Downtown in the Cold

When I work making pictures of the Boston skyline, there are often two different thoughts I bring into visualizing and executing the work. One is to photograph the recognizable scenes that people know and relate two, and the second is to tackle uniqueness and making a picture that provokes consideration and thought.

To bring some unique artistry into my skyline photography, something I often do is isolate sections of the city while glowing with pristine light. This print of the downtown skyline seen from south of the city does that well, and is a view of the city that many people don’t often think of or recognize.

A cold weather view of the downtown Boston skyline. (Michael J. Clarke)
A cold weather view of the downtown Boston skyline. (Michael J. Clarke)

These are the skyscrapers of Downtown Boston and the Financial District on a cold and clear winter night. While Boston is often not recognized for its size in comparison with New York, the city does have quite a bit of vertical strength that can be seen and shown from the right views. In addition to being a different spot than most people view the skyline from, the crisp winter air and last bits of evening sunset that illuminate this frame provide a magical glow to the towers as they rest above the brownstones of the South End.

Sometimes within the realm of cityscape artwork its the unique and lesser known spots that can provoke the most thought and wonder when displaying an urban environment as a piece of artwork, and its for that reason that I work on all different view of the urban landscape throughout many different times of the year as well as weather conditions.

Doanes Falls

Around this time of the year at the waterfalls the water gets cold and the natural conditions take on a new element of change as they wash away the leaves from the autumn months and take on their winter form. The waterfalls of New England are rather unique because they go through such drastic change throughout the year as the seasons come and go, making them truly unique during each and every visit. This here is Doane’s Falls in the Massachusetts town of Royalston, an area of the state that is quite interesting in terms of water features.

The middle tier of Doanes Falls in Royalston, MA. (Michael J. Clarke)
The middle tier of Doanes Falls in Royalston, MA. (Michael J. Clarke)

These cascades sit on the Lawrence Brook which provides a powerful source of water for the cascades that run through this stretch of land. On this visit the water running through the falls was ice cold just like the air temperatures, and had already washed away most of the autumn leave coverage which left behind a more barren but still beautiful formation.

Cold water cascading through Doanes Falls in Royalston, MA. (Michael J. Clarke)
Cold water cascading through Doanes Falls in Royalston, MA. (Michael J. Clarke)

The action and clarity that rivers display during the winter months makes for especially clean forms, and makes the hard work and extra gear worth the effort. The rivers are often displaying their last gasps of motion before ice and snow take over during the long winter.

Icicles forming at Doanes Falls in Royalston, MA. (Michael J. Clarke)
Icicles forming at Doanes Falls in Royalston, MA. (Michael J. Clarke)

As the temperatures dip below freezing the battle between rivers and mother nature is usually an ebb and flow that can fall in either direction, and during the times of transition the rivers and waterfalls are sometimes at their most interesting state. Doane’s Falls and the Lawrence river were having their last few days of smooth flow during this visit, and it was a good chance to witness them before the freeze.

Winter Arrives

As winter rolls around just in time for the start of 2016, the past winter that we had is definitely worth a second look as it may be one to remember for a long time to come. The hatred of snowstorms is usually heard loud and clean in these parts, but for me, the unique changes they bring are visually entertaining and I would have to say rather welcomed. I am a big believer that beauty can be found on any given day, whether it be the pleasantries of a spring afternoon or a dreadful rainstorm on a cold December morning… but when a storm rolls into town, its more unique than most other days in the year.

This past year happened to bring several major snowstorms that walloped Boston into a state of emergency with the trains and city streets simply unable to handle the challenges that they let loose on the city. I was one of the brave souls that ventured out during the most extreme of the weather, and the sights and sounds were more impressive than anything I can remember in Boston’s snow history.

A pedestrian walking through Boston Common after a February snowstorm in the winter of 2015. (Michael J. Clarke)
A pedestrian walking through Boston Common after a February snowstorm in the winter of 2015. (Michael J. Clarke)

One thing that impressed me last winter was that as much as the snow kept coming, people kept carrying on with their days, or at least trying their best. Yes, the trains ground to a halt, traffic was nearly unbearable, short commutes turned into hours, but for the most part, people kept on trucking as well as they could. Walking seemed hard enough, but some people even kept pedaling away on bikes almost in spite of how cold it was!

A biker braves the ice and snow in Quincy Market on a cold winter afternoon. (Michael J. Clarke)
A biker braves the ice and snow in Quincy Market on a cold winter afternoon. (Michael J. Clarke)

Making pictures of these street scenes in their snow-altered state is a lot of fun for me as a photographer, and there is always the choice of attempting to capture the misery vs. the beauty of the scene. On some days its either all of one or the other, but oftentimes theres a good bit of both – you have to admit that the city looks pretty amazing under its blanket of snow when seen from above even while the streets below were transformed into a hard to recognize winter wonderland.

The Boston skyline after the heavy snowfall of Winter Storm Juno. (Michael J. Clarke)
The Boston skyline after the heavy snowfall of Winter Storm Juno. (Michael J. Clarke)
Snowbanks in Boston's Back Bay after Winter Storm Neptune. (Michael J. Clarke)
Snowbanks in Boston’s Back Bay after Winter Storm Neptune. (Michael J. Clarke)

Perhaps the beauty of the snow was lost to many people because of the problems with the trains, which were rather epic with their endless delays and even closures. Many people lost many hours waiting and hoping for transport, or possibly waiting or hoping to be somewhere a whole lot warmer than here!

Commuters walking towards South Station during a snowy evening. (Michael J. Clarke)
Commuters walking towards South Station during a snowy evening. (Michael J. Clarke)
An MBTA B-line train on Commonwealth Avenue in blizzard conditions. (Michael J. Clarke)
An MBTA B-line train on Commonwealth Avenue in blizzard conditions. (Michael J. Clarke)

For a few tips on how to make snowstorms in the city easier do your best to plan for it.

  • stay turned to  the local and national weather channels
  • use transit apps as they can tell you when misery is around the corner
  • get a great pair of boots
  • when it doubt, bring that extra layer
  • be overly cautious when driving, things go wrong much more quickly with snow
  • grab a dunkin’s and don’t look back

We had a little preview of winter over the past few days, and I will venture to guess that a whole lot more is right around the corner. It’ll be cold and slow going, but this is New England, and I say let it snow.

Blizzard conditions along the Commonwealth Avenue Mall during Winter Storm Neptune. (Michael J. Clarke)
Blizzard conditions along the Commonwealth Avenue Mall during Winter Storm Neptune. (Michael J. Clarke)