July 18, 1999

Victoria, the Alberta Portfolio XIX (Waterton National Park, Alberta)

From Annie's very first invitation to visit Alberta and work with the Nude in the western landscape, the Rocky Mountains had been in my mind's eye as the ideal setting. Working out the logistics of our visit to Waterton, however, proved to be a challenge, and it was not until the day before our return to Halifax that Victoria, Annie and I finally ventured into the mountains.
4"x5" film
Having never worked with anything remotely similar, I had no point of reference on where to begin with the mountain Nudes. The first image, made a couple of hundred feet from the road, by a mountain stream, show little of the setting, and draws more on the familiar territory of water nudes than anything else. It really wasn't until the second stop, further into the mountains, that we really began to get images that met my expectations.

The apparent contradiction of mountain photography is that mountains are so big they need a wide angle lens to get them all in. The problem this creates is that wide angle lenses also make far away things loom smaller, and farther away. The dramatic mountains which surrounded us were reduced to small hills in the background. While both Victoria and I tried hard to work with the spaces, inevitably, the mountains overwhelmed the Nude, or the Nude overwhelmed the landscape. It seemed to be a difficult problem to overcome, especially with only one session to get it right.
35mm infrared film
As it turned out, the wide angle approach worked better than I had anticipated. My favourite image, an infra-red with a wonderfully contorted figure and a dramatic sky, uses the spatial distortion inherent in ultra-wide angle lenses to great advantage. The sense of foreground and background is muted to the point of malleability, making the image a delight for the eye to wander.
The most time consuming image of the day was also the last. As we returned from deeper in the park, we drove past an outlook which was on a rock outcrop, hundreds of feet over the river below. The scene was stunning. It was also a major tourist stop, with cars pulling in and out by the minute, with very little, if any, time between. Victoria, Annie and I all conferred and decided that the vista was too great to pass up, and began planning the shot.
4"x5" film
We could see traffic in both directions about 30 seconds before they would swing into view of the look-off. I set up the camera, framed the image (again using a 75mm wide angle lens on the 4"x5" camera) and Victoria posed the image, fully clothed. Then we waited. First people stopped for the view. They then asked about the camera. Then they had to take their photos, then they asked more questions, took more photos, ate food, drank drinks, walked the dog, played backgammon...well, you get the picture. After almost 35 minutes of patience, however, there came a gap - a full minute or more, without cars. We sprang into action, and made a swift series of images. These were the final images of Waterton, and the most elaborately planned!

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