Photography and Chopin

A few years ago, at the outset of my interest in landscape photography, I read Ansel Adams’ autobiography.  I was already familiar with some of his work but was not aware of his classical piano ability.  Unlike Adams, I haven’t had to choose between the camera and piano.  However, my skill in either area doesn’t approach his.  Nonetheless, I’ve been playing piano for about 15 years; I’ve been a serious amateur photographer for only five years.  Listening to classical piano music is very enjoyable.  It’s akin to viewing photos online or in books or on television shows like Planet Earth.  I see sights that I’d love to capture with my camera.  Likewise I hear compositions that I could only wish to play as effortlessly and skillfully and some pianists.

This is where the parallel between the two lie.  The pieces I can play are at an intermediate level.  Pieces such as Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven) and Paderewski’s Nocturne in B flat major are among my favorites.  However, Frederic Chopin is my most favorite composer and I can play some Nocturnes and Preludes.  His grandest pieces by far are his Ballades.  These pieces have beautiful simple sections as well as lightning fast sections; quiet sections as well as thunderous sections.  I know more technically different pieces exist.  To proclaim these pieces as the altogether acme of piano music might be an overstatement.  For me, they are the most relaxing and grandiloquent pieces to hear.  Below are links to Krystian Zimerman playing the four Ballades.

Ballade No. 1     Ballade No. 2     Ballade No. 3     Ballade No. 4 Pt 1     Ballade No. 4 Pt 2

On the photographic-side of this idea I have the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.  I’ve never visited either nor had the privilege to photograph them.  Photographers for many years have been visiting and even living in these areas to capture the beauty in all seasons and in all weather.  Innumerable images have been captured displaying natures grandiloquence.  I would love the opportunity to visit both of these places and drink the views with my eyes and camera lens.  Though luck is at time involved in photographs, immense time and knowledge of a place usually leads to the most dramatic and intimate of shots.  Knowing when the weather might be right, or the sun, or the moon, and subsequently spending the time necessary to capture all the elements precisely and perfectly leads to some of the most breathtaking images.  I’m sure there have been iconic images captured that are not a result of such assiduousness but that is beyond the scope of this analogy.

Imnaha River Canyon

In my five years in the West I’ve visited some of the iconic areas:  Moab, Death Valley, Zion, Yellowstone and the Pacific Northwest just to name a few.  However, I’ve spent innumerble days and hours in the Owyhees, Sawtooths, White Clouds and Hells Canyon.  Most of this traipsing has been done within Idaho but some has been done in Oregon’s dry side.  Many National Parks lie within a day’s drive but my choice is to drive to the Imnaha River rather than Rainier; to spend a weekend backpacking in the Sawtooths rather than exploring the Tetons or Glacier NP; to camp along a random canyon deep in the Owyhees rather than Canyonlands or Bryce.  Time and money has definitely influenced my ability to experience the more extravagant locales.  But the more time I spent throughout my immediate region I’ve found numerous photographic spots that are quicker to access and that hasn’t been overshot my anybody with an SLR.

Sawtooth Sunrise, Goat Lake

All of this is to say that I’ve become satisfied with having all the opportunities I’ve had regionally rather than traveling to any place ending in “National Park.”  (Don’t get me wrong, I’d jump at any such opportunity, but I don’t strain my time and wallet to do so.)  I currently live in the Palouse; it’s gaining great popularity with photographers.  Still there is so much to know about this area and so much to see that cannot be seen in one weekend.  I’m content with waiting for the right conditions at sunrise from Skyline Drive or spending a weekend revisiting any area of Hells Canyon to recapture it’s beauty in different light.  Likewise, I’m content with playing a crescendo or diminuendo of a simpler classical piece or learning how to time my fingers while playing triplets with the left hand and a melody with the right.  I may be far from Carnegie Hall but I’m satisfied with my private performance; I may be far from a national-renowned art gallery but I’m satisfied within the slice of America I live and the images I’ve made.

Owyhee River, near the Three Forks

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3 thoughts on “Photography and Chopin

  1. What an excellent analogy, Aaron! Truly your artwork is grand and you have given us many moments of pleasure in sights that we can not receive elsewhere. Thank you for your work. It is a gift and you have shown that it is truly a blessing to others when you choose to bloom wherever you have been planted.

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