Voices for Biodiversity

Things We Don’t See in the Woods

I began my photographic journey around the age of 14, when my parents gave me a 120 Yashika camera. I was fascinated to see the upside-down image on the ground glass, and even more astounded when the prints came back from the drug store. I used that camera until I got to the University of Rochester, where I was introduced to the darkroom. That’s when the real love affair began. I spent countless hours watching the magic of images appearing in the development bath. I saved money like crazy, and bought my first Leica camera, a venerable M3. Its silent shutter allowed me to go out in nature and get images without disturbing the animals. Because I grew up in an area of Long Island where the woods were still everywhere, I spent many happy hours exploring and photographing everything that caught my eye. I never lost this habit, even as I expanded my scope to include more human-interest shooting. The next big change came when I switched to color film, and could no longer observe the magic that occurred so often in the darkroom. I would have to wait 50 years for the feeling of magic to reappear.

It's only recently that my interest in the overlooked scenes in nature began to tug at me. I've been blessed to have the forests surrounding Santa Fe as my playground. In the last six months, I've found myself drawn to all the things that most people never see as they rush about intent on achieving the "perfect" hike — i.e., a certain amount of steps in a specific amount of time — while dodging bike enthusiasts, and constantly checking their iWatches, Fitbits and other electronics. I, on the other hand, enjoy moving more slowly, off the marked tails, peering under fallen trees, inside fire-damaged trees, pretty much anywhere that I sense there could be an image just waiting to entrance me. I get my clothes dirty crawling on my hands and knees looking for the unusual shot. I shoot everything on an iPhone, but even though I'm tempted to go to larger format from time to time, the ability to get up close in some difficult settings usually means that the iPhone is the right choice.

The only thing that has been missing is the magic that I had experienced in the darkroom, watching images appear out of nowhere. This finally started to happen when I discovered the vast number of editing tools for iOS. I had used Photoshop for many years, but always found it too cumbersome and arcane in logic structure. What I found with the new generation of tools was the magic that I had missed for so long. Now I can experiment freely, trying endless combinations that often amaze me. I prefer to let things happen almost randomly rather than trying to decide beforehand what I want the final image to look like. I shoot the raw images in ways that support the kind of modifications that I like, but the actual editing process is very much try, try and try again until suddenly a completely new image appears. In this way, I often find myself filled with wonder, delighted to have discovered a way to bring a sense of serendipity to photography.

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Writer, Photographer

Ron Dans
Writer, Photographer

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