“Snowy Aspen” by Bethany Helzer (Or Minimalism Isn’t Just For Architecture)
In the Northern hemisphere, Winter is coming to a close. As a photographer, that saddens me because there there is a great potential for photography in the winter if you're willing to brave the cold. It is the only time of year when your black & white photos will look nearly the same as your color photos of the same scene. But as winter dissipates into spring, so does the opportunity for natural minimalist photographs; like Snowy Aspen, shown here, by photographer Bethany Helzer.
A minimalist photograph is as simple as it sounds: It is a photograph without clutter. Sometimes it's abstract, but it doesn't have to be. I like to think that it's a shot that focuses entirely on the aesthetics. It's a photo that isn't making a comment or making you think about a particular subject. It is simply a composition, nothing more. Those wishing to split hairs and categorize art by specific boundaries might not consider Snowy Aspen to be a truly minimalist photograph. I personally don't believe the lines are so crisply drawn and so I look to a broader definition. Bottom line: In the natural environment, this is about as minimalist as you're going to get. Minimalism is important as art. It is entirely composition focused and so it forces us to appreciate the shapes and relationship within the photograph. But I think it is often appreciated for it's simplicity. It's perfect for an office environment because it doesn't make political statements, it can't be offensive. It's just great to look at.
Taken on a gray, cloudy day with a full blanket of snow on the ground, Bethany exhibits a stark contrast between the texture-rich aspen grove (I'll take Bethany's word on the species) and the featureless snow and clouds. It is a belt of fiber that runs through an otherwise plain scene. I admire her vision. This is not a photograph that could have been produced on a sunny day. Shadows would have been to hard-edged and too dark, and the sky wouldn't look at all similar to the ground. Furthermore, the thinnest of branches wouldn't pop away from the sky like they do on this overcast day. I think the beauty of the shot is really the way that the aspen trees all seem to be perfectly aligned. Their trunks are so very uniform in height and in stature, and there are so many of them that our mind isn't at first sure what it's looking at. We could very well be looking at a tear between the two parts of a white sheet and it's threads continue to hold strong. It will soon register that this is a woodland, but that won't stop the mind from admiring the textures and the composition that Bethany has open our eyes to.
Snowy Aspen is simple. But more-so, it is simply beautiful.
Bethany Helzer hails from the Great Lakes region of the United States and so she bears witness to both some of the greatest natural environments and some of the most industrialized areas of our nation. Her photostream seems to have a yin and yang feel to it, balancing the natural beauty of untouched environments with the appealing ugliness of urban ruins. Her portraiture – much of which is self portraiture – folds her soft style into either environment seamlessly. Her work is truly an inspiration and so you should follow her closely.