Thursday, November 29, 2007

Geese in Bucolia

The skies were terrific yesterday morning. I wish my camera could have caught it. It wasn't the cloud formations, though there were some magnificent ones both early and late, but certainly not in this picture. No, not the skies themselves but the flocks of things the flew through them.

These are rolling hills with a number of large ponds, so I'm used to being interrupted by gangs of geese. One hears the barking of the pack long before it arrives. They have been so frequent, that sometimes I don't always stop to look at their neat formations. However, this time it wasn't quite barking, at first, perhaps a distant clamor. I turned and waited as it grew into a frantic hubbub, and what emerged from the distance was not the usual squadron, but multiple squadrons, a battalion arrayed for full invasion.

Whatever they were doing wherever they were going was, as always, only in the mind of a goose. There were multiple such waves of invaders moving through the skies to the northeast. A new wave came every 5 or 10 minutes, so there was barely a lull before the next advance, and then they were again all over the sky at once, and it continued so for 40 minutes, and then there was an eerie silence.

The silence was eerie because the wings still flapped and the clusters of birds still passed overhead, but these were not geese. They were black and larger than crows. They might have been turkey vultures; I never trained my long lens on them, and they were not in goose formation, but flew as a clan the way crows do; and in and among these large birds were what might have been swallows, flying tight like a school of fish. At first I thought it might be some flock of little birds defending their nests against larger birds, but this is not nesting time, and these birds were all allies, probably on their way to the great goose convention. The swallows' paths looped and twirled around the vultures. It was quite a show.

It took a long time for all of these to pass, and the first of this mixed formation were long out of sight before the last came through, and then there was nothing. The last of the swallows and vultures were a bit ragged like the end of most parades.

As to the picture above, for me it's all wrong. I wish I knew how to convey the experience properly, but perhaps it is a better subject for dance or film or even architecture, or perhaps I'm just not up to the challenge. I can make interesting images of a squadron of geese flying in formation, but to convey any part of the spectacle, a photo would need to bring sensation as close as that clamor of yelping geese and as close as the intense silence that followed. At the same instant it would need to be as wide as the horizons. I fear it's not a subject for photography.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Crossing Bucolia Grandis

For those who may have thought to question the linguistic pedigree of recent titles, I have requested clarification from my staff of linguistic scholars. Here is Larry's letter of authentication:

-----Original Message-----
From: Ted Roth []
Sent: Tuesday, November 27, 2007 8:21 PM
To: Larry Friedman
Subject: Re: linguistic inquiry

Yes, One can cross it and it's biggish.

Then, yes, it is "Crossing Bucolia Grandis". But remember, you MUST BE CROSSING Bucolia at the EXACT same moment that it is being grandis. I tell you, IT MUST BE EXACT, otherwise, one would have to use the Hortatory Subjunctive in this case, and that always hurts. L.

The dance continues. What distinguishes true variation from a reductive redundancy? Where is the boundary between a new composition seeded by an earlier and a weak parody?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Composition in Bucolia with Diagonalia (for Larry)

One of the most useful concepts to reach me, came via Frank Lavelle at his Maine workshop. It was the notion of supporting characters in a photograph. Putting it that way helps me clarify an image.

If I want a broad landscape for my stage, the act of casting parts can look like a mysterious dance as I meet the actors and watch them move. Sorry if it sounds corny, but its a kind of communion dance. At one point in the dance (I'd like to think as I took this or the last shot) an admiring cow moo'd quite loudly. I stopped for a moment to see her neck stretched farther than I had imagined it could and took that as a sign of her approval. There was no shortage of potential actors here. The cow was a ham. The fun for me is in turning & moving as everything undergoes parallax rescrambling until something clear appears. The task then is to explore the variations and slowly refine the content and trim the frame.

In this shot the corn crib no longer plays a noble hero as in the last image. this time, it must counter and support the new lead's bravura display. If you have the tools handy, zoom in and taste one of the apples.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Composition in Bucolia

JOHN SZARKOWSKI: "The central act of photography, the act of choosing and eliminating, forces a concentration on the picture's edge - the line that separates in from out - and on the shapes that are created by it."

"If the photographer's frame surrounded two figures, isolating them in a crowd in which they stood, it created a relationship between those two figures that had not existed before."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Not Keeping an Eye on Corn (for Louie)

I would provide something for your ear, but I don't know how to upload music.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Corn Crib

How far the distance in psychic miles between this image and the food store where we shop! Somewhere the harvest is real, but I had little thought of it Thursday while eating the traditional harvest foods. A day later as I shot this corn crib newly filled and ready to support milk and beef production through the winter, I had no sense of the aptness of my subject matter.

We were 20 people at my daughter's and son-in-law's house on Thanksgiving, and the board was spread with turkey and yams and corn and corn bread, and cranberry sauce in two varieties and squash and rutabaga and nut stuffing and cider and pumpkin pie and apple pie and yet more that I can't recall, and it was wonderful beyond description, but at some point in our national history, whether we lived in the city of the country, we would have understood the journey from field to table and been inwardly thankful for the harvest to our very core. How long ago was that and how are we changed because it is no longer so?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hillside Redux (for Jonathan)

I was almost ready to pack up and had returned to my car when I noticed the setting sun penetrating beneath the low branches of trees to light this spot of ground in the middle of Hillside Farmstead. It was an impossible lighting situation of high contrast between the very dark shadows and the brightly lit surfaces where the barns caught the last light of the sun, and I didn't expect anything to be useful. Hillside's finest feature is the series of "backhouses" that enclose a compact dooryard, and this shot caught them from an unusual angle. I was surprised and pleased to discover how much detail I could lift out of the dark shadows with Photoshop, and I was pleased with the zigzag composition that resulted.

I was directed to the beauties of Hillside Farm by my friends Ken Cornet and Joe Mustich and began shooting there when I returned from Maine in mid July. This was the first photo from Hillside that I prepared for posting, but then I had hard drive problems and thought the prepared photo lost in the related system crash. This morning I set out to reprocess the image and found, to my delight, that I had in fact saved my original work.

This is an ideal photo to make a request for your help. Last week, concerned about the accuracy of my laptop screen for editing photos, I purchased a stand-alone monitor which I have now calibrated. This should mean that the image I see is similar to an image seen on any properly calibrated monitor. As you look at this and subsequent photos please be on the alert for any image that strikes you as too light, too dark, or that seems to have an unusual color cast to it. Notifying me of such possible issues will help me considerably.

Finally, after the last TODAY'S Jane asked to be associated with Jonathan's viewpoint, and Jonathan wrote to indicate that, as I expected, the particular photo would not be desktop wallpaper. It is a decision with which I fully respect. On the other hand, Jonathan's wife Wendy, an artist, wrote in to say how much she liked the image. For my own part, I feel a bit awkward in ascribing the word art to anything I've produced. Rather, I only claim that my interests are aesthetic rather than documentary.

The issue for me isn't what one might or might not hang on one's walls - one should hang what one likes - but what is the proper domain of artistic discourse whether in photography or any other art form. Was it Edvard Munch, painter of "The Scream," who wrote that the camera would never be an instrument of art so long as one couldn't use it in heaven or in hell? I once had a friend who lost his balance and swerved sharply right. He began collecting reproductions of great works of art in order to scrapbook the angelic penthouse portions. At one point, knowing my interest in art, he offered me his nether leavings. In fact, Munch is right in suggesting it is essential for art to plumb the vast personal and collective abysses which underlie all human experience. It is only in touching both pleasure and pain that art transcends the decorative and touches the sublime. The field of photographic discourse, whether it lands on Jonathan's desktop or Jane's wall needs to touch ALL those things inside us that matter. As to my car photo? It matters not at all. It was about Hollywood.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Moving Pictures

Ah well, another one Jonathon won't wall paper! But it does bring me to the matter of matter, subject matter that is. The thing is, I'm not sure it matters (subject matter, that is).

I'm not a journalist. Of course, whatever you shoot you need to know how to shoot it. After that, forget it, or you'll never see the moving pictures.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Family Farm

Inside, the fittings are still in place for milking a small herd of dairy cows though all about the ceiling is giving way to slow-motion implosion. When the wind blows you can sometimes hear echoes of the fallen bucket and cows standing, waiting to be milked.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Autumn Unhung

It's hard not to feel it on days like this when the sky is gray and the thatched meadow has lost its green shimmer, and all the pods have burst. Richard has just collected another bowl of eggs from somewhere inside these barns, the fields are empty, and few cars pass along the road.

This was taken on my first morning at Cold Spring Farm. What can I say? The weather man had predicted sun and clouds. He was half right.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Farm of a Thousand Faces

Cold Spring Farmstead is a compact structure made up of three connected barns and two silos. It's odd geometries are compounded by the general decay. One section is beyond use and all three are bending and twisting as members give way to age. From what I've been told this hasn't been a working farm for at least 15 years, though several times a day Richard, who has lived here most of his life, disappears somewhere inside the structures and emerges later with fresh eggs. To me this remains a mystery as I have yet to see a chicken.

I'd like to call Cold Spring. "The Farm of a Thousand Faces," as I sense that potential in it. I first saw it last Monday. The day was overcast and a gloomy, diffused light touched it everywhere. I quickly fell under its moody spell which influenced every shot I took. In three or four hours I worked my way systematically around the farm and up onto the steep hill to the west. The best shot I got was from the back of the barns where the field descends northward; setting my camera low to the ground, the barns look like they are rising from behind the grasses.

I returned on Tuesday afternoon when the sky was bright and crisp, and I shot until the sun had vanished behind the hills. I had come to shoot that back face again, but it was quickly clear that at this time of day it was all in shadows. I again climbed the hill to the west and found I could cross a stone wall and get even higher on the hill. From this angle it is hard to avoid shooting the old farmhouse. Unlike the barns, the house is in immaculate condition. It's bright white siding presents a serious photographic obstacle in late afternoon; it invades shots taken from the west and makes proper exposure settings impossible. If the two structures have any message together, it must be their contrast. By the time the sun was low in the sky I had worked my way back to the front which was catching intense orange light. I will have to repeat that, but I was still eager to reshoot the back.

I returned shortly after sunrise the next morning and shot until midmorning. I had thought the early light would catch that back face, but I quickly saw that the back won't catch sunlight until next spring. As I adjusted my shooting plan for the morning I came on the frost-covered grasses of the previous posts. Then I again climbed the hill and worked my way to the south-facing front where this shot was taken.

While I've been a bit disappointed in the results of these three shoots, twelve or more hours of shooting under such varied light has taught me much about how light effects these structure and left me more intrigued than ever to unlock those hidden faces.

I went to Cold Spring Farm on a tip from Frances for which I'm very appreciative. Cold Spring Farm is a 45 minute drive from my home. That's the farthest I've traveled for repeat shoots of the same farm. I expect to be back often, and there's much else to be shot in the neighborhood, but we are increasingly in the dull time after the excitement of seasonal changes. All the best things occur in times of change, and I'm already wondering if I'll be able to get here when the snows start..

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mome Raths

My mission yesterday morning was to make my third trip back to Cold Spring Farm in New York State (not to be confused with Cold Stream Farm in Connecticut) to catch the rear face of the barns in early sunlight. For that I had gotten up early - not early enough to be there at sunrise, but early enough for early light. The farm is 27 miles by country roads from my home. I figure it takes two gallons of gas each time I shoot there.

I had been there at sunset the night before when I climbed the steep hill west of the farmstead and shot down at the barns' fronts and east side bathed in orange light. Such is my ignorance of late season sunlight that when I arrived the next morning I discovered that at this season the rising sun also hits the fronts of the barns; the rear won't be sunlit until next spring.

What I found behind the barns, however, was a world of frost preserved in the shadows. Somewhere in this thicket I perceived Borogoves, and I was determined to catch them while avoiding the dreaded Bandersnatch. Three shots show the results of my hunt. The others are below.

Your expert opinion is sought to see if I have identified all three species correctly. I'm also interested in your preferences among the three shots.

I went on to shoot more of the Cold Spring farmstead which is sharpening my understanding of the workings of the sun on complex architectural shapes. I'm far from done here, but it is odd that I drove all this distance for a bit of frost I might as easily have found at home. Then again, this line of old fence continues to intrigue me.

Slithy Toves

Mimsy Borogoves

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Among Blackbirds

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.
-Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens aside (not easily done), there are few sights I know as magical as blackbirds after harvest. On Rabbit Hill they gather, sometimes perhaps a thousand, as if I could count, and they fly, weaving and looping as one body then divide to several, settling in trees to watch or among the corn rows to gorge on "nature's" bounty. I marvel at the precision of their movements and wonder, is there a leader? ...or does the flock think as a single brain? It does seem so. With such thoughts I watch the birds, one-by-one, leave the trees, each bird choosing its own moment to rejoin the crowd among the cornrows.

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
-Wallace Stevens

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Across the Hudson

The Gantry

One of the highlights of the New York trip was, "The Gantry." I knew what it was, but Bob was ready with the name that wasn't at my tongue's tip. In any case, yesterday Bob published a beautiful photo of me shooting the gantry. You can see it on his blog at: Walking the Boroughs .

This is a shot of the gantry that Bob shot me shooting. It is a bit north of where the great steamships landed, an area that I recall being hard to reach, where the railroad tracks came out from hiding between the end of Riverside Drive and the great piers. There's little left of whatever was there - no waterfront, at least in the sense it once had. They were adding new walkways to the new park, newly planted with new marsh grass. We looked over the construction fence to where concrete paths and benches were being poured. The present had not quite arrived, and we had to go back to the new bicycle path to get out onto 56th street.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Undertrump

Today Bob LeJeune and I went shooting (pictures!) in NYC. We are both native, "city boys," but we managed to find places in midtown we'd never visited before.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Where late the sweet birds sang

Taken yesterday - an odd sky, an uneven shoot, but I liked the way the filtered light swept Maples Farmstead as I headed slowly toward my car. It was a moment, and then it was gone. No time to go back and shoot it differently nor will it ever be quite the same.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Cowtopia Reconsidered

As it turns out, the dream of Cowtopia was nothing but a dream. Mary-Del Farm is next door to Maples Farm. The pastures lie side by side. The farm road on which I descended led through the Maples pastures. The cows there are not dairy cows but beef cows. It may well be they all followed me in hope that I might be their pied piper. I met Bessie here on the way back. Perhaps that is an expression of disappointment if not utter cynicism.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Monday, November 5, 2007


This is a cow's-eye view of Mary-Del. I've recently been walking among the cows (one steps cautiously), and from their perspective, life is sweet. Most of the time they wander from field to field, nibbling grass and looking at the scenery. When the urges move them, they wander to the barn where a kind man milks them or feeds them. When their done, they go back outside.

Walking among them, their attention can be unnerving. Yesterday my path took me across a bridge into the end of a pasture where they were then grazing. As I approached and then passed through the middle of the herd, their eyes followed me, 30 or 40 pairs, and as I passed through their midst the bodies turned, one by one, so they could watch me leave without looking back over their shoulders. Nor did it stop there, but they followed me up the dirt road a bit toward the next field, and I suppose I did look a bit odd with my camera dangling at the end of an extended tripod which was slung over my shoulder; backpack, straw hat and turkey feather. It certainly felt odd being at the head of this lumbering, bovine parade.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Ultimate Autumn

Which of us, camera in hand, can resist the tug toward that ultimate Hallmark moment, the autumn photo? It is as if there is some shared ideal, some vortex of warm hues from white-hot to fire and smoke, a sugar maple distillation of light that lures us like moths, and the hills are alive with the sound of digital cameras. A friend of mine, a casual photographer, only takes his camera out once a year when he goes to shoot, "colors." He's an autumn photographer; It's his hunting season, and he's bagged some nice game. Of course such quests are hopeless and can be a distraction, but who can resist taking a Hallmark stab at it.

What? You thought more fog?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Pocket Full of Posey

Who is it who, "the foul fiend hath led through through fire and through flame, through ford and whirlpool, o'er bog and quagmire; that hath laid knives under his pillow, and halters in his pew; set ratsbane by his porridge"?

I hereby certify that this image was made with only 100% pure, natural, extra-virgin fog. No artificial flavors or preservatives have been used. No trans-fats.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Fen-Suck'd Fogs

Well, Lear's incestuous fogs left the fen and met me in the cemetery yesterday morning, and so halloween photography needs to go on a bit longer. This silent, old tree holds the very center of the burying ground, and it coaxed more than a few shots from my camera. Choosing has been, as always, difficult.

In this case, choosing provided a small photographic epiphany with regard to lenses and fog. This image was made with a lens zoomed out to 180mm. That's a pretty telescopic lens, so I was standing well back from the tree. I was surprised when in the shot immediately afterward the fog appeared to have lifted in the space between me and the tree. However the fog behind the tree was only slightly changed. I'm sure I would have noted so sudden a departure of the fog's sucking (the second image was taken just 1 min and 3 seconds after the first.). A check of the image data reveals the secret. Although I seem to be the same distance from the tree, the second image was taken with a 95mm lens. I had moved much closer and used a less powerful lens to keep the tree the same size; the fog was as thick, but there was less of it between me and the tree.

This relates to a discussion I was having with a friend and fellow-photographer yesterday on what some call, "photographic cheating," or less pejoratively as, "manipulating the image." In fact, I can go into photoshop and manipulate this image to minimize or maximize the fog as I wish. Actually, I can't even open a RAW image without making some kind of judgement about this. So, if this photo is to be judged by its faithfulness to some objective truth, which is the better truth, the one at 180mm with fog everywhere? Or the one at 95mm with only background fog? Both? None? (continued below)

Fen-suck'd Alternate

Of course, if you've looked at both photos, you notice that while the tree stays almost the same size, something is very different in the placement of the headstones. I haven't moved around the tree, only closer. Perhaps the, "authentic" photo is one to be taken at about 35 or 45mm where the foreground tree and background headstones both seem as large in front of me as they are in the image? Then, true photography must be limited to such lenses for photographic manipulation is already seriously underway the minute we make our camera.

As it turns out, I had much difficulty choosing between the fog-swept eeriness of the first image and the jewel-like, leaf colors and intimacy of this where the fogs are moving on. I'd be curious to know what others think. In any case, understanding how it happened will effect how I choose lenses in future situations.