Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Exploration of Form No.6, Volume

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: 1/27 - My camera is a lever with which I move or halt, create or dissolve, rotate or skew, close down or pry open space. Yesterday inside a cathedral a fellow photographer confessed to me what I feel all the time, that there are too many angles, too many choices. The camera is a very powerful lever.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Exploration of Form No.5, Pattern

EDWARD B. LINDAMAN: "What seems mundane and trivial is the very stuff that discovery is made of. The only difference is our perspective, our readiness to put the pieces together in an entirely different way and to see patterns where only shadows appeared just a moment before."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Exploration of Form No.2, Implication

O! how shall summer's honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of battering days.
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but Time decays?

Friday, January 23, 2009

An Aria

Since brass nor stone nor earth nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality oe'rsways their power.
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: After shooting in the icy orchard for two days, snow arrived Saturday and temperatures dropped. It was not the kind of snow that sticks which was all the excuse I needed not to go out and shoot. 

On Sunday I wanted to see what the storm had wrought and hiked up to the orchard. In spite of a full day of snow, there were relatively few limbs trimmed white, but everywhere the wind had shaken and the white flakes had mottled the icy forms. That which had sparkled when the sun hit, now shimmered and when the sun went behind clouds turned pasty grey. More of the apples had been snapped free leaving these strange orbs hanging on as if they grew there. This is a tight shot, deep under the canopy of the tree, impossible to get all in focus, and there was no time to expose additional images. The sun was gone as soon as I had finished this HDR set.

In any case, I'm intrigued by the suggestion that the ice has not only born fruit and set blossoms like the living tree, but is also breaking apart like an old skeleton, and I like the cool whiteness of this shot when set beside the previous image and the one to come.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Golden Delicious

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I note in sadness the passing of Andrew Wyeth whose work I've come to love. Tillman Crane's, week-long, photo workshop at Christina's house, and the challenge of tracing Wyeth's footsteps and of interacting with his iconic vision deepened my understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of my art and his. I have a hunch that all the friends I met there feel similarly.

As I look toward inauguration eve I also want to celebrate the hope I share with people around the world regarding the new administration coming into office.  If they are as wise, honest, and diligent as they have so far presented themselves, and if they fulfill a quarter of the expectations they have raised, they will have done well. They have already done good.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Dreamer Merlin and his Prophesies


Tell William

An apple for the teacher,
an apple a day,
the forbidden apple,
never bobbed for,
Apple Computer,
Apple Records,
love apples,
sleep apples,
Newton's apple,
and Waldorf salads
(a favorite of mine) 
and the apple of your eye,
mom's apple pie.

It seems life,
like the mouth of the boar's head,
is full of big apples.  

A friend recently asked to what extent the symbolism of apples enters my thinking as I photograph in apple orchards. 

On one level I have to answer. "Not at all."  For the most part, such thinking is harmful to photography, at least to mine, as it causes intellectual considerations to supersede visual. When I start thinking about such meaning the image usually winds up looking contrived.  However, the life of a symbol often begins in expressive qualities of the physical thing. Additionally, I was trained in literature and art, and have lived life with myths and tales. The mind combines things most mysteriously. It is impossible for my consciousness and whatever might be moving below consciousness not to vibrate in sympathy to symbolic reverberations. While conscious manipulation of this is a pitfall for me, a viewer who remains open to such meaning may distill an interesting brew to swirl around a favorite image. 

It is, therefore, with a bit of trepidation that I have attached names to some of these images which may constrain imagination, and I ask viewers not to take the names too seriously. I'm interested in hearing opinions on this if anyone has them.

Friday, January 16, 2009

'The Joker,' setting by Cartier

ROBERT FROST: "Some say the world will end in fire, / Some say in ice."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Taking Stock of Ice Storm Lessons, part III - "It's Easy to Get Lazy"

8. Habituate technique. Always remove a filter right after use. Turn VR off when the camera is put on the tripod. Frequently check and recheck exposure settings especially at the start of a shoot and after shifting subject or location. It seems every few weeks this lesson is driven home again, so I guess I haven't learned it sufficiently. Good habits must be cultivated. There's no problem if I'm setting up for a particular effect as I did for the shot above. It is after I've moved on when I carelessly assume the camera to be as I "always" have it.

9. When moving in for close-ups, it's always worth switching to my 105mm macro lens or my 50mm prime. Over the past few months I've gotten too comfortable with my new, all-purpose, 18mm-200mm, zoom, VR, street lens. It has barely been off the camera. While it provides pretty sharp images in its mid range, when I need to get closer it's a very tempting shortcut to zoom out to 200mm and thereby avoid awkward setups. The frozen branches of the apple trees need not fence with my long tripod legs. It's not just that the 50mm and 105mm primes are a bit sharper; it's that they force me to get physically closer. This image, shot with the 105mm macro lens, is actually made up of two shots focused at different places. I made an exposure bringing the third stalactite and tail into focus, but I like the f9 softness of the receding background shown here.

10. Even when presented with a cornucopia of photographic options, it's better to make one good image than reach for dozens and find later that none was brought to completion. I must write that over 100 times and make 100 fewer images.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009



Now is the unloosening,
The chill grip
That snaps the chord,
Silent ministry of ice.

From the cadence of the clutch,
Shoulder to shoulder and swelling to full blush,
Unstrung at that trice.
Bitter ministry of ice.

Through scolding sun,
The mushroomy smell of rain,
Even wind's terrifying embrace.
Oh, mysterious ministries of ice!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Time Suspended

ANON.: "To stop the flow of the river, float with its current."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Taking Stock of Ice Storm Lessons, continued:

5. (Lesson 5 is worth restating in another way.) I can only be in one place at one time. If I start thinking about a place further down the trail while I'm shooting here, I'm really not any place at all. So, if time is limited, and nothing suggests the place down the trail will be better, I try be totally here.

6. Sometimes fragile conditions DO last. The air stayed frigid, and Friday the sky was nearly cloudless and cerulean; the iced orchard seemed alive. By good fortune, there had been just enough direct sun on Thursday that in reviewing the photos I was reminded of lesson 7.

7. Ah, specular highlights! Sometimes, no matter how into the shoot my head may be, I may not fully appreciate that the camera sees differently. Specular highlights are bright spots of light reflected off shiny objects. The camera records them differently than the eye sees them. The word specular is to indicate that the light is perfectly reflected (or refracted) from the light source to the viewer. If the reflecting lens is small and perfectly reflective, and the light source is distant, the specular highlight will be very bright and concentrated. A background of trees full of ice crystals and water drops provided billions of tiny, perfect lenses focusing the bright, distant light of the sun at my lens. To my eyes, these were a texture of tiny dots. However, inside the camera's eye such small, bright light rays take on the shape of the shutter. Furthermore, there size balloons larger, the further they fall outside the optimum focal range, and passing by edges or through lenses diffraction may break down the spectrum making them different colors. Reviewing Thursday's shoot reminded me of all this, so I was ready to make use of the effects on Friday. The picture above and some others use these specular highlights to provide a background to the subject, but there are many other ways to use specular highlights. I've been reading further since and looking at photographs that feature them. Here is a subject to master.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Glacial Chill

RALPH WALDO EMERSON: "I — this thought which is called I, — is the mould into which the world is poured like melted wax. The mould is invisible, but the world betrays the shape of the mould."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The last three days have been a scramble, a possibly photo-worthy bit of weather. It is the kind of scramble from which lessons should be learned. Time to take stock of things I've learned and learned again - part 1:

1.  What looks like a weak dusting of sleet down in my valley can be a whole other thing across the hilltops. Valley sleet coated the ground while the hilltops became a crystal wonderland. Because I didn't see it out my window, I almost missed it.
2.  I'd never shot an ice storm.  I didn't know that I'd never shot an ice storm, and I hadn't thought much about how to shoot an ice storm, but there I was in an ice storm. The entire orchard was encrusted. Most of Thursday the light was even and diffused, and there were often lovely skyscapes if I could only get the trees into the right position or the sky into the right position. And then occasionally the sun would break through and the crystalized trees would glisten. Sometimes the glistening lasted as long as 30 seconds, but where does one stand? At such moments every step changed the landscape, so completely was it refracted through the ice, ...and then the sun was back in hiding.  Making it worse was my mounting panic that the ice would melt before I had a chance to discover this new world. The only way to begin is to begin.
3. One of my first thoughts was, "At what scale does the event make visual impact?"  Everything from grass blades to finger-size limbs was encased in ice. Larger limbs were saddled in ice. It was a medium-size ice storm, not a limb-breaker. Observed up close the ice made lenses like snakes slithering along branches and tendrils. It encased seed pods, and dolloped growth nodes. The lenses changed as the light changed.  Observed far off the strongest effect was in places where closely packed limbs, delicately etched with ice, appeared as glistening textures.  Light was even more transformational here.  In the middle were orchard-scapes of various scopes where ice-encrusted boughs reflected light as if they were on freshly painted canvas, still wet and glistening.  I find it very difficult to scope at three scales simultaneously. The only way to begin is to choose.
4.  I also tried to assess how quickly the weather was changing? It wasn't only that it might get warm and melt the ice, but that the clouds were moving quickly. Shooting from a tripod requires set-up time. Shooting at the clouds requires 3 or 4 photographs at different exposure settings for HDR. Once I set my tripod, how long do I sit and wait for the sun to peek back through, and when do I turn to what's looking good right now?  Were sun-producing breaks becoming more frequent or were they disappearing? I tried to do it all; I shot hand-held; By leaving the tripod ballasted and in place I preserved a second angle, a likely composition should the sun return.  Alas, there were so many settings to undo when I rushed back to the tripod, that I missed the shot.
5. The first plan isn't always the best. However a bird in hand is worth two across the orchard. In the end, it's always a crap shoot.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Collinsville Company 1826-1966

RALPH WALDO EMERSON: "All that you call the world is the shadow of that substance which you are, the perpetual creation of the powers of thought, of those that are dependent and of those that are independent of your will. Do not cumber yourself with fruitless pains to mend and remedy remote effects; let the soul be erect, and all things will go well."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cathedral of Mt. Tom

RALPH WALDO EMERSON: "The materialist, secure in the certainty of sensation, mocks at fine-spun theories, at star-gazers and dreamers, and believes that his life is solid, that he at least takes nothing for granted, but knows where he stands, and what he does. Yet how easy it is to show him, that he also is a phantom walking and working amid phantoms, and that he need only ask a question or two beyond his daily questions, to find his solid universe growing dim and impalpable before his sense."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I've caught myself more than once in the past few years. While visiting a museum for quite different purposes, I sneak off to look over the local collection of Hudson River School paintings. I sympathize with their plight. When is a hill more than hill and when is a picture more than a picture post card? I look at the collection for the broad landscapes. How are they set up? How do they lead the eye? How do they handle tonalities?

Only a very few possess a transcendental vision that strikes me with any force. On the other hand, most of the landscapes of the German painter Casper David Friedrich have grabbed me immediately and become instantly memorable. Their surreal quality makes clear that they are never about a particular place or time. Rather, each is a mindscape for a state of emotion or contemplation.

Friedrich advised: "Close your bodily eye so that you may see your picture first with the spiritual eye. Then bring to the light of day that which you have seen in the darkness so that it may react upon others from the outside inwards."

Of course Friedrich was a genius and ended life insane.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Beyond Memories


Perhaps not actual childhood
memories, though many of us had
bicycles like that one.

I frequently pedaled mine up
the road to where Mr. Chisholm had his cows,
to where we'd found amid a pasture,

in a hurst and thicket of brambles,
the monument to Major Thomas Thomas,

to where the road turned
to dirt and the fragrance
of horse sweat

and by then the sun warmed the air,
and I smelled the sweet grass,
and pedaled home to breakfast.

But it's not the memories,
but their confluence.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Porch & Blacksmith's Shop in Fog

WILLIAM BLAKE: "We see through, not with, the eye."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The escape back to autumn must be brief. The fog wasn't. It lasted all day Dec. 27th, and I visited and shot five distinct sites. Because I knew four of the sites well, I didn't waste time exploring unlikely locations. Because I make a practice of repeatedly returning to sites, I'm learning that the important things are the ones that change, and I must always look with open eyes.

I shot this with a grainy ISO of 640 to add a bit of coarseness. Processing required numerous localized contrast and gamma adjustments to give various objects the required visual weight. For me, part of the pleasure is in being able to zoom in and explore the way the vines tumble over the railings. Click on the image to get a bit closer look.

SPECIAL THANKS to Louie Middleman for suggesting the quotation from a poet we both studied when we lived in the same student digs back in Squirrel Hill, PA. Also thanks to all of you who write in periodically with a thought or a comment. These are always welcome. Happy New Year. We deserve it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Composition in Barn Board & Autumn Leaves

BROOKS JENSEN: "For years I've noticed that I see some of my best photographs when I'm really tired. I believe this has something to do with the natural quieting of my thoughts and the cessation of the tendency to intellectualize about my images. Thinking non-thinking is the key. When I quiet my mind, it's as though I hear and see better. When I insist on thinking, my pictures look contrived."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - Old barns are a palette upon which the season's paint themselves. I've been wanting to post this particular shot since I took it several months ago. It pairs nicely with the last blog entry, not only because the literal subject is the blacksmith's shop, but because it seeks to minimize depth cues and put a bit more emphasis on the flat rectangular surface. How different the effect of this surface of very 3D leaf textures from the softened flatness cast by the fog! What do I think it's about? Lines and colors and textures and time.

(60mm, ISO 400, f22, 1/100th)