I captured this self-portrait, titled "Wading Through," at King Family Vineyards in rural Crozet, Virginia. When I asked the owner, James King, about the field's status, he indicated that it had peaked two weeks earlier, on July 12th. He could not have known that was also my 50th birthday.
The next day, I ventured out to the field anyway. I passed a polo match, carrying my camera, lenses, filters, and tripod, and headed to the way-back corner of the property. When I turned the corner past the long fences, I liked what I saw. The sunflowers were mostly died off with just enough still hanging in there. The metaphor was strong. It set a different tone than the typical field of flowers--one that began a photo shoot that was inspired by my love for Andrew Wyeth's work.
The sunflower scene brought the words "barren optimism" to mind, Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World" being my inspiration.
Having studied Wyeth's work some years ago, I knew that he and I shared a lot of commonalities beyond our mutual respect for hillsides and nature. We share the same birthday, July 12th (his 1917, mine 1965); he is one of five children, I am one of six; he had a medically challenged childhood that kept him home schooled, I was home most of my 3rd grade year due to a congenital heart defect that lead to my first open heart surgery in 1974; and one of his many muses was his dog who looked just like my own dog, Stephan.
It was Wyeth's work "Master Bedroom" that became my favorite even before Stephan came into my life.
"Stephan" Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography
Wyeth spent his years between his home in Pennsylvania and his summer home in Maine. I grew up in New England, but have traveled across the United States several times. We are both inspired by nature, and I find that his work rather barren with a hint of optimism, hence my term barren optimism.
As can happen with a muse or inspiration, I hadn't realized how much Wyeth's work had influenced my photography until I captured the sunflower field self-portrait. Wyeth remains a favorite, and during my future photo shoots, I will certainly have him in the back of my mind as I analyze the scene before me, the light, and the opportunity for barren optimism.
This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.