Jennifer Wannen

Reaching the Story Within

“All That Recedes” 

A year ago I took this photo on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, a trip I’d rearranged heaven and earth to make happen. 

When I first reviewed the image, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. There wasn’t anything particularly dramatic or unusual at first glance, but I knew there was a story in it. That’s what I long for the most in my process—to capture a story within the frame. Sometimes a story will be understated. In other pictures, however, I can engage a narrative more overtly. 

For me, the editing process allows other layers of interpretation to come into play beyond the way I originally set up the image. I recall my experience related to a particular scene, and I have the chance to define and recreate the subject in terms of that encounter. Even subtle or basic adjustments can re-envision the image entirely. 

In this photo, I took a more dramatic approach with hue, blur, and burned edging to create the story I wanted to visually suggest in the frame, most predominantly the perspective of a boat’s passenger taking in a withdrawing horizon. This viewpoint contradicts our normal expectation of forward motion. The subject for me wasn’t the water itself but the contemplative relationship of the passenger to the waves that recede behind her. This reference, I intended, would take on a more nuanced experience with the selective focus and dark rose antiquing, reminiscent of old film and evocative of an old memory or dream state. The theme of leave taking and a mood of pensiveness, thus, have the chance to surface within the image’s design, evoking perhaps a subtext I had in mind while editing the image:

“As I stood at the stern’s railing, the water churned behind us, leaving ridge and foam where we’d cut a channel through the ocean’s surface—a path revealed after, rather than ahead, waving me onward in my passion journey.”

All images © 2016-2020 Jennifer Wannen. All rights reserved.

Entry Points

Adapting the lesson of an early Buddhist teaching, author Jack Kornfield wrote, “A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticeable.” This truth was how I came to photography.  

No one escapes grief in this life, and several years ago I took a turn with a series of losses and upheavals that left little intact. While the “managing” mind was overcome, intuition knew I needed a bigger container for the transition. In short, I needed a lake.

I took that metaphor and lived it—both literally and figuratively. I spent as much time at the lake (three of them actually) as I could. I sat on rocks and piers. I watched from park benches. I laid on beaches. I walked the trails that skimmed their shorelines. 

And in those hours, their views and sounds filled all the space.

Grief has a disoriented, out-of-body nature to it. I struggled with the physical aspects of life then. I felt disconnected from my own body and actions. But in the presence of that water, this sense evaporated. I evaporated. What remained was pure, enfolding awareness. I slipped unfettered into that open expanse—wholly absorbed by the sensory life and subtle stories around me.

It was a call to lightness that I’ve never stopped heeding—an entry point to life, and, now, art.  ~ JW

All images © 2016-2020 Jennifer Wannen. All rights reserved.

Living Close In

I’ve been in a macro phase recently—largely because of a new lens I bought a couple of months ago (an incomparable kind of giddy, I tell you.) But spring is also the time of year when the biggest action is inherently miniature. 

In late March I did a retreat in Northern Wisconsin. Part of me had hoped for a few spring shoots—or at least more passable trails. Initially, I resisted being slowed down by the snow, but once I committed myself to macro work, I found my flow. 

Without any signs of new life, I took to photographing the makeup of shrines, angles of statues—and as many remnants of field flowers as I could find. These husks and balls were all that was left of the previous year’s blooms—the shells of milkweed and dark centers of black-eyed Susans and coneflowers. 

But a few smaller flowers stood wholly preserved in their original shape, albeit dried and stiffened. I titled one “Irrepressible Beauty” as tribute to this small flower’s resilience. No more than an inch and a half across, its delicate petals had endured months of the northern winter’s ravages but nonetheless remained intact. A hard-won grandeur indeed…

Now it’s mid-May, and everything is quickly burgeoning. Although a month ago we were blanketed with twenty inches of snow, now some trees show nearly full foliage. Spring happens (and passes) in the blink of an eye here. Each day I’ve gone out to capture buds and blossoms in their quick progressive states—emerging, growing, open or unfurled. I’ve studied their brisk evolution from indistinguishable shoots to flourishing versions of their mature forms. 

From a distance, spring’s renewal can feel bleak and protracted, particularly after a long winter. On the macro level, however, it’s an entirely different view. A bud that seems a barely discernible nub at first glance reveals itself through the lens as an elaborate world of layer and color—a vision of unanticipated nuance and texture as waves of petal or leafing burst forth from their miniature encasements. 

Macro photography is certainly a physical discipline (“For God’s sakes, don’t breathe and throw off the shot.”), but it’s also illuminated my typical fields of vision. An homage to intricacy, macro work commits me to witnessing the unsung subtleties of this world. It’s a reminder to live “close in” each day—to not only apprehend overlooked beauty but to give gratitude for finer blessings and offer whatever humble gift I can to each moment. Not all that’s grand in this life is meant to burst into largeness. 

All images © 2016-2020 Jennifer Wannen. All rights reserved.

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