Friday, July 31, 2009

Hunk of a Dory

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL, "The Dory Ethic": A dory is essentially a, "plank boat," that's easy to build. It is a workhorse that carries a big load and that two can row with ease. The deep hull, flat bottom, and and natural curve make it maneuverable and steady. Coastal settlers in the northeast launched them from beaches and filled them with fish. When all else fails, one wants a reliable dory.

This photo was taken at The Dory Shop in Lunenburg, NS

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Herring's Lament


Mucilaginous porridge of brine,
The viscous vat, a universe.
Then scooped and bucketed,
Drawn and quartered,
Packed into purses,
And drowned in the parlor.
My essences drift,
Draw hungry crustacea.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Lobstermen

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I met Howard on the pier at Thurston's Lobster Pound in Bernard Harbor, Maine. He and Roger were loading buckets of herring onto the "Dillon, Chris, and Linda." The herring would be chopped up for bait once they were at sea. I had already asked Howard if I could photograph him at work. When Roger went to get more herring Howard began a conversation about women, drink, marriage, and life. By the time he was ready to push off, we were friends.

The previous year I had vowed to get beyond photographs of the landscape, architecture and props of lobstering and photograph the lobstermen at work. Bernard, Maine, was the most likely place. In most of the lobster ports the fishermen leave from private docks which can be scattered. On some piers a photographer could wait all morning, and no lostermen would appear.

In Bernard there are two common piers used by most of the lobstermen. On the community pier lobstermen begin arriving in their pickups at sunup. The pier is a place of socializing as they fetch their boats, load them with bait and sometimes traps, stowe away lunch buckets and drinks for the day's work, and climb into their vinyl lobstering overalls. In the afternoon the boats return with the day's catch. They sell the lobsters to independent marketers who drive onto the wharf in white delivery trucks and wheel large scales out on the tailgate.

Other lobstermen leave from Thurston's pier. The lobstermen who sell at Thurston's take a lower price but they don't have to work to sell, and they use Thurston's large, dockside warehouses to store their bait. The pier is often a labyrinth of passageways through the lobstermen's idle traps.

That's where I met Howard and Roger and shared philosophy. As they pushed off, I asked if they would be back the next day. When Howard told me, "yes," he also asked if I'd like to come along.

I met them at 5:30 AM. This slide show contains some of the more than 300 images I shot aboard the "Dillon, Chris, and Linda," and it is a first attempt at telling a lobstering tale. I fear it fails to convey the fast pace and exhausting, assembly line routine of the work. In about 4 hours they pulled, emptied, baited, and set 200 traps and caught 55 usable lobsters.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On Leaving Peggy's Cove, June 2, 2009

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL - "Peggy's Cove, Future Thoughts":

I left Peggy's Cove without all of the shots I wanted. I'd reserved Tuesday passage on, "The Cat," the ferry from Yarmouth to Bar Harbor. No cat sailed Wednesday, and I doubted whether I would find enough in Peggy's Cove to linger until Thursday. I no longer think that's correct.

1. I had arrived with a primary mission of photographing the harbor. One can almost make out it's mouth, left of center in this image. The cove is a narrow groove with steep slopes, a classic and there are many shots of it. I wanted to find my own.

Where to stand? I wanted to look down the length of the cove, to take in as much of its complexity as I could; I wanted a picture that would embody the concept, "harbor"; that would be a classic rather than a cliche. Perhaps it is always a mistake to preconceive a picture that way. The moment often brings a thousand little pleasures that are quite different from what one is after. In any case, this was the place to do such a classic. I wanted to be at the mouth of the harbor in the afternoon and at the back of the harbor in the morning, but all my attempts to get to the mouth that afternoon and on my previous visit were blocked by, "Private property - no trespassing." I made some afternoon images from the back of the harbor, but the June, afternoon sun is a dragon breathing into the cove. It was not a subject for backlighting, certainly not what I was after. The next morning I was up at 4:30, but the sun barely appeared, and the light wasn't especially useful. From the few images I made then at a moment when the water in the cove was almost still, I realized that wind and tides were more important than early sunshine. I have a hunch I want to shoot near low tide. It's always a mistake to preconceive the picture.

2. Where can I hire a boat?

3. There's no lobstering after May 31. What is Peggy's Cove like when the fisherman are active?

4. After a short, early morning shoot I went back and made a panorama from the deck of my room at the B&B. The B&B is somewhere behind that big white building to the left of the cove mouth. My deck overlooked the harbor, a splendid view and a successful panorama but not my shot. I packed my bags - good breakfast and conversation before heading off for Yarmouth. It was with some amazement that I pulled off at the flight 111 memorial site, just outside of Peggy's Cove, and looked back. I took this just before the rain came, wilting my eagerness and obliterating the view. The photo makes clear that there's at least a half mile of road between me and the church steeple worth walking and exploring for photographs. How many moods can the sky and the landscape conjure over several days? I never know what it will look like until I get there.

5. Since returning I've read that the bushes on the barrens turn vivid color in October.

Click the image to view large.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Peggy's Point Lighthouse, No.5

H. E. Clark: "He carefully picked his cast of clouds, watched them intently as they swirled in before the lens and hoped the sun would break in concert."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Town & Barrens No.4

DAVID BOHM (as suggested by Jane Roth and quoted from The Tao of Photography): "All is process. That is to say, there is ‘no thing’ in the universe. Things, objects, entities, are abstractions of what is relatively constant from a process of movement and transformation. They are like the shapes that children like to see in clouds."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cove Composition No.2

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: ...or are there photographs that must be connected to a real event at a real moment and yet transcend their time and place? Whether successful or not, this photo might seem less interesting if the viewer believed the birds had been photoshopped in from another image or repositioned for compositional effect. Why is that so? All of the other arts use lies to approach truth. Is there a "code of honor," for photography that makes it different? And if I wanted to float a cloud from another photo across this sky... ?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Barrens Blossoms No.3

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Yesterday's photograph, more than most, raised questions regarding the complex relationship between a photograph's subject and its meaning, and it evoked an interesting group of reactions from readers of TODAY'S. One referred to the, "musical sky." Many commented on what one reader described as, "objects standing at drunken angles." Several people commented about the humor of the image and one even said it made her laugh. Although, like other images of this series, it was taken at Peggy's Cove, and its subject is the barrens around Peggy's Cove, the meaning is something quite different, something that can't be put into words, something that language can only talk around.

The difficulty is that photography, in a way not true of any other art medium, is always about a subject that has an independent life; we always photograph SOMETHING. While a painter can work with nothing but imagination and paint, our medium is light that comes to us from the real world and usually reflected off of things. Even after a photographer has distorted that real world, the audience still looks to find the traces of its real-world origins. Given a photographic abstract they quickly ask, "What is it?" in a way they never would if it was by Kandinsky or MirĂ³.

On the other side, viewers often approach a photograph not looking to see more there than the apparent subject. Is it the photographer's task to find ways to make them look further, or is it enough simply to lay out the composition and leave it to the viewer to enter deeply or to stand at the margins?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Town & Barrens No.3, Fiddleheads


Camped out in a land older than time,
balancing the megaliths,
numbering their shadows
by the sun's glow and the moon's,
waiting on the diastolic blushes of spring,
riding a wave in the echoing of eternity,
stopping the surf's fall.
Returning home to laughter and love.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Town & Barrens No.2, Standoff

HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON: "What reinforces the content of a photograph is the sense of rhythm – the relationship between shapes and values."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Barrens Blossoms, No.2

EDWARD STEICHEN: "I knew, of course, that trees and plants had roots, stems, bark, branches and foliage that reached up toward the light. But I was coming to realize that the real magician was light itself..."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cove Composition

ARTHUR TRESS: "Photography has an amazing ability to capture the fine detail of surface textures. But far too often these intricate patterns are loved by the photographer for their own sake. The richness of texture fascinates the eye and the photographer falls easy prey to such quickly-caught complexities. The designs mean nothing in themselves and are merely pictorially attractive abstractions. A central problem in contemporary photography is to bring about a wider significance in purely textural imagery."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I am in awe of Arthur Tress's haunting images. On the other hand, I appreciate attractive abstractions whose colors, textures, form, and lighting make the eyes dance.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Town & Barrens No.1

JOHN ROSENTHAL: "When I look at photographs by Ansel Adams, I sometimes find myself wondering if Adams is celebrating the natural beauty of creation or simply the beauty preserved in our great national wilderness parks. Are his photographs about life or about zoning laws? Of course one might accuse me of asking dreary questions - but I don't think so. The act of cropping a photograph, which is a fundamental act of photography, is at heart a moral decision. In our landscapes, have we cropped out the tourists and the garbage in order to suggest 19th century America (which is to say, nostalgia), or have we cropped out what is truly irrelevant to our intentions as an artist? What photographers leave out is just as important as what they leave in."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Barrens Blossoms

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The barrens is a desolate place. One can see for miles across the stony hills. Nobody is allowed to die in Peggy's Cove because there's so little land in which to be buried, but look about your feet and nothing is standing still. These rugged plants know how to root in very little soil and hold on through fierce wind. Where there is no soil, orange, green, and black lichens are at work on the rocks' surfaces. This is not only a place of cataclysm but of birth. Rugged as it is, it's also very fragile, and a few badly placed footsteps can undo the work of decades. It's a Canadian, "National Preservation Area," which, unfortunately has no effect on mortality rates, but it does prohibit development. I arrived back in Peggy's Cove on June 1st, and spring was beginning all over again.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Barrens

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Where I live the curtain has been graciously drawn across the cataclysm. Sometimes I come upon it unexpectedly in the forest, a huge rock turned at an odd angle and in an unlikely spot, but for the most part the forests have grown back where the farmers used to have fields. I search for expanses of open land where one can feel the rolling of the earth and see the ancient convulsions that stood in the way of the farmers' crops. Chances are good that there's a stone wall there.

Growing up in New York City, I used to admire The Palisades. Even though as early as the 19th century men had been chipped away massive quantities of them for cheap railroad ballast, such efforts seemed puny compared to The Palisades' immensity. Now condo towers hop across the them as if they weren't there as the city itself spreads over them. Of course the furnace that built the Palisades would quickly incinerate anything that has stood there in the last thousand years. In the case of The Barrens, the critical cataclysm came, not with fire but with ice, and nothing now hides the violence of its chilly lacerations.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Peggy's Point

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: After the week-long, Lunenburg workshop ended I decided to head back to Peggy's Cove and spend at least a night there. I was immediately drawn to photographing the barrens, shown in the distance above. However, I'm amazed at how soon I found myself scouting angles on the lighthouse. A colleague at the workshop said, "Go down behind the lighthouse." I guess that's about where I am. Behind me the waves explode against the granite. I'm at the tip of Peggy's Point.

If I return again, this is a perfect place for panoramas. The body of water on the left is St. Margaret's Bay, and just around the bend of the bay is the memorial to the passengers of Swissair Flight 111. Like the surroundings, the memorial is bare; simple text inscribed into the granite boulders and neat paths tucked among the scrubby pines and outcroppings of the barrens on a cliff above the sea. I stopped at the memorial briefly as I departed Peggy's Cove. It was almost all fogged in. I was alone, and it seemed as if all the people lost out in the water were especially alone. If I could have seen through the fog, I have a hunch it is also a good spot for panoramas back at Peggy's Point and the town.

Peggy's Cove, I mean the cove after which the town is named, is an abrupt inlet at the center of the cluster of buildings. The church is at the back, behind, and all around are the barrens. The coast continues somewhere to my right. It is made up of huge chunks of similar granite, broken apart and tumbled just as this point will be some day.

Visit Peggy's Cove on Wikipedia.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lighthouse Polarities, Peggy's Point Lighthouse No.3

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I'm very curious how viewers of TODAY'S feel about this image.

This shot was an afterthought. It was the last image I made before hiking back up the rocks to the car. I hadn't thought about the reflecting pool since earlier in the evening; from a standing position the lighthouse reflection was invisible. After finishing the previous image I thought quickly about checking to see if the beacon was still visible in the darkened pool. The light was fading fast, the path to my car uncertain, and getting my eye low enough to see the reflection had long ago ceased to be fun, but my tripod was already truncated. I fought with my gear to get the shot positioned. I recall thinking, shoot broad to permit serious cropping later. I made only one image and then rushed off furiously without checking the exposure. I didn't really believe it was worth caring about. Surprisingly, although underexposed, it was recoverable.

I'm still not sure about the shot. It lacks the vigilant calm of yesterday's image. At the Lunenburg workshop I dismissed it from consideration quickly, but each time I see it I find it both arresting, mysterious and paradoxical, an unpleasant clashing of dark forms against the stillness of the lighthouse polarities.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Vigilance, Peggy's Point Lighthouse No.2

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: After everyone had shot their lighthouse reflection shots and sunset shots, and begun climbing from the rock ledge back up to the cars. I lingered alone below for a few more low-light, long exposures. With the sun below the horizon the lighthouse beam would be clear in my pictures, and there would still be enough ambient light to record the lighthouse, rocks, and sea clearly. This is the shot I submitted in answer to the assignment. The exposure was for 30 seconds at f22 and ISO 100.

Click on the image above to enlarge it and make the light clear.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Catching Sunset, Peggy's Point Lighthouse, No.1

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: As the forecast for Wednesday was rain, we went to Peggy's Cove on Tuesday afternoon, the second full day of the workshop. We were free to photograph anything while we were there, but we were also assigned to make an image of the famous lighthouse that, "is not your usual lighthouse shot."

Having an assignment was to some extent a distraction, though I enjoyed the challenge, and I knew it would be fun to see the various solutions. However, as we reached Peggy's Cove, I think we were all affected by the barrens that surround the village. Huge boulders dropped by the receding glaciers balance singly or in groups amid scrubby, rolling landscape. They are like the game balls of old Titans that have temporarily come to rest. I don't recall any other place I've visited feeling so old, while everywhere the stunted, seaside vegetation was flashing May vitality.

In the center of this wasteland the tiny fishing village hangs onto rocks surrounding the harbor cove. It is the quintessential Atlantic fishing village preserved in its decay and still with a few active lobsterman. It was definitely the kind of place I'd hoped to find in Nova Scotia.

Taking the assignment seriously would mean considerable scouting over a maze of treacherous, seaside boulders - slow going. This lighthouse can be seen and photographed from all sides and in some directions from far away. I'd want to explore it all. There was hardly time to photograph either the cove or the barrens well, and either one seemed more exciting to me than the lighthouse.

In the end I chose to concentrate most of the afternoon in the fishing village and take my chances on the lighthouse as the sun began to fall. I even skipped dinner to keep shooting in the cove, though I realize now I was working against the light.

When I finally turned my attention to the lighthouse I found one of my colleagues on some near rocks squatting by a small pool with his tripod close to the ground. I had to stoop down to where he was to see what he was shooting. Soon a bunch of us were taking turns composing reflection shots of the lighthouse in the pool.