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  • Writer's pictureJustin Key

Behind the Title - Waterfalls

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

The clear runoff of Punch Bowl Falls in Oregon reveals a mosaic of polished stones surrounded by plant covered cliffs in this landscape photograph.

The use of song titles to name my photos started as a way to give the viewer some insight into my experience in that location. From the beginning, a decision was made to add a wrinkle into that process. The majority of my photos are open to any song that embodies the experience either lyrically or through the melody. Waterfalls, however, have a limited catalog from which they receive their names.

Before I discovered sand dunes, waterfalls were my favorite landscape to photograph. The peaceful feature offers plenty of creative approaches for capturing the flowing water. Shutter speed affects the texture of the water and it becomes a creative choice to decide how smooth the water appears. Some falls look better within the grand scene with others offer micro landscapes within the flow. It all comes down to the eye behind the lens and how it sees the location to preserve the waterfall for the photographer.

A waterfall in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge pours at the end of a natural tunnel of spring leaves and moss covered rocks as the resulting creek winds through the green landscape.

The idea that this common landform could result in various outcomes from photographer to photographer is what led to their different approach to naming. Each waterfall has a story. It starts with a journey, some waterfalls are easy to get to, others require more effort and time to find. Then there is the experience. I've been to waterfalls that don't inspire me photographically while others hypnotize me into a shooting frenzy.

Every waterfall creates a memory. I've hiked to most of the waterfalls I've visited. One hike involved crossing the edge of one waterfall to get to another, one involved a swim with my camera bag over my head but on a few occasions, a car was all I needed. I've seen rainbows arching out of the mist in the sun and have nearly drowned my camera in the rain. No matter the journey or the experience, good or bad, that memory is forever tied to that waterfall. All it takes is hearing the name to conjure that memory similar to a past love which is where the title comes in.

Love is easily the most common subject for songwriters. Within the genre of love songs is a category written about specific women. These songs serve as a tribute to the relationship and are often titled with the woman's name. Whether their love blossomed or imploded or never was, each story is unique to the name the song is being sung about. I've found these stories can be attributed to waterfalls which is why all my waterfall photographs are titled after songs with a woman's name.

Abiqua Falls pours over a basalt column cliff in this fine art landscape that showcases the unique features of this Oregon waterfall.

Take "Jolene" for example. The Dolly Parton classic tells the story of a woman in love with a man, pleading with Jolene not to steal him from her. The unnamed protagonist fears her man has fallen for Jolene and that he will leave her for Jolene. The location for my photo "Jolene" is Abiqua Falls in Oregon and is the most incredible place I have ever been to, and yes that includes the sand dunes. The 100-foot cascade crushed any ego I had. The basalt column cliff doubled in height with the old-growth forest trying to keep it hidden. It was somehow an oasis within the lush moss-covered forest in the Pacific Northwest. I still remember my eyes widening when I finally saw the falls and the chills of excitement extending beyond the chills from the mist. I fell in love with Abiqua so hard that I almost told my wife to leave me there.

This fine art landscape print of a waterfall in Colorado trickling over a moss covered overhang against a rock wall photographed using a long exposure to blur the water of Hanging Lake.

Then you have "Maxine" by Donald Fagen. The song talks about a young love that isn't encouraged by some, not unlike my first attempt to hike this falls which didn't happen because the parking lot was full. The protagonist says they meet while the world is sleeping which mirrors the early morning that was had in order to beat the crowd. Then the line that sold me on the name "Maxine" is the line that ends three of the four verses and the song:

Try to hang on Maxine

The photo was taken at Hanging Lake in Colorado.

While lyrics are used to tell the story for some of my photos, it's usually done in a literal sense. For waterfalls, the song that serves as a tribute to an old flame is being attributed to the waterfall. Rather than telling a story, I use the songs to profess my love for the location and my cherished time with it. Flowing water is scientifically proven to have a soothing effect on people and is a contributing reason for our settling around bodies of water. That joyous feeling of love professed in these songs isn't far off from the peace of mind created by the sound of rushing water. It's even been said that photographs of water can help create the same effects. Add some serenity to your home with my collection of waterfall images and ignite a feeling of love from this beautiful landscape.


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