Five Day Black and White Challenge: Day Four

August downpour

under the Highline.

New York.

Take cover?


take advantage?

Just a month earlier my son had returned from Afghanistan, safe and – well maybe not entirely sound, but certainly safe. It was time to celebrate. “Let’s take a walk on the Highline!” Then, a sudden summer downpour. We scrambled for shelter… perfect! Under the Highline we found a beer garden and a food truck selling dumplings. Most of us took cover, but not this man – I didn’t know who he was, but he sure made everyone smile, and does to this day, thanks to a lucky break with the camera. That’s my son in the background (3rd Battalion, 9th Marines; safe and sound today).

For day Four of the Five Day Black and White Challenge I thought something light would make a nice break in the routine – hence the handstand-in-the-rain photo – enough seriousness! ūüôā

I invite Brandon Brasseaux to join the challenge today. I just found his blog, When This Becomes There, via FATman Photos, another great blog. Brandon, if you want to do it, just post five black and white photos, and each time you post, invite someone else (this could go on, and on…).¬† If you can’t do five days running, well, neither could I.¬† I’m just doing them as often as I can. If you hate blog challenges, I understand!

One more day to go for me, with the black and whites – after that, I’m eager to post photos of the incredible pinks I’m seeing here, as spring blossoms early.



Five Day Black and White Challenge: Day Three


America’s southwest is studded with impressive rock formations; on a huge scale there’s the Grand Canyon, and then there are lesser known places like this, Texas Canyon in southeastern Arizona.

This sensual playground of sculptural rocks with the expansive desert landscape in the distance, is as aesthetically satisfying to me as a great minimalist installation at an art gallery. (But here you get to smell and touch!) I came to Texas Canyon to see the Amerind Foundation, which draws visitors to this remote location because of its comprehensive, yet intimate collection of the archeology and art of America’s first peoples. Inside, the museum is a feast of art and artifacts by people of varied traditions who lived in the Americas before Europeans arrived. Outside on the grounds, the weathered granite boulders of Texas Canyon are perhaps as powerful an experience as the visions inside.

Time was too short that afternoon. I walked through the rocks, clambered on them for better views, peered at bits of stubborn vegetation, and of course, took photographs. I’ll post more of them soon.

I’d like to invite Alan of Pixtera to join the Five Day Black and White Challenge today. He does beautiful work – clean, strong and often surprising. I understand if he decides not to do the challenge, but to keep going his own way. Do take a look at his site.



“Let the beauty we love be what we do.”


I gazed up and up through the palm fronds to the conservatory dome above. It was a cold February day in New York and my job was in jeopardy. I worked for the state Department of Health in a program created to help people with brain injuries maintain life at home in their communities, but deep budget cuts had torn the program apart, leaving me in a bureaucratic limbo.

There was no work that day because I (and many others) had been “sort of fired” and we were waiting to hear what was next. Would funding be restored? Was this really the end? So camera in hand, I took a trip to the botanical garden and lost myself in the restorative beauty of the conservatory.¬† And yes, it was very beautiful. The greens and pinks and yellows, the shapes and scents, they all worked their way under my skin, until I felt a calm certainly that everything would work out. Then my cell phone rang. Our jobs had been restored.

But here’s the thing: my mind didn’t stretch far enough (as surely my eyes did) to grasp the bigger truth. That call was just the first of a series of calls that would ping pong me in and out work for the better part of the year, until finally my job was truly gone. The positive feeling I had,¬†and the photos I took that day that¬†reflected a¬†beautiful certainty? They did not¬†reflect just the fact that¬†I had my job¬†back – that confident intuition¬†reflected something much bigger.

I lost the job later that year, but with the loss came the decision to leave New York for good. I moved west,¬†and for many long, unemployed months when I had little or no income, I joyfully explored my new home. And with camera in hand, as I explored,¬†I created this blog. That was the bigger picture, of which I had no inkling that day among the palms – I only knew that things would work out. Since then, more and more, I’ve been able to let the beauty I love be what I do.

At the Palm House in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, New York Botanical Garden, NYC, NY.

Today I invite Johnnycrabcakes¬† to join the 5 Day Black and White Challenge. He’s a bit ornery sometimes,¬†so he I suspect will hate me for asking him to join a challenge. So be it. Take a look at a recent black and white photo of his that’s full of mystery.

If he’s up for it –

  1. For 5 days, create a post using any past or present photo in black and white.
  2. Each day, invite a new photographer to join the fun.

If he’s not up for it, go see him anyway – he writes really well, and takes terrific photos. And I’ll be back for the third day soon.


A Black and White Challenge: Day One

I’ve been invited to join a 5 Day Black and White Photography challenge. Though I haven’t joined a photo challenge in months, preferring to define my own path, the challenge is timely. A recent trip to the desert in Arizona inspired several black and white treatments of shots I took there, and I’ve been watching as the new Monochromia blog, a group black and white effort, develops.
Many good photographers have joined this 5 Day Black and White challenge, including another favorite of mine, Adrian of  Cornwall Photographic, who is currently doing beautiful work with film.
Here are the rules for the challenge:
  1. For 5 days, create a post using any past or present photo in black and white. (My days aren’t likely to be consecutive but I will do five!)
  2. Each day, invite a new photographer to join the fun. (Wow, this thing grows fast!)
sherijkennedyriverside tagged me; I thank her and appreciate her kind comments. Today I’m tagging my favorite black and white photographer (who also does great color work), 125tel / Fotogalerie. He’s from Germany, he does excellent street photography, and I am sorry to say I don’t know his actual name. I linked rather arbitrarily to a post I think is representative of his street work. (And I understand if he’s not inclined to participate -whatever works!)
Here’ the first of my five black and white photographs:
The photo was taken about a hundred miles southeast of Tucson along Rt. 186, in the hamlet of Dos Cabezas.¬† Weary from a stimulating day in the¬†Chiricahua Mountains, we were on the way to the small agricultural city of Willcox for dinner when I spotted the building.¬† This stretch of road is called a ghost town, but people live there still.¬† Named Dos Cabezas (two heads) for a nearby two-peaked mountain range (glimpsed above behind the building), the area has seen its share of drama in bygone days. Gold and silver were mined in the mountains and the Butterfield Overland Mail route passed through here – when it made it past the Apaches. They took paying customers but warned them that, though paying the equivalent of thousands of dollars in today’s money, they
“will be traveling through Indian country and the safety of your person cannot be vouchsafed by anyone except God.”¬† A few hundred people lived here then, along with the usual assortment of hotels and saloons. The post office closed over 50 years ago and little remains of the other old buildings.
I knew nothing of this history when we stopped – I just knew I liked what I saw and I wanted to photograph it. An angry dog barked from the yard to my right, which was strewn with abandoned vehicles. Across the road a sign identified a dirt lane as “S. Gold Rush Rd.”¬† It was hard to predict how a flag-flying local resident might react to my wandering about the abandoned building taking pictures. We were hungry, too, so we didn’t stay very long. How old is the building? Was it once the general store? Decay is slow in the desert and clues are scarce – but I imagine someone around here knows the story.
The tough life of the gold prospector brings to mind my grandfather. One of 10 children, he emigrated from Germany at the age of 15 to join two siblings in New York. Not long after arriving in the states he made his way to Bodie, California, a gold mining town (now a National Historical Landmark) in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I can’t imagine what life was like for him there – nights are so cold that no month is free of frost, and winds blow mercilessly across the exposed, treeless plateau. My grandfather didn’t stay more than a year and certainly didn’t strike it rich. He returned to New York to marry and settle down, working as a blacksmith, running a movie theater in Brooklyn until it failed, and tending bar on Chambers Street in lower Manhattan.
Yesterday I met a thirty-something man from Ohio who wondered aloud about what he missed because he didn’t move west until five years ago. The urge to go west and reinvent yourself is still strong here in America. My own move was recent, and though I can’t say I followed in my grandfather’s footsteps, when I stopped by the side of Rt. 186 I think I glimpsed his shadow.


While New England “enjoys” tons of snow

and New York is well below freezing,

we’re basking in unseasonably warm weather

in the Pacific northwest.

Here’s a taste of this week in Seattle,

from the Washington Park Arboretum and

the Center for Urban Horticulture:








The third, fourth and fifth photos were taken with an Android phone; the rest with a Lumix G3, 20mm lens.




The Saguaro cactus – that powerful symbol of America’s Old West – is a fairly common sight in southern Arizona, where the Sonoran desert extends its range from Mexico.¬† Tucson has a huge park devoted to the Saguaro, and they dot the landscape around Phoenix, too. While awaiting our flight home out of Phoenix recently we went to the Desert Botanical Garden, hoping to inspect Saguaros and other cacti at close range.¬† Admission was $37.00 for the two of us – that’s rough!¬† We noticed a few acres of attractive desert habitat around the road leading to the garden. Weighing our options, we decided to park in the lot and walk the “wrong” way down the road. Then we wandered at will, with no paths, signs or amenities to distract us.

I doubt that fallen Saguaros are left to rot in such splendor on the other side of the fence. We enjoyed seeing the cactus structure bared as it slowly releases itself to the elements. The crisp “skin” felt like hard plastic. Anchored by a long tap root, the cactus puts out many shallow roots near the surface. When it rains, the Saguaro drinks deeply and saves the bounty. Saguaros grow slowly in the hostile desert habitat and can live to be over a hundred years old. The small cactus above nestled among larger stems might already be 30 years old!¬† We observed a bird there that we identified as the Gila Woodpecker – it makes its home inside the saguaro; you can see the holes below. How it perches amidst those spines, let alone excavates a nest hole, is hard to imagine.

This fellow gets props from the garden staff:


It rained in Phoenix that day – funny because we were on our way back to Seattle, which has a big reputation for rain.¬† Seattle Seahawks fans were already arriving for the Superbowl the following week, so locals blamed the rain on them¬† –¬† I mean, us. ūüėČ

The gloomy, glaring light wasn’t good for photography but it was fun to inspect and photograph the many specimens and strange forms, even under the poor light.¬† Though the Saguaro’s subtle colors are quite beautiful, I thought a monochromatic Saguaro essay would be interesting. I processed the photos in Lightroom and OnOne Black and White Suite. I didn’t use a consistent style because certain images seem to lend themselves to particular treatments.

Incidentally, we really enjoyed our little adobe house in the desert, far from the nearest town (and about a hundred miles from Tucson). It had everything we needed, including a composting toilet and shower in a separate building. I quickly got used to running between the buildings with my flashlight, and inhaling the cool desert air outside, the scent of pine shavings inside. Here’s our place at dawn with the Dragoon Mountains in the background. Below is the bathing facility.

If you’ll be in the area, I recommend staying at the Dragoon Mountain Guesthouse. The hosts are wonderful people.¬† We had everything we needed but we felt like we were the only people around (Barbara even gave us birdseed to scatter near the window so we could watch birds while eating breakfast).¬† If you’d like to know how to construct a straw bale house, which the owners did while staying in the adobe house (they built that too!) read about it on their website here.




Grand and diminutive,

vast and intimate – these are

my alternating currents.

Five days in the Sonoran desert

allowed me to exercise

my predilection

for absorption in the

distant and near.


Sunrise, Sulphur Springs Valley, Arizona :

Weed seeds by the San Pedro River:

 Desert grass in winter:


Desert grasses, distant mountains; Cochise, Arizona:

Dried flower heads in the desert:

Going to seed in the desert:


The Dragoon Mountains:

An unidentified flower at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix:

Roadside grasses and the Chiricahuas:

Soaptree yucca (Yucca elata) and power plant, Cochise, Arizona:

Sulphur Springs Valley from the Chiricahua Mountains:

Mesquite with granite outcrops at the Amerind Museum in Dragoon, Arizona:

Desert plants:


Evening at Whitewater Draw, Arizona:

The southeastern corner of Arizona is a fascinating mix of varied desert habitats, subtle colors, wide open spaces and amazing mountains. For our trip, we flew down to Phoenix, where we picked up a rental car and drove to Tucson. At the lively Union Public House, we enjoyed a wonderful evening with old friends from back east who just happened to be in Tucson that week. The next morning we drove southeast along Route 10 to the Sulphur Springs Valley, where gravel and dirt roads led us the final miles to our little hand-built adobe cottage in Cochise, hard by the Dragoon Mountains. Each day we explored the valley and the mountains on either side of it. I will post more photos soon!