SEEING IN SIXES

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Lenswork Publishing is best known for its bi-monthly photography magazine, published since 1993.  If you haven’t seen it, the publication is different from most photography magazines. Featuring meticulously printed portfolios of photographs in black and white and color, the magazine does not include how-to articles or advertising, but focuses on the creative process and photography as a way of life. Lenswork celebrates 25 years this year with a special anniversary issue, out now.

Lenswork also publishes Seeing in Sixes, a book of six-image photographic projects. The book evolved from publisher Brooks Jensen’s appreciation of haiku, and the six-word story, originated by Ernest Hemingway. The concise formats appealed to Jensen, as they obviously do to many people. Over the years, as Jensen published photographers’ work in Lenswork, he noticed that many portfolios he viewed became repetitive after the 6th image. This led him to wonder if small projects – presentations of work that are more than a single, stand-alone image one sees in a gallery, but less than a lengthy photo essay – might be a particularly satisfying way to see someone’s work.  Ultimately he decided that the best vehicle for six-image projects is a high quality book that inspires readers, and so in 2016 Jensen put the word out to the community of Lenswork readers to submit their projects. The response was overwhelming. Seeing in Sixes 2016 was published, followed by a 2017 iteration, and now, Seeing in Sixes 2018.

It’s a pleasure to tell you that my work appears in Seeing in Sixes 2018.  The 311-page book includes projects by 50 photographers, in black and white and color. (The projects in the book are only 4% of the entries that were submitted, so I’m very pleased to be included.) I chose to submit six photographs from the series I’ve been working on for several years that explores plant life seen through foggy windows. The project is titled, “At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations.”

For the current book, Brooks Jensen and Maureen Gallagher (the co-author) looked for “projects about life rather than about photography.”  Other criteria included originality, consistency of style, excellence of craft, and projects that “create their own small world within the limitation of six images only.”

Some of the images I have in the book have been seen on this blog, here and here.  All six are shown below.

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1. Excerpt from Seeing in Sixes: “At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations”

 

2. Excerpt from Seeing in Sixes: At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations

 

3. Excerpt from Seeing in Sixes: At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations

 

4. Excerpt from Seeing in Sixes: At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations

 

5. Excerpt from Seeing in Sixes: At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations

 

6. Excerpt from Seeing in Sixes: At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations

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I like the concept of photographic projects. I think distilling a project down to six images is a valuable exercise. Below are six photos of spider webs and lichen strands suspended from twigs and touched by dew or sunlight, made in the last few weeks. They are likely the beginning of a new subject I’ll focus on. I recommend giving the six-image project a try, and when the call for entries for a 2019 Seeing in Sixes is announced sometime next year, submit your photographs! There is so much great work being done, and I bet some of it is yours.

 

7. Morning dew coats spider webs suspended from a twig in my yard on Fidalgo Island.

 

8. A lichen suspended from two twigs, glows in the setting sun at Rosario Beach. Deception Pass Park, Fidalgo Island.

 

9. Dew-covered spiderwebs connect the dots between decomposing leaves still clinging to a tree in my yard on Fidalgo Island.

 

10. A spider web bedecked with dew and raindrops stretches between the railing supports of a boat dock at Rosario Beach. Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo Island.

 

11. Lichens absorb and reflect the sun’s late-day magic as they drape from the twigs of a Douglas fir tree at Rosario Beach. Deception Pass State park, Fidalgo Island.

 

12. A lichen strand appears to relax on a twig as it absorbs the last of the day’s sunlight at Rosario Beach. Deception Pass State park, Fidalgo Island.

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You can watch a short video here that shows Seeing in Sixes going to press. The book can be purchased on the Lenswork website.

The interest and support of readers here on WordPress has been a big factor in my growth and confidence, and your presence keeps me on this path. Thank you!

 

 

Rambling Around L.A. with Flora

Who’s Flora? Flora is Fauna’s pal. You know, the one who makes everything livable.

Flora’s strong presence in L.A. is a key ingredient of the city’s identity. The city is chock full of glamorous botanical introductions from faraway places, native plants that thrived here for eons and everything in between. The “florabundance” of southern California captivated me, so here’s a selection of plants from in and around L. A.  –  a selection guaranteed to be completely unscientific and thoroughly skewed.  Most of these images are of trees because trees got to me on this trip, but you’ll find a few other plants in too, for the sake of variety.

 

1. The silhouette of a Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) frames distant hills on a trail at Topanga State Park’s Trippet Ranch, which is about an hour’s drive from downtown L.A.

 

2. More Coast live oaks at Trippet Ranch. The day we were there birds, squirrels and deer were feasting on the ripening acorns.

 

3. A fallen branch, probably oak, at Trippet Ranch. The live oaks of California take on wonderfully sinuous, expressive shapes as they grow.

 

4. Staying with the oaks, here’s a lovely, plump little acorn on a Tucker’s oak tree (Quercus John-tuckeri) at Joshua Tree National Park. The park is a good two or more-hour drive from L.A. but it’s well worth the effort to get there. More on that in another post.

 

5. Just off a trail in Joshua Tree National Park, the eponymous Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) stands tall. It is actually not a tree, it’s a type of yucca. This specimen suffered an injury to its trunk but it soldiers on, in a very harsh environment. The area has only received about two inches of rain this year; about a third of that fell just after we left, causing road closures and evacuations in town.

 

6. Back in downtown Los Angeles, hilly streets mean you might get to look down on a freshly clipped topiary tree. What a treat!

 

7. In trendy Silver Lake everyone has a little corner of paradise; this one comes with a generous sprinkling of banana plants and Bird of Paradise plants (Strelitzia). Oh, and a vintage Ford Falcon parked out front does add a certain charm to the block.

 

8. The fruit of a South American Silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa) hangs heavy on the branch, on a street in the Watts neighborhood of L.A. These trees drop their leaves before flowering – what a sight the brilliant magenta pink flowers are on bare-leaved trees!

 

9. On just about any block in L.A. there will be a corner like this one, with lollipop palm trees, telephone poles and criss-crossed wires, street lamps, and random signs. You’ll often find a certain glow in the sky too, maybe from the city’s relentlessly sunny skies and its proximity to the ocean. Or perhaps it’s that stubborn inversion layer. Or maybe all that light is just bouncing around so much that it glows.

 

 

11. At my feet on a residential street, a tree was artfully creeping over the sidewalk, and scattering its pretty golden leaves about like glitter on a movie star’s gown. OK, that’s a stretch, but this little scene did delight my eyes.

 

12. Down at the beach, forests of kelp grow just off shore. Now and then they toss us an offering. Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) is actually a fast-growing algae, and I’m not kidding about the forest part – offshore kelp beds are thick, and plants can reach well over 40′ tall. 

 

13. A tangle of branches looks a bit haunted, in a ravine at Trippet Ranch, Topanga State Park.

 

14. I think this is a Peruvian peppertree (Schinus molle), one of many exotics planted around L.A. This was at Elysian Park, L.A.’s oldest park and a nice, quick escape from the frantic traffic of the city below.

 

15. At Angel’s Point in Elysian Park another Mexican fan palm stands tall amidst an unlikely assortment of objects. A whimsical sculpture seems to mock the heavy-handedness of downtown high-rises, and five glorious ravens sail freely on the updraft of a glowing, if smoggy, L.A. sunset.

 

16. I was struck by the sight of tree roots penetrating deep into rocky cliffs, in a number of places around the city. This photo was taken on the road to Mt. Wilson Observatory, a narrow, winding two-lane that had me clutching the edge of my seat more than once.

 

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17. Evergreens cling to the rocky hillsides of Angeles National Forest, along the precipitous road that climbs up to Mount Wilson Observatory, elevation 5,712 ft/1741m.  Two of the largest telescopes in the world (for their time) are here. The location benefits from regional inversion layers that trap clearer air on top of the mountain, but it suffers from light-polluted night skies.

 

18. Another view of oaks in a ravine, through filtered light at Trippet Ranch, Topanga State Forest.

 

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19.  Warm, arid southern California even manages glimpses of autumn here and there. This fiery tree appears to be a maple. I found it on a roadside, high up in the Angeles National Forest, about an hour from downtown.

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This meager offering doesn’t begin to do justice to the amazing variety of flora in and around Los Angeles. Interestingly enough, both the arid wilderness around L.A. and the well-irrigated landscape in and near the city offer up an astounding variety of plant life.  I hope this post encourages you to take another look around your own neighborhood. There may be more to it than you realize.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SO(very)CAL: L.A. and Around

Earlier this week, I returned home from a week traveling in and around Los Angeles. We put 751 miles on the rental car. Whew!

Here are a few highlights from the city, the desert, the mountains and the beach.

 

1. Nancy Rubins’ monumental sculpture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, downtown L.A.

 

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2. Sunset on Route 62, leaving Joshua Tree

 

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3. Fallen Floss-silk tree (Ceiba speciosa) blossoms, Watts, L.A.

 

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4. A young Joshua tree stands near Shelter, a sculpture by Noah Purifoy (1917 – 2004), at the Noah Purifoy Foundation’s Outdoor Desert Museum of Assemblage Sculpture in Joshua Tree.

 

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5. Along the Barker Dam Trail at Joshua Tree National Park.  Parry’s Nolina in the foreground, a prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) cactus to the right, unidentified red flowers behind boulders.

 

6. A meal at Mh Zh – red lentils with herbs, hummus Bling, and grilled farm bread.

 

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7. The Bradbury Building in downtown L.A., where key scenes from Blade Runner were shot.

 

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8. A Venice street corner.

 

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9. A culinary suggestion from Venice Beach

 

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10. Looking up into a Brugmansia flower (aka Angels trumpet) at Descanso Gardens, La Canada Flintridge.

 

11. A museum guard walks past Robert Therrien’s sculpture, Under the Table, at  The Broad Museum, L.A.

 

12. Eucalyptus trees are ubiquitous in southern California, but that doesn’t make them any less beautiful.

 

13. The famous Los Angeles sprawl seen from the road to Mt. Wilson, in the Angeles National Forest.

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14. California beaches have a calm beauty on overcast days. Zuma Beach/ Point Dume, near Malibu.

 

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15. At Joshua Tree National Park, granite rocks take on an oddly malleable quality in the receding light, as if they were globs of dough ready for the oven.  

 

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16. At pretty Hermosa Beach, wet sand reflects a pier full of sunset-watchers.

 

More on the photos:

  1. This muscular sculpture on a plaza at the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. has a long title that describes the materials: Chas’ Stainless Steel, Mark Thompson’s Airplane Parts, About 1000 Pounds of Stainless Steel Wire, and Gagosian’s Beverly Hills Space. It’s by artist Nancy Rubins and was installed in 2001. I like the way it interrupts the grids of surrounding high rises by taking similar rectangular, hard-edged forms, breaking them up and setting them at all angles.
  2. This lopsided sunset meets heavy cloud cover on the road out of Joshua Tree. The narrowly focused light show preceded a lengthy display of lightening over a distant desert mountain range. When we got back to L.A. it was raining. Several people remarked that it took them by surprise – after all, who checks the weather forecast in a place where warm, sunny weather is an everyday occurrence?
  3. The Floss-silk tree was blooming all over town, adding joyful pink highlights to the greens and browns of the California autumn landscape. The tree is native to South America and is related to the kapok tree. The leaves fall off before the tree blooms, so the huge flowers are even more dramatic – perfect for a city known for creating drama.
  4. The Outdoor Desert Museum of Assemblage Sculpture is just that, but also much more. It’s difficult to describe the impact of seeing Noah Purifoy’s fifteen years’ labor weathering in the spare, harsh Mohave desert. If inventiveness, artistic expertise and social commentary interest you, you may be here for hours, as we were. I first visited the site in 2014; photos of Purifoy’s sculptures from that visit can be found here.
  5. Joshua Tree National Park is one of those oddly otherworldy, spectacular landscapes that one never forgets. Coming back to it for a second look, I was not disappointed – in fact, our hike on the Barker Dam loop trail was a high point of the trip. Photos from a 2014 visit to Joshua Tree are here and I plan to post more from this year’s trip soon.
  6. Near our airbnb in the busy L.A. neighborhood of Silver Lake, there’s a casual Israeli/Middle eastern restaurant called Mh Zh. We sat at a counter inside (all the “real” tables are outside on the sidewalk) and chatted with the manager while watching the chef slide rack after rack of delicious-looking food into the flaming oven. The employees were relaxed and upbeat, the food was amazing, and watching it all go in and out of that oven was pure theater.
  7. The Bradley Building is a refreshing bit of 19th and 20th century style in the middle of modern L.A. You’ll recognize it immediately as the place where much of Blade Runner was filmed. Walk in, wander around the first floor, and climb the stairs until you’re met by ropes marking off the tenants’ space – one of whom is the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Division! Many films and commercials have used this handsome space that abounds with intricate details. An interior door opens onto Blue Bottle Coffee, an airy, high-style (21st century version) coffee shop where we enjoyed great espresso and an order of perfectly poached eggs on toast.
  8. The facade of Yellow Fever restaurant in Venice, a still somewhat funky town fifteen miles west of LA. The restaurant advertises “Asian bowls for your soul” and is takes no cash. Is credit more soulful, I wonder?
  9. This sign kind of sums up why we didn’t spend much time in Venice. Can you say, “Tacky?”  The little canals of Venice are attractive enough, if you manage to disregard the occasional small, unpowered boat loaded down with belongings, obviously serving as a tiny home for a less fortunate person than those living in the chic, multi-million dollar homes lining the canals.
  10. Twenty minutes from downtown LA is the quiet oasis of Descanso Gardens. I can’t say I was very impressed; maybe I was there at the wrong time of year. Still, it was a pleasant hour or two, the oaks are splendid, and I always love to see Brugmansias in bloom.
  11. I wanted to see the Broad Museum, which opened three years ago. I did find some gems there but when all was said and done I was, well, overwhelmed with being underwhelmed. Or something like that. There are just too many in-your-face, big spectacle pieces. There isn’t enough coherent, thoughtful art.  An excellent review of the architecture and collection is here.
  12. Eucalyptus doesn’t grow where I live, so I’m especially susceptible to its charms. This one, a pretty basic specimen, is quite beautiful if you study the sinuous curves of trunk and branch against the light flutter of gray-green leaves. It towers above the ground at the Watts Towers, a delightful community space that will (hopefully) show up soon, in another post about L.A.
  13. It may not be a great image, but this gives you an idea of the juxtaposition of wild outdoor space and urban sprawl that is characteristic of Los Angeles County. You can see views like this from many different high spots around LA; this one was taken on the road up to Mt. Wilson. The Mount Wilson Observatory is the site of pioneering research in astrophysics, and several of the world’s largest (at the time they were installed) telescopes are housed there. The twisting, narrow road isn’t easy on an acrophobe, but once you’re up there, cares do drop away.
  14. We visited Zuma Beach and Point Dume State Park on an overcast morning – a perfect time, it turns out, if you’re more interested in scenery than swimming. We saw dolphins swim just a few feet from a pair of surfers who were respectful enough to remain quiet, and watched a Great egret catching grasshoppers along the roadside.
  15. Another view of the sculptural desert landscape at Joshua Tree National Park.
  16. Hermosa Beach is a small beach town about 45 minutes from downtown LA. The first pier here was built in 1904, and three years later the incorporated city acquired two miles of beach, to remain perpetually free from commerce and open to all. Without commerce, I would not have enjoyed the fabulous Mh Zh restaurant or several great cafes, but everything has its place, doesn’t it? I was glad I could get away from L.A.’s commercial intensity and go out to the desert, up to the mountains, and onto the beach, in beautiful SoCal.

Layers of Perception

For years I’ve been interested in photographing scenes through various types of barriers or screens. The most obvious “barrier” that might change the way the world looks is a window, and I like it obscured – by raindrops, fog, dirt, whatever. Fences, nets and clear plastic tarps are interesting to look through, too. Seeing the world through snowfall is magical, and a mass of tangled branches or grasses can become another screen that veils the landscape. Even a spiderweb can be a diaphanous curtain between you and what lies beyond. Admittedly, our natural tendency is to focus on the fine design of a spiderweb and stop there. But another way to observe the scene is to allow the details to shift out of focus, then take in the gestalt of the whole scene, front to back.

 

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Seeing the world through a screen or a barrier can encourage you to enter into a hazier kind of perception, switching off the defining mind that wants to label everything it discerns. This alternate way of seeing can enlarge your perceptual world. Objects behind a translucent barrier are less defined and often abstracted, allowing you to let go of the habitual mental state of identifying and naming, and rest your gaze on pure form and color.

Reversing the process and observing the details of a barrier’s own properties, like the specks of dirt on a window or the finely woven texture of a net, is another way to expand perception and appreciate the whole of what is. Right in front of you.

 

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Once I get started taking pictures through a barrier, I like to play with the elements of the scene. The emphasis might shift between planes, or it might be about layers of different planes, a dance of different surfaces. In any case, I believe that loosening the perceptual process can allow new relationships to emerge.

There are examples in previous posts here, here and here and a few more in this post. Most of them involve looking through fogged up conservatory windows. For this post I’ve corralled a handful of images photographed through a variety of objects. A few focus on the barrier itself. I hope some of them catch your imagination.

 

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The photos:

  1. Shade cloth is pulled over a section of greenhouse roof.  I was drawn to the contrasting light and dark shapes and textures, and the softening of the window frames’ crisp outlines under the shade cloth. Taken with an Olympus E-M1 and a  60mm f2.8 macro lens, processed in Lightroom.
  2. Again I was drawn to contrasting surfaces – the minutely detailed condensation on the glass versus the blurred glow of sunlight on the trees outside. Photographed with a 45mm f1.8 lens, processed in Lightroom.
  3. It was deck cleaning day at my old apartment. A worker hosed the deck down with a pressure washer, and the screen and door were soaking wet. As he paused to check his equipment, I photographed the scene. The colors glowed and nothing outside the window was clear, but the houseplants indoors were sharply outlined. Photographed with a 45mm f1.8 lens, processed in Lightroom.
  4. Peering across the water through red cedar branches; Cranberry Lake, Fidalgo Island. Photographed with a vintage Takumar 28mm f3.5 lens, processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  5. At an agricultural research facility some fruit trees are covered with nets to protect them from hungry birds and animals. At the far end of the day with the sun deep into the horizon, the apple tree’s stiff, silhouetted contours set against the net’s fine texture and soft folds got my attention. Photographed with a Motorola Android phone, processed in Lightroom.
  6. Removing the color can allow one to focus more on form, texture and line, and less on identifying the object. I was intrigued by the net’s presence as it hovered between flimsiness and solidity. Photographed with a phone, processed in Silver Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  7. My eye was caught by graceful curves and elegant folds in the netting complementing the curled up, dried leaves and apples caught inside. Photographed with a phone, processed in Lightroom.
  8. Late-day light did the work, showing off the protected tree’s form as if it were a sculpture in a museum. Photographed with a phone, processed in Lightroom.
  9. Extra nets piled behind a greenhouse seem very substantial when they’re bundled up; at the same time, there is a textured transparency to them.  Photographed with a phone, processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  10. Black and white emphasizes the angled light on the draped folds of the sheltering net. Photographed with a phone, processed in Lightroom, using a black and white profile, then tweaking it.
  11. An apple and leaf press against the confining net, and its textured grid flattens out the picture plane. EM-1 camera with 60mm f2.8 macro lens, processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  12. At Washington Pass in the North Cascades (elev. 5,476′ or 1,669m), red leaves of a low-growing shrub push through the bare, dead branches of an evergreen, creating a filigree of layered branches, twigs and leaves. EM-1 camera with 12 – 40mm f2.8 zoom lens, processed in Color Efex pro and Lightroom.
  13. A vine sprawls across a roof at a nursery. I like the way shapes are simplified when seen through this translucent roofing material. Photographed with a phone, processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  14. A tree trunk seen through the crossing branches of a Red huckleberry bush (Vaccinium parvifoluium). EM-1 camera with 40 – 150mm f4.0-5.6 zoom lens, processed in Lightroom.
  15. A book title winks from between the slats of a bookcase.  EM-1 camera with vintage Takumar 28mm f3.5 lens, processed in Lightroom.