A Dress' Spring Dance

May 15, 2014

This prom dress danced onto The Herald’s front page in April 1992 just as the last bit of snow melted into spring. (Herald File / Bob Eddy)

 

On Friday April 18, 1992, I was riding about Randolph Village looking for possible images. I love this kind of scouting; it’s very different from heading out with a specific objective. You never know what you’ll find! In a similar way, I enjoy visiting tag sales and antique shops just to see if anything catches my eye; it’s so different from shopping with a list.

I remember the weather being very grey and cold that day. It had been a long winter; snow was still in the woods, on north sloping fields, and behind barns. I was ready for spring; everyone was ready for spring.

On School Street that day I spied a prom dress hanging all by itself from the porch of a large aging Victorian home. The dress, a light lacey frock, called out, “photograph me!” as I saw it from the street. I’m speaking metaphorically, of course, but the dress really did cry out to me. This very often happens to me when a vital photographic subject comes into view. Driving or walking past undistinguished scenery, suddenly, something presents itself seemingly out of nowhere.

Perspectives

If you, too, occasionally experience things in the landscape crying out for your attention, be sure to view them from many perspectives. A danger in these moments is assuming your first view is the best view. It rarely is. Walk around the scene. More often than not the telling image is very far from the first viewpoint.

I began my imaging of this scene from the road using a telephoto lens. I will very often establish the shot with these first few frames, knowing that the photograph is yet to unfold.

Fortunately, Lisa Adams was home. The dress, she explained had just been washed and, once dry, would be taken to The Thomas Store where a rack of used prom dresses awaited enthusiastic teens, primping on a budget for the big spring dance.

Given permission to photograph from the porch, I switched my telephoto for a 24mm lens and slowly moved around the scene seeking an angle where everything came together compositionally.

Framing the Image

In this resulting image, the dress is framed by the aging but very proud white porch posts and cornice detailing, contrasted by the darker Victorian windows to the back. Several details in this photograph add significantly to the composition. Note the lace curtains in the lower window, echoing the dress.

The small square of sky showing through the upper window is compositionally important. It gives us a real sense of the interior space, and energizes the image in the same way a moon over a ridge imparts life and interest to the landscape. Put your finger over that small square of white in the black interior; energy falls away from the scene.

Note the last small patch of snow at the bottom of the frame. This says “winter,” but the dress sings “spring!” Soon this barren landscape will burst with color. Right now, though, we are left with straw and wintered grass reaching all the way back to the train embankment at the left.

This view evokes memories for me of several Edward Hopper paintings. Perhaps you, too, will be reminded of Andrew Wyeth’s, “Christina’s World.” The house and dress pull us into our vast collective memory of art, and, of course, into our personal memories of events long past.

An Amazing Moment

Everything up to this point was a prelude to the most incredible part of this photographic experience. I was positioned and photographing from what I’d determined was the very best angle when, suddenly, the dress was animated by an almost indiscernible puff of breeze. There, in my lens, it briefly came to life, lifting, dancing on the wind.

Then, just as suddenly, the moment passed, and the dress hung lifeless and limp.

From the street this beautiful dress called out to me. From the porch, once it had my full attention, it took one brief wondrous turn in my lens.

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