Friday, February 29, 2008

Spring Challenge 2

Extra zephyrs were sent today to Sam and Frances for naming yesterday's TODAY'S. Here are some of the names received:
"Five O'Clock Shadow"
"Imprisoned Desire"
"Back Up Around"
"Academic Chair Slats through a Wineglass"

Francis also wants to know if this is my "Spring Puzzler."

The shot below was taken in July of 2004 before I got my first digital SLR. Once again, I invite you to win a zephyr by submitting one or more names for the photo. Names are still welcome for the previous photo also.

After the last post, several readers, among them my brother, requested I shoot warmer weather. Sadly, tonight the weatherman has given us twelve degrees and snow by tomorrow evening. If I could paint, I'd paint you spring. Since I take photos, I offer you this warming "Spring Challenge."

Long ago my friend Bob Fitterman and I sometimes debated issues related to the naming of works of art. To what extent are we bound when a composer names his piece of music "Spring Rhapsody," to hear spring in the music? To what extent are we bound when a painter dabs three brush strokes on his canvas and calls it "Boats at Sea," to try to find boats at sea? Should visual works or musical works come with titles that may limit, focus, or alter the range of responses that may be drawn from solely visual or sound cues?

THE CHALLENGE: Whatever thoughts you may have regarding such naming, I invite you to submit names for this photo that will alter how it is viewed. Names received from Florida residents will be granted double warmth as they seem most in need. This is a progressive blog.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hilside Farm Blizzard

Hillside Farm: Study in White

NOTE: There is a second row of hills visible in this image. If you only see a single row of hills you may find it helpful to lower lights adjacent to your monitor.

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: At any other time of year the ground would have been gold or green, the roofs black, and the sky would have been the brightest thing in the scene. Snow is the friend of those who would photograph landscapes; it is the equalizer that rebalances tonalities allowing ground and sky to be more easily bound into a single composition. No more sport jackets with contrasting pants.

Once again a cluster of birches catches the eye. I liked the way the stream, which flows in a cleft of brown brambles and brush, seemed to set apart pillows of white that echo the white roofs of the barns. The axis of the barns leads to a distant path, but the pattern of the pillows draws the eye to the distant fields, especially the one in the center with two large trees.

We are looking at Hillside Farmstead the other way round. Yesterday's image looked up along the southwest facade. TODAY'S looks down on the northeast facade and out. Perhaps the dialogue of the birch cluster and the window forms a kind of musical counterpoint to the underlying structure of the image? They are certainly first-rate secondary characters, and it is the birch, if anyone, that yearns for what might be beyond the second range of hills.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hillside Gabling

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: None of the buildings of Hillside Farmstead is spectacular in itself, but the main hay barn (at the top in this photo) has been magnificently prolific in sprouting new outbuildings that cataract down the hillside in two main branches. The architect in me revels in the spaces created at every sprouting and in the turning and twisting of the gables, and everything is well-aged. It is a farmstead that asks to be photographed.

Although I have been shooting here since last spring, I've never shot this face of the complex. In spring and summer the sun only reaches here in mid-morning and at a steep angle. Most of my trips here then are to catch the gorgeous evening light that bathes the other side of these buildings (1.) (2.) (3.) (4.)

There is a reason this is called "Hillside Farm," and the natural thing to do is to compose to maximize the buildings' ascent of the slope. As I was interested in the various spaces created, I wanted to stay fairly close in, but I also wanted to include as many of the rich architectural forms and textures as I could. The shorter the lens used, the more distant the buildings, the less likely the eye will be drawn into exploring the yards. Zoom or move in too far and you see fewer buildings. This shot can be planned with complete rationality.

Now that this shot is done, I can figure out how to shoot 50 more original images of this "shade" side of the buildings. I'll keep count.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hillside Farm with Birches

EDWARD STEICHEN: "The photographer establishes a relationship, an intimate relationship between himself and whatever he is photographing whether it's a can of beans, a landscape, or Greta Garbo."
MINOR WHITE: "Be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms your presence."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: There are times when an image seems to grab me from the corner of my eye and I know I have to shoot it. Certainly it shouldn't have happened just at this moment. A few moments earlier I had abandoned a good shot as hopeless. Not only had the snow become merciless, but my car was parked smack at the climax of the image.

It's sometimes difficult to find the space where pictures start to happen, nor can I quite say what happens when I enter that space. Until then the elements of the landscape are parts to a jigsaw puzzle that won't go together. Then suddenly ideas are plentiful; every prospect suggests multiple gestalts. I had climbed the hill with the intention of leaving, but once at the car, the landscape was so suddenly rearranged that new compositions were everywhere. Every shot had to be quick - aimed, focused, and shot in an instant in order to get the lens cap back on before it got wet, but I knew I was already in motion toward moving the car and returning to the bottom of the hill to find the good angle again.

And so there's no good reason why this shot should have grabbed just as I started the trek back down. I was in motion to a new site for one final shot. The snow was at its worst. I'd been shooting for 4 hours with good results. No good reason! I was looking the other way, but suddenly, there at my left ear were these birches and this oddly proportioned barn and so many wonderful textures. It probably shouldn't work at all with the barns just sitting there right in the middle, but it insisted on having its picture taken. I snapped two images and the memory card was filled.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Baldwin Hill Orchard 1

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I spoke with the owners of these orchards last spring, and they called me when the trees were in blossom, but no matter what I did, the only shots that seemed to work were close-ups; I wanted to catch the patterns of the rows of trees.

As earlier noted, snow changes everything. The problem I had in the spring was finding enough contrast between the ground and the trunks of the trees so as to make their pattern clear. Finding this spot where the land dipped out of sight was a bonus. Tomorrow new snow is expected. The weatherman said perhaps as much as ten inches. There are some other stops I'd like to make up here on the top of Baldwin Hill as the snow tapers off. Then again, the snow's not supposed to stop until Saturday morning, and the roads up here are steep.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Composition in White

RALPH GIBSON: "A good photograph, like a good painting, speaks with a loud voice and demands time and attention if it is to be fully perceived. An art lover is perfectly willing to hang a painting on a wall for years on end, but ask him to study a single photograph for ten unbroken minutes and he’ll think it’s a waste of time. Staying power is difficult to build into a photograph. Mostly, it takes content. A good photograph can penetrate the subconscious – but only if it is allowed to speak for however much time it needs to get there."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Size matters. Once upon a time I made an image of a thistle plant and a bee, and the detail was so clear and the light catching the bee's wings so beautiful that I wanted to see it printed as large as I could make it. Of course a one foot wide bee is quite a different thing than the furry, little bumble bees my father used to pet on his finger; the effect of my photo was a bit surreal.

In the other direction, an image such as this one fails totally at the scale you are probably viewing it. It needs to be at least 18 inches high and preferably 2 or 3 feet high. Squeezed by the height of most computer monitors, the finest textures disappear entirely and even the obvious textures such as the dried flower stems have no power to touch us viscerally. If your computer is up to the task, zoom in on the area where the limb has broken away. Explore the forest behind it and then pull back to the branches of the tree and the spaces between where the tree reveals its vitality in a fine filigree of tendrils. Part of the pleasure of the image for me is in exploring these details.

More than either of the previous images, this one is about winter's whiteness - how snow changes the relationships of foreground and background, its ability to silhouette reed textures and draw new profiles and sometimes to unite earth and sky in one white tapestry.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Beardsley Farmstead Hay Barn, Cow Barn, and Silo

WALTER PATER: "All art aspires to the condition of music."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Schubert's "Frühlingstraum" is familiar territory to a few who read TODAY'S, and I suspect knowing it, at least made them take a second look at the previous photo ( Clearly, the photo is a tag-along which asks us while "reading" the photo to recall the emotional power of Schubert's song. Perhaps that attests to how far my photo falls short of Pater's quote (not to mention to Schubert's song).

I'm struck by how much of the power of Schubert's song comes from its embracing "spring" melody. That melody, while embodying the text, goes further; its harmonic structure and rippling line touch us at levels deeper than words; deeper even than pictures, which call on the power of naming and thus become generalized. I look at my photo and think, "flowers," though I also feel their reed texture. But Schubert's spring dream enters my ears unnamed and works in my chest and gut and mind in ways that have no words by which to grasp them. The best I can do is to say they offer warm consolation against the ominous raven-rumblings which counter them in the song. There have been times I've hummed that song quietly all day long.

For me today's TODAY'S does not resonate at all with Schubert's song. I was standing in the exact same spot. Only a few moments had elapsed. I simply dialed my zoom lens back from 130mm to 80mm to compose a more conventional landscape. I did so because I was pulled to the quiet power of the silo and certain other rhythms in the larger shot. However, its three-dimensionality means it need be nothing more than documentation of a particular place at a particular time. I include it in TODAY'S because I still enjoy its rhythms, patterns, and colors and the way they lead my eye. To that degree it still, "aspires to the condition of music."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


WALTER PATER: "All art aspires to the condition of music."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY; I had Schubert's amazing song in mind when I titled this posting. I encourage those who don't know it (and those who do) to locate Hans Hotter's recording with Gerald Moore at the piano and listen to it repeatedly. After that, my photo will be insignificant, but you'll have an idea of what I would aspire to if I could.

WALTER PATER: "Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself is the end."

Frühlingstraum [NOTE: The link will provide both words and a recorded version of the song. Unfortunately, the performance is pretty awful. Find Hotter/Moore or Husch or Lehmann, or Fssbaender to hear how beautiful this song is.]

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Beardsley Farmstead, Light Snow

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The snow began about noon - very fine flakes that stuck to limbs and grasses and coated the sides of trees. I still haven't got this shooting-in-blizzard thing quite figured out - wasted much time fussing with the camera rain gear and then wasn't able to change lenses - finally went back to the car and leaned inside to change lenses - leaning into the car, snow from the brim of my hat channeled a slow drip of water onto my work space. In falling snow the simplest things become difficult. LESSONS: 1. When significant snows are blowing pick a lens and stick with it. 2. Don't try shooting into the wind unless it's really worth it. 3. Carry both paper towel and micro-fibre cloth. Check often. 4. The equipment is durable; it can get a bit wet. If at all possible shoot without the raincoat. 5. Keep your gloves on. Of course, these are the mechanical things that thought and practice make perfect. The real issue for me is that conditions divert my focus and make me careless about everything.

Later in the afternoon the snow turned light and gentle and the thermometer climbed enough for a bit of melting. For all the snow that seemed to be falling, I was surprised at how little had piled up. This photo was the last of the afternoon. I've been shooting this angle of the farmstead for a few months because I like the profiles of the barns. Could it have something to do with my love of counterpoint? I took four prior shots before realizing that I needed to shift right. That shift traded a venerable foreground maple tree on the left edge of the shot for the two thin saplings shown here on the right. That shift made all the difference. I took a single shot and knew it was right. The snow continued a bit longer, and a bit of sun even came out as I drove home. Having been subdued and made to quit early by an old country farmstead, a bit of snow and wind, and temperatures that never got below 30 degrees, I'm impressed all over again with the Nat'l Geographic photographers who tame environments far more challenging and make them almost routine. Still, whatever anyone else thinks, I'm content to have gotten this shot.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Winter White

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Although I got permission to explore this farm last spring, until last week I didn't know what it was called. It was the farm's owner who introduced me to the name, "The Great Hollow," and this is Great Hollow Farm. Now that I've also met the lady who lives in the old farm house, I feel better about exploring and shooting from more angles, and I appreciate their hospitality. There was once much more of Great Hollow Farm: cow barns, backhouses, silos, and property. When they stopped farming after WWII, the farm buildings began to decay, and there's little sign of them now. Only one old barn remains, but it has aged nicely. Nearby, a new barn is home to two beautiful saddle horses.

I believe in walking. I pass by this spot most days when I walk in the Great Hollow. There's no question what made it a shot on this day in December. No, it wasn't the horse. He's always there, and sometimes both are there, and it's not uncommon for them to turn and look at me as I approach. The horse, I suppose, is the subject of the photo, but what caught my eye was the crisp contrast of all the details against the newly fallen snow and the pattern of horizontal bands it reveals. I may also have been drawn to the rich color and texture of the background, but I can't recall; the horse was moving and I had to act quickly before he reached the barn and added an unwanted complication to the image. Although it is not the horse that made it suddenlty eye-grabbing, it is the horse that completes the image, the most important of the starkly contrasted elements.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Colors of Winter

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The first question I ask when I begin to compose a shot is, "What is it that caught my eye?" One might think the answer should be self-evident, but sometimes the attraction is more specific than my conscious mind knows - the blush of a berry bush beside the wall - the twists and turns of the path ahead - silhouettes suddenly made apparent through a momentary contrast - the dappled light hitting a cluster of leaves. Clearly identifying what catches my eye helps answer much that follows. It helps me decide what to leave in or cut out, where to stand, what lens to choose and how to tilt and focus. It keeps me on target or tells me to move on when favorable conditions change - the light shifts, or the snow melts from the leaf.

Normally, this is a question I ask as I look at a view spread before me, and I shoot a gazillion variations on the composition until I'm happy, and then I move on. What I've just realized about this essential question is that it needs to be asked, not only when I am drawn to a shot, but more broadly, when I find myself haunting a place. Lately, I've been walking two loops in The Hollow regularly. I should have realized that part of my attraction was to the colors: the straw of the fields, the blue of the hills textured by winter's tree skeletons, and the dark accents of nearby tree limbs and rock walls. The effect works best on overcast days when the colors become richest, and in that period after a snow fall when the forested hillsides still have a carpet of snow. A bit of mist, as here, can help too. As I walk my loop the panoramas shift; hillsides of trimmed hay or long grasses roll up behind each other, and new vistas resonate with the same colors: blue, straw, and charcoal brown. The Hollow seems to have just the right creases to hold the magic.

Often there's no shot there, just the spell cast by this blue and tan atmosphere and the quiet of The Hollow. The whole trick is to find in that passing panorama the compositions that hold the eye, make use of the full canvas, and recreate in the viewer something of what I felt there.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Yes, "A work can allude to things or states of being without in any way representing them," and I'm not always too particular about knowing where all the implications lead. The Iowa TV add of the Huckabee campaign suggests the limits and uses of subliminal messages and the need to watch closely. People are still arguing over whether it was intentional. However, sometimes a reference forces itself on a picture in a way that excludes other possibilities. One can't see past it. How insistent can the allusion be before one must decide if it is intended, relevant and well deployed? I am the photographer, and I approve this message.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Window Faces


Now close the windows and hush all the fields:
If the trees must, let them silently toss;
No bird is singing now, and if there is,
Be it my loss.

It will be long ere the marshes resume,
It will be long ere the earliest bird:
So close the windows and not hear the wind,
But see all wind-stirred.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Upward Glance

NOTE: This image is more satisfactory if viewed in full screen mode. CLick the image.

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: If windows are like eyes that see in and see out, their stare responds dynamically to the smallest changes of my camera lens. Yesterday's window was decidedly downcast. Whether one passed through both windows into the golden world beyond, or looked right to the low horizon that isn't really there, the trajectory is downward, a path reinforced by the window mullions. However, today's window is an ascendant glance. Again, the mullions point the way though the motion is slower, but we are buoyed by floating forms that occasionally almost come to life and especially gather and rise along the right edge of the window.

A small movement of the camera changes the relation of the mullions and tilts the gaze, but an even smaller movement sends the distortions and reflections of the glass tumbling. Where windows are doubled, as here, these changes are magnified. Additionally, movement forward and backward changes the relative sizes of the windows. These two photos were taken on two different days under different lighting conditions. How do I balance the fun of finding & shooting images among so many options, with the tedium of reviewing and choosing from the "contacts"? Although I made 91 exposures, four stood out to me. That's a lot. These two seemed like a natural pair.

I must remember: In spring the late setting sun may reach this face of the window directly, and I will be able to shoot from the other side, backward through the two windows, and create a left-handed companion to either of the images posted so far. Or maybe it won't work at all.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Doing Windows

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I'm a bit surprised to have found myself spending major parts of two days, "doing windows," at Waller Farm. The Waller windows were always a blank bunch that rarely made successful pictures.

Although I can talk about the kinds of things that draw my lens to a window, I've never been very good at saying what it is about window pictures that I enjoy. Perhaps that's why I enjoy them. Martin Puryear's thought shared on an earlier post helps explain:

"I value the referential quality of art, the fact that a work can allude to things or states of being without in any way representing them,"

It's the, "things or states of being," alluded to that elude me. I like windows that reflect and windows that draw one deep inside a mystery. I like windows beyond windows and windows with old glass and knicks and cracks like cataracts. Yes, often, I guess, windows are eyes, though they may be much else too, and I'm never quite sure if I am looking in or looking out.