What Is It?
What is it about this photograph? Known to friends as the "Tennis in the Woods" picture it stops everyone dead in their tracks when they see it.
I thought I'd bring you into it a little.
I made the picture in November 2012 from about 1000 feet above Martha's Vineyard. We were headed back to the mainland after an extended flight, the light was failing and I had shot all I'd intended for the day. But we were flying, the window was open and I was looking down at the ground with the camera in my hands and saw this as we flew over, so I snapped the shutter. From the air you see things as quick "windows" that pass by very fast and are gone. It wasn't until I got home and started going through the almost 500 frames I'd shot that day that I noticed this one. Taken as we flew over a large and private area on the North Shore of the island called Seven Gates, it was of a tennis court in the woods. It was so small and surrounded by so many trees and, if you look carefully, there is a pickup truck driving away with its brake lights on:
What did this mean? I couldn't help beginning to play out a mystery: Was the driver leaving the scene of the crime? Had he left a body by the side of the tennis court, wrapped in plastic? Or was he a hero and rushing to someplace outside of the frame we can't see to save his sweetheart who is about to be thrown from the cliff by the villain into the waves crashing below? I don't know about you but Hitchcock movies come to mind.
To come back to reality, what is a tennis court doing there in the middle of what looks like nowhere? This is a characteristic of photography I have always loved. Because it is often steeped in a look that is realistic, we can play with unanswerable questions or build out intrigue, innuendo and enigma almost at will.
Nothing seems to be private from the air. You are flying free to gaze in back yards and into private property. There is a recent case where Barbara Streisand sued an aerial photographer who had been hovering in a helicopter outside her house on the coast in Malibu for invasion of privacy. She lost the case as he was in free air space (Streisand Case). I wonder what will happen as more and more drones are put into use.
Look at how everything is just there for you to see. A fence? No problem. Plant trees as a screen so your pool can't be seen from the street? Nope. The concept just doesn't work when seen from up here. (This is from a new series begun this fall of photographs of MA Route 2 from east to west.)
My friend Alex MacLean is an excellent aerial photographer. He is one of those that flies his own plane and photographs too (Landslides). He had a show at the Clark Gallery in Lincoln, MA awhile ago and gave a talk. After he spoke he got a question from a woman in the audience asking if he ever photographed on the ground. I thought his logic was impeccable. He said that he tried it but was frustrated right way. "Drive around, stop, get out of the car, take a picture, get back in the car, drive some more, get out, take a picture and on and on. Why would anyone want to subject themselves to that?"
That tennis court in the woods haunts me. I find myself thinking of being there on a cold starry night in mid winter with all those trees swaying and creaking in the wind and maybe a mouse starting to cross it, furtive and hurrying, feeling exposed and vulnerable as it pads through the center where the net sits in the summer, with an owl looking on from a limb of a nearby tree, taking flight, swooping down with its talons extended in front of it to strike and make its kill.