Walking to my car on the way out of the Penrod Art Fair, I thought of just how apt the show’s motto “Indiana’s Nicest Day” can be. They managed to find the one weekend at the unpredictable edge of summer and fall that is always beautiful. It was so pleasant that I decided to shoot some photos for proof.
Here in the Midwest we rare see big, white, fluffy, cartoon clouds, or bright blue skies. Downwind of the pollution in the industrial Ohio River Valley it’s hard to describe the sky. If I had to give the color of the Indianapolis sky a name, I would probably pick Null. It’s not any color that you notice. Beyond neutral most often you don’t even notice that it’s there. So to see a row of white clouds on a blue field is automatically a Kodak moment. It was the sort of scene that you expect to only find in textbooks, right over a definition of Cumulonimbus.
But that’s not the only reason that I like to take photos of clouds. My best work, or at least the work that I find the most satisfying, are abstracts. My absolute favorite thing to do is abstract an everyday object. There is nothing more everyday than a could and they are inherently abstract. Constantly changing with the whim of the wind, clouds are water vapor, and dust but still lighter than air. Solid, liquid and gas. All three states of matter at the same time, it’s amazing they can exist at all.
We ascribe such meaning to clouds. Meaning that changes based on their size, shape and color. Either the blissful sign of the ever-after or the foreboding harbingers of doom and destruction there is no limit to the symbolic possibilities. For proof you need only to consider one of the most famous poems in the English language. William Wordsworth begins it “I WANDERED lonely as a cloud/ That floats on high o’er vales and hills,/ When all at once I saw a crowd,/ A host, of golden daffodils.”
The poet relies on the subjective meaning of the cloud and expands outward from there. Photographers actually do the opposite. They narrow the focus in an effort to ascribe meaning to their subjects. Putting a frame around an object and forces a perspective and meaning onto it. You limit the way that the audience can view it and the number of ways people can think about it. Making a photo of a subject means that it is something worth taking a photo of. It gains an importance. It MUST have a meaning. But that meaning may be nothing more solid than a cloud.