“There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that comes with morning, in a forest, and this is different from the silence of a sleeping city. There is silence after a rainstorm, and before a rainstorm, and these are not the same. . .”
Beryl Markham, West with the Night.
The seemingly inexorable attraction of photographing the River, leaves me in this kind of meditative silence, when theRiver is before me. The love of the River came first and later, the interest in recording it.
I can't tell you that I have been a photographer most of my life. I have not. Many times I have fancied myself a photographer, but I am not presenting you a piece of fiction. I am more or less laying out memories that I have. Memories that are stepping stones that led me to a place, where I now fly a remote control helicopter, with a camera attached to its underside. And that's how I take pictures and videos. It did not start out that way though.
I have seven brothers and sisters and some of the River stories I could tell you, about our lives together, would probably sound like fiction. Many of you reading this article could say the same. But, I am here to talk about me and the camera. I did not own my own SLR (single lens reflex camera) until digital had been out for years. Most of my early pictures of the River are from my Dad's point and shoot cameras. He loved to take pictures and record our family’s adventures on the River. I would claim favorite River pictures out of his boxes of slides and pictures, usually without his knowledge. He took so many pictures that he couldn't really catalog them all, so he had boxes and paper bags of them, stuffed in the back of the downstairs hall closet, with intentions of someday organizing them. I can still remember the chemical smell of developed pictures and freshly opened film canisters, wafting to my nose, when I was hiding from my brothers and sisters in that closet.
Jeffry Weldon’s 1000 Islands Ship Passing Cedar Island.
My first experience with taking pictures was with a Kodak Instamatic. They first came out in 1963, with film that had 12 and 20 pictures per roll, 12 and 20? I just checked my iPhone and see I have over 2300 pictures right now! As I grew up,I would find myself on the back of a boat, or peering over the edge of a dock, lining up a shot. I was always asking my Dad to get the film developed, apprehensive about the cost and excited to see how many pictures actually came out. From time to time none would come out, or one of my fingers would unwittingly have become the subject of a picture. I never saved those, but would have had quite a few, if I had. My older brother Nathan loved photography and still does. From observation of him and my Dad, I probably learned most of what I know about photography and taking videos.
Eventually our family owned, among others, a Polaroid SX-70. When I say "our family", I mean that the camera was basically owned by 10 people. I tell you this, because I did not have unfettered access to it. I could not just take it from the closet and go on a shoot. Film and developing was not an unlimited resource. Today you can hold down your IPhone 6 button and have 35 or more pictures in a moment. When I was young, you could go to Fays drugstore, in Watertown, and buy one film cartridge with the ability to take ten pictures, and a battery, for $5.75. That put a little crimp on taking pictures. I did like it though. It was more like an SLR than a point and shoot, but the picture was produced almost instantly. After the picture came out of the front of the camera, it would start to develop and you could press a hard edge on it and add some more artistry. When Peter Gabriel’s album came out with "Games Without Frontiers", he used a picture from an SX-70, and altered it that way, for his album cover.
Once, while leaning over the bow of our River Queen Houseboat, as it cruised down the River, I snapped a picture of the water, as it was being thrown by the front of the seven ton boat I was riding. To my dismay, the picture rolled out the front of the camera and went right into the River! Have you ever not seen the outcome of a picture you've taken? Count me in that club..
Our family has always had boats. My Dad courted my Mom, in a 16 foot Chris Craft Riviera. I never saw his boat but did hear some stories. Everyone on the River has stories that involve boats. Our family spent many years, happily crowded on a River Queen Houseboat, cruising up the Rideau Canal and back and forth from the Bay to Clayton. Imagine a 36 foot boat, sleeping 10 people plus dogs and friends. It had 3 rooms; a Captains Quarters, with a couch that folded out to a bed. A Kitchen, with a table that folded down to a bed, and Bunk Room. There were always bunches of family and friends on that boat, but oddly enough it never felt crowded. We also had various runabouts, including a Boston Whaler that we sold, after my Dad passed. I have seen that boat on the water almost every summer since we sold it, and usually take its picture.
The first boat I owned was named the Yacht J.J. It was a 14’ fiberglass classic. It had wings coming off the back of it, like an old Cadillac. I had a 1960, 40 horse Evinrude and was always working on it, because the engine demanded it of me. For parts, I would go to Dingman Point and the yard of Charles Fram. His inventory was spread out over his yard. Many times he would think a moment, and then tell me a part I needed, was in the grass over there by that tree, or just off the corner of that building, near the path. It was a system that worked for him.
I tell you these things, to relay the feeling I have, of being steeped in all that is the River. The River was really my backyard growing up and the older I get, the more I enjoy finding it the subject of my camera.
I love technology and for the last five or six years, have used a Canon digital camera. It had a zoom lens and I would often take one or two hundred, or more pictures, over a weekend. Now, keep in mind that I might take 20 or 30 pictures of the same subject, but with different perspectives. I have really enjoyed taking pictures around the River. Ships passing, a breaking wake, the back of the Boldt Yacht House, on a -17 degree February morning. I have pictures of flowers, birds and fish. Boat houses, rocks and snakes. I can only tell you that if I had more time, I certainly would have more pictures.
Over the years I had often thought it would be so cool, to be able to somehow fly my camera over some of the subjects of my picture taking. I have flown RC helicopters, but until the end of last year, I never owned one, with a camera on it. A company called DJI, came out with a line of quadcopters, (remote control helicopters with four blades) which could hold a camera, and a few that come with a camera of their own.
The second I saw one of those I started to think of the photographs and videos that have "never" been taken. Photographing a ship passing from 350 feet in the air. A birds eye view of a boat racing down the river, or an aerial view of the tug, Robinson Bay, as she positions buoy #202 in front of Keewaydin State Park.
It is amazing to think how far technology has taken us in photography and other arts. We are a long way from "It'll Never Fly, Orville." But I will never be shy about enjoying the silence of the River.
By Jeffry Weldon
Jeffry and his wife Carolyn, live on Wellesley Island, from May through October. The rest of the year they reside in Watertown, NY. They spend some time each weekend, throughout the winter, in the Islands. Jeffry J. Weldon, J. D. is a senior consultant at Strategies for Wealth, with offices in Watertown, Rye Brook and Manhattan. For the last 24 years, he has provided financial services, estate planning, retirement planning and investment services to a variety of clients and organizations.