Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lobster Boats, Blue Rocks No.6

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Standing at the end of Blue Rocks Point it's easy to understand why this sheltered cove was popular with fishermen. However, it's not clear until one looks at Google's photos of the shore line (Go to Goggle maps, search for "Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia," and select "Satellite.") how gradually land blends to sea. Everywhere the coasts of Maine and Nova Scotia are dotted with islands, but here they take the form of long striations cut by ancient glaciers. These grooves form a labyrinth of long, rocky channels. The long channels and rocky islands run many miles out and form an additional buffer here in Blue Rocks Cove against the constant pounding of waves. Standing on high rocks and trying to look out to the open sea as I took this photograph I had no idea how far inland I really was.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Flight of Narcissus

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I shot nearly fifty images while the gull enjoyed his snail and then looked around to see what else fortune might have put in his path. After a few minutes he hopped to the edge of the rock and stared down, as if admiring his image in the water. Suddenly he unfurled and leaped and floated down to the tidal pool for the rest of his breakfast.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL - The sunrise light on the rippling pool, exposed seaweed and rock ledge was perfect except the stage was empty until this gull came down to breakfast.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nautical, Blue Rocks No.5

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I think I only began really looking at lobster shacks & boat houses on this trip, and I find I've arrived home with far more questions than answers. Even if I limit observations to those that are really lobster shacks with traps stacked on the wharf and bobs by their side in the lobsterman's colors, the range is enormous. Some are clearly just storage while others have stoves, and some have several rooms and curtains. What was clear in Blue Rocks was that even the most utilitarian had marks of personality: a display of antique nautica, complimentary paint colors chosen to distinguish the door from its frame; a well-trimmed toy sailboat set on a window sill or in another, a decoy Canada goose hung as if strangled. Some beg the question, "Did someone do it this way for me to notice?" And some leave no doubt.

Are there any traditions I should know about that operate here?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tourist Traps, Blue Rocks No.4

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Although I sometimes wondered if the collection of shacks clinging to the edge of Blue Rocks was the work of an over-zealous preservationist, I met and spoke with several lobster fishermen there and saw others packing up their traps and closing down the season which had just ended. Does anyone use wooden traps anymore? Or was this little scene a monument set up long ago by some lobster fisherman protesting the Canadian government's enforcement tight limits on the length of the lobster season. Next door in Maine they fish for lobsters all year long and wooden traps are only found in antique stores. Here they were plentiful, though the locals call them, "tourist traps."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wired for Photography, Blue Rocks No.3

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I reached Blue Rocks even before my Lunenburg workshop was set to begin. Arriving in town early, I found the B&B not ready for guests and began my explorations. It was drizzling when I threaded my way along Herring Rocks Road to the dead end. I was a bit surprised to find someone out there already shooting photographs from a tripod. I waved hello, and we kept to our solitary ways. As I shot, occasionally more cars reached the dead end, took in the scenery, and turned around; it was Sunday; everyone was on holiday. Then, I noticed another photographer setting up a tripod. As we momentarily engaged in a bit of photographer fellowship, comparing favorite lenses and cameras, a couple drove up and a woman began looking intently and opening up a tripod. Was this some sort of photographer's mecca? I patted myself on the back for sniffing it out so quickly.

Well, of course, the truth was that all of us were enrolled in the same photo workshop. When you reach Lunenburg, and the B&B isn't ready, if you're a photographer you head east toward the water. Doing so, one will eventually reach the dead end of Herring Rocks Road and the wharves.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Catching Sunrise, Blue Rocks No.2

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Beyond The Lane there are no structures between the road and the ocean, only the blue rocks that give the area its name. The road dead ends at some piers with an open bay and the sea beyond. Although I spent little time photographing from the rocks, under the right light they are a rich slaty blue and run in ridges parallel to the shore, clearly a photographic target for some future visit. To successfully photograph them one must get both sun and tide to cooperate. What might they look like under a full moon?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Air Mariner, Blue Rocks No.1

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The fishing shacks & cottages that perch on rocks along the ocean's edge in Blue Rocks range from the quaint to the idiosyncratic to the totally outlandish. I went over the hump onto tiny Herring Rocks Road. It hung out over the edge of the bay and then threaded its way between a cluster of ramshackle sheds. The majority of the shacks lie between there and The Lane. A small island, hardly more than a band of rock outcroppings with soil on top, encloses a tiny harbor and wharfs, and shacks straddle the harbor from both sides. At low tide it is an especially rocky affair with wharves perched high on stilts.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rainy Night, Lunenburg

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL - My intention was to wake before dawn and shoot in the early light. I'd set my alarm and closed my eyes early. That had been my habit whenever possible in my travels. It had never been my habit to wake at 2 AM to go out shooting in thunderstorms. I'd barely napped, but if the rain persisted, sunrise wouldn't be worth shooting anyhow, and I was out the door.

The truth is that after I took the photo on yesterday's blog, later that night, Lunenburg was watered down by a drenching rain. We were all in the common room working on our final assignments, and reluctantly I decided not to go out. I was deep in preparation, but the missed opportunity nagged at me. I was hoping there would be one more big storm. Be careful what you wish for. I didn't expect it then.

I've had several inquiries following the last two images wondering if they were HDR or what special techniques were used. In fact, I did nothing special unless using a tripod constitutes, "special." In fact if all you have is a point and shoot, you could have rested it on the hood of a car and taken this shot or yesterdays. If there is a trick, it is in learning to see places where surfaces reflecting a bit of light will glow under a long exposure. The shutter speed for this shot was 102 seconds but that let me keep a deep focus. The aperture was f22. I thank Neal Parent for pushing me to explore low light photography.

As my camera will only time exposures to 30 seconds, I carry a timer, but I've found that I can come pretty close counting in my head. Since there's only a stop of light difference between 45 seconds and 90 seconds, being off by 5 seconds in my timing means I'm off by less than a tenth of a stop - insignificant. Besides, there is a certain amount of guesswork in a shot like this. I know I will have to blow out the highlights in the street lights. The question is, by how much? One can only experiment. Digital makes that easy as feedback is immediate.

I should add there is a special time in the evening or at dawn when the sky is bright enough to illuminate exterior surfaces, but not so bright as to drown out the lights behind the windows. Yesterday's image was made at that special time as was New England Farmhouse.

I often worry about the redundancy of images. If two images are redundant, it seems to me neither has quite made its point. I was puzzled by this pair until one of my workshop colleagues suggested this might work best as a monochrome. I think she was right.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Entering Lunenburg

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The only road out of Blue Rocks eventually leads along Pelham Street through the middle of Lunenburg. The intersection of Pelham and King Street seems to be the commercial center of the city and a vital counterpoise to the shipyards and harbor. Once a center of ship building and home to a large fishing fleet, the activity is much diminished though not gone. At one point while I was there, three large tall ships were anchored in the harbor.

Time has settled on these two communities so as to open a particularly wide window on the past. While encouraging tourism and promoting its history on many public signboards, Lunenburg has kept honky-tonk to a minimum and the architecture is largely preserved. It's an architecture enriched by the community's ship building history. Has anyone studied this phenomenon along the coast of Maine and Nova Scotia, the degree to which the cross-fertilaztion of shipbuilding and home building enriched the inventiveness and fantasy of domestic architecture? Blue rocks is arguably even more fanciful though cobbled together with little craft.

One could spend weeks photographing details in either place, but my bent is a more direct kind of time travel, trying to find a path along the streetscape between the here and now and the there and then. I had a special sense I was on that path as I came over the first hill into Lunenburg, that some hint of ancient commerce floated above Pelham Street that evening. I stopped at the next street for this photo. Perhaps I caught some hint of the ancient salt air.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL - Blue Rocks seems more like a collection of shanties and shacks left high and dry by a retreating tide than an actual place entitled to a spot on a map and a name. However whirled about it is, it solidifies here at what seems like a crossroad. It feels like a center, though what it might be center to remains in doubt. A couple of houses down, one branch ends at the water, and two branches end as dirt ruts. The store is gone. The only real road from here is the road back to town. I drove past here at all hours, and once I saw a couple of children playing in the street, but most of the time not a soul was about. Of course it must have been a thriving community of fishermen once, and somebody still keeps the lights on from Sunday to Sunday.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lobstermen's Sunrise

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Please redirect lights away from your computer monitor, or turn them off, and look at this image before reading further.

The sound, what there was of it, was gulls and crows. At 5:20 AM they were already disputing rights to the highest peak in the neighborhood. A tribe of gulls had recently claimed a lobster shack next to where I had set up my tripod. They were jostling for position. Occasionally one of the gulls would sermonize or sound off or the crows would scuffle, but mostly it was all wing flapping. One might miss the pickup trucks that drove out onto a nearby common wharf at ten or fifteen minute intervals. From them lobstermen, singly or in pairs, would cross the dock, stop and chat, then descend with lunch bucket to their dinghies. Then they'd paddle off and disappear among the anchored lobster boats. In a bit would come the soft purr of an engine and soon the boat would appear, and its spreading wake would momentarily rock the harbor. This is lobstermen's rush hour. The harbor was again quiet when I made this image. The gulls, having established pecking order on the nearby roof were already heading off one by one to colonize and re-fight the same battles on some other roof.


"Keep it real." It was hardly what I expected to hear from someone who photographs dreams and nightmares and beautiful, inventive, and sensitive abstracts, who creates dreamy montage overlays, jiggles and pans while shooting, and who promotes all manner of experimentation. How could I make sense of this advice in relation to the body of André's work. Later I asked, "You don't really believe that, do you?" and he said, "No." But I wished I'd asked differently. André's comment occurred following a discussion of HDR, and I wondered if it was a reflection of his own uncertainty regarding the newly popular technique. He complained about the cartoonish look of HDR, but later showed a demo HDR that was completely realistic. "Keep it real," was a surprising comment. I can't recall any other bit of prescriptive advice in one of his workshops. It has always seemed to me that one of the pillars of Freeman's and André's workshops is that any time anyone says, "This is how to do it," one has an obligation to try to do it differently. Now suddenly such a broad prescription, "Keep it real."

In the end I disregarded the comment, but in part, perhaps it reflects the difficulties in adopting new procedures that significantly alter shooting and processing habits. It may be as difficult to begin seeing and shooting and processing for HDR as it is to start seeing and shooting and processing for jiggles, multiple exposures and montage techniques. However, there is another aspect. André spoke of the cartoonish look of some HDR images. For me the danger is that there is an HDR look which is often indiscriminately applied to all images; it is something I try to avoid. Ultimately, I can't make much sense of, "Keep it real." However, I take comfort in discovering that someone whose aesthetic beliefs are as fully considered and established as André, still struggles with the conflicting roles of photography, a medium that asks to be used to grab realistic moments from the continuum of life and that opens itself to the careful, hand-wrought and formally organized expression of painting.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


One of the first points Freeman Patterson made in the workshop I took with him and André Gallant some years ago was that a photograph says as much or more about the person doing the photographing as the subject being photographed. On Wednesday we were asked to jiggle which has nothing to do with hips and thighs, and everything to do with how to guide the camera through an eighth of a second exposure that effectively makes the camera a tiny bit like a paint brush. Jiggles, pans, multiple exposures, montage overlays, shooting weird reflections are some of the techniques offered that effectively subordinate objective reality to subjective expression and got everyone in the workshop clearly talking and shooting in the same language.

Of course every workshop I've ever taken has been about making your photography more "expressive." Usually one learns a few strategies for composing or catching expressive images and sees lots of examples to emulate. Beyond that, you're on your own. Only in one of Freeman or André's sessions would you find everyone out in front of the B&B jiggling their cameras at otherwise unexceptional bushes. The result is workshops that get everyone photographing more freely and that open new paths to self-expression.

I know that the very best to be said of the vast number of my jigglings might be that they were, "unexceptional," and everyone accepts a high rate of failure in this. One of my images almost works. Had I known when I took it what I know now after seeing it on my computer, I would have stuck with that spot and maybe made it right. However, some of my workshop colleagues succeeded in creating images of great beauty and surprise, and André has produced a body of magnificent photo images in this manner. We saw one framed and matted and on its way to a gallery in town; its beauty sticks in my mind still.

So why am I unlikely to begin jiggling again regularly any time soon. I think that's true of other participants in these workshops, though I know several who jiggle still and with much success. Those who don't may feel some guilt as I did. Is it insecurity that keeps me from adopting the new techniques? I don't think so.

For one thing, as André confided, one must set out to jiggle; while seeking images to jiggle it may be hard to see other images. It's the same as when I photograph bugs or water drops among the weeds and become become blind to the roll of the hills. Also developing an eye and a hand for jiggling takes time and practice. One must commit to such a path. Of course if I see some curvy wrought iron stuff like the stuff that gave form to my, "nearly successful" shot, it might lure me to begin jiggling, and I'll probably look for some good side light on the swamp maples at Macricostas to pan or jiggle the way André did in the framed image he showed us. I may have a future in jiggling yet, but perhaps to jiggle or not to jiggle is not the question. The path of every expressive photographer is to find his own voice and articulate it clearly. Perhaps the real value in these strategies is that they break any link to photography as documentation or to photography as imitation while encouraging experimentation toward forever rediscovering and epanding one's expressive potential. The image above is not jiggled, but I find much in it that I recognize as my own, consistent with other images on this blog; and yet that stripe of green is definitely new.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Morning Comes to Consciousness

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Lunenburg lies across the neck of a rocky peninsula on Nova Scotia's ocean coast. A single road leads out onto the headland to the tiny, fishing community of Blue Rocks which sits perched on ledge as far out as one can build. The center of Blue Rocks is marked by a crossroad with an old, wooden church, but beyond that Blue Rocks is little more than a collection of piers and shacks, a handful of small homes clinging to the rock at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Roads branch from the Blue Rocks Road along low ridges, then turn to dirt and then to ruts with grass down the center to provide access to a scattering of small, vacation houses and fishing shacks on the various small bays and along the northeast shore, but nothing lies further out on the low-lying, rocky headlands than Blue Rocks.

We woke around four AM on the first morning of the workshop and were at the end of Blue Rocks Road before sunrise. One of the joys of this workshop was the energy and seriousness of purpose of everyone in the group. It's hard to believe that when I shot this we barely knew each other.

I set my tripod up on a tall flat rock to get as much separation as possible between the lobsterman's motor boat and the bit of island behind it. The land beyond is part of the headland and encircles a shallow cove. Lobstermen use small boats like this to get to the fishing boats which they anchor off shore and take to the open sea. We'd seen the lobsterman leave shortly after we arrived, and one of my workshop colleagues made a great silhouette of him walking along the dock with his lunch bucket. I almost didn't notice his boat passing in the background of this shot ten or fifteen minutes later. In a few minutes the sun will appear behind these rocks. Low clouds blocked much of the sunrise, but two of my colleagues got stunning shots anyhow. Another great joy of workshops is seeing the shots I didn't see.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lunenburg Panorama

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I arrived in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on Sunday, May 24, after photo explorations that took me to Jonesport, Maine, and across the Canadian border into Campobello. I photographed the lighthouse at the eastern most tip of the U.S.. After three summers of site scouting along Maine's coast, I'd finally reached the top, and I'd become familiar with fishing villages and other features at the tip of each peninsula. I crossed the border to Canada in Calais, a name which the locals pronounce like the numb, hard spots on my feet. I reached St. John, NB, late in the afternoon and ferried to Digby, Nova Scotia, docking after dark. I finally arrived in Lunenburg the next morning to begin a week long photography workshop with André Gallant. The best way for me to resume my journal is to reflect on that workshop.

I find taking at least one photo workshop a year to be a wonderful way of pushing myself into new territory, and challenging habits and beliefs that guide my picture taking. In a good workshop participants become aware of the aesthetic values and sensibilities of the instructor and are guided by them. In the end, one encompasses, makes one's own, what is harmonious to one's own sense of direction and purpose, but that is a lengthy process.

There is no shortage of competing photography workshops in New England to choose from each summer. I had taken a workshop with André and Freeman Patterson previously, the first workshop I ever took. That experience with André and Freeman combined with my interest in visiting Nova Scotia to make this workshop my overwhelming first choice. Anyone with an interest in creating art photography should look for a chance to take a workshop from André or André and Freeman together. Who better than André to guide me to the best fishing villages and other riches along the coast of Nova Scotia? And it was the right time for me to reengage with André's aesthetic and benefit from his sharp eye.

How can I put into words the subtle effect this week had on me? Am I even aware yet of its true impact?

The most tangible fallout is that it has led me to shoot panoramas, not that panorama shooting has any measurable importance in André's work or thought, but he showed us the way to stitch panoramas easily in Photoshop, and how could I not want to make my own panorama of Lunenburg Harbor? This is about three-fifths of the full panorama I shot. Even so, the cropped original of this jpg is still 20,983 pixels wide, though this copy is only 1280.

Most of the considerations for this panorama were technical rather than artistic, though every decision is ultimately an artistic choice. Except for color, it is essentially like the famous panoramas of New York harbor shot from Brooklyn more than 100 years ago. It has no special reason that dictates where it begins or ends, and only enough water and sky are included to set off the shoreline; the weather is generic; the time was chosen to accent with shadows. I debated whether it belonged in this blog at all. One could thoughtlessly go on producing similar panoramas of many waterfronts. especially when they can be easily viewed from across some bay and at enough distance to avoid dealing with the effects of perspective.

Never-the-less, my love of using my long lenses to flatten architectural forms into simple, clear compositions was teased and challenged by the possibilities of shooting this way. Prospects such as this always pose hard questions about where to begin and end, and the possibility of deciding later, thoughtfully cropping on a clear computer monitor instead of through a tiny viewfinder is tempting though also a bit unsatisfying. It avoids essential questions such as how to best make use of the long form compositionally and how to compose landscapes in the long form that integrate and lead the eye through foreground and background meaningfully. Throughout my travels after the workshop I kept trying to study this question, to see inside a different box. I'm also intrigued by the way panoramas complicate normal expectations of time and space in photography; the same person may appear repeatedly by moving into each frame, the space behind me will appear in front of me and soon repeatedly if I rotate far enough.

In any case I can't deny the amazing visual power of images such as the one above, the way it offers a sense of omniscience, and its automatic authority in documenting the life of a city. It's with good reason I saw almost identical panoramas of Lunenburg on sale in stores around town.