“Old Stump & Island at Sunset”

Old Stump & Island at Sunset, Flathead Lake, Montana (c) Mike Utley

W53-1(S)—Old Stump & Island at Sunset, Flathead Lake, Montana
During my trip to Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota in 1996, my buddy Jeff and I visited Flathead Lake, the largest natural body of freshwater in the western U.S. This resulted in one of my favorite images. There’s something so stark and mournful about this scene. To me, the stump resembles an animal crying out in pain to the oblivious heavens. This was shot on color slide film but the lighting conditions rendered it almost completely black and white, which lends a surreal touch to the image. I could have used a graduated neutral density filter to hold back exposure on the sky and give it some color, but it was dusk anyway and the sky was a faded, washed-out blue which appears almost devoid of hue in the final image, an effect I prefer for this scene. The water wasn’t completely calm but the long exposure removed all traces of wavelet movement and produced an almost mist-like appearance. My friend Jeff and I were at the same spot at the same time, and his image of this stump was completely different from mine. It’s fascinating how people can interpret the same scene in vastly distinct and personal ways. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

35 thoughts on ““Old Stump & Island at Sunset”

      1. people who are much more socially aware than me know all sorts of nuances to the emojis – I just use the ones that speak to me 😀

        apparently the eggplant emoji represents the phallus (FYI)

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  1. Your photos are amazing. I really like them. And I like how you detail your responses to the scene and include some story about the day you were there. It really shows photography as an art. The choices you make, etc. I love taking photos. But I am just the point and shoot type. I’ve never bothered to learn properly about cameras. So reading about how you choose your shot and the affects of your choices on the image (like the misty look of the lake) is fascinating to me and makes me realise how much I could learn.

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    1. Thanks. I appreciate this. I really like to add these little stories to my photos. It makes them more personal, and gives a glimpse behind the scenes. I suppose it’s also my way of reaching out to readers, to engage with them. I learned photography on my own by reading books by Galen Rowell, John Shaw and others, and they always included some background info with each image. it make learning about the technical side of photography much more enjoyable. Plus, I can’t look at any of my images without being transported back to the precise place and time when they were created. It’s almost a “photographic memory,” you could say (awful pun, I know). A quick example of this is when I photographed a magenta paintbrush flower. I ended up with 37 dead mosquitoes on my left leg (I was wearing shorts) while trying to make that image (the bugs were awful that day). Fun stuff! 🙂

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      1. LOL Love the example. 🙂 Mozzies have a way of being remembered. My now husband hates mosquitoes… or hates being stung by them. Before we were married, we were on our way down to Victoria and camping in a forest. The mosquitoes were terrible. Mr W got the tent up in double quick time, and ordered us both in before getting the zip done up quick smart. He then carefully perused the inside of the tent, killed any mozzies he found and then settled down to sleep, content that he was safe. Meanwhile, I lay there listening to the their whine just outside the netting. Their whine is almost more abhorrent to me than their itchy bites.

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  2. Absolutely amazing, Mike. So beautiful. I see the old stump as the ghost of a lost creature that desperately wants to get back to the island. The colors truly add to this affect. Your photos are always so intriguing, they just capture so much. Thanks for sharing.💕💕

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    1. Thanks, Grace. It’s fun to imagine all the possibilities in this shot. There’s certainly a sense of yearning in the scene, just as you said. It’s one of those really ambiguous photos where different people can see different things. Thanks for the kind words as always. 🙂

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  3. You will not believe that I thought the exact same thing. It looked like a dead, wild animal lying upon a bed of arrows. I think we have the same inclination to see pain in a lot of things. That’s alright though. Makes us want to express it even more. A haunting shot, Mike. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Terveen. Yeah, I can believe it. Definitely looks like a full quiver of arrows was used on this stump-creature. You’re right–I do tend to see pain in a lot of things. I’m not especially looking for it, but I suppose it’s sort of the way I view the world. What we’ve experienced makes us who we are, and who we are colors the way we see the world. I just couldn’t help but to see the mournful howling of some forsaken animal in this stump. I have no idea what my friend Jeff saw when he composed his shot of this scene, but I imagine it was something entirely different. I always appreciate your kind words. Many thanks. 🙂

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  4. This speaks to me in this manner too. It’s harsh what the whole creation is currently facing, Mike; humans have turned up arms blazing against everything, not just plants, nor the sky, nor wildlife, nor sea creatures, nor fellow humans… everything! Quite sad. I laud your journalistic efforts in bringing us close to this reality. What a revealing picture!

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    1. You’re too kind, Lamittan. I agree with you–unrest and upheaval are everywhere, and sometimes it even appears symbolically or metaphorically in art and nature and in totally unexpected places. Who would have thought that some random tree stump on the shore of some out-of-the-way lake in some remote area could epitomize the agony of the world? This is one thing that really stands out with regards to nature photography–we can see the consequences of our human actions on the planet, and if we’re wise, we’ll learn and change our ways and save what’s left. Thanks as always for your astute observations, good sir. I appreciate it. 🙂

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    1. Thanks so much for your ever-kind words. This makes sense, really. There’s certainly a friction in this scene, with the placid lake and the “wounded beast.” It almost feels as though the world holds nothing but apathy for the stump. The world is continuing on its way into evening and night, oblivious of the predicament of the stump on the shore. Symbolically, one could say it represents the war in Ukraine against the backdrop of a seemingly unconcerned world. War and peace, indeed… I always appreciate your in-depth comments. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Daphny. I really do like the dragon idea. It fits in with my love of fantasy (huge Tolkien fan here). And yep, there’s such a sense of agony, cruelty, injustice here. I never thought a stump could be so expressive! As for travelling, I’ve been to a couple of places, but not for awhile. There are some international places I’d love to visit someday (Japan, Scotland, New Zealand). Bucket-list places, you know? Anyway, your kind words are so appreciated! Thanks so much, Daphny. 🙂

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      1. you’re most welcome Mike! You really could get a good fantasy story out of this, it’s been quite a long time since I watched it.
        Those are some nice places I definitely would to visit Japan, Switzerland and many more. 😀

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  5. That’s a gorgeous shot, Mike. I love the muted color and the contrasts. How interesting that Jeff’s photo came out so different. It makes sense though. The beholder’s eye impacts all perception, and through the camera’s lens, we get a clear “picture” of that phenomenon.

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    1. Thanks, Diana. I’m fond of this image for a few reasons. And it’s interesting, as you said, that my buddy Jeff’s photo was so different. I don’t know if he saw what I saw or interpreted it the same way. His shot was really cool, just a completely different composition. We really do see through the filter of our experiences. I tend to see pain in a lot of things (major depression), whereas other folks might have seen something upbeat or whimsical in this old stump. The mind is such an interesting thing, really, and it’s fascinating to dig around and see what makes people think and behave the way they do. 🙂

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      1. It’s very interesting to explore differing perspectives, how the mind filters information, and the templates that act as sieves, coloring everything from a stump, to the taste of an apple, to the experience of war. I’m glad that you experience and capture beauty in spite of your pain. Hugs.

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      1. Many thanks, Scarlett. I think it’s interesting how different people view the same thing. I grew up on a farm and there were plenty of trees, both alive and dead. I used to imagine seeing different shapes in them, especially the dead trees, which always seemed so mournful. There was a dead Ponderosa pine tree about a mile from the farmhouse on the way to our mailbox. I called it the Landmark Tree because you could see it from quite a distance, and when I’d see it, I knew I was close to the farm. It had been dead since before my mom was born in 1940, and as far as I know it’s still standing (I haven’t been to the farm since 2015). It always struck me how this dead tree looked so forlorn yet so strong and enduring at the same time. Protective, even. The stump in this image had a different feel for me, one of pain. I suppose that’s my depression coloring things, but it’s still intriguing how we have own viewing filters and see things in such personal ways. 🙂

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