Why do we love pictures of iconic subjects?

picture of Old Rag during a passing rain storm
Passing Storm, Old Rag Mountain

I’ve been thinking this week about my recent trip to Shenandoah National Park, when I couldn’t resist taking a picture of one of most recognizable icons of the Park, Old Rag Mountain. I wondered why it is that we can’t resist taking and making pictures of iconic subjects. 

Old Rag Mountain is certainly iconic to anyone from northern Virginia who has visited the Park. It appears from several turnouts along Skyline Drive, and it also appears prominently from the roads down in the valley in Madison County, Virginia. Unlike many of the peaks that sit in this part of the Blue Ridge, Old Rag is a solitary old thing, making it easy to identify. Kinda like the big dipper. For many of us northern Virginians, the profile of Old Rag symbolizes all that is beautiful about Shenandoah NP.

The 3300 foot summit of Old Rag is known as a great hiking destination. If you live in northern Virginia, you may have made this hike at some point; millions of people have.  For many Virginians, the hike up Old Rag is an annual pilgrimage. It’s a popular hike for young couples who, apparently, are testing the mettle of each other.  Those who make it to the top together, I guess, get to take their relationship to the next level. Apparently.  And people have even asked to be buried on Old Rag, according to a good friend of mine. 

Because of our feelings for Old Rag Mountain, you’ll find lots of pictures of her on the internet. 

Natural icons like Old Rag rarely excite me as a landscape photographer. I have only a few iconic subjects in my portfolio, like Purple Mountains Majesty (Grand Teton NP) and Yellowstone Drama(Yellowstone NP). 

By definition, taking a picture of an iconic subject means that you’re not the first to do so. In fact, the more iconic the subject is, the more it’s had its picture taken. Who hasn’t seen the hundreds of variations of Ansel Adams’s picture of the Snake River? It’s an iconic scene. But today any picture from the same vantage point is also common, cliche, and even boring at this point.  But still, if you’ve ever been to this vista over the Snake River valley and didn’t take a picture of it, well, you’re the exception to the rule đŸ™‚

Driving up and down Skyline Drive on my many trips to Shenandoah NP, I’ve probably passed Old Rag Mountain hundreds of times. Until my most recent trip, never have I stopped to take her picture. I didn’t feel I had anything new to say about her. I don’t want to be boring. 

On my most recent trip, I witnessed a rare face to iconic Old Rag, and I knew I had to share it with you. I found this moment to be quietly dramatic, with heavy foreboding clouds and rain storm, and with the forest all wet and dark, but through it all, Old Rag catching the proverbial silver lining.    

Pictures of icons like Old Rag Mountain are important to us. They remind us of important experiences and make us nostalgic about those moments. And the fact that a mere image can do that for us is nothing short of amazing. And that’s what I love about photography!

Before leaving, I wanted to ask if you’ve seen the trailer to my new book  “At Water’s Edge?” If you’re interested in helping me support the children under the care of the Marland Children’s Home in Ponca City, OK, you can order the book directly from Blurb. Thank you in advance!

Until next time,

PS. Clicking the image of “Passing Storm, Old Rag Mountain” will take you to its place in the gallery, where you can explore the details and see how it might give you just the right place to go when you need a bit of quiet drama.

Did you enjoy this edition of Friday Foto? Feel free to share this email with someone you think might also enjoy it, and invite them to subscribe to “Under the Darkcloth.”  And please leave me a comment or ask a question by replying to this email. 

Copyright J. Riley Stewart, 2018, all rights reserved.

Escaping the noise of summer: Do you have a “quiet space?”

Quiet Evening on Lake Moomaw
Quiet Evening on Lake Moomaw

Do you have a “quiet space?” It’s fascinating how an artful image can become that place. 

We’re having quite a strange summer here in northern Virginia. I made a resolution to get out more this summer and experience nature, but early July was blazing hot and muggy, which kept me close to the AC.  Then a tropical weather pattern decided to sit over the top of us, giving us almost daily rain storms. It’s been here ever since. I’m actually enjoying it though. And it hasn’t kept me from getting out. 

If you live in an area where the weather is intolerable this summer, I hope you’re doing okay, and remember that it’s only temporary. Winter is just around the corner.

There’s few things I enjoy more than heading to the Appalachians during the summer. In early July, my son and I went camping in the Bolar Mountain Recreation Area, way down in southern Virginia on the border with West Virginia. We both needed a break from the daily hubbub. And even though I had my camera gear with me, this trip wasn’t about making photographs as much as it was about enjoying our time together camping, canoeing, and enjoying the peace and quiet. 

Along the road to the campground was a turnout overlooking the lake and the surrounding mountains. “Quiet Evening on Lake Moomaw” is the only photograph I took during our trip, and it was taken from this turnout. We spent many hours parked on the turnout, usually just reading, watching the sky, and talking quietly between ourselves (there was never anyone else on the turnout with us). It was a great spot to really get to know the lake and see its many faces. 

Spending a lot of time in one spot is the only way to really know a place. I don’t sit still often enough. Usually I’m more anxious to capture a photograph and run off quickly to get the next one. Afraid I’m going to miss something I guess, or maybe it’s just in my nature to be a ‘spring butt.’ 

But, as I said, capturing photographs wasn’t my mission on this trip, so I didn’t feel compelled to chase the light. In fact, I didn’t feel compelled to chase anything. 

So it was that we spent hours up on that turnout overlooking the beautiful lake and mountains. During the day, power boats and jet skis were a constant threat to the senses. But something both I and my son noticed was, after sun down, this place became profoundly quiet. Not just human-quiet, but nature-quiet as well. Not a bird tweet or a bug chirp. Nothing but quiet; for hours. Both of us living in urban Virginia, we found the quiet to be almost surreal. And peaceful.

It was this profound quiet that I wanted to remember from our trip to Lake Moomaw, and that I wanted to share with you in “Quiet Evening on Lake Moomaw.” 

I hope you enjoy your August, wherever you live, and I hope you have a place to go when you need some peace and quiet.

Do you have a “quiet space?”  Art can often become that place. A quiet scene in your own living room, a “place” to lose yourself in and escape all the noise and stress, if only for a moment, can make all the difference. 

Until next time, best regards,