Most of the following photographs were taken at Pine Creek Gorge, also known as The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. My big take away form this trip was reckoning with the destruction us humans have caused to the forest.
William Penn arrived in 1682, at that time Pennsylvania was covered in 90% with woods. Penn stated “I would not abuse His love, nor act unworthy of His providence, and so defile what came to me clean.” Despite that, roughly 100 years after his landing white men purchased the land in these photos. A few decades later companies set up shop to begin lumbering.
The trees here used to be huge, 3-6′ in diameter. The wood here was considered some of the best in the world for making ship masts. Lumbermen would float the wood down the Susquehanna all the way to the Chesapeake Bay in Baltimore (Where I was born!) and then they would WALK back.
Once clear cutting was possible these old trees were harvested en masse. In 1838 companies moved into the Pine Creek Gorge. About 50 years later we add trains to the mix and the destruction scales exponentially. By the early 1900s the old growth forest are gone. I’m talking ‘The Lorax’ gone – they cut down every tree and left the land barren. On May 6, 1903, the Wellsboro newspaper had the headline “Wild Lands Aflame” and reported landslides through the gorge.
As a result every tree you see in these photographs is actually quite young. Growing up I was somewhat aware of it but to stand among the trees and truly understand the vast destruction that was caused was something new.
The forest now rebounds but with less diversity and support for life than in the past. In the last 100 years humans have made amazing leaps and bounds in science and technology while simultaneously using those tools to wreak mass destruction on large portions of our planet.
William G. Allyn, a professor of Medical Optics, says our sight is a primary way we experience this world, “More than 50 percent of the cortex, the surface of the brain, is devoted to processing visual information,”. We rely on our sight so much and yet our sensitivity to light is limited. Photography is a way to re-experience and share with others our unique vision and perspectives.
The light spectrum is vast and yet as humans we are equipped to only directly experience a small fraction of this spectrum as visible light. The first infrared photographs were publish ed February 1910 by Robert W. Wood. It’s been just over 100 years that humans have been able to visually experience these wavelengths.
Photography gives us a way to capture things we don’t see, things we can’t perceive or experience. Long exposures let us compress the motion of the world, a duration of time, down into a single frame that we can then perceive in an instant. We now have computers and Photoshop that allow us to manipulate images in previously unfathomable ways.
These slight variations on photographic tools give us an infinite number of ways to capture and share the world. The film I used is 35mm Ilford SFX 200 loaded into my Pentax ME. This film’s sensitivity extends into the infrared spectrum. I used a dark red 29 filter to block out much of the visible light.
The two images below are scans of the SFX film that I manipulated in Photoshop. I duplicated the original image and spun or flipped it before blending the two versions together. The effect is a cool self-similar double exposure.
The final two images are for comparison purposes. I took two photos of the same tree. The image on the left is the infrared 35mm film, the image on the right is a digital photo taken with a Sony a6000 and Kalimar 28-70 lens.
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