First Owlscape

Starting last spring I began a project to photograph a family of owls that live near my house on Montara Mountain. I had photographed them before, in 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic but those were just fun shots, messing around, more interested in the owls than in the photographs.

The year after we couldn’t find the owls. The next before had been right next to the trail and offered an extraordinary view of the chicks growing up. But now, nothing. Last year we didn’t find the next but we did find the owls and so I started photographing them in a more serious way.

By the second or third day of the project my idea of what I was photographing had changed. Instead of making images of the owls I was making images of the landscape with the owls in them. Better yet, I wasn’t making traditional landscapes where you try to frame the image so it is balanced and beautiful, I was just putting the owl in the center of the frame and letting the landscape—the real landscape, how it is really arranged in nature—arrange itself. I did choose a focal length, which you can think of as a sort of cropping of the view and I did, of course, choose where to place my tripod, though often the choices were severely constrained by obstructions. And I did choose the final images from among the many I shot. But still, I gave the landscape great power over itself.

Like all of my recent projects there are more “final selections” than I will print and I won’t be printing these until they are all Photoshopped but I wanted to share this first finished image with you, the project at last nearing fruition.