Monday, August 31, 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Composition in Menisci

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: On Tuesday, in responding to "Paints and Painters," my friend Gary praised my meniscus. A meniscus forms at the margins where the pond water turns up to meet a lily leaf, a blade of swamp grass or any object on its surface. Often the meniscus will be revealed by the interesting way it catches the light. The Greek root is the diminutive form of moon and refers to the moon's crescent.

In the photo in question there is also water lying on the surface of the lily leaf. The surface of the lily leaf is designed to repel water (As I also learned from Gary, it is, "superhydrophobic," a condition known as, "the lotus effect."), and so the surface tension of the water curves downward at its edge. As a result, unlike the water in the pond that turns up to meet the lily leaf forming a concave surface or lens, the puddle on top of the leaf turning down forms a convex surface. Although the term meniscus is also used to describe this effect, I wonder if there isn't a better term; the moon's crescent seems less appropriate to describe this convex phenomenon.

I thought this might be an antimeniscus. Artie suggested descibing the phenomenon as imbricosity; the thing itself would be an imbriscus. Jane thought it might be an oobleckus, clearly caused by Suessian oobleckosity.

Clearly, there is still room for improvement. Is there a word maven out there who can invent a word to describe the downturn phenomenon described on the surface of the lily leaf?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lily's Embrace

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Is striving the most fundamental characteristic of life? Rocks don't strive. All living things strive. From whence that yearning? The lily's striving is the bee's hunger and my adventure. When striving stops we are dead.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lily No.106, July 28, 2009


Life is fluid.
They tell us it comes from amino acids
in a process that began in a colossal,
big bang
that expanded outward from a center creating space as it went, where galaxies popped like firecrackers on strings hurling stars and planets corkscrewing through time and space.
Well, something like that.

Contemplate the protean thread
of life stretching backward
to that point.

Where did we learn that trick of observation and reflection?
Where did we get the drive, the striving?
What force made it inevitable?
Did tenderness and compassion and a yearning for justice and beauty originate there as well?

Were they all there at the beginning in some concentrated "spirit"?

Or is that spirit self-made and tentative and ultimately uncertain, perhaps brewed from an predictable reaction of chemicals and passed
to slug
and toad
and a jackrabbit
and a student reading Pascal,
to a strap-hanger pausing on his morning commute,
and one day posed on a blog by a dude in an internet café and answered around the world.

Such question lie in a galaxy beyond reason and impervious to its probes, and regardless of the answer, what's precious is in that spirit.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Paints & Painters

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Anything having to do with water and light is a natural for photography, and I've enjoyed shooting water lilies since I began hiking with a camera. Few plants seem to me quite so mysterious from the first stirring of shoots beneath the prenatal soup to their full blossoming. Many water lilies open daily at the beckoning of the sun and close every evening. No sooner do the flowers hatch than they are beset by a host of small things from both water and air that find their nectars sweet and their landing places convenient. The tragic decline of the lily under this assault is every bit as dramatic as its rise.

Using a polarizer to photograph water lilies is essential. The polarizer allows control over reflectivity. Set one way, and the image penetrates the water's surface. Rotated 90 degrees, and the surface reflects the sky. Between these extremes one can dial in the desired composition. The polarizer also permits control of glare reflected by the lily pads.

Most of the lilies in this series were growing naturally in ponds and swamps I frequent. Among the pond's various bits of living and dying matter I like to capture mini-scapes, and I welcome the detritivores that delve the crevices and graze the tablelands. Look closely.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Until the previous Today's all the photos since early June have come from my Nova Scotia-Maine trip. However, for the past three months I've been shooting locally and expanding territory. This photograph continues the series of water lily images begun in the spring:

In April the lilies were sending out stalks and strange tubes that unfolded into yellow and pink leaves which turned green as the sun hit them. On June 7th, a week after my return from Maine, the broth is still simmering after abundant rain and under June sunlight.

ISO 400, f18, 1/100th sec
400mm (non-digital = 600mm)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Great Blue Heron

MINOR WHITE: "Some degree of mirroring happens with any photograph, but it is especially strong with photographs rendered in a stylized or non-literal way. Mirroring is also strong in photographs in which the presence of design is equal to or supersedes the sense of the presence of the subject in front of the camera." (

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I'd never seen a heron taking off before. The first time was at a teacher conference in Lakeville, and a colleague and I had gotten up early to take one of the resort canoes out onto the lake before breakfast and the first session of the day. As we paddled closer to the bird it spread its wings, and I could feel my own rib cage expand and hover with the bird in flight. The moment was too short, and I desperately wanted a replay.

When I returned seriously to photography one of my goals was to catch that shot of the heron inflating. I haven't done it yet, and other goals have always pushed that one back. For one thing, where I walk the herons are very shy, and they usually sense my presence and are in flight before I can reach a clearing suitable for shooting, and I have not sought out a suitable blind.

In some previous segment of TODAY'S that featured a gold finch and then a mourning dove I protested, "I don't do birds." Perhaps that's the more important reason. It's not that I dislike birds, Jane feeds the songbirds, and I love to see them each morning as I wake, and I feed the humming birds and will jump from my chair when they begin their antics. It is that birds (and insects and camels and much else) are so rarely seen with clarity that the eye is drawn to examine the image of the stilled, close-up representation of the actual object; as a result it becomes much harder to achieve what Alfred Steiglitz called, "equivalence," or what Minor White refers to above as, "Mirroring."

When my friend Rick Cassar invited me on an early morning photo shoot on Candlewood Lake I saw my chance to return to the heron hunt. The herons on Candlewood are a good deal more used to people, and Rick was an expert guide for finding them. I hope he invites me back. He did a great job maneuvering us for this shot, and I'm pleased with whatever degree of formality organizes this shot. However, how much more directly does the inadvertent, under-exposed graininess of Glide (previous TODAY'S) invite us to walk into its expressive spirit! That release is the serendipitous consequence of my inability to set the correct exposure fast enough.

NOTE: I've titled this, "Great Blue Heron." If there is an expert around who can tell me differently, I'm ready to learn.

TECH NOTES: ISO 800, f16, 1/80th sec, 400mm (full frame equiv: 600mm), VR. I probably could have given a stop of aperture for a quicker shutter, but the boat was drifting so focus was as delicate as steadiness, and I hoped to keep the background as sharp as possible.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I thought the show was over, and I was ready to pack up my gear when this visitor arrived. I had the wrong lens on the camera and made a quick guess at exposure catching five, quick shots as he landed. But the picture isn't about that, and the evening was just beginning.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mahone Reverb

GUY TAL: "The answers are ambiguous – the image needs to be complex but not to a point of clutter, or it needs to be simple but not to a point of being too literal. It needs to have a message yet without the message being too obvious… or too obscure. Confused? If so, you have just learned an important lesson – art does not follow hard and fast rules, and thus transcends any attempt at a ubiquitous definition."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I've often thought that by definition the the true nature of art is to defy all previous definitions of art but that even that definition was perfectly useless.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Composition in Blue Rocks

CASPAR DAVD FRIEDRICH: "I must be entirely by myself, and know that I am alone in order to see and perceive Nature completely. Nothing should stand between her and myself. I must give myself to my surroundings, must merge with my clouds and cliffs in order to become what I am."

SHERMAN HINES: "Someone asked me once how I got to the spot where I actually took a photograph. I found that I followed noises, clouds, the winds, smells – but most of all it was the light that guided me. I don’t force myself on the environment, I let it manipulate me. There’s no confrontation with nature because I give in to it. I let myself be seduced completely."

PAUL STRAND: "Either you do it or you don’t. Certainly with things as changeable as sky and landscape with moving clouds and so on, if they look wonderful to you on a certain day and if you don’t do it then, you may never see them again for the rest of your life. So as a photographer you become very conscious – at least I do – that everything is in movement."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: No matter how I submit, nature can be impenetrable. On the evening when this was taken, however, I was embraced. A clear sun that sparkled and defined form had given way to clouds that seemed to suck up the air. I was somewhere in the center of the peninsula, but the moaning song of the fog horn accompanied crows perched in still pines. Verse after verse sounded as the sun set. Not too far off the sea was changing, and I would change with it.

As a photographer, I live for those times when I'm so enfolded by the world around me. Day after day I may go out and submit myself to nature and she is closed, and then on one evening like this she leaves me breathless and vitalized. I point my camera and see compositions everywhere.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Composition in Red

GARRY WINOGRAND: "Photos have no narrative content. They only describe light on surface."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Of course Gary Winogrand's photographs look nothing like this, but his statement above strongly suggests a photography of abstraction. How to resolve the quotes accompanying the last three TODAY'S? Should the photographer aim for Evans' "what else they are," or only, "light on surface," or, as Eric Lindbloom suggests, will metaphor always slip through the smallest apertures? Should photographers cultivate an aesthetic philosophy, stake out a position with this camp or that, or is it better just to follow the heady brew as it delights my lens?

I know some who follow this blog will throw up their hands in exasperation at this image. I hope others will enter the space of the image, move with the curves, reserve judgement, and be surprised to learn it is a simple thing, nothing more than a reflection in a red car along a street in Lunenburg. André chose to publish it in our workshop highlights book along side yesterday's image, and I thought they belonged together.

Whatever your ultimate opinion, I'm especially eager to hear reactions to this one.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wild Things, No. 2

MINOR WHITE: "One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cottongrass at Sunset

ERIC LINDBLOOM: "Try as we will to make a fair representation of things in the world that move us, metaphors know the trick of entering the work through a small aperture in a fraction of a second."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

WIld Things, No. 1

BOB LEJEUNE ( reacting to recent photos: "Before I did photography I sort of went along with the notion that pictures give a more accurate rendition of reality than words, as in the expression "a picture is worth a thousand words." Now I know that's nonsense. You move one foot, and you see a different reality in the viewfinder. You change the angle or zoom, and the world becomes more abstract. You photoshop out the garbage, and everything looks pretty. Etc. Forced to see reality in frames, I realize more than ever that there is no reality. So spending all that money is good "therapy" even if I never become a great photographer."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: A good friend used to argue with me that architecture was not an art form because art was forced to serve an independent program focused on issues of functionality and economics. He argued that art must be free to follow the artist's imagination, that the artist's passions must be given room to operate without extraneous concerns. This photo was shot "on assignment," as part of the final project for the Lunenburg workshop. My shooting for 24 hours was restrained and regulated by time and program. Without that assignment, I'm sure I never would have stopped to shoot these leaves, nor would I have discovered later that a tiny insect had momentarily scurried across one of the images. Contrary to my friend's beliefs, I find a strict program or assignment can lead to new discoveries and new seeing, and that success can rest as much on serendipity as depth of feeling.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bayside Op

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Once seen, the pressing question was where to crop. That's always the case, but rarely must edges be so precisely calibrated at all sides and corners. The temptation is to shoot large and preserve all options by cropping in the computer. I prefer NOT to do that, and I try to compose to the proportions of the image my camera makes. (Of course, at a certain point the image has laws of its own that dictate proportions.)

A major question here was whether to include the details in the top right corner. Intuitively, I thought they should be avoided, and made most exposures that way. Back in Lunenburg, however, it was this one I chose to present to the workshop. Without the detail at the top left, this is a curious op pattern. Included, the detail is an annoying (perhaps slightly surreal?) presence that must be unravelled.

Have you figured out what it is, or did you grasp it right away? Once you do, you can enter the image space. Some would say that it is only then that this becomes photographic.

Can you stay in the image space? No need to anymore.

Of course there were many more images to be made here, but the sun was moving quickly and the moment was passing. I had come on this by chance, and I have no idea how it looked moments earlier. Surely, it didn't last long. Could I ever find my way to the time and space of this alignment of elements in order to watch the full arch transpire? Do I really want to go looking for images I've already seen?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Starboard Watch


The snake-skin sea slinks across the harbor,
Sounds the music of the old hulls,
Lingers in the underdocks,
Ready to uncoil.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL - I must give some credit for this image to one of my colleagues (Sparrowhawk: at the Lunenburg workshop. During a group shoot I had spotted these nails forgotten on one of the pilings and admired the colors and textures, but Sparrowhawk stopped to take the picture, and I merely made a mental note to get back there later while I hurried to something else I was after. When I saw Sparrowhawk's picture I remembered the spot and regretted not shooting it; when I found myself back at the boatyard another day the light was excellent, and I decided to try my own image. I'm pleased with the way this came out, but my colleague has a very sharp eye for composition, and I'd love to compare my choices with Sparrowhawk's.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Boatyard Composition No.2, June 2009

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

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Boatyard Composition No.1, June 2009

ANONYMOUS: "The film that survived a bomb blast, got wet when your boat sank , survivived x-ray machines at 5 different airports was ruined when someone opened the darkroom door and let all the dark out."