The Close Inspection

I used to have a job in surveillance. It wasn’t anything sinister – it involved inspecting state-funded programs for adults who had brain injuries and needed help to live independently.  Wading through records, interviewing participants, observing facilities and talking with administrators, I would carefully ferret out the details. I looked for faulty provision of services, but also for exemplary work on behalf of people who couldn’t advocate well for themselves. I surveyed, I cited, I educated, always paying close attention to the details.

Well before that, I lived in a zen monastery. Close attention to detail was valued there, too. Whether meditating, washing dishes or selling the cakes that supported our community, we made an effort to attend to and act in our environment with clear, detailed attention.  At the same time we sensed a vast spaciousness in the interstices. When we were at our best, recognizing that spaciousness helped us to challenge habitual boundaries, a process that opened our minds and freed our actions.

Going back even further in time, as a child I spent a lot of time carefully inspecting my surroundings, slowly falling in love with the world as it is. I’m lucky to have had a childhood free enough from want and strife that I could spend endless hours observing my environment.  I believe there is value in paying close attention to your surroundings, value in developing a sense of where you are grounded on the earth, and value in acting on that in a positive way. The actions we take vary according to our predilections, abilities and background, but each of us can benefit others in more ways than we imagine, especially when we get out of our own way.  Even with photography.

Here are 20 photographs that began taking shape on recent forays. On better days I made quick adjustments to that little black box in my hands and aimed the lens with an open mind and attention to detail.  The images were refined back at home with more close observation, and hopefully, with some measure of freedom from habitual ways of thinking.

 

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The photos were taken in and around Seattle, most with an Olympus OM D1, a few with an older model Samsung smartphone, processed using Lightroom, Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro.

 

 

 

 


82 comments

  1. This is a beautiful portfolio of images, Lynn. You’ve made it difficult to pick a favorite but I’ll try – I like the tall grass (under the cityscape).
    I like to read about the background of the artists I follow. I think your time in the Zen monastery shows in your photographs. You seem to have an appreciation for the abstract. I believe most photographers images reflect their life and personality. A well constructed “About” page is definitely a plus on a photographers blog, although I admit my own is a poor example.

    • This comment is so generous, thank you, Ken! I like to hear about people’s background, too, which is a big part of why I wrote this the way I did. For a long time, I said little to nothing of a personal nature, but I’m more free to do that, having retired, and it’s good. I do love the abstract, but photographing nature outdoors, it’s often hard to reduce things to an abstract essence. A good challenge, right? You’re right about the zen influence, but I was also strongly influenced by the NY artworld of the early 70’s, when minimalism and conceptual art were at the forefront. As for the About page, I haven’t looked at mine in a while and I know it’s due for a rewrite – you’ve reminded me.

  2. The more and more I look, the more I see that we are of one photographic mind, or at least that there are many deep and broad areas of intersection/tangentiality/overlap. I see in these images so many of the same tones and ideas that have also been occupying my photographic mind of late. Hopefully I can get back into the swing of posting them soon….
    Always a pleasure getting a peek into your world.

    • Yes, there are intersections…just looked at your last photographic post, and once again saw much to love there. I too hope you post again soon…be well Johnny, and thanks for commenting. THAT is always a pleasure….

  3. You have such talent for finding details and for showing them artistically in your photos, Lynn. I always love to see your wonderful posts. I feel inspired by your observances and your artistry, hoping to pick up some of your way of seeing the world. I need to take my time more; it’s obvious that you savor each moment. 🙂

    • Taking time is very pleasurable….I know you tend to bite off huge chunks of the world, and that’s your style. And thanks to that, I’ve seen more than I would have of many exotic places. You also manage to write, photogrpah, post and work full time jobs…that’s impressive! I hope you’re enjoying being back in the States.

      • It does seem I bite off huge chunks; I don’t know why I do, but it does seem to be who I am. It can be tiring!

        So far, I’m enjoying being home again, but also feeling frustrated by my lack of focus. I hope eventually I’ll get into some kind of routine. 🙂

  4. I like how you started your story with the most recent example of your attention and worked back. I like how your talking about attention helped me pour even more of it into your photographs than I might have without the prompt. I like your faith in us: “each of us can benefit others in more ways than we imagine,” assumes we want to do that. I like your beautiful writing altogether. And I like all the photographs in this collection. I suspect you could have included many others.

    • And I like how you pay attention here, not to mention everywhere else. It’s helpful. And I like your generosity, that’s been helpful too. It was having a series of what seemed unrelated photos that got me started on this post. I found a common denominator after all…I only threw one out in the end. Maybe it will turn up another time. Thank you, Linda, thank you for being here.

  5. Wise woman’s wise words leading into images that leave me wordless – it is just midnight now, and I want to run out in the street to shout “look at these incredible pictures”, but there is nobody out there, they are all sleeping.

  6. These photographs are absolutely wonderful!
    A Zen monastery? That must have been very interesting.
    indeed, it is really amazing when one pays attention. I just find that I really have to remind myself to slow down and do so. 🙂
    Have a great week!

  7. I love the way you see, Lynn, and it confirms my belief of how much we bring of ourselves when making a photograph. Your introspection and observational skills make for fabulous images. The industrial shots really speak to me and your close-up details and patterns are wondrous.

    • This is an interesting comment, Jane, thank you so much. I’m glad you like the “built environment” shots; I’d like to do more of that but the city’s best for it, and I’m not in the city that often. I’ll remember what you said, and I’ll try to make it happen. Have a good week!

  8. This is a very strong collection of images, Lynn, that makes me want to see more of any work you do in the built environment.

    What Zen monastery were you at and when? Your name has always sounded familiar to me and I wonder whether our paths may have crossed while entering the zendo 🙂

    • That’s nice to hear, about the “other side” of things – I’d like to do more of those too, but like I was saying above to Jane, I’m not in the city that often these days. I need to make it happen more. I enjoy it. (I always get a little thrill when I see your posts from the Hudson line & in the city).
      I was at ZCNY (Zen Community of NY) with Bernie Glassman, for about 5 years. Were you at ZMM with Daido?

      • No, I was at the Zen Center of Rochester in the early 1970’s (a few blocks away, I just learned, from Ken of oneowner fame.) Decades later, I spent a couple of weekends at ZMM including that amazing photo workshop with Loori I’ve referred to several times on my blog. In between, I took a long detour on a guru-based path before returning to Zen. Although I don’t have a teacher now, I sit on my own.

        Always had a great admiration for Glassman. Wonder now where else our paths may have crossed. The West Side Highway maybe?
        🙂

      • West Side Highway for sure, that was the route for many years…we’ll have to share notes sometime off line…I think we did compare experiences re the workshop a few years ago. A similar one he ran with Peter Matthiessen, at Wave Hill in 1980, is partly what led me to ZCNY.

  9. They’re all magnificent (as always), but #3 resonated for the brave grasses poking through the plastic. As for #9… you finally accomplished what no one else ever has… that’s giving me an appreciation for the wonders of turning images to b&w. The glimpse you gave of your previous lives explains much. It’s wonderful.

    • I almost didn’t include the weeds poking through the tarp – that tarp was thrown onto the ground on the edge of a botanical garden. I was so excited, but most of the photos didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped. Do you know that plant is called smartweed? Cool, huh? And #9? Under the train in Seattle? What do you mean? You’ve got me very curious now. Oh, I get it – your dislike of B&W nature shots was turned inside out for a minute! Ha! 😉 Yes! Success! That one has more contrast than many b&w’s, while staying soft. I was happy with it. I just love fields of grasses. So glad you liked the glimpses, there may be more coming. Stay safe Gunta, I’m thinking about you….

      • I’m very glad you did include #3… smartweed, huh? I really need to become better acquainted with the names of botanical things. Yes, #9 under the train. I could not have explained what it was that blew me away in that one, but you nailed it. I’m delighted that you understood.

        Thanks for the thoughts. They are much appreciated! I’m beginning to think we’ll be OK.

  10. A wonderful set of images as always Lynn. Your close attention to detail has certainly paid off and it’s the reason I’ve always loved your photography. You see what most of us don’t and seeing is so much a part of photography. The one thing it’s difficult to teach. Teaching someone how to use a camera, set a correct exposure and process an image is easy, it’s the seeing part that’s difficult. Numbers two, nine, ten and 12 were my favourites but they are all stunning photographs and a portfolio of images to be very proud.

    • Thank you very much, Adrian, and thanks for continuing to visit, even when you are busy with the project. I agree that seeing is nothing like having techniques, but I also think it improves so much with practice, practice practice…practice doing your art and looking at art, and everything else, with that curious eye. So glad you liked #2, taken with my phone rather quickly, but it came out showing just what i saw – all that detail, the pale colors. Thanks again!

      • It’s always a pleasure Lynn. You’re absolutely right, it’s all about taking lots of photographs and looking at lots of photographs and taking a lot more photographs.
        My project is finished, submitted and I’m now on vacation in Fuerteventura enjoying the sunshine and the beach. I have my camera with me of course. Never truly on holiday.. 🙂

  11. Well, you in a Zen monastery, eh?, well that rings true – what an interesting post. And I love “we sensed a vast spaciousness in the interstices”; its all a question of looking and sensing, isn’t it. Wonderful and penetrating set of photos, I very much like the way you see. I love the first one, and the mono shot of grasses – the one below the first mono shot of tall city buildings – that shot immediately grabbed me, made my exhale sharply. Keep on keeping on! A 🙂

  12. Oh, my! I had to really slow myself down, and look at these long and slow and one at a time – they come too thick and fast upon the page! I felt I needed a long pause between each…..
    But now I’ve been on a slow walk through your beautiful journey and it’s been wonderful, a true meditation. I shall keep coming back.

    • I put those little asterisks between each photograph to give SOME space between them, but, well, I love what you say about wanting to slow down. 🙂 That makes me happy. I could just post one at a time, but I like there to be more for people to enjoy. Thank you very much for commenting!

  13. Such a nice collection of images! The two of wild grasses are the ones I particularly go back to…simple, ubiquitous grasses growing on neglected land. These little natural areas have value too…and a beauty all their own.

    • We’re of the same mind when it comes to neglected land – there is so much to see in those places. And I love grasses, so I’m glad you liked those images. Thanks for commenting, Mic!

  14. Your practice of looking for and paying attention to details, whether at you former job or from the time in a zen monastery, is very evident in the way you photograph. For me it’s when you direct that black box toward subtle details your photography comes alive. Like so many in this lovely collection. So many gorgeous photos!

  15. Hi Lynn, I really appreciated the prelude to the photographs on this post. Learning more about you provides more context on how to view your pictures. I particularly love the.. 11th one, I think? Where the tree creates a wallpaper effect. Beautiful.

    • And it’s always interesting to me to hear your reactions…glad you liked the little autobiographical piece, there may be more of that coming down the road. That photo has two themes I’ve been interested in for a long time – a flattened perspective and all-over pattern, and the idea of seeing something through a scrim of something else. I’m glad you like it!

  16. I too spent much of my childhood noticing and considering my world closely. I’m not sure if it was nature or nurture for me to do so. I suspect a combination. I had a very quiet home with limits on TV, and music only when we attended to it by playing instruments, singing together or alone, or listening to an album – and then it was over. So much of my time was filled with reading, writing, doing artwork or crafts and tasks of various kinds, playing outside – often by myself, contemplation and imagination. I inspected everything in my natural surroundings and most things manmade. I had a huge sense of wonder, and it has mostly stayed with me, though I go through phases where I become detached and long for it back again.
    I’m drawn especially to your image of grasses just after the first cityscape, the lily pads, and I’m still grappling with the one with the twiggy or thorny branches and a peach-toned stripe dividing the middle. For some reason I feel the need to know what the peach thing is, but can’t decide. A tree trunk? A pathway? An arm or leg or finger? I can’t seem to settle on scale, and my wish to animate that color into skin and therefore a human appendage is really strong and intriguing to me.
    Interesting thoughts as well as images. Thanks for sharing them!

    • It sounds like your childhood was deprived in all the right places, Sheri! 😉 I guess those boundaries and what you did with them encouraged your sense of wonder, which was probably genetic, too – I always feel it’s nature AND nurture. That photo is of a tree trunk, but I’m happy it mystified you. I love playing with scale, and it didn’t occur to me that this photo might do that.
      It was taken at the Center for Urban Horticulture, over at UW. If you have spare time in Seattle, it’s a great place to hang out for a bit – there’s always parking, there’s a library where you can rest and browse, good restrooms, and both a cultivated garden and trails to the wetlands and lake. It’s an easy place to be, except for the afternoon traffic towards the bridge.

      • I’ll have to put that on my list to visit. Yes, my father was full of wonder and my mother a close inspector, so genetics probably played into it as well – and of course their example. I love how cropping of a real image can create an abstraction that the mind must work to consider, like your tree trunk. Often the photographer misses the effect since they, of course, know what it is immediately. Try to imagine if the tree trunk was a finger. I love that fanciful scale of the photo. Thanks for letting me know about the Center for Urban Horticulture. I may have been there years ago with a friend.

  17. Looking at your photos and reading your commentary, it occurred to me that close attention is a kind of luxury: an approach made easier for those who are removed enough from the necessities of life to be able to enjoy its freedoms. That’s one reason photographers who come into the heart of any disaster from the outside can capture the sort of images impossible for those directly affected by events, and y, and still dealing with the consequences of them. When we’re deeply immersed in what’s happening around us, it can be hard to see any detail clearly.

    I was surprised by my reaction to the photo third from last, which I take to be a reflecting pool. When I looked at it, I experienced an instantaneous surge of anxiety: the sort that tightens the chest, raises the heart rate, and brings tears to the eyes. I didn’t see a lovely pool, but rising waters.

    The last photo appealed very much. It reminded me of the big oak at Goose Island, very near Harvey’s landfall. A thousand years old, it’s still standing, even though many of the much younger trees around it were damaged.

    • I apologize for including that photograph – it did occur to me that it could trigger someone dealing with the floods but I hoped I was wrong about that. I should have left that one for another time, I’m sorry. Moving on (which I trust you’re good at doing), I’m glad you like that last one. How I loved the live oaks of the south that I got to know from childhood family vacations. Trees are such wonderful beings, and their power seems to really increase as they age. I’m really glad the Goose Island oak still stands. Somewhere today I saw an article about sentinel trees – trees that have witnessed history. Surely that’s one. Here’s a link – https://treesource.org/travel-through-trees/witness-trees-stand-sentinel-americas-hallowed-places/
      I’m very aware that I’m lucky to be able to spend time the way I do, and to have done that in various periods of my life. To have been born white and middle class in America in the mid-20th century, is a gift. There have been troubled times in my life, when I didn’t have the energy to spare for beauty, only enough to make it through the day. But having had comfortable early years as a foundation makes bouncing back easier than it would be for someone brought up on a diet of struggle and need. There are far too many people on this planet only able to concern themselves with survival.
      It’s an interesting observation you have about photographers who swoop in to photograph disasters, but local residents will have deeper tales to tell, I bet, if they can get out from under and tell them. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Linda.

      • My gosh — no need to apologize. To be honest, I found encountering the photo and experiencing it as I did quite interesting. Even those of us who suffered little physical damage in Harvey and who have assumed we got through it psychologically unscathed profit by reminders that we — and others around us — will have some healing to do.

        Which is also to say, I’m glad you didn’t engage in any self-censorship. As an artist, it’s your role to present what you chose — and for your viewers to deal with their own responses. I have to say that, when it comes to so-called “trigger warnings,” I find them precious, annoying, and off-putting. Life is what it is, and learning to cope with what disturbs or offends us is part of what used to be called “becoming an adult.”

        That’s actually connected in some important ways to what you’ve said here about close observation. People who are fearful of life can’t be close observers. Besides, it really is true: the only perfectly safe space in this world is the grave.

      • What an enjoyable article about the sentinel trees. I was thinking this afternoon about some “other” trees in Rockport and Fulton: multitudes of wind-bent live oaks that are stunted by the seaside conditions, but beautiful nonetheless. I haven’t seen or heard anything about them, but once the roads are clear, the curfew is lifted, and I can find a place to stay, I want to go down and see for myself how they’ve survived.

      • Well, though there may be no need to apologize, I’ll do it again, for not remembering or knowing how tough you are! 😉 I’m glad you’re able to retain a philosophical view, to a degree. And thanks for your thoughts about censorship and trigger warnings – I hear you, there are times when it’s very condescending. You sum up the reason for looking at life squarely in a typically colorful and succinct way! The only safe place indeed….
        Oh, I hope those trees are still there!

  18. all of the photos are splendid capturing the detail but also the framing and composition of the lines / geomettic shapes — the gas cans (what i think are gas cans), the base of the bamboo stalk among the leaves, the orange netting…and it is also to see my hometown Seattle from refreshing view points…i trying to remember where that pool is downtown 🙂

    • So nice to hear, thanks…I’ve worked hard at improving composition the last few years. Yes, those are old gas cans in a storage facility in Monroe, on land used annually for the Sky Valley Antique Tractor Show, which is really fun to go to (but I didn’t get many usable photos this year). The reflecting pool is at the Frye Museum. I don’t know how long it’s been there – maybe it wasn’t there when you lived here? I’ve only been here 5 yrs. Glad you like the orange safety fence – I love it when that stuff interacts with nature – that time it was at the Arboretum.

      • thanks for info. 🙂 The Arboretum was always a respite from the bustle of the city.. The Fyre – yes I think I remember seeing the pool. Seattle has grown and changed much in the last 25 years, but there it is still has little gems about. I really like walking the trail along the bottom of Ravenna Park.

  19. A fine selection once more Lynn. Your way of seeing (and feeling) the world resonates so closely with my own approach to photography and picture making. Thanks too for the informative autobiographical note.

    • Yes, we have similar takes on things and are drawn to similar things – just yesterday, I was wandering through a shipyard and photographed a pile of rope, and thought of you. Thank you for your support over the years, Louis, I appreciate it.

  20. Some very interesting perspectives in your work Lynn – enjoyed seeing the world through your lens. I think I’m partial to the industrial shots but they’re all terrific.

  21. My favourite is the mono of the grasses which, to me, resembles a pencil drawing. I find that being detail-oriented is wonderful to have in the realm of aesthetics but can be a real pain in the mundane world (often completely exhausting – even debilitating) 🙂

    • A pencil drawing or even an etching – I’m glad you like it! Your observation about being detail oriented is interesting. In work situations you might be praised for it, but it can quickly take over. Then you lose perspective, and pay the price. Change is good! I hope you’re pulling back and seeing the forest (instead of the trees) often enough.

  22. and i love the marco works….the flora alongside of the human made spaces…i also love grasses and the movement of the fine lines…they have a painterly feeling…another beautiful post Lynn ~ have a beautiful day ~ smiles hedy 😀

      • Lynn I was looking at light painting earlier today….is your first image light painting? And is your 3rd image composed with paper or a composite? I curious in the process is that fair of me to ask….it’s a rich set of images….just wondering as I re-look….

      • No, the ferns had a shaft of sunlight on them in a very shady spot – it was mid afternoon. I used spot metering (the camera setting). I really like what spot metering does and often I leave the camera on that setting for a while (until I realize it’s messing up a shot! 😉 )
        I’ve never done light painting.
        Always fair to ask, for sure – I welcome that. Not too many adjustments to this one – in LR I toned down the whites a bit and lightened the blacks so there would be some detail in the background. I increased the saturation a bit (usually I go the other way) because the dim light killed the color. Reduced contrast a tiny bit, it was too strong. Added a little vignette – I often add some vignetting but not always, of course. And sharpening. I used a favorite lens, a 60mm macro prime (about a 100 mm equivalent in DSLR terms). I use an Olympus micro 4/3rds camera, the OM D-1. This is not a macro shot, but that lens is versatile and it’s very bright & sharp.

  23. Dear Lynn,
    I’m really worried I’ve offended you with my last post which, after sleeping on it, I pulled. I really didn’t want so many of my friends feeling they had to apologise for what’s going on in the White House right now or feel embarrassed to be American which was one of the comments I got. That should absolutely not be the case. We know here in the UK the values for which the vast majority of Americans stand.
    I’m very well aware of how Trump made it to the White House by appealing to the lowest common denominator promising people he has absolutely nothing in common with something that cannot be delivered. That will dawn but for now, he fills those stadiums with his vile rhetoric.
    I have many friends in the US. I would like to count you among them and I know that you, all of my friends, and many millions of others despair of what’s going on right now. However, as one of my commentors put it, the next guy in will, in all hope, undo the worst excesses of this administration. I’ve no doubt that will happen.
    My sincere apologies if I went too far.
    Best regards
    Adrian

    • You’re causing yourself far more pain than you’re causing me – I was not offended at all. If I feel embarrassed to be an American, that’s my issue, not yours. I have faith that you sense where I come from, and vice versa. We can bury this – wish we could bury the last election results! But we’ll soldier on, and hope there isn’t too much damage done. Thanks for your concern Adrian! Now please save your energy for art! 🙂

  24. So much to love in these Lynn, I especially like the urban scenes and grasses – would love to see more. I love the sense of detail you describe and show – I’ve always been a person who could spend hours looking at the infinite variety in a small scene, I find it a constant comfort – especially now in this world of overwhelm! Thanks for the reminder!

    • I would like to do more urban photography, but it seems that when I’m in Seattle, I often don’t have my camera – I have to work on that. Your description of the joys of investigating things closely is music to my ears. Yes, especially in this busy, distracting world. Maybe I’m calming myself without even realizing it.

  25. You are such a gift to the world; there’s a lot here, esp in your narrative. Have you written about your time at the monastery? What a comforting time that must have been.

    There’s one sentence here that would fit well with the post I”m writing: ” I believe there is value in paying close attention to your surroundings, value in developing a sense of where you are grounded on the earth, and value in acting on that in a positive way.” —— May I share it/include it in the post?!!!!

    • Of course!
      I’m writing a little here and there, but a project I’ve always longed to get into would be an autobiographical melange of words and images. In any case, I have a post waiting in the wings, needing a little tweaking, that includes a lot of autobiographical material, all centered around a love for flowers. You’ll get it! The time at the zen community wasn’t really comforting, but I’d say it was the most important time of my adult life, for sure. It was intense, we worked and studied very hard, and the experience was deeply nourishing. But not comforting. I think you’ll see what I’m saying. 😉

  26. What a grand finale shot to a brilliant series with time and nature standing so resolute against the hard work, muscle and sweat that went into creating those city landscapes which you have captured so beautifully.

  27. Pingback: Merging with Nature | Zeebra Designs & Destinations


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