A Lawnmower Subversive

About the Wild Grass Portfolio

Looking at a suburban lawn, an adult might imagine sprinkler systems and mowers, but the young at heart can get down on their hands and knees and see a miniature and colorful forest. In this wild grass collection I try to find that enchanted land, and amazingly, wild grass obliges by glowing naturally in every color of the rainbow. None of my photographs are “photoshopped” (a fascinating new verb) and the amazing colors and shapes of these tall meadow grass are unaltered and just as I see them through the camera’s lens. I love how our preconceived notions of green lawns are completely upturned by the amazing natural colors found in wild grass.

My original intent was to capture the monochromatic jades and olives of a mountain meadow. It was a complete failure. When I got up close and personal—down on my hands and crawling on my belly—I discovered a profusion of colors, especially near the roots where wild grass glimmers in pastel pinks, peaches, and oranges that shine when the sun hits each blade from behind. Reds and yellows brighten autumn’s mountain grass, just like the leaves on an oak or aspen. Even blues make a surprise appearance. Green is still the dominant color of course, but I now relish my subversive hunt for the most unexpected of hues.

Each grass photograph represents hours, days, sometimes months of work, and the entire collection spans many years. I have a vision in mind long before I head into the field. I dream of particular shapes, and I search for tufts of grass that will create that impression—five pointed stars, crosses, interwoven blades, sea urchins, and stick figures playing musical instruments (well, yes, some of it requires imagination). I adjust the position of the camera so that a blade of grass passes through the frame exactly where I want it to be. Focus is manual as are all other camera settings. It’s a painstaking process, and I have plenty of failures. One gust of wind, and the grass has moved, or the tripod has moved, or the colorful backdrop now has a cloud. On the other hand, fortuitous changes can sometimes create an interesting series of similar images with radically different backdrops. I have a plan, but I can accept fate.

The grass is the most obvious part of the image, but human and karmatic foibles play a role. I choose a backdrop for the interesting shades it can add to an image—and in wanders a cow. I look for pastel colors, and all I can find is rain. I get out early when the light is right, but end up chasing my gear across the meadow in one of Colorado’s infamous Chinook winds. I get grass stains on my knees. I wait for intrusive bees and bugs to fly away. I freeze my fingers in the autumn chill, and in the summer I sneeze like crazy. On the less cooperative mornings, I dream of a nice cup of hot tea. Much, much patience…

As always, the grass that you see in these photographs is identical to what I see in the viewfinder of the camera. I have inserted nothing, and I have taken nothing away. The colors are exactly as I find them in the meadow, adding I hope to the charm and the sense of natural discovery in these photographs.

A quick note on prints

Artists feel the same way about paper that typesetters feel about fonts. Each paper is unique and can convey an entirely different message. For the Lawnmower Subversive series, I print on beautiful cotton rag papers that emphasize the wonderful pastel look and feel of the grass. The finely textured archival paper—my favorite art paper, in fact—conveys the painted quality of the image without losing any of the photographic detail.

Mountain Grass
Although it is among the
most straightforward of my
grass photographs, I love
the subversive colors.
 
Star
A star in the grass. I envision a
pattern and find tufts of grass and
camera angles that create the
desired scene.
 
Pastel Rainbow
The colors are fantastic but
completely natural. I have added
nothing and taken nothing away.
Wildflowers color the
background.