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Art of Winter

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From the introduction to Art of Winter:

In Spring 2010, I moved to a 40-acre island off Drummond Island in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. At the time I had no realization of how much I would come to love winter more than any other season. Winter 2010-11 was my first winter on the island. When I did not have to go to work, even though the temperatures were sub-freezing, my husband encouraged me to go for walks.

After a few mornings, it became apparent that what I saw along Lake Huron’s shoreline could change or disappear within hours or at the latest, by the next day. Water in its various forms of snow and ice mutates and transforms quickly, especially when there are winds and waves to sculpt it. Wintery water is the ultimate transmuter of nature. I came to love winter for all the splendor and incredible treasures it creates for the eye.

Photography is a creative expression of how I see the world. I use photography to show others what delights me; and I hope they have joy looking at my images. On my walks, my camera was my constant companion; often as soon after breakfast and as close to sunrise as possible. Each morning became a treasure hunt.

An excerpt from I Miss Winter, an the essays in Art of Winter:

This morning, like recent mornings, the water has skim ice on it until the sun rises. The air temperature dramatically changes as the sun crests over Canada, to our east. Ice cracks and the water’s current slides sheets of it into the rocky shoreline. Forced onto shore it lays piled, each about a half inch thick. Almost crystal clear, the ice sheets look like a glazier’s nightmare, like sheets of glass carelessly shattered for yards on end. It is a beautiful sight to behold. Sharp corners, obtuse angles, straight and jagged edges, and smooth surfaces; like snowflakes - no two pieces are the same size or shape.

The lurking of Spring is felt by the tension building in the still calm water. Bears and raccoons may still be hibernating, but the lake, although she is quiet, she breathes and she is awake. All winter, except for the occasional storm from a southerly direction, the lake has been quiet - suppressed by the ice in its bays and coves. The main body of Lake Huron remains ice free - too warm and large to freeze solid. Without strong winds reaching across the lake from south to north or west to east, there are scarcely any waves. The small swell is too weak to break the east bay’s ice. Instead, yards of ice gently rise and fall, undulating as the gentle wave swells and recedes underneath it.

Before dawn, I slide out from my warm bed and join Hugh for a hot bowl of oatmeal before he goes off to work. Breakfast dishes can wait to be cleaned. I have my own appointment to keep. Daybreak waits for no one.

I bundle up - flannel-lined jeans, turtle neck, sweater, Carhartt overalls, parka, mittens, neck warmer and hat. Lastly, I pull on my Muck boots. My Sorels, rated to -40 degree F, are too warm to wear on the verge of Spring. With my camera in hand I am prepared.

The ice won’t last much longer. In the coming days, the wind will start whipping across the lake, kicking up the waves to crash hard onto shore. The spring storms will quickly destroy the ice formations that have decorated the lake’s edge.

An excerpt from The Art of Winter, an essay in Art of Winter:

My photography education occurred in the field more than in the classroom. Years ago I had the privilege to take a medium-format workshop with a number of top-notch photographers, including internationally acclaimed wildlife photographer, Jim Zuckerman. I also had the opportunity to do some master photography classes with Tom McInvaille of Studio M in Madison, Wisconsin. Although their subject matter and approach were vastly different, Jim and Tom praised my work as well as critiqued it in ways that made me become a better photographer. They also gave me the same bit of advice. They said in similar words, "Julie, you have what it takes to do photography professionally. However, if you want to continue enjoying photography don't do it for a living."

I was at a crossroads and had to decide whether to do photography professionally or do massage therapy and bodywork to make a living. My mentors’ words implied that instead of being a pleasure, that photography would become work if I did it professionally. I chose to make my living by doing bodywork, which paid for my photographic pursuits. Photography has been an avocation of mine for over fourteen years.

When I first moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I anticipated spending many winter hours indoors, reading books and working on projects. My husband and friends had talked about the pleasures of winter camping. Even though I liked snow I was not one who jumped at the chance to freeze my nose just for the sake of being outside in sub-freezing weather. He encouraged me to get out and enjoy the crisp mornings before the day got away from me. My camera was my constant companion.

Bundled up in insulated Carhartt overalls, LL Bean parka and Muck boots, I donned my neck warmer and hat and grabbed my mittens. My mittens were key. Years ago I had found some wonderful wool knit mittens with leather on the palms. Inside there was a liner that had fingers, which kept my fingers warm. But before I put the mittens on I slipped on a pair of thin angora knit gloves. They were a third layer and would keep my fingers warm when I pulled off my mittens and pulled out my camera.

Along with Jim Zuckerman, Jim Brandenburg’s photography work inspired me. Their work spoke to me and conveyed a love of nature. I had received Brandenburg’s book “Chased by the Light” as a birthday present. There were often days when I walked Lake Huron’s wintery shoreline thinking “If I were to take just one photograph today, what might I choose?” as Brandenburg had done for ninety days.

“But there are too many neat things to see that I want to take pictures of to show others!” was my response to myself.


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Julie McKay Covert