The Grim Reaper - Labor Day Weekend: Critical Distance Blog Post by Mark Maio

The Grim Reaper - Labor Day Weekend: Critical Distance Blog Post by Mark Maio

 © 2018 Mark Maio

© 2018 Mark Maio

"The Grim Reaper - Labor Day Weekend" 

© Mark Maio  

Five years ago, my brother and sister-in-law moved from the metro Atlanta area to an older home on a country road just outside of Eatonton, Georgia.

Ever since my first visit to their new place, I had noticed a very large metal cross nailed to a huge tree just down the road from their house. Like the many roadside memorials I've driven by over the years, I wondered who was memorialized and what circumstances converged to end life at this particular spot.

The cross itself faces east, and on previous trips to Eatonton we had always driven by in the afternoon, so I never had an opportunity to photograph the cross when it was illuminated by the sun. Recently, however, we stayed over night. I was able to get to the tree and cross in the early morning, just after the sun crested the trees that stand to the east.

Walking up to the tree, I experimented with various angles and compositions. I wanted to show the sun reflecting off the metal which, depending on my angle of view, almost glowed. I made a number of exposures, moving to the left, right, up and down, none of which "felt" like what I wanted to convey.

As my wife and brother and sister-in-law waited in the car, I had that all too familiar feeling most photographers experience of hurrying to keep them from waiting too long. This in spite of the fact that they were there to spend the morning with me driving around and photographing - they weren't rushing me at all. Some habits are hard to break.

I stopped photographing, took a deep breath and started "slow looking", the process I use when photographing alone without time constraints. For me, "slow looking" is the act of letting myself get into a "zone" which allows the subject to tell me how to photograph it. I slow down, stop looking through my camera, and by walking around the subject I find what it really is that drew me there to make a photograph.

Once I stepped away from concentrating only on the cross, the final image appeared. The cross was attached to a large tree whose branches hovered over it like outstretched arms. Between the two arms was an outcrop of wood, which to me looked like the face of the Grim Reaper in the middle of a long scream. I made my photographs and then really needed to find the story of the accident.

It was Labor Day weekend 1997, and some of the local high school kids were having a party at a house down the road. Early in the morning, one of the boys, whose father owned a dairy farm, realized he had to get his father's truck home before milking time at 3:30AM. Another boy had a brand new Jeep and he volunteered to follow his friend back home and bring him back to the party. Many of the kids at the party wanted a ride in their friend's new jeep, so the first three to get into the jeep got to ride along.

The driver and his three passengers followed their friend home and then the five of them started the drive back to the party. No one knows how fast the jeep was going but when it came around the curve, the jeep left the road, hit a small tree in a culvert and went airborne. Hitting the large tree, it burst into flames. All five died instantly.

In addition to law enforcement and fire department personnel, half of the local young people arrived at the scene of the accident. They stood vigil until early morning when the sun came up over the trees, revealing the reality of the horrific accident. I couldn't shake the feeling that at approximately the same time of day all these years later, the scene had revealed to me how to best photograph it.

Summer Rain: Critical Distance Blog Post

Summer Rain: Critical Distance Blog Post

  © 2018 Mark Maio "Summer Rain"

© 2018 Mark Maio "Summer Rain"

"Summer Rain"

© 2018 Mark Maio
Critical Distance Blog Post

Atlanta summers follow a predictable cycle: muggy mornings, sweltering afternoons and stormy evenings, especially during July and August. As I try to forget the heat and humidity, the one thing I love about summers in Georgia is the possibilities of afternoon thunderstorms and the beautiful cloud formations that accompany them. 

I constantly watch the weather and have spent a number of late afternoons photographing as the clouds move overhead. When I am at home I have the choice of my usual cameras and as I drive around town, I make it a point to have one of them along with me. 

A few weeks ago we spent the weekend working in our yard. I made a number of trips to the local Home Depot, and late in the afternoon I headed out to make the final trip of the day. As I exited the store, I couldn't help but notice two weather systems slowing moving across the sky towards one another. The Home Depot is located at the end of a quarter-mile long shopping center with stores ringing the perimeter of hundreds of parking spots: the perfect place for observing and photographing the sky.

Most photographers have been asked the question regarding which is the best camera. For me, the answer has always been the one that I have with me. In this case, it was my Apple iPhone 8+. Recently I had purchased the app Manual, which allows the capture of images in RAW format on the iPhone. Setting the camera to its telephoto lens, I quickly made a series of multi-frame vertical panoramic images as the two weather fronts converged. Within ten minutes, the rain was coming down in buckets.

I subsequently imported the images into Adobe Lightroom® and after selecting two of these panoramic frames, I merged them and applied my usual black and white conversion workflow. Upon adjusting the Lightroom® develop settings, the image I had previsualized in the parking lot appeared on my monitor. 

Watching the digital file I captured using my smartphone transformed into the final form you see here, I found myself thinking about Ansel Adams. In the early 1980s, he made a prediction about the future of photography being an electronic image. I wonder if he could have imagined most of us having the ability to make images like this with a device that's so portable and easy to use. 

I'm excited to see what's next.