity of the spear-shadows contrasts with the chaotic shadows of the trees, suggesting an integration of humanity (orderly lines) living in harmony and nature (disorderly shadows). Further, I notice that although the shadows take different forms, their brightness values are the same—a visual demonstration of unity in diversity.
In my experience silence seems to encourage more silence. Might the memory of past quiet moments, having been so refreshing and enriching—sometimes eliciting awe—prompt us to thirst for more? I think the centering that comes from being in nature at any time of year can be attributed as much to sound as to sight. The song of a bird, snow falling or leaves crunching underfoot, dripping or falling water or wind blowing through the trees are just a few of the sounds that connect us to the deepest roots of our physical being.
I find it curious, the role that the fence plays in contributing to the sensibility of this image. It seems the evocation would not be as potent without it. Wrought iron, being metal, dark and black somehow looks colder than the snow itself. Its spears, literally frozen in place, enhance the qualities of cold and silence. Workers and travelers often see snow as a nuisance. Kids see it as an opportunity for fun and a day off school. Practical considerations aside, stopping to take in its beauty and listen to the sounds of silence can be very enriching.
When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.
About This Image
Title: Wrought Iron Fence In Snow
File #: DSCF 0967
Location: Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, OH
We are fortunate in Cincinnati to have an enormous, beautiful and well-maintained cemetery that’s also an arboretum. I’ve been photographing there since the early ’60’s. Its many ponds, diverse trees, and landscaping make it as much a garden and woodland as a final resting place. I’ve photographed the monuments, but more often work the angles to avoid them. Whenever the snow is deep enough to cover the simple gravestones I pack up the camera, bundle up and head to Spring Grove Cemetery.
It’s only in late December and January that the shadows get this long before the place closes at 5 pm. On this particular day, the temperature was in the teens. My hands and feet were freezing. But considering the result, it was worth it. When I downloaded the file I thought the shadows were too saturated. After softening the blue and adding yellow to see how it would look, I decided to forego the adjustment. Also as a test, I straightened the fence to make the first “spear” perfectly vertical, but here again, I decided not to alter the image. The benefit of leaving it alone was an increase in the number of fence shadows in the distance that otherwise would have been cropped out.