No. 49. A Return to Saxony

I decided to take a break from posting photographs from our recent travels in China, and instead revisit photos from our river cruise on the Elbe River aboard the Viking Beyla river cruise ship in Germany through Saxony during the 2018 Easter season. In some respects, this was a chance decision. I was looking back through my files trying to track down photographs of local Pennsylvania landscapes as part of developing a proposal to decorate corporate offices when I happened upon these nearly-forgotten scenes.

The particular leg of the Elbe River captured in this set of images features an overwhelming number of majestic and scenic moments. In the aftermath of the trip, I only had an opportunity to develop a small number of captures from that trip. I always intended to get back to the project, but other projects intervened.

On this leg of the trip, the small cruise ship took us through an area called Saxon Switzerland. I couldn’t pass up the chance to stand on the upper deck to capture pictures of the colorful houses, farms, hillside vineyards, castles, battlements, riverboats, bridges, and the magnificent sandstone formations.

With a history as interesting and fraught as the geology, Saxony has a long record as a duchy, an electorate of the Holy Roman Empire (the Electorate of Saxony over which Martin Luther officiated), and finally as a kingdom (the Kingdom of Saxony). In 1918, after Germany’s defeat in World War I, its monarchy was overthrown and a republic was established with the current name. The state was broken up into smaller units during the Cold War division of Germany and was re-established with the reunification of Germany in 1990.

In prehistoric times, the territory of Saxony was the site of some of the largest monumental temples of ancient central Europe dating back over 2,500 years. The Slavic and Germanic presence in the territory of today’s Saxony is thought to have begun in the first century BCE. Castles and other fortifications were constructed on high ground overlooking the Elbe River valley to defend against invaders from Prussia, Poland, and neighboring Slavic areas.

What gives the area its impressive beauty is the intensively fissured and rocky canyon landscape serving as the basis for the name Saxon Switzerland. The highest peak of the Saxon Switzerland National Park is at 556 meters (1,814 feet) above sea level rising high above the river. It offers several different habitats and microclimates due to its strong vertical division. The National Park still hosts some wild forest, which is unusual in central Europe. The special forms of mountain forest and gorge forest are endangered in Europe generally. Because of the coarse sandy soil and fissures, many places in this area are drier than normal in temperate climates.

Jay M. Ressler

Jay Ressler Composite Photography, Encaustic Art, and Oil Painting He is an outstanding location photographer and painter, with an eye that can capture the soul of a Havana back street as beautifully as the sip of a hungry hummingbird, often with compelling black and white images. Jay Ressler is best known for artistic expression that lives in layers between opposites. “I like to explore boundaries,” he explains. “Boundaries between consciousness and the unconscious, between reality and imagination, between certainty and skepticism.” He does this by compositing his own photography in multiple layers to produce stunningly original, interleaved images. Using Photoshop, other image manipulation software and a variety of digital effects, he paints one photographic layer on top of another. He takes advantage of textures he's captured along with an array of processes for manipulating light, contrast, and color to tell the story. “Distorting and reinterpreting the literal 'machine moments' captured by the camera is as old as the art of photography,” he insists. Jay occasionally extends his multi-layered approach to encaustic mixed media creations. Based on ancient techniques, the process begins with cooking his own recipes of beeswax and damar resin and applying this medium between the layers of photographic images, along with various pigmented compounds and materials to add color, texture and expression. Either way, the results are riveting. The viewer is drawn into an unfolding, dreamlike scene that might be heart-warming, haunting, gritty, poignant or magical. Sometimes, within the various layers, all of the above. The award-winning photographer/artist has many dimensions himself. He studied advanced digital photography at Pittsburgh Filmmakers and advanced encaustic techniques with leading instructors in the field. He worked as an underground coal miner, steelworker, machinist, labor and civil rights activist, copywriter and commercial printer. He has a BS in Psychology from Albright College.

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