I don't know the title of the photograph I'm looking at. I could probably find it online but I don't know if that would help much because the colours would be all wrong. The photo is in the book In Wilderness Is the Preservation of the World, opposite December 24, 1841 and a short text by Thoreau which describes aspects of the pond. In the foreground there are two very slender trees just coming into bud, overhanging a lake or a river, probably taken around the time of year that I'm writing this, early spring. The two slender trees are to the left of centre, one mid to light grey with a hint of grey-green in the lower two thirds. The smaller tree nearer the centre is lighter grey and its upper branches, lighter grey than the trunk, stretch across the centre of the frame towards the left-hand side, offering horizontal contrast to the verticals. The sun seems to be catching the upper third of the image and it's here that I'll make my first point about Porter's work. So many of his pictures use the top third (and less frequently the bottom third) of the image space to differentiate either textures, density, tints from shades, hues of colour, light and shadow. If we focus on the water there's a very even gradient of light to dark from top right to bottom left. The water is diagonally rippled at almost perfectly spaced intervals affording a third sense of direction. Obviously the water has blue in it, but there's also a lot of grey, yet none of this interferes with the tree colours. The colours are desaturated by today's standards, but not under-saturated. There's just enough colour in the water to offset the grey of the trees. I see this as a strength. The buds, again in the top third of the image, are a dark reddish brown - the sticky leaf within is just beginning to show and there's just enough colour to tease the eye and add a third dimension to the palette. There are smaller buds in the lower third (and a sparser gap in the middle which is probably the cleverest part of the whole composition) but these are still dormant, contrasting with the upper buds.
And that's it. An apparently unremarkable picture that we've all seen on our walks in nature. But near perfect.
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