Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Shape of Wind

LUCINDA NELSON DHAVAN: "The color of water, the shape of wind—if everyone thought of God in those terms and realized how far beyond human senses and ownership God must be, many of the feelings that divide us would be harmlessly blown away. Back to the basics, we should say, the true fundamentals—Earth supports us all; fire lights and warms us all; water sustains and purifies; air . . . air is the life of our life, the wind in our sails, the cool breeze on a summer day. Let's listen."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Radial Composition in Ice and Grass

MARC RIBAUD: "Photography cannot change the world, but it can show the world, especially when it changes."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Impressionist painters attempted to paint light. In doing so they softened the firm outline of things and caught the dance of light playing with wind, heat and humidity. In emulating them, early photographers often blurred their images and added a romantic, "artistic" haze. My aim is exactly contrary. The painterliness that draws me to photograph exists in the illuminated subject itself. I seek to bring such subjects into sharp focus in order to better reveal the painterliness of reality. This photo should repay efforts to zoom close; see how the textures of each grass blade has been painted by light and ice.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Edenalia No.1 (alternate)

NOTE: Gary, a friend and fellow photographer, wrote to suggest this cropping. What a good idea! Unfortunately, printed at maximum size (12.5 inches high) on my printer, the resolution is 130ppi. That's low but probably not too low to get a good image.

CHARLES BAUDELAIRE: "Let photography quickly enrich the traveller's album, and restore to his eyes the precision his memory may lack; let it adorn the library of the naturalist, magnify microscopic insects, even strengthen, with a few facts, the hypotheses of the astronomer; let it, in short, be the secretary and record-keeper of whomsoever needs absolute material accuracy for professional reasons. So far so good. Let it save crumbling ruins from oblivion, books, engravings, and manuscripts, the prey of time, all those precious things, vowed to dissolution, which crave a place in the archives of our memories; in all these things, photography will deserve our thanks and applause. But if once it be allowed to impinge on the sphere of the intangible and the imaginary, on anything that has value solely because man adds something to it from his soul, then woe betide us!"

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Edenalia No.1

EDVARD MUNCH: "The camera cannot compete with painting as long as it cannot be used in heaven or hell."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: "Taking Stock of Ice Storm Lessons, resumed": The morning of the January ice storm was rare, a real light show. Only now am I getting back to what I shot. The strengths and flaws of this photo should be a reminder of the difficulties previously recorded in this journal. There was a better exposure setting available that might have let me hold the depth of focus while still stopping the wind. The difference would have been enough to make the front branch sharp. Lesson learned, I hope.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Farm

RENE MAGRITTE: "Everything that is visible hides something that is invisible."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Creepers & Climbers


Wilderness returns
Brambles nibble pasture
Swallowing sod
Rocks heave
Roads rut
The hay barn sags and
Wind rips the tin roof
Purlins rot first and
The back house is last to fall.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I have a special love of clear textures, especially when opened by light. Consider this photograph a sampler of farm textures. Much more than most, it benefits from extreme zooming. Viewed on my monitor at 100% (1 pixel of original, captured photo for each screen pixel on the monitor), the image is roughly three-and-a-half times as large as the monitor. If printed at this scale it would be over five feet across.

Of course on my monitor I have to take it in pieces, but zoomed at that level, the hand wrought hardware of the heifer-barn door can be seen in some detail, and in the shadow of the gutter on the cow-barn I see where the installer twisted the wire hangers. Naturally, the three, mowed fields reveal three, distinct textures, but every blade of grass in the front field is visible right to the stone wall. At this magnification the decaying roof of the old cow-barn is a tilescape of debris on which my eyes graze, and in the depths of the shadows behind the dead, curling vines, the weathered planks and iron banding of the back silo stand clear. This texture overlay creates real space rather than murk behind the vines. I wish you too could zoom in and peak through the window, but unfortunately this jpg copy, reduced as always for the internet, pixelates long before any of these features come into focus. Putting aside the aesthetics of chunk viewing, I hope it provides some pleasure anyhow.

Friday, February 13, 2009


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Are the only differences between smallscape and grandscape a matter of which muscles are challenged? I wonder. Whether looking into gears or across hillsides, I really don't know what it looks like until I get there. Therefore, I must go everywhere.

Climb or crawl, the best views always seem to be the most taxing, and a first visit rarely produces the best shots. I have to go back and go back again. Some of the best sluice shots were produced on my 4th visit. It took a full year until I even got to this hillside. Whatever is taxed is repeatedly taxed.

I had this pegged as a great sunrise view and finally made it out of bed at 6 AM on a clear morning to catch it. The sun was bright and the fall leaves were glowing, but the shot had no feeling. With the fall leaves hidden in shadow, this sundown shot poses the moment like a question. I'm pretty sure I still don't know all that can be done at the sluice or all that the sun can do to it. The sun will be entirely different at both sites by mid summer. One must go everywhere at all times.

Well, at many times; without fresh snow or spring color, lately most hillsides have been inhospitable to photography. Perhaps the season favors smallscapes. Like the possum who may be wintering under my wood pile, I'm enjoying the shelter of the sluice while the cold wind blows across the hills. I need a good reason to freeze and I'm persuaded to stop chasing the possum from the cat food bowl.

In any case, it has been a while since TODAY'S stepped back for a longer view, and I know a few readers will find this broad view refreshing.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Explorations of Form No.16, Syncopation 1

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Thursday, Feb 5 - They say that to photograph well one must be part of the thing photographed. I, a cog in the sluice? I began shooting tight in order to feel the steel's heft and age. Slowly I pulled back, trying to encompass its complexity, but as the sun declined toward three o'clock my lens was drawn down inside the gears - left, right, backward, forward - each small movement turning the wheels around me until I could see and feel all of the parts moving together with the gliding infiltrations of light and shadow, as the sun followed its arc. I was free of gravity, a fulcrum clicking the shutter, syncopating the machinery's dance and the sliding sun. Then the sun fell behind the mill, the wheels were dark, and I noticed my knees ached and my fingers were frozen and numb.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Explorations of Form No.15, Perspective

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Thursday, Jan 29 - Photography is an art of the possible. I had more sluice to shoot, but I needed bright sunshine and the road toward Collinsville led into clouds. There would be good theater lights from an open hilltop, but shooting the sluice in the river valley left me waiting. I set up my tripod and tried to figure out how things worked.

The Farmington River bends sharply as it leaves Collinsville. The old mills are situated on the flat rocky land at the river bend, where the water level drops abruptly. I'm drawn to the Collins Factory site in part by the labyrinth of channels into which the Farmington River was divided in order to power the ancient machinery. The channels run between, around, and under the old mill buildings. They are a labyrinth of moats that move water independently of the way people move through the site. Is it my childhood love of old forts and castles at work again? I'm still trying to figure out how to photograph the mysteries of these moats.

I was shooting where the uppermost water is drawn off to supply the main canal. At the front of the oldest mill buildings a picturesque reflecting pool holds water from above the falls. This is the view most people see. When the wind is calm the pool mirrors the factory facade before the water tumbles over a grand cascade back to the river, but there is a secret channel that leads water beneath the buildings (Previous photos of pool and cascade: 1, 2, 3, 4). I was shooting at the back where the channel emerges.

The gears I was shooting serve sluice gates there. Six identical sets of gears and gates control the flow of water here. On the downstream side of the gates the channel divides. To the right two more gates control a stream that quickly plunges 15 feet to a deep moat. The moat bobs beneath various downstream shops. To the left the water flows freely to supply the main canal and its offshoots which turn the wheels of many more downstream shops. The gates I was shooting control the water that powered most of the old plant.

However other channels might have been rumbling further off beneath the mill. I've been in the basement and photographed where the last and greatest of the turbines catches the flow. Only a small leak hints that there is water that passes there, but I know which channel carries that water back to the river. As there is a maze of moats below, there is similarly a maze of bridges and access roads above. However, mapping canals and figuring out sluice mechanisms is not photography.

The sun emerged fully from behind the clouds just as the great stack that towers over all of the factory cast its shadow over my chosen subject, a colossal sundial. I waited another 15 minutes for the shadow to advance past my subject. Photography is an art of the possible; often I wait more than I shoot.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Explorations of Form No.12, Fugue

GUEST DIARIST: What is it about gear driven mechanics that fascinates and transcends the obvious? The delicate 19th century winding mechanism of a music box is as equally hypnotizing as the massive lifting device of a sluice gate. We stare, we listen, we challenge, and we stare again, each of us looking with different eyes, but transfixed and obsessed.

The pragmatist sees the engineering, the precise mathematics, the movement, and the practical application. He hears the repetitive beat and is excited by the end result.

The artist sees the delicate balance, the intertwining of shapes, the depth and perspective. He hears the fugues of Bach, and becomes alert with the anticipation of the next measure.

The poet sees the metaphor of a well set gear to marital bliss: a tightly run household, the meshing of intellect, emotions, and personality, and of course spooning. He hears the joy of laughter, and the sigh of satisfaction.

The challenger, while transfixed, cannot resist tossing debris into the sluice, and watching as it turns into dust. Likewise, in a good marriage, when challenged, the debris is churned into insignificance and tossed into the dustbin. -Jane Roth

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Explorations of Form No.11, Context

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY:  Just as a photo is a cross section of time, it is also a cross section of context. There is the context one sees, the given universe shown within the bounds of the image and disappearing off its edges.  Then there is something else perhaps akin to negative space and negative capability;  For that reason I like the term "negative context," presences to be guessed at and often more colorful in imagination than any reality?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Explorations of Form No.10, Shadow & Substance


Thursday, Jan. 22 - Back at Collinville factories to shoot a row of wheels and gears that control the flow of canal water. On my previous visit (1/14), a week earlier, in the mid-afternoon, I had noticed that the low, winter sun articulated the forms and surfaces of this equipment clearly.  I noted also that the good light ended when the sun moved behind a mill building at about 3 PM. This time I was on the spot by 1:15, and the skies were clear. 

The equipment might have been 50 or even 150 years old. It had been painted, stripped, and repainted many times.  In between paintings it had sometimes rusted, and it was now mostly ignored. As a result, the ancient steel castings were taking on the look of organic things. 

Up close, I thought, they seemed a mystery of the stone age. I had brought a set of close-up lenses (sometimes called "diopters") as I wanted to get in closer than my macro lens permitted. At some point I need to compare the results through these lenses with results through extension tubes. Close-up lenses are far easier to manipulate.

A number of experiments suggested a single +4 diopter lens would get me in to where I thought I should be to make the most of the textures. I took a number of shots around the pin that attaches a crank handle to a heavy rod. I moved on to gears nearby but quickly concluded I wasn't feeling it and moved on.

The sluice gates were hidden out of site, but there must be 6 of them, each operated by a nearly identical set of wheels and gears. The sets were lined up, and, in addition to close-ups, I was interested in creating compositions that played on the repetitions. The framing possibilities seemed infinite, and I explored a number of angles, heights, and distances through my 103mm macro lens.  In some of the deeper shots I explored leading the eye to indistinctness by limiting depth of field. The more I shot, the more I became aware of the shadows and opportunities to lead the eye to silhouettes.  The use of these shadows in compositions is worthy of further exploration.