When I was a child, I spent long summer days looking up at the sky watching the clouds shape-shift. I loved gazing up at what I thought looked like the continent of Africa slowly drift and pull apart until it became a magnificent ocean schooner sailing across the blue, then only to turn and twist to become a white serpent with a long, forked tongue. To me clouds represent possibility. What can I come? What adventures await beyond the blue? How can I stay quick, nimble, active.
When I taught young children, I always read to them the pattern book, It Looked Like Split Milk by Charles G. Shaw. The book starts off with the refrain: It looked like spilt milk, but it wasn’t spilt milk. Sometimes it looked like a rabbit, but it wasn’t a rabbit. It steadily progresses, changing shape from page to page. The repetition and simple graphics silhouetted against the bright blue background were easy for the children to remember and read. In fact, I have taught many children to read using that book. They felt successful and loved creating their own versions with endless possibilities. And they read, and read, and read.
Maybe my connection to clouds is poetic in nature. Metaphor. Simile. The cloud was a gossamer cloak ready to take me in and render me invisible. The dessert was topped with whipped cream which was as light and soft as a cloud. Indeed, clouds often resemble whipped cream. Maybe it’s not so much a poetic connection as it is a connection to food! Heaps and heaps of heavy cream whipped into lovely fluffs of all shape and shades. One wishes she could just reach out and scoop up a healthy handful.
One day recently, I escaped to the beach to take photos of the clouds rolling in to capture that sense of wonder. Looking out towards the horizon, the sky and sea seemed infinite. Maybe that’s what intrigued Alfred Stieglitz about clouds: their ever-changing shape above Lake George and reflected on its surface. For over a decade Stieglitz photographed clouds. He first called his cloud work, Songs of the Sky, after the music he could surely hear as they drifted. Later, he called his work Equivalents, noting the clouds reflected his own inner emotions.
Stieglitz created the first completely abstract photographs. He was influenced by abstract painter Vassily Kandinsky’s ideas and his belief that colors, shapes, and lines reflect the inner, emotive “vibrations of the soul.” Self-expression and development of the spirit were key to Kandinsky’s approach and greatly affected Stieglitz work. Being abstract and dynamic, these elements have a very musical quality. Although Stieglitz’s work was in black and white, I wonder if the viewers’ response would be the same for color photography. Does the tones of blue and white alter the message? I’m not sure. I’m still gazing up at the clouds.
Song of the Sky
Stieglitz photographed the clouds
Looming over Lake George,
Snapping hundreds of frames for hours:
Stratus, cumulus, or nimbus,
Stark white against deep blue,
Billowing out on a summer’s day.
Georgia! Get my camera!
He’d bark at O’Keefe.
Dutifully she’d place the Graflex
In his cold hands,
And sit with him on their porch
Looking out over the lake,
Watching massive thunderheads
Loom on the horizon
Shifting and rolling
Unfolding like flowers
Open to the grace of heaven
And then the rain came
Pouring down, relentless,
Dancing on the surface of the lake,
Soaking the dry earth,
Drenching the tall trees,
Reviving her weary spirit.