How to start. Stream of consciousness. Leads to a stream I have hiked many times.
Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs, Georgia, is near my home. There are several state parks in metropolitan Atlanta, and this one is relatively easy to get to. It is interesting from both a nature and historical sense.
The centerpiece of the park are the ruins of New Manchester, and the textile mill destroyed by Sherman’s troops during the Civil War. There were several such mills around Atlanta, destroyed by Federal troops in their attack and siege of the city; Sope Creek Marietta Paper Mills, Ruff’s Mill in Smyrna, among others. I believe the New Manchester Mill was the largest, but I cannot find my source for that, so just take my word for now. It was three stories tall. There was a long and wide water course to power the wheel. It was set on fire July 9, 1864 upon General William T. Sherman’s orders. The other mills were burned about the same time in July. There are trenches and remains of earthworks still visible in my neighborhood near Smyrna, where I grew up.
New Manchester’s citizens, famously, were captured and sent north to concentration (Oh excuse me – “refugee”) camps in Kentucky and Indiana. They were all women and children. The mill workers were charged with treason. They were collected with other Georgia mill workers, about 600, first deposited in Marietta, before being sent north. Many starved to death in the camps and others starved to death when they tried to return home. In fact, very few of the women and children ever returned home to Georgia. The survivors of the camps settled in the north. On the flip side, the Cherokee were also violently removed from their homes on this same land, and sent packing to Oklahoma in the equally infamous Trail of Tears. Bet you didn’t know about those little atrocities, did you? People are so kind.
Today, several peaceful, blazed trails meander about the park, all doing their not so level best to contradict its violent past. A couple of the trails are challenging, with steep inclines and tree roots that will grab you and send you over a cliff if you are not careful. I’ve taken a few falls myself.
I have seen small herds of deer and flocks of wild turkey, giant blue heron, and all kinds of reptiles. Beaver and otter play here, but I have not met them personally. The deer are the most social, gracious and graceful of the beasts, and I suppose they understand they are safe in the park from hunters. It seems they observe me with casual humor, before the thought crosses their minds that maybe I cannot be trusted, and they amble off into deeper woods.
There’s a large lake you can fish if you have a permit, and canoes you can rent. You can hear gunfire occasionally because the East Point, Georgia Police have their shooting range on a private section of the park. I imagine to control the deer, there is some kind of hunting authorized at certain times, but I have never checked into it.
My dad and his brothers played in the creek before it was a state park. I’ve been hiking the trails around the park for decades myself, and brought my own kids here to play. Oh! Here ya go: I am not kidding. This is the truth. My son would stand on the bank next to the lake, and tell jokes to the flocks of coots in the lake. They would respond to each joke with coot quacks in unison, sincerely offering their approval without so much as a cue card from off camera. I still do not, to this day, understand how he could get a flock of water fowl to respond to his kid jokes, but it was hilarious; old coots laughing at my son’s jokes. I wish I had videoed it. No one believes me when I tell them.
Back to photography. Like I said, I’ve been hiking here and photographing here for decades. All that time I was trying to interpret or translate what I saw with black and white photographs. I had a 4×5 view camera. I had all kinds of medium format cameras. I had my Nikon cameras. I tried and tried. I spent hours in the dark room. I was trying to Ansel Adam-ize my Georgia landscape. I remembered something he said about Georgia when he took a cruise down the Intercoastal Waterway back in the mid 1900’s. Not quoting here, but you’ll get it, that the landscape here is hard to express photographically.
Well, dang! You think that I being a disciple of his, would have picked up on that little gem. A true teacher always feeds you more from his crumbs than you get helping yourself to the dinner plate, that is, if you are paying attention. But like most people, I was focused on the buffet of technical details and not upon the soul of the meal. I was successful at black and white, having practiced the craft for years. So, if all you have is a hammer, as the saying goes, everything looks like a nail. It was the wrong tool. My black and white images from this land were almost always unsatisfying. They looked like oatmeal. For example:
Sweetwater Creek Shoals (c)2021 William D. Hunton
Now this photograph of Sweetwater Creek is not a bad photograph at all. In my opinion and at least one other person, it is very good. It has sold. I took the photo with a Mamiya twin lens reflex and a standard lens on 120 roll film of some brand and speed. Someone put it in their bathroom, I’m sure. That is where all my art ends up. It is full of detail, nice cottony water, rocks and trees, but to me it is not a great photo. It is representational but not illuminating. Here’s your landscape, but where’s the story, and the feeling? Maybe it pulls some emotions from you, and maybe not.
Okay. I am aging. My knees are no longer limber. I don’t amble over rocks, roots, and ravines like I used to. I cannot carry 40 pounds of equipment and myself with anything near the ease I used to. I started carrying small cameras into the wild years ago. Nikon is wonderful. I have lenses. But lately I started experimenting with truly tiny format cameras; APS-C and even the miniscule 1-inch sensor cameras. You absolutely cannot mimic an Adams large format landscape using a 1-inch Lumix camera. But you can do other things.
I’ve been learning Lightroom by using the tools. I discovered the brush tool, sliders for the various controls. You learn by doing, by taking the tools to their illogical, unintended consequences and I discovered some things. My personal epiphany occurred when I went to the extreme, far away from my Ansel Adams, F64, Galen Rowell training and biases. I recall the physical discomfort I felt. “This cannot be right”, I said to myself. I won’t give you the details, just the philosophy: At some point in your life you have to grow out of yourself. I don’t care what area of life that is, but it is a fact.
Back to photography. I think I may be onto something. At least I like it. Maybe. It fits Georgia anyway.
All Images and content copyright 2021 by William D. Hunton. All rights reserved.