White Dogwood Canopy

White Dogwood Canopy

20×20 prints are $2,000
30×30 prints are $4,000

In 1990 and 1991 the Bernheim Forest Foundation in Kentucky gave me artist grants to photograph at the forest. We’ve maintained a wonderful relationship with the folks at Bernheim Forest and have often returned to photograph there. This native white dogwood tree happened to be on the home property of the Bernheim Director and was photographed in 2000.

One of the primary difficulties of photographing dogwood blossoms is wind. Each blossom is perched on the end of a very thin branch and the flowers act as sails, wafting in even the slightest breeze. This sunny afternoon was absolutely calm and the blue sky was clear with a few wisps of clouds. The blossoms were at their peak and the tree was magnificent; an irresistible photographic subject.

I first tried to make a photograph with my 8x10 camera, using a wide angle lens but had to give it up after about 45 minutes of struggle. I was trying to shoot almost straight up, with the camera close to the ground but composing and focusing the image was awkward, convoluted and ultimately undoable. Therefore I switched to the Hasselblad with a 50mm lens and a prism viewfinder.

When you compose an image with a wide angle lens and the subject matter is close to the camera, when moving the camera a fraction of an inch noticeably changes the composition. To compose this image I first hand-held the camera underneath the tree, moving in and out, up and down, until I found the exact composition you see here. Carefully marking the spot, I put the camera on a sturdy tripod, took careful spotmeter readings and made this exposure.

Making the print is a delicate matter. The blue colors progress from a light cyan in the lower right corner to a clean blue color in the upper left corner. The whites are luminous but need to be held to the right density and color balance. Dodging and burning each print has to be precise and flawless to bring the Cibachrome print into a unified whole.

This image consists of three visual layers which cohesively interact with each another: the blue sky background with a hint of clouds, the craggy framework of the black branches, and the flocks of butterfly-like white dogwood blossoms. They all work together to make an uplifting image which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Format: Medium (square)
Location: Kentucky
Reference key: wdc