All photos/art by Jon Olsen
One recent midwinter day, landscape photographer Jon Olsen found himself at a favorite spot: a narrow country road dominated by pastures just outside Hartford, Vermont’s village center. There, under the late daylight, Olsen parked his truck, strapped on a backpack stocked with lenses and a camera, and tromped into a field a short way, where the waist-deep snow forced him to turn his tripod into a walking stick. Alone, under a steady stream of falling snow, Jon Olsen got to work in a setting that was everything he’d hoped for.
Olsen’s New England roots have embedded in him a deep appreciation for the seasons. But it’s winter–single-digit temperatures and shortened days included–that especially calls to him. For Olsen, a Massachusetts boy who now calls Norwich, Vermont, home, the winter scenes offer a unique look at New England. They’re simple, uncluttered: just snow, sky, and tree, he likes to say. “There’s something very soothing about that,” says Olsen, 50, who first picked up a camera as a junior in high school. “The world is still.”
It’s what lies at the heart of Olsen’s winter work. He’s in search of beauty, of course: the way the slanting late daylight cuts across a skating pond; the way falling snow punctuates the color of an old red barn; the way an old apple tree gives presence to an open white field. But his images tell us something else, too: not only about the changing identity of familiar landscapes under sheets of snow and ice, but also about the tranquility those elements can impart to the world around us.
And that requires work, requires miles of exploration, curious journeys down country roads, deep into those rural slices of New England that are longed for, cherished, in so many other parts of the country. Since returning to photography full time in 2003, after an 11-year hiatus, Olsen has scoured these places–across Vermont, through southern New Hampshire, up and down the Maine coast–setting out in his truck in the early dawn, armed with a single camera, a couple of zoom lenses, and an eye for the light.
“The limitations of photography can be a hindrance,” says Olsen, who works out of a small studio next door to the ranch-style home he shares with his wife and three children. “It’s not my real interest. What I’m doing is studying the landscapes and seeing things in a particular way. But I constantly feel as if I didn’t capture what I saw. Sometimes another medium, like watercolor, would be more effective.”
But that excludes how his photographs resonate with those who see and buy his work at galleries across northern New England. Take the recent e-mail he received from a woman who, with a friend, came across several of his prints at a shop in Woodstock, Vermont:
“The beauty and simplicity simply stunned us both. We drove home with a very powerful sense of peacefulness. Thank you for bringing such beauty into our world.”
“I love that line about bringing her a sense of peace,” says Olsen, staring at his computer screen as though he’s reading the note for the first time. “That’s a big part of it, so it’s nice to get something like this. I’ve had other people tell me they hate winter but love my images. It allows them to experience a certain quiet and peacefulness that comes with winter.”