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.

 

Odds & Endings

Here is a miscellaneous group of images taken this year that have not been posted. The emphasis this time is urban. I’m going to attempt to tie them together with a bit of whimsy.

So: out with the old, in with the new, as cranes of all colors tear out a concrete building in downtown Seattle, exposing the upside-down, curvy underside of its neighbor.

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That’s a lot of work! I doubt those guys do anything exciting on their breaks, but if you’re setting up a silo for a new brewery at Pike Place Market, lucky you! You get to watch Mount Rainier bask in the glow of the setting sun.

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Just to the south a jumble of vents atop a building creates yet another oddball urban composition.

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Farther south in Seattle’s old Pioneer Square neighborhood, handsome brick buildings compose themselves against a clear blue sky – yes, blue sky happens in Seattle – in fact, the sky is blue here all summer long.

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A museum staircase provides another opportunity to enjoy architectural design.

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So does a 1929 Art Deco tower backed up by a newer building in downtown Seattle. In your eyes, the newer building may or may not have succeeded in taking its cues from the past. But like it or not, it’s fun to wander the city streets in search of patterns.

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At some point you have to give it all a rest, go out to the back alley, sit a spell. The cigarette buts tell me someone’s been doing just that.

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Maybe they daydream about the holidays and colorful toys from the past…

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Or maybe their reveries center on sunny days running through candy-colored gardens….

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And treats, yes, let’s not forget that. Here’s to all of you having as many treats as you want in the New Year!

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Whether you prefer Christmas red and green, Hanukah blue and white,

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or something else altogether,

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I wish you oodles of cheer, and lets make it ordinary cheer, like this fellow spreads down at Pike Place Market in Seattle. Sure, he has dreads down to his knees, his scarf is awry and his jacket frayed, but that’s what ordinary looks like, and maybe we need a little more of it.

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I thank you for your presence here. It’s meant a lot this year. I’ll see you again very soon, with photographs from a warmer place…pleasant dreams!

COFFEE: instant

With a nod to Otto von Munchow at In Flow who posts an Instagram image every Wednesday, from time to time I’ll post an Instagram photo here. This one was made yesterday in a local coffee shop. I came in from the rain after a walk in a nearby preserve and ordered a macchiato. I shot a photo of it with my phone. How many photos have you seen of coffee and food in restaurants? Way too many! The afternoon light was nice but something needed to be switched up to make it a little more interesting…

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My Instagram feed

Coming soon…a wander through a botanical conservatory.

COGNITIVE WHIPLASH

I’m back in the rainy Pacific Northwest for a few days – actually, as I look out the window, I see it’s snowy!  It’s good to be at my full size computer, where I can work on my photographs and compose a post without squinting at the phone screen.

Those of you who have lived through your own or a loved one’s serious illness know that it’s a roller coaster ride – hence the title.  I hope the photos convey the ups and downs of the last two weeks – the unexpected heartache, and the unexpected beauty still to be found in places, things and people.

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Some explanation might be in order:

Mixed among photos from the hospital and ICU room are images from the Phoenix Art Museum, where I escaped late one afternoon for a restorative, two-hour gaze at art. The following evening I found time for a brief sunset walk at Phoenix Mountains Preserve, my second escape from “reality.”

The pitch black image with tiny lights is a powerful installation at the museum by Yayoi Kusama, an extraordinary, 87-year-old Japanese artist whose work I first heard about back in the early 70’s. It’s a strangely disorienting kind of pleasure to step into the black, mirrored room strung with lights that change colors. You can hardly sense where your feet are, or where the walls are – perhaps this was a practicum for the new reality.

The vigorously inked leaf shapes are from a 1777 Chinese ink painting by Huang Zhen at the Phoenix Art Museum. The Buddha is also from the museum. Though small, their Asian collection brought me a significant measure of peace.

I find it interesting how the green thingies that hang off the IV pole echo the budding mesquite leaves, and the steady logic of Don Judd’s red wall piece echoes the ICU monitoring equipment, with its reliance on precise numbers and measures.  Now that I look at these pictures I can see my approach to the two shots was perfectly congruent with my mood. The Judd made me feel centered and secure so the shot is composed and balanced; the ICU shot reflects the topsy-turvy feelings that place evokes.

The waterfall sculpture is at the museum’s sculpture court outside the entrance. The chairs casting shadows from strong Arizona sunlight are in the hospital’s Healing Garden. The mountain path, saguaro and sunset were taken at the Phoenix Mountains preserve.

Wednesday I fly back down to Phoenix. With any luck, rehab will already be underway. I am, as a friend said today, in a state of suspension these days.  Whether I’m looking up at an IV pole and dangling paraphernalia in the hospital ICU, or a tall saguaro and bright moon in the Phoenix Mountains, it’s all part of the new Cognitive Whiplash Dance.

How a Phone is Changing Me

The phone camera provides a very different experience than a digital camera does. It has far fewer opportunities for control – no aperture or ISO setting, no special lenses to choose – just that oddly flat rectangle to hold up to a scene, turn this way and that, and lightly touch.

It’s less calculated. I find I’m more spontaneous when I use it. This adaptation to the technology at hand – it’s almost Darwinian!

Here we are, in the car-wash again, floating in a colorworld…

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A few days later, during a brief respite between appointments. Downtown Seattle:

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I’m not going to switch from digital to a phone camera, but I’m glad I have the phone with me all the time. It opens up other paths.

Life is busy lately so I’m looking forward to getting away next weekend for a road trip I’ve been wanting to do ever since I moved here: a big loop east on Washington Rt. 20 (north of Seattle) through and over the Cascades. This very scenic road is closed much of the year because of the snow and avalanches. We’ll turn south at the little town of Twisp on the dry, eastern Cascade slope. Finally, we’ll head back west on Rt. 2 or I 90, depending on our energy levels come Sunday. There will be two overnights, one at a countryside airbnb north of here, the other at a rather pedestrian hotel in Winthrop – one of the last rooms available in the area when I booked the other day. Hopefully I won’t forget the SD card or the battery charger!

 

RESPITE

Outside a major hospital in Seattle, a cop corrals a disorderly, screaming man wearing a backpack away from the busy front doors. The men catch my attention and I slow to a stop as I exit the building – how dangerous is this? Will the angry man turn and come back? Is the policeman radioing for help or is he confident that he has this?

They disappear down Broadway and I beeline for the curb. There, beds of oddly mixed perennials, banana trees, cabbage palms and annuals draw me in. In these days of hyper-vigilance to violent encounters and the stark polarities of class division, there is respite in nature.

I’m here for a day-long training on suicide prevention; maybe that’s another reason that plants look especially good today. I spend breaks outdoors examining juxtapositions of leaf and branch, color and pattern. I’m glad I can freeze these arrangements with my phone. It’s very satisfying work and the rest is left behind.

 

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Even the ground under the banana trees offers up interesting compositions in the textured twists and curls of dried plant leavings.

It was centering to lose myself in the intricacies of the foliage after the endless statistics and probabilities, what if’s and worries, advice and reminders about tough conversations. It’s been a decade since I sat in the hospital at the bedside of a client after an attempt, but when/if I’m confronted with another person who might be suicidal, I hope I remember to ask that simple question: “Have you thought about killing yourself?” No? Good (move on). Maybe? Yes? Let’s talk (deep breath).

 

PUSHED

At Seattle’s Pike Place Market, the flower sellers are a major attraction. Photographing the seasonal bouquets is almost as popular as buying them – maybe more so. The colors are delicious, but what interests me even more than the displays is what’s behind the scenes. The long row of market stalls backs up onto Pike Place, where they are open to the street. Workers often pull heavy plastic tarps down between the flower-crammed work tables and the old brick street. Buckets of flowers get pushed up against the tarp, flattening some of the blooms into two dimensional compositions. Seen from the street, through the scratched scrim of worn plastic tarps, the bouquets take on a whole different look.

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There I am on the brick street outside the market, wading through the debris from the flower stalls. In heaven.

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Behind the scenes – market interior on the right, street to the left.

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Inside the market, long rows of gorgeous locally grown flowers, and happy customers.

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Parting shot

The photos were taken with my older model Samsung phone and processed in Lightroom. I was near Pike Place for a conference that day and I didn’t have my camera, but the phone did the trick.

THAT AUTUMNAL FEELING

Late October, early November:

rain-gray skies play tag with gleaming sun-breaks.

Dark branches drop paper leaves:

life pares itself

to a skeletal essence.

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These photos were taken at home, in parks, in a parking lot, and on the road, with my phone and my Lumix. I experimented with processing more than I usually do, using On1. The last photo was shot with my phone as I drove home from work one day last week. Moody skies are back…

FLYING ON THE FOURTH

A random group of photos from over the years:

Sky Valley Stock and Antique Tractor Club Annual Fair, Monroe, WA

SONY DSCA happy tourist in New York City

SONY DSCA backyard project in New York City’s Staten Island

Flag flying traditional style, Martha’s Vineyard, MA

SAMSUNGOCCUPY WALL STREET – another kind of flag flying

SONY DSCIraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, in NYC

At Arlington National Cemetery:  R.I.P. Sean Callahan

International flag flying at Horseshoe Bay near Vancouver, Canada

High Drama at Rockefeller Square, NYC

HAPPY FOURTH!