Sunday in the Yard with Lensbaby

The transition from summer to fall is under way, with all its untidiness and subtle shifts of color. Looking around my new yard, which currently features brown grass, shriveling ferns and fallen leaves, I thought it was a good time for a session with the Lensbaby. I may regret the loss of early summer’s moist, bright greens, but there are other possibilities, right in front of me. I just need to think differently and work with the frizzle, not against it. Snapping on a lens that distorts the picture can be a good way to gently accept the changes.

 

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I hope you enjoy seeing through a different lens. I varied the amount of distortion and now I’m thinking that the most interesting images may be the ones with the least amount of “correct” focus. It was a good exercise. I should take the lens with me more often, when I go for walks in the woods.

If you’re not that familiar with Lensbaby, it’s a Portland, Oregon company that makes lenses which intentionally distort the scene. Typically, the lens has a “sweet spot” of clarity somewhere in the frame, and everything else is out of focus, to a greater or lesser degree.  The lenses have been around since 2004 and have gone through many iterations; these days you can buy one for your phone, too.

These lenses are not electronically connected to your camera. That means paying attention to exposure, aperture and focus, which must be set manually. For many photographers that’s nothing new, but for others it can be intimidating. Actually, it’s not a big deal after a few minutes of practice. Whatever time you may need to invest in learning a few new techniques, you will gain back in creative possibilities.

The Lensbaby I have, an older “Composer Pro with Sweet 35” is no longer made, and is a bit of an oddball. Bought on ebay, it’s made to fit a 4/3 DSLR camera, a system Olympus put out 15 years ago. That system faded away when micro 4/3 systems came into production. So my 4/3 mount lensbaby lens doesn’t fit my on camera (a micro 4/3 Olympus OM D1). Have I lost you yet?  An adapter solves the problem. They’re not too expensive, but they can make focusing a little harder if the fit isn’t perfect. The lensbaby look isn’t about super-accurate focus so I don’t lose sleep over the imperfections.

I find that because the lensbaby produces a distinct look, switching to that lens after not using it for a long time means I need to shift my perspective, i.e., see with lensbaby eyes. I might ask myself, “What subject doesn’t require tack-sharp focus and could look good with that smooth blur all around it?”  It’s about changing things up.

This little supergurrl lurking in a potted plant, she gets it.  🙂

 

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Upheaval

You must have moved before, you’ve been there too, right? Chaos, disorder, and turmoil are constant. Tempers are short, routines are disrupted. If I dare to look, I find fear simmers just under the surface. What am I getting into?

 

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As I pack, odd bits of the past bubble up. In a bookcase I find my mother’s High School yearbook, dated 1941, with inscriptions to “Petey.”  But, her name was Helen. I didn’t know they called her Petey, and it strikes me as bizarre because Pete was the name of her adored older brother. He would have graduated a few years before, her friends would have known him, and maybe he was so important to her that her friends jokingly called her by his name. And no wonder I didn’t know about that nickname, because in my memory Uncle Pete’s name was hardly ever spoken. He died way too young, from brain cancer. He left a wife, three small kids and a grief-stricken sister who would bury her sadness deep, the way relics from the past are buried around my house.

 

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But that’s a distraction, and there are so many distractions these days, as we sort through the piles. A random photo of a temple in Japan surfaces, my grandmother’s distinctive handwriting scrawled across the back. It’s from a trip my grandparents took all the way around the world, in 1959.  A tattered composition book appears and crumbles in my hands. Opening it slowly, I find dozens of newspaper recipes pasted across its brittle pages or pinned to them with straight pins. A recipe for fish cakes is penciled on a torn calendar page dated June 11, 1929. What a distraction this book could be: my grandmother’s recipe file from the middle of the Great Depression. I resist diving into the old book. There’s clothing that doesn’t fit to sort through and bag for the thrift store, and too many books are accumulating in stacks on the floor.

Then, inside a basket that was untouched for years, I find Pablo’s cat toys. My old orange tabby cat died six years ago, just after we moved here. Finding this bag of his toys puts a temporary halt to packing progress as sure as a red light stops traffic. But I will move on.

 

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So many histories vie for my attention. Like stray hairs, they keep me unfocused: I go out to do an errand and forget my keys. Sleep is interrupted by mental bedlam as my brain scrambles to cope with all the details. Dust has made itself at home, settling into the air we breathe. The living room is crowded with flattened boxes collected from Starbucks and anywhere else we can find them. Soon they will be filled, taped shut, labeled, loaded into a moving van and transported 71 miles north, to a new life.

 

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So many questions – what will life feel like in the new town? Will the house be as quiet as we hope it will be? How will we fit our lives and routines into the new space? Will the birds come when we put feeders up? Where will I get my afternoon double espresso? Will we be happy in this new place? What difficulties lie ahead that I can’t even imagine?

 

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In spite of the doubts and fears, I do have faith that it will work out, but right now we are living in barely controlled chaos, and let’s face it, it’s not comfortable. I know it’s counterproductive to push the discomfort away. I just have to live it – not live WITH it, but simply live it, as best I can. So here is my offering to the gods of disruption: five images expressing the current state of affairs, chaos and all.

 

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These photos – well, what can I say? All except one were taken recently. Some were mistakes that I kept, others were experiments. I played with them until they seemed to reflect how I feel. I live with an art therapist so I know that’s a good thing to do! 🙂

FRAMED and BOOKED

…and photographed.

 

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The story:

This is an ongoing project that I return to every now and then. It started about 14 years ago, when I had a garden and wanted to do something different with flower photography. One day I took a picture frame with a piece of white board inside it, and placed it behind a low-growing clump of flowers. I don’t remember how I propped the frame up but I did, and I made some photographs.  I also placed a blank book behind flowers and photographed the flowers against, or “in” the open blank book.  I liked the play of different levels of reality – a “real” flower, a photograph of a flower as if it was a picture in a book, and the overarching idea of removing a piece of nature from its environment to “capture” it, as one does in a flower painting, or an herbarium specimen. Is one really any more real than the other?

Six years ago I played with the idea again, placing a bouquet of wildflowers I picked in front of a picture frame that contained a white mat and glass. I photographed it outdoors, where the natural light threw shadows of the flowers onto the frame (#6).  Then I placed the bouquet next to the frame so that the flowers’ shadows and reflections fell onto the frame. I photographed that, and included some of the flowers and stems in the composition (#7). This increased the complexity of the image, which now included the “real” flowers and leaves, their shadows, and their reflections. Slivers of reflected sky added blue to the colors on the glass. The photograph itself is a form of representation, a trace we perceive from the original object, a step removed from looking at the flowers themselves. I am often just as delighted, or more delighted, to look at the traces things leave – a shadow, a reflection – as I am to look at the thing itself.

This goes back to Kant’s Ding an sich, or the thing in itself. From Wikipedia:

Kant argued the sum of all objects, the empirical world, is a complex of appearances whose existence and connection occur only in our representations.[2] Kant introduces the thing-in-itself as follows:

And we indeed, rightly considering objects of sense as mere appearances, confess thereby that they are based upon a thing in itself, though we know not this thing as it is in itself, but only know its appearances, viz., the way in which our senses are affected by this unknown something.

— Prolegomena, § 32

 

It’s a good reminder that it’s all about what and how our senses perceive the world; we can’t say that we know anything outside our sensory experiences of it. On a certain level, it’s all representation.

This spring I returned again to the idea of photographing natural objects on blank books, or in empty frames. I draped a few vines growing in pots across a piece of heavy paper, put a frame on top, and photographed it, making sure the composition included leaves outside the picture frame as well as inside it. The urge to frame something is akin to the urge to put things into words, in a way.  We want to preserve and identify and remember a piece of nature, so we remove it, name it, describe it, photograph it, etc. We take these processes for granted, but they’re worth thinking about. Allowing plants to trail outside the frame is a reminder that we can’t really define or capture anything that’s alive, let alone capture any given moment. And that’s no reason to stop trying. There are people who would say that experiencing the flower or the vine directly is superior to viewing its photograph or shadow or reflection. Maybe not. Maybe each way can be valued equally.

 

The photos:

1. – 5. were taken recently, outdoors on a deck. The first has stems of vines that are growing in pots, pulled down across a piece of heavy paper, with an old empty frame placed on top.  The second is a dead Angelica leaf; the next three are dried parrot tulip flower petals.  In #5 the wire on the back of the frame is included. I like both versions – with and without the wire – without the wire it is a more logical picture, but maybe the version with the wire prompts you to think more.

6. & 7. were taken several years ago and are described above. Sadly, the place where I picked that bouquet is no longer graced by wildflowers. It’s a deserted railway bed. Someone got rid of all the butterfly bushes and most of the other wildflowers that were growing happily there – why, I don’t know.

8. (described above) was taken with my first digital camera, a Sony Mavica, which I bought used from someone on ebay, around 2001. It used floppy disks! You could put ten images on each disk, then just pop the disk into your computer, and you had your 3 megapixel images to work with. What an amazing change it was from taking a rolls of film from the point and shoot camera to the drugstore for developing.

9. & 10. were taken recently. I have many small collections of shells and other objects from nature. I have a number of blank books, too. Years ago at an estate sale in a wealthy little Connecticut town, I stumbled across a pile of high quality blank books and bought most of them, for a song. Maybe the home owner had been a book printer – were these the samples?

11. & 12. are different views of a dried Angelica leaf on an old blank book.  13. shows a Queen Anne’s lace flower on a spiral-bound blank book that has black pages.

14. shows a collection of things I picked up on beaches in Oregon and California on a recent trip, arranged on the cover of a large blank book bound in black cloth. The mushroom was found on the beach, too!  The black rocks are from a remote beach on northern California’s Lost Coast called Shelter Cove. You get there by foot, plane, or boat, or by carefully driving 45 minutes down a rough, steeply winding road that’s nearly washed out at one point. One way in, one way out – just hope you don’t get sick when you’re out there. They call the beach black sand but it’s really made of smooth black pebbles, and the shell fragments were hiding among them. But I digress….

 

 

ALL THE SOUNDS

On a cool October morning in 1972, I woke up with a plan: I would write down every single sound I heard on that day.  As soon as I was aware of a sound, I began to record what I heard in a small notebook.  At the end of the day, exhausted, I fell back into bed and noted the last sounds I heard; the final sound was “breathing.”   In the following days I went through the notebook, deciphering my scribbles and working out the grammatical kinks, resulting in a 60 page typed manuscript.

Since that day I’ve contemplated repeating the exercise, but the world is infinitely noisier now than it was back then.  In any case, the piece stands on its own: a lopsided record of an ordinary day, made extraordinary by a single-minded focus on sound.

Here are a few excerpts from the Sounds piece, interspersed with images to complement, rather than explicitly adhere to, the narrative.  I noted the time sporadically throughout the day, whenever I thought to look at a clock.  In this excerpted version a line:  ___________  means I’m skipping ahead to a later time in the day.  I begin here at 9:30 am, a few hours after I woke up.

9:30am

light switch turning on

light switch turning off

stomach grumbling

sparrows chirping

blue jay calling

door opening

clothes sliding against each other

door closing

clothes falling on chair

paper falling on the floor

door opening

paper bag rustling

jars hitting each other

door closing

door opening

glass hitting the counter

door closing liquid pouring door opening

door closing

blue jay calling

___________________________

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1:13pm

page turning

lid screwing on

swallowing

glass hitting other glass

paper rustling

biting

chewing

bell chiming

my voice

voice

match striking matchbook

paper sliding across table

paper rustling

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my voice

voice

footsteps

siren whining

horn honking

bell chiming

liquid pouring

voice

my voice

footsteps

humming

chairs scraping the floor

voices

footsteps

banging

match striking matchbook

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footsteps

crash

sirens whining

papers rustling

crash

piece of wood hitting table

voice

my voice

whistling

paper tearing

sandpaper sanding wood

swallowing

fingers scratching head

voice

my voice

burp

laughing

___________________________

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6:40

truck passing on the street

feet stamping

hands clapping

fingers snapping

elevator door closing

laughing

cooing

voice

elevator door opening

elevator door closing

elevator door opening

elevator door closing

elevator door opening

footsteps

door opening

door closing

my voice

___________________

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voice

slide projector motor running

laughing

voices

chairs creaking

whispering

paper rustling

cigarette pack dropping into bag

voices

coughing

pad rubbing leg

blowing

laughing

slide projector clicking

voices

laughing

voices

laughing

slide projector clicking

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8:40

my footsteps

ladder hitting the floor

my voice

voice

whistling

traffic passing on street

chewing

bus passing on street

hand rubbing my hair and face

elevator door opening

elevator door closing

elevator running

fingers tapping

elevator door opening

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voice

radio

voices

laughing

whistling

plastic rustling

horn honking

voice

my voice

kiss

voices

kiss

laughing

my footsteps

my voice

kiss

my voice

nibbling

subway passing by

burp

motor in clock running

 

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A few words of explanation: Early that morning I made a decision to record sounds by naming what made the sound, rather than spelling out what the noise sounded like. I quickly realized that trying to write down the actual sound I heard was impossible, in most cases. Using a tape recorder to make an actual recording was not a consideration, because my primary interest was in exploring the relationship – or the space, in a way – between the sensory traces an object makes (our perception) and a record of those traces, a concern that interests me to this day. *

What is different about a sound you hear and the mute, written words that describe that sound? What is lost and what is gained when you step back from direct experience, and put something – in this case, the written word – between you and the experience? What does a day look like when the traces that are left of it are only a written description of the sounds that were heard and some bits of memory? How is the shape of the day itself altered when one sensory component of it moves into the foreground?

I was in my final year at School of Visual Arts in New York when I made the Sounds piece. I had moved back to my parents’ house temporarily, after losing a shared Brooklyn loft and all my belongings in an unfortunate incident. Each morning that semester I awakened to the quiet of suburbia, then I commuted by bus to the city and took the subway to school or to my part time job as an artist’s assistant at a studio on Irving Place. On this October day I went to work first, then walked to an evening art history class, probably with Carter Ratcliff.  Thankfully, those classes were usually a lecture with slides, and were relatively quiet.  But as soon as my friends figured out what I was doing, they made their best efforts to interrupt any quiet that would give me a rest from mad scribbling in my notebook by producing an assortment of difficult-to-describe sounds. A few are seen above, along with my foot-stamping frustration. Unsurprisingly, it was for me, a day of few words.

I used a small notebook to write down what I heard that day. When I was in a quiet place I would hear the page turning. Later, when I typed up the piece, I chose to follow the same page spacing as in the original notebook, so that “page turning” appears at the top of some pages. The piece was submitted as part of my final work for a fine arts degree, and was well received. Now the paper edges have softened, the cover is tattered, and rust is slowly eating into the binder’s metal insert.  I hope to transcribe and digitize it one of these days.

An earlier post on this subject with photos of the original manuscript is here.

The photos:

  1. A light fixture for sale at ABC Carpet and Home on Broadway, in New York City. I took the photo in New York on October 17, 2017, exactly 45 years after I made the Sounds piece.  What goes around comes around; the artfully distressed wall behind the light is reminiscent of the way walls actually looked in downtown lofts in the early 70’s. It wasn’t chic then, it was just what existed.
  2. A rope-tied rock serves as a polite barrier in a path at Seattle’s Japanese Garden.
  3. A view of trees outside a window. A small piece of blue glass in a wood frame rests against the window.
  4. A collection of insects at an eccentric museum inside a Roman Catholic seminary in Mount Angel, Oregon.
  5. At the Seattle Japanese Garden, workers erected a tarp to protect plants while they worked on a new addition to a structure in the garden.
  6. Hoses on the old wood floor of an auto repair shop in Ferndale, California.
  7. The view across the street from the ABC store window where the lighting fixture photo above was taken. This view hasn’t changed since I was in school.
  8. A single rubber glove dropped on a sidewalk in Seattle.

 

 

* A concern with investigating the difference between objects as they are and as we perceive them was prevalent in the 1960’s and 70’s art world. It was a time when conceptual art questioned art itself, and minimalism was beginning to battle it out with post-minimalism, a term coined by art critic Robert Pincus-Witten, who taught at SVA.  Dorothea Rockburne, one of a number of working artists who taught at SVA then, would often bring up Kant in connection with ideas like this one, from Wikipedia:

Kant argued the sum of all objects, the empirical world, is a complex of appearances whose existence and connection occur only in our representations.[2] Kant introduces the thing-in-itself as follows:

And we indeed, rightly considering objects of sense as mere appearances, confess thereby that they are based upon a thing in itself, though we know not this thing as it is in itself, but only know its appearances, viz., the way in which our senses are affected by this unknown something.

— Prolegomena, § 32

 

 

 

 

 

IMMANENCE

There is an immanence inherent in all things,

a constant becoming

not separate from, not outside of.

Here.

 

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Immanence – it’s a tricky word. It’s not the same as imminence. It is of course, the state of being immanent, which Merriam-Webster defines as indwelling or inherent, or within the limits of possible experience or knowledge.

The sense of immanence I’m getting at with these images (hopefully) is close to the concept discussed below in a Wikipedia entry about a French philosopher named Gilles Deleuze:

 

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Plane of immanence (French plan d’immanence) is a founding concept in the metaphysics or ontology of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Immanence, meaning “existing or remaining within” generally offers a relative opposition to transcendence, that which is beyond or outside. Deleuze rejects the idea that life and creation are opposed to death and non-creation. He instead conceives of a plane of immanence that already includes life and death.
[Colebrook, in Deleuze: A Guide for the Perplexed states] “Deleuze refuses to see deviations, redundancies, destructions, cruelties or contingency as accidents that befall or lie outside life; life and death were aspects of desire or the plane of immanence.” This plane is a pure immanence, an unqualified immersion or embeddedness, an immanence which denies transcendence as a real distinction, Cartesian or otherwise. Pure immanence is thus often referred to as a pure plane, an infinite field or smooth space without substantial or constitutive division.
[Deleuze states] “We will say of pure immanence that it is A LIFE, and nothing else.”   This is not some abstract, mystical notion of life but a life, a specific yet impersonal, indefinite life discovered in the real singularity of events and virtuality of moments. A life is subjectless, neutral, and preceding all individuation and stratification, is present in all things, and thus always immanent to itself.

 

An ethics of immanence will disavow its reference to judgments of good and evil, right and wrong, as according to a transcendent model, rule or law. Rather the diversity of living things and particularity of events will demand the concrete methods of immanent evaluation (ethics) and immanent experimentation (creativity).

 

Lest you think I’ve gone off the rails, let’s just say that Deleuze’s ideas as presented above and in this link resonate with me now, as I look at these photos. I might also describe the quality I’m thinking about as a roving, ever-present sense of possibility and becoming, equally inherent in and permeating all things – the rain chain, the running boy, the shadow, your own eyes.

Photos:

  1. A rain chain at Seattle’s Washington Arboretum Japanese Garden. Rain chains can make the movement of water from roof to ground a delight to watch and hear.
  2. A bamboo pole keeps the old wooden doors closed at the Japanese Garden.
  3. A Madrone tree at Washington Park on Fidalgo Island. The peeling bark reveals wonderful colors, the branches curve and contort in pleasing ways.
  4. Dead limbs on an old juniper tree at Washington Park. Junipers normally don’t like the Pacific northwest but these trees, Juniperus maritima, have adapted to our islands in Puget Sound and a few spots on the Olympic Peninsula and coastal British Columbia. This species was “discovered,” i.e. recognized as genetically and reproductively distinct from the Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), just ten years ago.
  5. A Ginkgo leaf on its way to the ground, stopped by a twig at the Japanese Garden.
  6. Late afternoon at the conservatory in Volunteer Park, Seattle.
  7. Espresso with a glass of water, and Christmas lights in the background; Pelican Bay Books, Anacortes, Washington.
  8. A boy leaving a cafe in Seattle. Dad let us have cookies!
  9. Looking out to the street while staying warm and cozy at Pelican Bay Books.
  10. Shadow play on a wall at home.
  11. & 12. Sunset over Lake Washington from Juanita Beach in Kirkland. Photos taken with my phone.

Variations on Local Themes

A grand collapse of foliage,

a lens that distorts.

Old willows frame

paths to obscurity.

 

 

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Photographs made at Juanita Bay Park in Kirkland, Washington with a Lensbaby Composer Pro and processed in Lightroom (a few changes made in Color Efex Pro). For some photographs, in-camera filters such as Dramatic Tone, Grainy Film & Soft Focus (on an Olympus OM D1 camera) were used.

The trees are mainly willows, the ferns are Lady ferns (Athrium felix-femina). The single leaf on the ground that’s turning color as if it were a map is from a Cottonwood tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off to the Woods!

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***

The Pacific Northwest has been feeling the heat lately, as a very persistent block of high pressure is parked over the West Coast. At the same time, over the border to our north, British Columbia is experiencing its worst wildfire season in 60 years. Thousands of people have evacuated their homes and the province is under a state of emergency that now looks like it will stretch to a month. Almost 900 wildfires have been reported since April 1st, so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that smoke drifted down here early last week. Our air quality has been worse than Beijing’s! A swirl of cleaner air came through on Saturday, but overall we’re smothering in hot, stagnant, unhealthy air.

To add to the extremes, we are about to surpass the record for the most consecutive days without measurable rain.  At 51 dry days and counting, there is no precipitation in the forecast. My admittedly cynical prediction is that the clouds will come rolling back just in time to obscure the solar eclipse, two weeks hence. (I should say that summers are always dry and sunny here, and due to a very wet Spring, we aren’t in bad shape as far as moisture goes.)

Yesterday we tried a quick trip to the woods for some relief, but little comfort was to be had. Smoke lay heavy to the horizon and the sun was relentless.  To top it off, road work made traffic a trial.

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So I was happy to discover that I had some decent photographs after all that. I had begun taking photographs before we arrived at our destination, shooting from the passenger seat as we slowly worked our way up a dusty, gravel forest service road. Spada Lake is a reservoir in the central Cascades foothills with day use recreation areas scattered around its perimeter. A pretty place to picnic, the lake is surrounded by thick, still-green forest. Sunlight sparkled on the alder leaves and little waterfalls still carried trickles of water, but views across the lake were very hazy.

For the in-motion shots I used a 45mm fixed lens and tried to focus on a tree (using auto focus) while panning the camera, with the window rolled down. The shutter speed that worked best was 1/6th; apertures ranged from f11 – f22.  It’s a hit or miss technique – you have to check to be sure you’re not getting just a white blur, and even as you adjust settings to find the best shutter speed and aperture, you’re still leaving much to chance, hoping for something useful. You don’t really know what you’re getting until you see the images on a bigger screen.  Processing often requires a significant amount of sliding up and down the contrast, clarity and other scales. It may sound like a lot of uncertainly and effort, but when it works you get very interesting results.

“Smokezilla” is easing today – we’ve slithered out of the unhealthy category and are back in the moderate zone. The air cooled overnight, and maybe I really cannot complain. The local botanical garden is ripe with the fruits of the gardeners’ work, I understand plenty of wildflowers are in bloom up on Mount Rainier, and closer to home, the beginning of fall’s photogenic decline can be seen. I am not lacking for subjects!

Changing it Up

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It wasn’t the usual walk in the park. I was fidgety and uncomfortable in my skin, nothing was right. I knew getting out would be better than staying in, but just getting outdoors wasn’t enough. As I walked down the path it became clear to me that proceeding in the usual way wouldn’t work – I needed to change my approach.

It was summer solstice in the northern hemisphere: plants were at the height of their growth, forming deep, complicated layers of vegetation. (Or did the layers look complex because my own emotional state was fraught?) Each plant struggled to adapt to a niche, to attract the appropriate pollinator, to spread its spores or seeds – in short, to reproduce. The plants grew so thick in their dance for light that I could see only a few inches into the wetlands.

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I’d walked this path and seen these trees and ferns so many times – how could I see it all differently? I wanted a new angle on a familiar story.

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*

I needed to attend to my surroundings differently in order to photograph what I saw differently.

A different attitude, another kind of looking might help dispel the restless, uncomfortable feelings.

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The little bell flowers on the blueberry bushes were slowly morphing into fruit. Willow catkins hung limp and spent, grass tops bloomed with sprays of delicate flowers, horsetails and ferns unfurled an infinite array of needles, leaflets and spores. The endless layers activity seemed impenetrable, unknowable. Maybe I needed to simply reflect that.

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That afternoon, I was walking through a wet place called Mercer Slough. At 47 degrees 37′ N, 122 degrees 13′ W, it’s a stone’s throw from the busy office complexes and commuter highways spawned by Seattle’s growth.  The slough (pronounced “sloo”) is a slow moving channel of water, shallow but wet all year.  A typical complement of northwest wetland plants gathers there – duckweeds and pond lilies lie on the slough’s surface; willows, horsetails, salmon berries, steeplebush, and many others thickly embroider its edges.

They all have stories to tell.

Some of these stories are easy to see, some are easy to miss, some are so familiar we hardly recognize the story any more.

 

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Looking up, looking down:

other stories.

No reason to ignore them.

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Looking close, another story (but no – I didn’t find this until I got home and enlarged the image on the screen!).  The tiny Barnacle lichen is at home on the bark of a birch tree.

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Ferns and fences repeated their patterns. I took it all in.

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I didn’t have an earth-shattering revelation that day but by looking a little harder, holding the camera differently from time to time and taking pictures of a few things I might have otherwise ignored, I slithered my way to a clearer emotional state.

When I got home I continued changing it up, processing the pictures differently – darker or blurrier, brighter or softer. Messing with the colors, looking for more stories.

Here are some suggestions to facilitate changing it up:

  1. Accept what isn’t “pretty.”  Be open to more.  Photograph something you’d normally pass up, like a pile of mulch.
  2. Try different camera angles – askew, pointed down at the ground, whatever. Hold the camera over your head and shoot, maybe blindly.
  3. With a zoom lens and control over shutter speed, set the shutter speed for a second, or a half second, and zoom the lens in or out while the shutter is open: intentional blur. Or slow the shutter speed and pan the camera while shooting.
  4. Try different effects in post processing.  Try sepia, analog looks, black and white. Which image would lend itself to going very flat and highly detailed, or super soft and blurry?  There is more than one way to create a desired effect.  For example, you can soften an image by decreasing the clarity, decreasing the contrast, increasing noise reduction, increasing haze, playing with color relationships, etc.
  5. Take things in a different direction than you would normally. Darken a daytime image until it looks like night, crop like crazy, lighten beyond what seems reasonable, switch out the colors.
  6. Go back to an image again and again, with curiosity: what else can it say?
  7. Walk away. Take a break and come back refreshed.

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Bamboo Variations

Bamboo:

leaves stems rustle and

whir, elegant in

motion.

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Some of these images use intentional camera movement, either moving the whole camera or zooming the lens with the shutter open. One (the 7th, with bluish leaves) records leaf movement by using a slow shutter speed and narrow aperture (1/60, f22) with a (more or less) steady, hand-held camera. One was taken on a still day with a macro lens, and only after seeing it on the monitor did I notice the spider webs.

The first three photos and the 6th one all derive from the same shot: 1 second at f8, zooming the lens a little bit while the shutter was open. The 3rd of that series is very close to the original shot; the others were processed using Color Efex Pro for a variety of looks; the 7th one (with bluish leaves) shows a solarization effect.

The 4th and 5th images were processed just in LR. I reduced the contrast and saturation, added haze and made subtle selective adjustments (e.g. to the largest and middle stalks in the 4th) for a more painterly look.

That begs the question, why use a camera when you’re moving towards the look of a drawing? Good question. Is there any more reason to make a photograph look like a drawing than it would be to make a drawing or painting look like a photograph? Each exercise is probably of limited value. And must a photograph clearly be a photograph, taken with a camera?

Sometimes it’s interesting to explore the edge where a picture created with one tool begins to look like it was created with another. I’m not interested in gimmicks though, and I respect the the integrity of the tool, so I hesitate.

Still, it was a pleasure to explore the subject by making big changes in processing and using unorthodox techniques like camera and lens movement – and I like the results, so I may do more.

Using Another Lens

Metaphorically, that is. For the photos below I used a 60 mm prime lens on my camera. The aesthetic lens I used was more intentionally abstract and experimental than what usually goes on in the mind behind the camera.

 

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This group of Red alder trees was photographed using an in-camera art filter called Key Line (Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera) –  then lightly processed in Lightroom. What I like about the Key Line filter here is the way it emphasizes the linearity in the fine network of branches, last year’s heaps of dried grass and the bark markings.

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These images were also photographed using the Key Line filter, looking out a window that had a blue-violet object placed in it. The object went out of focus; the trees outside are in focus, but radically altered by the filter. Cropped and minimally processed in Lightroom.

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I’m attracted both to detailed linear images, and to fields of pure color without detail. Here I was photographing a small potted iris (Iris reticulata) indoors. There wasn’t much light, causing the camera’s automatic focus to search, sometimes unsuccessfully, for a focus point. Instead of switching to manual focus, I pressed the shutter when the image was out of focus to record the glowing colors. Minimal Lightroom processing.

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In the first photograph I focused on the raindrop-spattered window and let the light shining through the trees outside go soft. For the second photograph I didn’t do anything unusual as far as camera settings go, but I looked for a simplified, more abstract image. I found it along the edge of a marshy bay.  Later, I made very subtle adjustments in Lightroom.  All the photographs were taken in the last few days, in and near home in the Pacific Northwest.

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This week I made a big decision: I left my (more-than-full-time) job. With increased responsibilities at home, a full time job isn’t practical. The benefit is that I have more time – much more time – for photography.  I’m already enjoying it. More posts should be coming soon…