Simple notion: Post a photograph of a mountain every day for a full year. Call it #everydaysamountain. Because, in late 2018, every day was beginning to seem like something to get over. You probably know what I’m talking about. The news was full of suffering, and people being prodded or mocked by those whose job used to be to watch out for them.
Mountains, on the other hand, though sometimes two-faced, barren, or looming, are never reprehensible. They make you look up. And even when crumbling, they are so beautiful. Perhaps, publicly posted, their daily presence couldt be a small drop on the other side of the scale. A minor act of optimism.
Having enough photos was not going to be a problem. We take a lot of road trips, and If I start to run short, a trip to the supermarket can put me sight of three ranges. That’s how it is in L. A. But to act on a good intention every day for a year? The same good intention? Much more difficult terrain. Still, the darkest days of the year were approaching. I was hungry for light, for change of direction. I thought it might be worth trying to adopt a new practice. Consistency.
The Mountain Project’s first post was on December 21, 2018, the winter solstice. Hence its second tag, #solsticeyear Two weeks ago, the fall equinox marked the project's nine month anniversary. 39 weeks, a gestation of sorts, in 273 mountain pictures.* I did forget to post once, but caught it the next morning, and there have been breaks in the rhythm, a skip plus a doubled up day, when I’ve been on the road and out of internet range.
The work the project involved—finding photos in ten years of files, editing them, identifying the location, writing a brief description, and arranging some kind of posting order—turned out to have its own momentum. Something I could do when I couldn't bring myself to do much else. Which was a godsend during the winter and spring when I was sick and homebound for an unreasonable number of weeks.
Consistency, it turns out, has other rewards as well. I used to think that repetition was a kind of crime against the imagination. Now I suspect it’s more like a fisherman’s net. As constructed, the squares of the mesh are identical. In use they change shape dramatically, can strangle a thought, let a dozen ideas escape, but sometimes capture something completely unexpected.
While I was formatting pictures to the 7 x 5 inch size I’d decided on, the wild variety of the horizontal lines kept jumping out at me. Playing with color, cropping to accentuate a ridge, I began isolating the silhouettes of peaks and slopes against the horizon, then recombining them. I strung the slices of mountain-and-sky in rows at first, then stacked them vertically, grouping the slices by highway, trail, or region. When I printed the results on 13x 19 inch paper, I was excited by the images. They seemed to be the mountain project distilled. The process of getting the pictures had been stirred into the results.
In June, the print series became a book,** Sky Lines.
The title is descriptive, yes, and also a reminder. In the 1980s, the airline New York Air had a magazine that I wrote a book column for. I was paid, too, and got to choose the books. The editors named the column Skylines, and it ended abruptly after a couple of years when the airline went belly-up. Fast forward to 2009 (the year of the first of the #everydaysamountain pictures). That was my best paid year as a journalist ever. The next year, my end of the profession was going belly-up, too. By the fall of 2012, journalism and I had given up on each other and I was calling myself a photographer. Careers are con trails, smoke in the sky. Mountains are somewhat more durable.
Picture-making for me is primarily an act of looking in. What do I see here? What do I want to see? Once I’m done with it, viewers can see it as they will. Journalism, though, is an act of reaching out. How do I say something so that you see it, too? Sky Lines, the book, alternates sections of just pictures with written sections describing the different areas that the picture are from. I had to wear my former as well as my present hat.
Recently I've begun to think about what happens when my solstice year ends. Will I keep posting mountains, re-upping for another year? Or find another everydaysa topic? Maybe switch from daily to weekly postings? I don't know. Certainly, the Sky Lines series continues to evolve. In August the comments of a photographer friend led me to reconsider the size and scale of the series' images. The result: composites of composites!
Whatever's next, I know that I looked up at mountains and found more than I bargained for.
*The mountains appear daily on Instagram under ariel.swartley and can be found on Twitter by searching the hashtag #everydaysamountain. Facebook friends are able see them there. The whole series eventually lands on this website.
**Exciting (to me) developments: Both Sky Lines and my previous book, A Season in Point Russe, are on exhibit until October 15 at The Los Angeles Center for Photography, chosen as part of the Center's first annual PhotoBook Competition.
A new composite-composite picture, "On the ET Highway," will be part of the CA 101 2019 show, opening Oct 4 in Redondo Beach.