Seattle photographer Peter de Lory surveys the great waterfalls of the West — such as Multnomah, Yosemite and Snoqualmie — in an exhibition titled "The Falls."
Water cascading down a rock face — it’s such a simple thing, yet so infinite in its variety from trickle to roar that it holds us captive again and again.
Seattle photographer Peter de Lory is as entranced as the rest of us, as his new exhibit, “The Falls,” clearly shows.
De Lory’s handsome black-and-white shots were taken mostly in the Pacific Northwest, with a handful coming from Utah, California and North Carolina. Some well-known “marquee names” — Snoqualmie Falls, Multnomah Falls, Yosemite Falls — are among them. But this isn’t mere souvenir-album fodder.
Instead, de Lory’s archival carbon-pigment prints employ unusual framing and unexpected camera angles to sidestep cliché. They also look hard at the contrasts between dark-rock backdrop and wayward water course.
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“Palouse Falls in Moonlight, WA, 185 ft. Plunge” is one of the stunners in the lot. A crisp “amphitheater” of surrounding cliffs cradles an almost silky down-drop of water into a shadowy pool, dark at its center, pale at its rim. There’s a hefty grandeur to the panorama at the same time that there’s a rushing sense of vertigo at its center.
Rock face/plunging-water contrasts become almost abstract in “Basalt at Latourell Falls, OR,” where the roughly rounded cliff surface is neatly bisected by a narrow scrim of brightness. De Lory also includes a striking shot from under Latourell Falls that places you behind its atomized, translucent veil of plunging water.
“Multnomah Falls, OR, 620 ft. Plunge,” thanks to de Lory’s vertically elongated framing of its subject (with a playfully defiant bridge spanning the falls’ plummet at midway), is a beautiful treatment of a sight that often borders on tourist kitsch.
Still more unusual is “Top of Multnomah Falls, OR, 620 ft. Plunge,” in which the falling water, viewed from above, looks almost “painted” in wispy brush strokes over the rock. The billowing cloud of spray contrasts dramatically with the regimented firs below and the even more tidily arrayed parking lots at the base of the cliff.
In some photos, viewing platforms play a key compositional role, whether they’re imposing (the concrete-and-steel-fence lookout in “Shoshone Falls, ID, 212 ft. Plunge”) or rustic (the modest wooden platform of “Christine Falls, WA, 40 ft. Plunge,” with its rails thickly carved with visitors’ initials).
There’s a subset of pictures that focuses on tourists posing for vacation photos. The disconnect between members of the crowd is accented here. Their relationships aren’t with one another but with the camera — or with the waterfall itself. One notable exception: “Lower Punch Bowl, OR, 15 ft. Plunge,” in which a teenage boy, caught in midair doing a somersault into a bubbling pool, is watched with delight by his friends.
In a few shots, the spectators taking in these magnificent sights are utterly dwarfed, not just physically but temporally. After all, the seemingly ephemeral rush of these waters will continue long after those observing them are dead.
While the photos that include a human presence have their strengths, it’s the shots that focus on landscape and water alone that have the most elemental power.
Whether gauzy, braided, thundering or sinewy, de Lory’s “Falls” can be spellbinding.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com