Several summers ago my son Jem and I were taking a road trip through the western states, it was meant to be both a photography trip as well as a father and son trip. We were in Utah and it was about 150 degrees (or so it felt) when I spied these great mud hills off to the north.
Sensing a good image, we hiked to a vantage point where I could photograph this set of wonderfully symmetric hills. I loved the dark mud and the deep blue sky, but the image was lacking something. I wanted to stay longer to see if I could solve this photographic riddle, but my son had other ideas.
Photographing with a child is a real challenge for me. I go into “working mode” which means that I withdraw into my own world and want to be left alone. My son on the other hand goes into “bored child mode” which means he repeats the following, interspersed with loud sighs:
- It’s hot.
- How much longer?
- Can we go now?
- You said 5 minutes…5 minutes ago!
- Can I go back to the car and watch a movie?
- Are you done?
Given the mediocrity of the image, the oppressive heat and my son chipping away at my stamina…I gave up, packed up and headed back to the truck.
But once back I spied this single cloud moving very fast across the horizon. I could see by its trajectory that in about a minute it would pass right over those mud hills that I had just been photographing.
This was a beautiful little cloud that was heading towards a wonderful setting…when suddenly I realized that this could be my “Moonrise, Hernandez” moment!
I told my son that I was going back for one more shot (he let out a loud and exaggerated groan) and I ran just as fast as I could. I quickly set up my gear and was able to get a single shot with the cloud perfectly situated above those mud hills. And that is the image above.
As I looked at the image on the camera’s screen, the name Harbinger immediately popped into my head and that is what I named the image.
When I would show this new image to people, they would ask “are you going to do a series of them?” I honestly didn’t think I’d ever find another solitary cloud like this one and would say that while I would love to, I doubted that it would be possible.
But over the next couple of years something interesting happened. Being sensitized to this concept, I started to find other Harbinger opportunities until I had a small collection of them:
I love this series for its mysterious simplicity, and I love the artist statement for its brevity and ambiguity:
Harbinger: \?här-b?n-j?r\ noun
Unlike my Auschwitz-Birkenau series that took just under two hours to create, I expect Harbinger to take many years to complete.
But that’s okay, I’m in no hurry.
P.S. If you have not heard about my exhibition print sale, there are a number of images still available. You can see the list at: http://www.colethompsonphotography.com/ExhibitionPrintSale2014-06-20.htm