Looking through my pictures the other day, I was surprised to find how large a part water played in many of them. I guess I’m just a kid at heart when it comes to water. Stand by a fountain for a few minutes and you’ll see how the sparkle and splash attracts children of all ages. Fountains are light-hearted things. They lift the spirits and make great water shots. I appear to have photographed a good deal of them too, including one at the Hindu temple in Bartlett and, the granddaddy of them all, as far as Chicago is concerned anyway, Buckingham Fountain. There seem to be fountains everywhere, from local shopping malls, zoos and gardens to parks, business complexes and town squares.
Maybe because I can’t swim, I’ve never felt all that comfortable on or in water. I was once invited to go out on a large pontoon by some officials of a yacht race at the local park district lake and was told, somewhat disconcertingly, that the water was quite deep in parts. Despite wearing a life-jacket that made me look rather like a survivor from the Titanic, I spent more time wondering what would happen if we sank than composing my shots and was quite relieved when we finally returned to shore. The resulting pictures appeared hurried and shaky. Goodness knows what they would have looked like if I’d actually gone out on one of the yachts.
I do enjoy taking pictures of other people having fun in the water, however. Millennium Park in Chicago is a great place for that. Getting shots of kids paddling around in the Crown Fountain or shrieking with joy as the water cascades down from the 50-ft glass block towers over their heads is a wonderful way to pass a summer’s afternoon.
One time I was asked to take pictures of people at the local pool for a park district brochure and, being new to photography and wanting to do the thing right, I found it a distinct challenge trying to get the screaming, splashing patrons to sign release forms as I waded about in the shallow end while trying to keep the camera dry. Obviously I was never cut out to be a professional photographer.
As part of its summer festival, a neighboring town featured a contest to see which team could push a barrel, with the aid of powerful water hoses supplied by the fire department, over the opponent’s goal line. This provided a lot of fun, for the crowd as well as the participants, and involved a large number of people getting very wet including anyone standing on the side-lines taking photos.
Going to the seaside was a regular and enjoyable part of summer vacations back home (you are never very far from the coast wherever you live in England) but for some reason, when I was a youngster, I would never sit or stand with my back to the water. Perhaps I was afraid that it would creep up behind me and carry me off. Or maybe my mother had told me “Back a bit!” one too many times when she was taking holiday snapshots. Now I’m the one looking out to sea, camera poised, ready to capture pelicans on the wing, dolphins rising above the waves, or the occasional passing ship.
Lake Michigan , like the ocean, can be delightfully placid, extremely turbulent or just frozen solid, depending on weather conditions. It’s very difficult to do justice to such a large body of water, to capture the enormity and spectacle of the thing, in a single image, but it can make all the difference if you have a sunrise or sunset to help things along or zoom in for a shot of the waves crashing against the shore.
Water is such a versatile medium. Watching it race the Graue Mill in Oak Brook as I try to catch it to its best advantage in the fading afternoon light, I feel almost out of breath, and as for standing next to Niagara Falls, juggling with polarizing filters and wide angle lenses, my heart seems to beat as loudly as the thundering falls themselves.
But then there are those calm autumn days when a river reflects, like a mirror, the reds and yellows of the trees, or a lake lies, silver and motionless, beneath an early morning mist. It can be soothing or exhilarating, but whatever mood water conjures up for you, it is sure to make an interesting picture.