Chaos and Order Along the Ogden River

December 17, 2018

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Photographer: Ray Boren 
Summary Author: Ray Boren 

Sometimes when out for a walk I come across an interesting scene in which everything seems to be in pleasing disarray. The photograph above is an example, showing a leaf-speckled stretch of northern Utah’s Ogden River on a lovely autumn day, October 28, 2018.

Renowned for his striking full-color landscapes, photographer Eliot Porter (1901-1990) illustrated an entire book with such images. He titled it “Nature’s Chaos.” Because of the clutter they capture, most of the photos he and his editors selected had never before been published. Porter wrote that over time, and by breaking scenes into fragments, he found he could discern beauty and order when otherwise the view before his camera appeared to be in utter confusion.

Closer examination of this Ogden River photo shows nature revealing all manner of orderly processes. Gravity and hydrology, of course, since the Ogden River is descending from the Wasatch Mountains en route to the terminal Great Salt Lake. The decay and entropy of autumn are all over the place, for with the changing seasons tree leaves have given up trying to produce chlorophyll, and have fallen and are floating and clumping downstream. And visually, the bright fall colors dazzle, with the slow-flowing river’s mirror-like specular reflection, plus a few spots showing evidence of sky pools, in which small waves reflect inverted images of the colors above them.

But the impressionistic image also demonstrates our human affinity for graceful order in art and photography. When I posted the picture on Facebook, photographer-friend Kirk Strickland commented that I had “given order to the chaos. Fibonacci style.”

Leonardo of Pisa, known as Fibonacci (c. 1170-c. 1250), was a medieval Italian mathematician, critical in bringing the zero, known and used by the Arabs and in India at the time, into European consciousness. He also observed what are now known as Fibonacci numbers, an integer sequence in which every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding ones; for example, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144. This, in turn, has been translated into a graceful golden spiral — which is often employed in artful compositions — consciously or unconsciously — for we find it visually attractive. It's also quite apparent, from the configurations of sunflower seed heads to marine shells to spiral galaxies. My friend Robert Noyce has graphically placed a Fibonacci spiral on the second version of my Ogden River photograph. Perhaps it will help you, as well, to see order in nature’s chaos.

Photo Details: Top - Camera: NIKON D3200: Exposure Time: 0.0063s (1/160); Aperture: ƒ/9.0; ISO equivalent: 400; Focal Length (35mm): 105. Bottom - same except: Software: Adobe Photoshop CS3 Macintosh.