Revisiting Mono Lake

All my images of Mono Lake probably fit the broad category of "landscape," but there is a reason that Mono Lake is a separate gallery in the portfolio. It's a special place and, though I have only been there twice [and at that, only since New Year's Eve], I find it very compelling. There are landscape photographers who tell me they find Mono "boring," and maybe I will also eventually—though I doubt it. Granted, as a lake, it is of course flat, and even with the tufa formations, almost featureless. No trees surround it, no river tumbles from it, no mountains come down to its shore. And the backdrop mountains of Yosemite to the west are separate enough from the lake, and on the traffic side of the lake, that they pose some unsatisfying challenges.

For me, I think it is the austerity of the lake that is so compelling. It was Sacramento landscape photographer Gary Hart whose images of Mono first attracted my attention. I participated in one of his workshops in Maui, and learned more in those 5 days than I ever had before. Following the workshop, Gary posted an extreme wide angle of one of the tufa formations beneath some beautiful color. I love WA photography, and his image made me want to visit Mono Lake and photograph it. As the so-called supermoon was scheduled to appear on New Year's Day, it seemed like a good time to go exploring.

Lee Vining sits above Mono Lake on Highway 395. It's the easiest place to stay and affords ready access to most of the lake. In the summer, the town is full of tourists, but in the winter, and on NYE/NYD, the town is all but closed down.When I first visited the lake, I drove all over and around as much of the perimeter as I could [4WD is essential for some of the roads]. I spent more time on the west and north shores and were it not for finally stopping and reading one of the informational boards, might have missed the fact that the most well-known of the iconic tufa formations are on the south shore. That's where I ended up photographing the supermoon, but some of my favorite pics are from the north and west shores using telephoto lenses to capture different perspectives of the lake [such as the one at the top of this post]. But it is also true—and obvious—that I love the south tufa formation. Several of my photos are remarkably similar, with each being quite different. The changes in light, clouds, sky reflections in the water, from moment to moment, mean that each image speaks to me in a different voice.

It's been said that the best photograph is the one in which there is nothing left to subtract. Mono Lake is a canvas of near emptiness, from which subtraction is a constant challenge. Conversely, finding a point of interest within that canvas is just as challenging. Composition is my biggest challenge, and I think it is what separates the artist from the technophile. Mary has an artist's eye, and it is why I love traveling with her. She helps me see the photographic opportunity I might otherwise miss. When I am alone at Mono Lake, I am alone with my challenge.

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