Nature

Fall: A Photographic Appreciation

From George Eliot's moments of “still melancholy” to her image of “trees… putting on the hectic or pallid hues of decay” - it's a season well distilled in photography

Mark Power ('Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts'). Cleveland, Ohio. USA. November, 2017. © Mark Power | Magnum Photos

Every season has its colors: winter’s dove grey and icy blue, spring’s pale pinks and budding greens, summer’s bright explosions of flowers. Fall, though, comes with its own kind of abundance. Its transformations are of another, warmer palette, all yellows, oranges, reds, and rust browns. These are the colors of misty early morning light and scattered leaves, of ruddy apples and fields full of pumpkins.

It is hard to write about Fall without feeling like one is dipping into a familiar store of words. They come up again and again. Leaves. Trees. Bonfires. Fireworks. Wood-smoke. In Persuasion Jane Austen wryly characterizes it as “that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.” These attempts are everywhere, influencing our understanding of this peculiar season of great riches and slow decline.

Miguel Rio Branco © Miguel Rio Branco | Magnum Photos

"No article dwelling on the season is complete without a line or two from Keats’ famous ode To Autumn referencing “mists and mellow fruitfulness”"

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Dennis Stock | Sun. 1970. (From Brother Sun, page 57) © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock | Autumn leaves. Connecticut. USA. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Peter Marlow Bonfire night. Fireworks. The home of Fiona's sister, Ruth Naylor. Yorkshire. England. GB. 2005. © Peter Marlow | Magnum Photos

No article dwelling on the season is complete without a line or two from Keats’ famous ode To Autumn referencing “mists and mellow fruitfulness” and “moss cottage’d trees,” or George Eliot’s 1841 missive praising “the still melancholy” of autumn with its sights of “trees… putting on the hectic or pallid hues of decay.” Perhaps one might add in a line from Sylvia Townsend-Warner’s diary for good measure: “Spring is strictly sentimental self-regarding; but I burn more careless in the autumn bonfire.” (With this idea of fire think too of Nick Drake’s song Milk & Honey, “gold and silver burns my autumns/ All too soon they’d fade and die.”)

Gueorgui Pinkhassov Making of the film "Mazeppa" by Bartabas, based on story of painter Gericault. 1992. © Gueorgui Pinkhassov | Magnum Photos

"Townsend-Warner might see spring as the season for it, but sentimentality is present here too"

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Stuart Franklin | Quantock Hills. Somerset county. England. Great Britain. 1986. © Stuart Franklin | Magnum Photos
Bruno Barbey | A non-conformist painter selling his work. Moscow. Russia. 1988. © Bruno Barbey | Magnum Photos
Elliott Erwitt | Kent. England. GB. 1984. © Elliott Erwitt | Magnum Photos

Autumn is a season that both welcomes – indeed encourages – these attempts to articulate its character, and makes it surprisingly hard to achieve with any particular originality. Townsend-Warner might see spring as the season for it, but sentimentality is present here too, what with all those mists and melancholy and poets trying to capture its peculiarly evocative atmosphere. Perhaps, instead, we should turn to photos: letting those colors speak for themselves in all their careless, burning glory.

Raymond Depardon | Garet's Farm. Villefranche-sur-Saone. Rhone Department. Rhone-Alpes Region. France. 1982 © Raymond Depardon | Magnum Photos

"Martine Franck focuses on the curious shapes found at the French festival ‘Fruits and Vegetables of Today and Yesterday’ (has there ever been a more aptly named autumn celebration?)"

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Martine Franck | The annual festival of "Fruits and Vegetables of Today and Yesterday". Gardens of 17th century castle. Essonne. Saint-Jean de Beauregard. France. © Martine Franck | Magnum Photos

In fact, Magnum’s photographers offer us all the shades of Fall we could possibly want. Martine Franck focuses on the curious shapes found at the French festival ‘Fruits and Vegetables of Today and Yesterday’ (has there ever been a more aptly named autumn celebration?) Hiroji Kubota dwells on stark contrasts: between lemon yellow trees and the blue haze of the Rocky Mountains, between blurred red leaves and cool, glassy water in Kyoto. Dennis Stock pauses by a majestic tree-lined avenue, the drive edged with copper.

Hiroji Kubota | Kyoyo lake also known as Mandarin Duck Lake in the fall. Ryoanji Temple. Kyoto. Japan. 2001. © Hiroji Kubota | Magnum Photos
Bruno Barbey | A farmer's specially trained pig sniffs for precious truffle mushrooms, which grow below the soil. Dordogne. France. 1988. © Bruno Barbey | Magnum Photos
Abbas | Village of Cordes-en-ciel. Midi-Pyrenees. Tarn Department. France. 1999. © Abbas | Magnum Photos
Inge Morath | Alexander Park, carved granite vases on a tiny bridge are connected by a delicate ornamental fence wrought in the form of coral branches. Pushkin. USSR. 1989. © Inge Morath | Magnum Photos

Bruno Barbey captures a man and his truffle pig, the photo spiked with the bright scarlet of the farmer’s scarf. Abbas offers the softness of a hazy autumn day and a dog in motion. Inge Morath notes architecture mimicking nature in the twisting vines of an ornamental bridge. Thomas Hoepker sees the old and the new simultaneously: an ancient, striated rock face briefly mirrored in the changing trees beneath.

Thomas Hoepker | Uaxactun ruins near Tikal. Petén. 1997. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos
Dennis Stock | Entrance to the Chateau de Roussan near St. Remy. 1980. © Dennis Stock | Magnum Photos
Thomas Hoepker | Landscape near Abique. 1990. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos
Steve McCurry | France. 1988. © Steve McCurry | Magnum Photos

"Something of Fall’s slide towards the symbolic and literal bleakness of winter is reflected particularly well in black and white"

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Richard Kalvar | New York City. USA. 1976. © Richard Kalvar | Magnum Photos

It doesn’t always take color though. Much as one can argue for the centrality of all things bright, bold, and (sometimes) golden, something of Fall’s slide towards the symbolic and literal bleakness of winter is reflected particularly well in black and white too. Monochrome reminds us of the increasingly biting chill of autumn as the days wind down.

Cornell Capa | Autumn in Hyde Park. London. England. GB. 1951. © Cornell Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold | Lord Bath with cronies on his Longleat estate, Wiltshire, during a Saturday mornig shoot for pheasant. England. G.B. 1961. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | The Jardin des Plantes gardens. 5th arrondissement. Paris. France. 1973. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Shropshire. England. GB. 1952-1953. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos

In Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photo of a horse in Shropshire one can almost feel the frost still in the shadows. In Josef Koudelka’s beautiful portrait of a child hiding among the leaves one recognizes both the play of autumn – the crisp joy of ransacking great piles of leaves – and the pensiveness of this time, the stillness at the center of this season we struggle to articulate and desperately want to capture.

Josef Koudelka | England. GB. © Josef Koudelka | Magnum Photos