Watkins Glen Revisited (and Corning and Eastman House)

Spent a couple days with a couple members of our newly named photo group, CRABS (Casey, Richie, Art, Bob, Steve). Specifically, Steve and Art accompanied me on a trip to Rochester, NY. I had always wanted to visit the George Eastman House Museum. It’s sort of a photographer’s pilgrimage kind of place, what with George having invented modern photography. For us, it was an overnighter because we wanted to have as much time at the museum as possible, but not two whole days. So, we decided to go through Corning and Watkins Glen in New York and see stuff there, too.

Corning Museum, Corning, NY

Art and Steve At Corning Curved Mirror

Art’s explaining the principal of focal point?

At one of the Corning exhibits, there’s a large curved mirror. They are trying to demonstrate how such mirrors create focal points. You are asked to stand at a certain spot and walk towards your reflection in the mirror. You start off seeing yourself upside-down, but as you walk forward and pass the focal point, your image instantly flips. It’s pretty neat. Steve is a big guy and the mirror made him so much more so. Couldn’t help but snap a photo.

Art's Face Through The Water GlassArt And Steve At Look More Closely BowlThe sphere filled with water was irresistible and creates the kind of distortion you would expect. Steve and Art had to follow the instructions which read, “Look more closely”.

Art and I were both pointing our cameras into the sphere and one of the Corning Museum employees came over, laughing at how we looked. She offered to take a picture if we’d only had a third camera (Steve wasn’t nearby). Fortunately, Art’s cell phones was all she needed.

Dueling Cameras Corning Museum

Photo by Corning Museum employee.

Eastman House Museum, Rochester, NY

Elephant Head at Eastman HouseThe museum has two parts. There’s the photography museum, which includes lots of photographs and photo technology displays, and then there’s George Eastman’s home, which is awesome. You can go online as see more of it. To me, this photo with the elephant head was interesting because it’s the room containing two organs, South and North. Eastman was a fan of music and had it playing in his home throughout the night; the organs used paper rolls to play a variety of recordings. Eastman thought having two organs would add a new dimension to the sound when live musicians played.

There’s a movie that runs on a loop in one of the display rooms and explains about the organs and changes Eastman had to make to get things just right with them. This room, which was massive to begin with, had to be stretched about seven feet to accommodate his idea of what an ideal music room should be. This was done for an amazing amount of money, too, but he didn’t care. He could afford it. To him, it had to be just right.

And by the way, the elephant head is a kind of sculpture, not a real one. Throughout the house, there are many elephant related items. Eastman must have been a fan.

Watkins Glen

Here’s where our trip’s magic happened. In the middle of our traveling about, we spent time at Watkins Glen, NY. To some, this place is known for its race track. In fact, during my first visit there many years ago with my wife, that’s all I knew about it. Lee and I had gone because we wanted to check out the Finger Lakes with their vineyards and quaint towns.  While there that first time, I saw signs to the park and the gorge. Wow. That’s all I can say. Wow.

I was happy to be able to get back again and show it all to Art and Steve. On the drive into New York, we knew it was going to rain. That’s a good thing as I had hoped for rain. The worst would have been a sunny day. Photography would be a constant battle with deep shadows and blown out water highlights. As it turned out, we had clouds and little rain. Cloudy days can be a hit or miss kind of things. If too heavy, things look drab. Thin clouds are best for canyons and gorges, I think. We had happy clouds.

Art In Watkins Glen Gorge

You can see in this smart phone photo that the sky is bright and the shadows are soft. That’s pretty much perfection. The deep gorge walls have visible detail, for the most part.

The gorge, itself, has been well maintained by the State and its paths and bridges are easy to walk. There were lots of visitors this day, but not so many that they were getting in the way of our photography. The trail is about 1.5 miles and has plenty of stairways to climb.

DSC_0809 - Watkins Glen Gorge Spring Greening - 1200hI remember how I felt when I walked up from the car towards the gorge entrance, where there is a set of stairs going through a tunnel in the rock wall. Climbing out of the tunnel, you see water rushing through the gorge below and it kind of takes your breath away. Even though I had seen it before, it still had this affect.

Amazing. Simply amazing.

The trail is flat but not level. It does rise in elevation via many sets of stairs. Because of the water that occasionally drips from the walls, the path is wet underfoot. There are even muddy spots, but not so much so that you’d object to walking through them. We carried our cameras and bags without too much fear of anything important getting wet.

Bridges take you from one side to another in the gorge. Because the natural erosion of the walls has made foot paths which the trail builders enhanced, the bridge work got you to where you needed to be. There really wasn’t any dangerous place; that is, you can’t fall in (unless you do something really stupid).

DSC_0768 - Watkins Glen Gorge Shafted Light - 1200h DSC_0764 - Watkins Glen Gorge Shafted Light 2 - 1200h DSC_0796_799_800_801_tonemapped-1200h DSC_0787_8_fused-glow-straight-1200h

There are two places where you actually walk under the waterfalls. I didn’t photograph these, but we sure did stop and enjoy the refreshing mist that enveloped us here. From a distance, you wonder if you could even fit behind the falls, but you can.

For the most part, throughout, you can just walk, stop and enjoy the view, walk some more, and do it again. I remember a couple times where a “take your breath away” moment happens, and then just 10 feet later, there’s another one. The walls of the gorge hide these treats, gifting them a step at a time. It is magical. Really.

Walking out, we decided to take the Indian Trail, which follows the top of the gorge and offers some viewing platforms. One such spot had a stream of water coming off the opposite ledge. We each saw something different from it. Art used a telephoto lens to focus on the upper part of the stream. Steve had a medium range zoom and I saw him make several photos of various spots. I think, as a photographer, you’re ability to pre-visualize an image may be influenced by the lens you have on your camera at the time. I happened to have a slightly wide lens. I liked the following composition, not so much because of the streaming water, but because the leaves in the tree on the left were still a Springtime light-green. It’s one of my favorite colors in nature. So, I chose the wide view.

DSC_0816 - Copy-1200wIt’s really not a wide angle shot, really, it’s more “normal”. It worked for me because of that pre-visualize thing. To me, there’s a hint of Ansel Adams inspiration going on. I think his spirit was whispering in my ear.

Art And Steve At She-Qua-Ga FallsCandids And Waterfalls

In Watkins Glen, outside of the gorge park, there are other waterfalls. Although we didn’t set out to try to find them, we didn’t manage to stumble across these two. The one on the right is She-Qua-Ga Falls. The one below is Aunt Sarah’s. It’s funny that, if you look quickly, they seem to be the same. The bottom part, especially, looks that way to me. But, we can attribute this to the fast ocean floor, and the layers of sea mud, that made up the rock layers over which the water flows. If I were a geologist, I might be able to read these as one can read the rings of a tree. Suffice it to say, I’m just happy to have been able to visit this beautiful place…and with such good friends.

Photo by Art Danek

Art took his smart phone, guessed at the composition, set the phone down on a rock by the Montour Falls sign, had the three of us pose, and hoped for the best. He got this shot on the first take. This is what skill and preparation (aka “luck”) can do.




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