THE JOYOUS MESSAGES OF NATURE
The artwork of Frank V. Dudley represented perhaps one of the greatest assets in the ongoing struggle by concerned citizens to have land along the northwest Indiana coast of Lake Michigan designated as protected property, preferably as federal or state parkland, during the first half of the twentieth century. Dudley was a leader in the Prairie Club’s movement to preserve the lakeshore and adjacent terrain. Indeed, Dudley was known as the “Painter of the Dunes,” and his images persuaded many to declare value in the natural beauty of the landscape throughout the Indiana Dunes.
Because 2018 marked the 150th anniversary of Dudley’s birth year (November 14, 1868), the time seemed right to examine the continuing splendor of the scenery to which he dedicated himself, especially locations within the grounds of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park, those two entities that were established in part due to Dudley’s efforts. (Though the artist witnessed and appreciated the creation of Indiana Dunes State Park in 1925—and even continued to live in his beachfront studio cabin situated among the sand dunes through an agreement reached with the state—he unfortunately did not live to see the official recognition of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966.) Additionally, 2018-2019 seems a particularly noteworthy time period since Congress could soon consider re-designation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as a “national park.”
Consequently, beginning with January 2018 I display photo essays consisting of sets with images from the Indiana Dunes that share a thematic or photographic commonality. These concise exhibits (as few as two to as many as ten) intend to evoke emotional reactions to the aesthetically pleasing scenes depicted, primarily through the appeal of the artistic photographs and with only a little assistance from prose commentary, captions, or titles. In addition, starting at the end of November 2018, I have decided to include brief video slideshows as examples of photo essays.
In my process of gathering together these photo essays, I will keep in mind a comment Frank V. Dudley once stated in a 1936 newspaper interview as words of advice to those who might follow him: “I believe the artist, through his study and close contact with the landscape, is enabled to see more and feel more the joyous messages of nature and that his real mission in life should be to interpret and reveal these truths that all may see and experience the same emotional reactions as does the artist himself.”
(Click still images to create carousel gallery display, where large-size photo and camera setting details may be viewed as well. Visit YouTube page—please like and subscribe—for full-screen viewing of a video slideshow.)
Photography as Preservation: March, 2022
I was reminded this week about one of the reasons I like to take landscape pictures. In fact, I also remembered why I regard the activity of capturing images in general as an important step toward preservation of the past. As I have noted in recent comments, my main interests in nature during this time of year include the expressive and dramatic appearance of empty trees seen under brightening spring sunlight, especially since such features often seem fragile, particularly vulnerable to the extreme conditions witnessed in winter. Indeed, less than ten days ago I contributed a photo post to the Indiana Dunes State Park Facebook page displaying a tree appearing graceful with its bare branches spread beside the beach. Unfortunately, on my next visit to the shore on Wednesday I sadly noticed this figure and a number of other aesthetically pleasing trees I have frequently photographed had been cut down by park maintenance crew members as an end-of-season deed upon expert advice of the state arborist, who determined the trees were dead or too far damaged, thus posed a risk to wildlife nesting in this spring. At least, all of the downed trees are being offered as firewood to local residents who purchase a permit at a minimal price, benefitting the park as proceeds from sales are used for future resource management and restoration efforts.
Controlled Burn at Great Marsh: November, 2021
I had an opportunity to observe members of the National Park Service fire personnel skillfully conduct a controlled burn at the Great Marsh in Indiana Dunes National Park just south of Lake Michigan. The prescribed fire was part of four scheduled this fall during which nearly 700 acres will be ignited as a means of preservation by assuring long-term restoration of vegetation and reducing hazardous fuel from the landscape to diminish the threat of wildfires. The day’s conditions seemed ideal, as only a slight wind was blowing from the southwest under a sunny sky with temperatures hovering around fifty degrees, and drifting smoke was carefully limited to the immediate area.
Dunes Pavilion Reopening: June, 2021
I was pleased to be invited to attend the ribbon cutting at the reopening of the beautifully renovated historic pavilion in Indiana Dunes State Park that was originally constructed during 1929 and first opened for use in 1930.
Frozen Lake Michigan: February, 2019
As the month of January drew to a close, a week of deep freeze grasped the region. Record-breaking temperatures in the middle of the -20s with wind-chills dipping to the -50 range in some locations, followed by a thaw that saw the thermometer level rise almost as dramatically, caused a quick transition in the appearance of the shoreline along Lake Michigan beside the Indiana Dunes. This brief photo essay of ten images—in a one-minute video slideshow—displays the oncoming storm clouds, the complete coverage of the lake with ice, and the gradual return to calm that occurred in such a short span of time.
River Reflections in Early Winter: January, 2019
With the loss of leaves from these trees lining its banks, the Little Calumet River scenery shows signs of a stark or mysterious tone, and an atmosphere has been created that appears perfectly suitable to black-and-white photography. Indeed, with the absence of colorful foliage, the thin trunks and overhanging branches, especially when seen in silhouette against an overcast sky, produce emphatic designs of narrow lines from their reflections on the nearly still water. No longer hidden behind the dense green of summer growth or the more vibrant display of autumn, those long and intensely contorted limbs evident in winter seem to exhibit a sense of drama.
Indiana Dunes 2018 Calendar of Photographs: December, 2018
As we approach the new year, I have compiled a one-minute sequence of captured images to look back at the Indiana Dunes during 2018. One photograph has been selected from each month to represent the changes that occur throughout the course of a year. These photos are not meant to be regarded as a “Best of 2018” collection because some are included more for documentary purposes—such as those that show shelf ice or beach erosion caused by winter storms—rather than aesthetic reasons. Of course, to appreciate more fully the variety of scenes preserved from all four seasons, please visit the monthly galleries on this site’s main page.
Indiana Dunes Cover Art for Valparaiso Fiction Review: December, 2018
As a co-editor of Valparaiso Fiction Review, an international literary journal published by the English Department at Valparaiso University, my responsibilities include providing cover art for each issue. I have been pleased to combine those activities with VFR and my photography for the Indiana Dunes project I continue to create by supplying a series of suitable images that serve as cover art displaying local landscape scenery, thus promoting both ventures. With this month’s release of the Winter 2018 edition of VFR, 15 issues of the journal have been published since its initial appearance in December of 2011. Consequently, I take this opportunity to share the collection of covers in a brief one-minute video slideshow. The new issue and all back issues are available at the following: http://scholar.valpo.edu/vfr/
Selected November Photographs: November, 2018
November often offers the greatest variety of images in the Indiana Dunes. With vivid fall foliage illuminated by bright angled sunlight, but soon to transition toward the more dramatic emptiness of bare branches stretching toward a gray sky above or extending over snow-covered ground at the start of winter, opportunities for photographers abound. Indeed, differing colors of leaves seem to highlight wooded paths, outline narrow streams, and enhance dune ridges above Lake Michigan, adding a sense of depth or creating a feeling of greater overall dimension. The following one-minute video slideshow presents a sampling of landscape photographs captured during November 2018.
Photo Walk in Early November: November, 2018
Sunday afternoon I again assisted Marie Laudeman, the interpretive naturalist at Indiana Dunes State Park, in guiding a photography walk along Trail 7. Marie provided enlightening information about details concerning plants, trees, insects, squirrels, birds, and other elements of nature, while I suggested points of interest for composition in photos. The scenery presented a sharp contrast with the last time we offered this event in spring (see the photo essay posted in early June and my 6/3/18 Journal entry). This time the weather was wet with an all-day rain that subsided slightly for a while, and the fall foliage that had peaked in the past week was quickly being stripped from overhead limbs. Therefore, the trail was lined with orange and yellow leaves above and below, all of which seemed richer in color due to the moisture. Along the way we turned a bend in our path and found a deer standing before us. He remained for about five minutes, as if posing for photos. I include here an impressive image of the animal captured and kindly shared by participant Will Rieger. When we reached the beach, we could see Lake Michigan enveloped in the distance with fog and hazy clouds of mist. Despite the inclement conditions, the hike through a valley between dune hills providing shelter from wind proved calming and enjoyable, and the friendly conversation by everyone created a wonderful walk.
River Reflections in Early Autumn: October, 2018
During early autumn mornings, reflections on the Little Calumet River create a painterly chaos of color, almost impressionistic in appearance. With its water illuminated by a lowering slant of sunlight—an angle listing farther south every day—and fall foliage becoming brightly decorated in glowing tones of yellow or gold, the brilliant yet busy scenery seems like an artistic depiction of the landscape—perhaps even pointillist in spots, but more like a Monet—where clouds, sky, and trees or shrubbery on the river’s banks mingle within its surface, and all of nature’s elements appear to blend into one.
Seasonal Shift at Shoreline: August, 2018
I have frequently mentioned my interest in the gradual changes to settings I observe in the landscape as they occur during the year, and I especially appreciate the way the shoreline scenery shifts significantly in increments from one section of the calendar to another, or even the subtle variations sometimes seen within stages of a single season. In the following four photographs—“Shoreline in Late Spring,” “Summer Shoreline,” “Shoreline in Early Fall,” and “Winter Shoreline”—of images captured in a similar location, the overall mood appears to alter simply due to such elements as sun, sky, shore, trees, and leaves, as well as an addition of snowfall on stones.
Black and White as Abstraction: July, 2018
Although I admire black-and-white photography, especially for its ability to display dramatic contrast and create tension, I normally find myself reluctant to produce landscape images in that format. Street photography and portraiture seem well-suited for such a look, but I regret loss of color when capturing certain natural surroundings, particularly as I include specific aspects in vivid seasons—spring blossoms, summer sunsets, and fall foliage. I tend to agree with the narrator in Seek My Face, a John Updike novel about the art world, who comments at one point that “the whole world comes to us, as we experience it, through the mystical realm of color. Our entire being is nourished by it.” Nevertheless, a wintry setting usually seems more conducive to depiction in black and white—which lends a sense of abstract atmosphere even more when viewed in the lush midsummer months—perhaps due to the stark juxtaposition of darkness and light, especially in scenery shown after a snowfall. Indeed, Henri Cartier-Bresson, known for mastery of monochromatic photography, wrote in The Decisive Moment, his iconic book: “Black-and-white photography is a deformation, that is to say, an abstraction.”
Intimate Landscapes by Harry deCourcy: June, 2018
In a number of my journal entries I have discussed the notion of an intimate landscape photograph (please see my 8/12/17, 5/20/17, and 5/12/17 posts on the Journal page for a few examples). In fact, the term Intimate Landscapes serves as title for a famous collection of photographs by Eliot Porter published in 1979. Porter described such a shot as “a selected fragment of what stands before the camera.” Although most of my photos are wide angle pictures that include a vast vista, I also photograph intimate landscapes at times and greatly appreciate others’ images focused upon a particular element of the environment. Consequently, when I directed a photo walk at Trail 7 in Indiana Dunes State Park two weeks ago (please see my 6/3/18 journal post), I was delighted to see some participants taking advantage of the opportunity to capture points of interest identified by trail guide and park naturalist Marie Laudeman. Among those fellow photographers, Harry deCourcy was kind enough to allow sharing of the following fine photos with details he captured along the way. I offer these wonderful images by Harry with my gratitude.
Sunset, Sky, and Shoreline Abstracts: May, 2018
Although my sunset and shoreline photographs might be said to consist of three characteristics—light, color, and shapes—combined to create an image, I am often fascinated by the way that light and color interact in a natural setting, especially among the Indiana Dunes along Lake Michigan. Indeed, the specific details of shapes representing detailed objects one discerns in an image frequently divert attention away from the ethereal mix of illumination and hue in the environment that contains those physical things. Therefore, I sometimes prefer to blur the figurative forms in a scene to allow for the primacy or purity of light and color, perhaps the way a painter might produce an abstract landscape. In this regard, I consider influential someone like Helen Frankenthaler and her famous paintings, such as Mountains and Sea, Beyond the Sea, Springscape, or perhaps Cape (Provincetown), which has been described by critic Robert Hughes: “the view from the waterfront is translated into a piercing lemon-yellow strip of beach and a green horizon, with diaphanous veils of blue stacked up in the sky.”
Early Signs of Spring: March, 2018
I have mentioned in my journal entries that various early signs of spring have been developing during the past couple of weeks. Although the moderation in temperatures has been gradual, clearly the warming weather has begun. In addition, lengthening of daylight and a steadily changing angle of sunshine have been evident. Moreover, hiking through dune woods I have heard a noticeable increase of chirping birds. In fact, recently as I traveled a soggy trail in the Great Marsh, I was surprised by a loud noise just to my left, which I discovered to be the trumpeting sound of a sandhill crane about four feet tall that had been camouflaged among the thick weeds and brown reeds all around me. Most of this species migrates to other locations nearby, but this lone long-legged creature simply strolled only a few yards from me. Then I noticed a smaller crane following just behind its mother. Although I do not have the patience or practice for bird photography, I felt compelled to snap some pictures.
End of Trail Above Lake Michigan: March, 2018
I have mentioned a few times in my journal entries that one of my favorite routes to hike during any season at Indiana Dunes State Park includes Trails 7 and 4, both of which wind through wooded terrain rising up the inland slopes of shoreline sand dunes. The two paths join just before exiting to a ridge shelf with a wonderful view from above Lake Michigan. No matter the time of year, my walks along this way are always rewarded when I reach this point overlooking the beach, as can be seen in the accompanying photographs taken three months apart—the first a late-winter image shot in early March and and the second a spring scene snapped in early June.
Tree Swallowed by Moving Dune at Mt. Baldy in Two Seasons: March, 2018
During my time at Mt. Baldy last week, I revisited a location I’d photographed during late spring. In my June 13 journal post I wrote: “Part of my fascination with the notable nature of Mt. Baldy concerns its character as a wandering dune, one that constantly drifts toward the south directed by Lake Michigan’s air currents, especially during swift winds in winter storms. As the dune moves, an accumulation of sand swallows trees in its path. In one image I captured on the southern side, a tree has begun to be buried, much of its lower trunk already concealed, while it is flanked on either side by a pair of other trees—one already dead and displaying bare branches but another lower on the slope not yet influenced by the shifting sand. More of the massive mound of sand about to migrate farther onto the trees can be seen looming above.” With my winter image of the same scene, exhibiting patterns of wind drift on the dune, observers can compare the appearance in the pair of seasons.
Mt. Baldy Beach After Winter Damage: March, 2018
When I walked along Mt. Baldy Beach earlier this week to examine the damage done by erosion from winter snowstorms and wind-driven waves, I was disheartened by the extent of destruction. Much of the sand dunes bordering the shore line seemed to have been sliced away, and many of the trunks from their ridges had tumbled to the beach. After hiking about a half mile, I had already counted 83 trees, small and large, that had toppled from above. Nevertheless, I have no doubt the good work done by the national park personnel will clear the area. (In fact, I have already witnessed the cleaning and smoothing of the sands at Indiana Dunes State Park.) By the time I reached the end of the beach, I found a fallen tree trunk that served as a perfect bench for sitting a while and watching waves of lake water roll slowly ashore.
Central Beach Washed Away by Winter’s Weather: March, 2018
With the start of March upon us, I have been visiting various locations in the Indiana Dunes along Lake Michigan to examine the extent of damage done from rough wintry weather the past few months. Perhaps the greatest amount of destruction appears to have occurred at Central Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. This attractive yet isolated section of shoreline, as seen in an accompanying photograph from last summer, has been a favorite of mine. However, its history includes vulnerability to erosion. In a journal entry I’d written on July 9 of 2017, I noted the reopening of the area after a couple years of closure: “Once wide and welcoming, Central Beach has been greatly diminished by erosion from Lake Michigan’s wind-driven waves during the last few years. In fact, when northern gusts approach the coast, the entire ribbon of sand still clinging to the shore becomes submerged under water. Central Beach was first closed as too dangerous for the public in early July of 2015 after the loss of beachfront due to erosion from strong storm surges and high lake levels that washed away the sandy waterfront.” Sadly, as my image from Sunday displays, the beach has been completely obliterated by this winter’s strong storms and waves swept ashore by northern winds.
Contrasting Views of Indiana Dunes Shelf Ice: February, 2018
As I was hiking along the beach at the Indiana Dunes during warming weather on Monday and photographing for contrast with mid-winter conditions the final remnants of coastline shelf ice melting into the water, I met at various spots a few fellow photographers with whom I stopped to speak. I enjoyed our discussions, especially the shared expressions of appreciation for the landscape along Lake Michigan voiced by all. However, we differed on one note. Each of the three with whom I had such pleasant conversation remarked about how happy he or she was to witness the end of winter. Instead, I must acknowledge a sense of sadness at seeing the close of the season. Indeed, I like to hike through the woods or down the beach in cold weather, particularly when the snow-covered trails remain clean of others’ footprints. Often on frigid wintry days I find myself the sole individual at various locations—my car the only one in the trailhead parking lot—when a sense of silence and solitude surrounds me or the frozen shore resembles arctic scenery.
Receding River After the Flooding: February, 2018
After a few days of heavy rainfall and widespread flooding followed by a night of gale force winds, full sunshine finally arrived on Monday with milder temperatures. I returned to the Little Calumet River, where I had witnessed the extensive flooding documented in my previous photo essay. By the time I hiked a trail that had been submerged during my last visit, the water level seemed to have receded by six or seven feet. Although the path remained thick with mud and provided slippery walking, the main evidence of destruction could be seen along the banks, where soil around roots of trees that once leaned over the river had been weakened by the water and a number of trunks had tumbled into the river alongside branches broken by the strong gusts. Indeed, I had to climb over a couple of fallen trees and large limbs to cross a narrow footbridge along the way.
February Flooding Near Bailly Homestead: February, 2018
As evidence of extensive flooding was witnessed along waterways in northwest Indiana during the last week, the result of record rainfall on top of a significant accumulation of melting snow, a portion of the landscape seemed to rearrange itself. I noticed favorite trails through the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore disappeared from sight, suddenly submerged beneath feet of water from an overflowing Little Calumet River. The road to the trailhead had been overrun with current sweeping beyond the river bank. Wooded areas along the river became indistinguishable from surrounding swamp forests. The Bailly Homestead stood on a slight height above the river, where its buildings had been constructed in the nineteenth century after the original trading post that had been beside the river suffered destruction in similar flooding.
Lake Michigan Beach Scene Separated by Six Months: February, 2018
I never tire of photographing the coast of Lake Michigan along the Indiana Dunes. Although I repeatedly return to the same settings throughout the year, each visit seems to offer a variation in view. Of course the appearance of those wooded trails edging shoreline ridges of the dunes alter with the seasons as the leaves of trees transition in color and then fall, creating newly artistic images with bare branches bending and extending toward a sky lit so differently in winter months. Indeed, their almost haunting silhouettes often stand dramatically against wintry weather of snow or frost smoke over the lake water. However, even the beach scenes shift in tone and tenor throughout transformations brought by seasonal change, and when the metamorphosis causes a complete conversion of the scenery, the resulting contrast can be striking.
Shore Line and Shelf Ice: February, 2018
On a couple of occasions during colder weeks thus far this winter the frigid weather has caused a massive accumulation of shelf ice along the Indiana Dunes and has frozen the surface of Lake Michigan as far as the eye can see. Consequently, at times the precise edge of shore line seemed to become indistinguishable. However, in locations where trees stand in sand dunes at the water’s border, one may detect where the transition from land to lake normally can be observed. When the build up of ice reaches such a dramatic level that the scenery resembles an arctic setting, I appreciate the photographic images I am able to obtain. Nevertheless, as authorities always warn of dangerous conditions that could even result in death, one must avoid walking onto the shelf among the mounds and bergs beyond. Therefore, knowing the border between beach and frozen lake remains important.
Florida Tropical House in Summer and Winter: January, 2018
In a journal entry last July, I mentioned how “the 1933 World’s Fair held in Chicago included a fascinating feature—Homes of Tomorrow—showcasing a group of a dozen structures displaying futuristic architecture and interior design. At the conclusion of the fair, five of the houses were purchased by Robert Bartlett, a real estate speculator who owned property along the Indiana Dunes in Beverly Shores that he wished to develop as a resort area. The buildings were transported from Chicago to the northern Indiana coastline by barge and positioned on Lake Front Drive, which parallels the shoreline and overlooks the beach. This section has been designated for preservation by the National Register of Historic Places since 1986 and is known today as the Century of Progress Architectural District. Perhaps the most distinctive and most photographed of the homes, the Florida Tropical House is covered by light stucco painted in a shocking pink….” I returned this week, six months after the last photograph that showed a rich saturation with sunset tints above Lake Michigan, to capture an image of the home in mid-winter freeze and bleached of much color under bright sunlight with a cool blue sky over the frozen lake as backdrop.
Beach Trees During Seasonal Shifts: January, 2018
A small grouping of trees rising from the sand at the Indiana Dunes State Park provides compelling subject matter for photographs in all seasons. Since they are situated adjacent to the park pavilion, these trees present a prominent feature noticed by most visitors. In fact, because the trees stand so close to the main building, I had been concerned they might be removed or damaged when recent construction of an additional structure with new bathrooms and places for changing clothes took place nearby. Fortunately, the view through the trees toward Lake Michigan remains unchanged. The accompanying handful of images exhibits moments I have captured of these trees in different seasons, and they serve as examples for a pair of patterns evident in my photography: (1) snapping shots of beach trees whose limbs have been twisted in interesting ways by sun and wind, and (2) returning to familiar settings in order to photograph a series of scenes from similar perspectives but at various times of year.
Beach Trees in Winter Light: January, 2018
Though a primary subject for my photography in all seasons, trees in winter months appear to exhibit more character. Their bent or leaning trunks and the network of bare branches exist as natural sculpture shaped by sun and wind, plus each tree’s limbs seem to reach toward the sky as if in an expressive gesture. Those smaller trees growing along the beach or among the sand dunes especially present themselves as isolated survivors yet in danger or about to surrender to the elements when seen bathed in bright and angled winter light against a backdrop that sometimes includes shelf ice at the edge of Lake Michigan.