Portraits of Earth

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

“Just as we study a face in order to know a person, so we examine an earthscape (a landscape, waterscape, skyscape, or combination of these) in order to understand the Earth itself.”

In PORTRAITS OF EARTH, Freeman Patterson advocates learning to observe without attaching preconceived labels (tree, leaf, sand, flower), to see nature as pattern and shape and texture. Creating a photographic composition in this way makes one more sensitive to and conscious of the factors shaping the Earth. The bold, graphic design made by a backlit boulder yields information about the geologic forces that gave it shape; frontlighting allows it to merge with the background, showing the pattern of the environment; wind and rain contribute to the texture revealed by sidelighting.

Patterson’s text thus focuses on composition as a way to express one’s personal perception of Earth. The camera angle, over- or underexposure, macro or wide-angle lens exist only to clarify what it is one wants to convey about Earth. He discusses his own photographs not in terms of f-stops and shutter speeds but according to his emotional response to the subject. To photograph a bit of grass on a rock, Patterson waits until the pattern of shadows echoes the shape of the grass, establishing a sense of harmony. A bold composition of the dunes of the Namib Desert in Africa at sunrise creates a feeling of menace through its slight underexposure of the blood-red highlights and black shadows. A muted winter photograph taken at a distance shows the regular pattern pine trees create in their competition for “light and space.” A particular camera position reveals wet sand that evokes an athlete’s flexed muscles.

Patterson is everywhere concerned with interrelationships--the physical connection between lichens and seeds germinating in a fissure in rock, the mental connection between the mud flats of the desert and the breaking ice floes of Ellesmere Island. His close observations yield insight into the work of the photographer as well as into the Earth itself.