Fading Summer and Alice’s Rabbit Hole!

Clear skies and a warm afternoon were a perfect combination for getting off campus Friday and photographing in the nearby state park of Knob Noster. So my colleague and friend, Wilson Hurst, along with one of our dedicated UCM Photo students, Phil Williams (who helped me extensively on my vineyard book project), headed off to visually explore the temporal moments of the waning days of summer. This semester is slipping by incredibly fast, as in just a few days we’ll experience the autumnal equinox, the day my Celtic pagan ancestors celebrated the turning of the seasonal wheel back in east central England and Wales.

Our first encounter was a lovely grove of pine, possibly red pine. As we photographed in this beautiful setting, the drone of vintage propeller-driven fighter planes loomed overhead, as the flight of aircraft practiced aerial maneuvers for an upcoming air show at the nearby Air Force base. Immediately the combination of the vintage aural message from above, the heat and scent of the pine grove below, transported me mentally into the Spanish Civil War scene of Hemingway’s 1940 novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls; one of my favorite reads while attending grad school at Webster University in Saint Louis.

Next, our adventures took the three of us into the deciduous forest and peninsula extending out towards the lake. Here I encountered beautiful mushrooms and fungi on the forest floor hidden in its decomposing organic detritus. Fortunately, due to my thinking ahead, I switched lenses to my Nikkor 55mm Micro 2.8, for some extreme close-up portraits. This fantastic lens allowed me to focus on the fungi within less than 10” (0.25m). As I lay there on the moss and leaves, I expected to see at any moment little gnomes or faeries sitting on the brightly colored woodland thrones. Instead, suddenly my thoughts turned to Jefferson Airplane’s classic hit, White Rabbit with visualizations of Alice going down the rabbit hole into a surreal experience of the psychedelic Other World. This led me to experiment with temporal shifts in my image making by slowing down the shutter speed to around two seconds at f32 and moving the camera in varying directions and speed.

At one point the three of us rendezvoused next to the lake and ended up in a heady discussion on Sartre’s existentialism and Barthessemiological notions of myth and orders of signification. Had any of the rural locals overheard our philosophical discussions, they surely would have thought us all to be a bunch of crazy idiots babbling non-sense! C’est la vie,  such is life for the never ending visual academic!

Pine Toll, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Throne One, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Throne Two, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Alice’s Rabbit Vortex, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Falling Forrest I, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Falling Forest II, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Leaves Falling, © 2010, Terry Ownby

Summer Ice, © 2010, Terry Ownby



  1. Terry:
    While some of my photos bring me enjoyment, I am enthralled when I can see your work and hear of your thoughts going into a project. I have a question. Do breath taking photos have more to do with ‘perspective’ rather than subject? Or is it the lighting AND perspective that causes a jaw to drop in awe? You and Norm (and Vern and Denny) taught me to not stand in the normal position. Get down. Get up. Get close. etc. Thoughts?
    Thanks so much for sharing your stuff. Scott.

  2. Scott,
    Thanks for your comments and questions. It’s nice to know someone actually reads these posts! In regards to your question, I think it’s a combination of everything you’ve mentioned: perspective, subject, lighting AND things like composition and post-production darkroom techniques, such as dodging and burning and contrast control. There’s also a timing factor, especially when shooting in nature, kind of like the “decisive moment” that Henri Cartier-Bresson talks about. However, in my opinion, the critical factor is light and how we approach light. For example, in the first three photos of this series, notice that they are all “backlit”, meaning the main light is coming from behind the subject matter. This cause shadows to come toward the camera and ultimately the viewer. This in turn visually simulates the “Z-axis” of 3-dimensional space as it’s reproduced within the 2-dimensional space of the photograph. That’s one of the big keys, I think. Glad you’re thinking about these things and stay engaged in your image making!

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