1 a thick cloud of water droplets suspended in the atmosphere at or near the earth’s surface that obscures or restricts visibility
2 something that obscures and confuses a situation or someone’s thought processes
3 a 1980 horror film by John Carpenter, partially shot in Point Reyes, California.
(dictionary credit to the New Oxford American Dictionary embedded in my Mac)
The fog is everywhere and nowhere in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m not going to study it and lay out the timetables and scientific basis for it—why it’s some places and not others. I only get to spend a significant amount of time in it about once a year, so I’d like for it to keep me on my toes.
It doesn’t come in on little cat feet for me, as it did for Sandburg. No, it appears out of nowhere and makes an inexorable and glacial excursion across the land, like an immense down duvet sliding down the hills and then stopping, inviting speculation and obscuring everything beyond.
I wanted to take the above photograph last year. I planned on bringing a 4×5 Crown Graphic this year to shoot it, but at the last minute I realized that carrying a Leica and a 35mm lens was going to be the most practical way for me to travel. I hemmed and hawed on where the horizon line should be, and out of several shots, this is the one that best captured my vision on that day.
But oh, shadow detail, what are you exactly in this fog? I tend to overexpose my black and white negatives anyway, preferring to dial down the dark in the darkroom (digital or wet), but what is in this bark? Is it overexposure or darkness obscured by millions of particles of water suspended before the trees, and scattering light about? It’s more of the latter, I think. I spent the day driving around Point Reyes in glare-reducing sunglasses. The lightest parts of these photographs were near Arctic white, as regardless of this perpetual cloud, the sun was shining just above.
While I like the subject of the first photograph a lot, I love the texture of this one. This is how the fog looked–like millions of bits of silver exposed to light. Which it was in the magic box of my Leica on that classic Kodak film. You can’t see them clearly in this photo, even blown up really big, but there are Elephant Seals hanging out on that beach. You are forbidden to approach or bother them in any way, so we kept our distance, only realizing they were there from their chatter and movement which obviously the still image doesn’t register.
Off the shore, we heard a man singing. His voice went in and out. Was he turning slowly on a platform in Drakes Bay? Was he serenading the amorous Elephant Seals? Are Elephant Seals more gifted vocalists than I thought? We never figured out who or where he actually was—perhaps the atmosphere played a trick on us and he was firmly on land. Stretching our gaze and ears, we ended up getting a quick glance of an Elephant Seal, straight down a cliff we were atop. This dock was about a half-mile farther east of the overlook where I shot the previous photograph (see where we are here: http://goo.gl/ZJRcl8)
This photograph captures the sense of how suddenly the fog obscures the scene. The silhouetted branches framing the shot reflect the shadowed area I’m shooting from, under a copse over the trail, but only hundreds of feet away the trees are almost as light as the sky.
Another element that added to the mystery and magic of this visit was the remarkable lack of other people. Every time we visit Point Reyes, we see few or no people–not counting Point Reyes Station and Limantour Beach. Instead, we see deer and elk that hesitate and keep their distance but don’t necessarily run if we’re nice and quiet. Note that almost nothing goes to black in this exposure. It’s all grays and a wonderful grain that’s more the scene itself than the Plus-X/Rodinal combination.
When it’s this foggy, the delightful scene of a cow in the road most often causes a panicked step on the brakes. For those who haven’t been to this amazing part of the earth, the cow is supposed to be on the other side of a fence for her own safety.
For a handful more Point Reyes shots from the previous year, 2012, see this post.
All photographs shot with a hand-held Leica M4 on Plus-X rated at 100. I metered once in a while with a Sekonic L-308S and then opened up a stop more. I developed in Rodinal, diluted 1+50, for 13 minutes, with one minute initial agitation, then one “tip” each minute.
Have you shot the fog? How did you approach it? Did it look anything like John Carpenter’s?