If Thoreau had a Camera by Tom Grill

Sunset with ice on Walden Pond, MA, 2013 © Tom Grill

Sunset with ice on Walden Pond, MA, 2013 © Tom Grill


by Tom Grill

After spending countless years photographing the major landscape opportunities of the American West, I finally came to realize that the landscape I most loved was in my own backyard.

I grew up in Pennsylvania and New York, similar Eastern terrains with pockets of dense forests and valleys that are constantly reinventing themselves with each change of the weather—sometimes sunny, often misty, covered with snow, colorful trees in autumn, barren in winter, lush trees in spring and fall, brooks, rivers and waterfalls. It is no wonder the Hudson River School of painting found the area inspirational and spiritual.

Thoreau also grew up here. He lived in a one-room cabin on the edge of Walden Pond, Concord, MA, near what could be considered an almost nondescript wilderness area.
Thoreau found beauty there, beauty that gave meaning to life, beauty that provided him with an explanation of the eternal.

Thoreau taught me how to look at nature in a new way—To go into the woods to learn how, as he put it, “…to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach….”  Thoreau lived for two years at Walden Pond, recording his personal experiences and assembling them into a book. As part of my continuing process of self-education as a photographer, I also spent two years photographing Walden Pond—not living there, but returning often to record the seasons and details of the surrounding woods as they might have appeared to Thoreau.

Photo of reflections, Icy sunset, Walden Pond, MA, 2013 © Tom Grill

Icy sunset, Walden Pond, MA, 2013 © Tom Grill

Thoreau’s Walden Pond taught me how to look closely, to examine minutely with my camera, to find subject matter that at first eludes us. We are often distracted by the grand design of overpowering landscapes like those of the American West, and can forget to look down to discover the same grand design in a single decaying leaf beneath our foot, or the sculptural form of a passing cloud over our head.

Nature is with us everywhere, even in the city. It is forever passing, changing, revealing new aspects of its character that teach us how to live. I’ve spent my life in an effort to capture this elusive beauty. When I am out there with my camera I often think of Monet painting his haystacks—humble objects that he turned into sculptural icons of captured light—rotating his canvases and painting as fast as he could in the field to keep up with the changing light. It is never-ending. It is eternal.

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