One of the highlights of my trip to the northern Europe last April was an all-too brief stay with my friend Ule Rolff. During the visit we strolled through the picturesque village in Munsterland where she lives, and Ule showed me an intriguing old half-timber building, originally a home but later used for housing pigs. I dove into photographing the aged building that day, just as Ule had done before me. I had no idea that while on my journey through Europe, a stop at a small village would lead to another journey, this time a creative one. After I got home Ule and I decided to collaborate on a post about the building. “Funke’s Pigsty: a Double Eye-catcher” features photos and written history and reflection in German and English.
While working on that post we noticed that some of the photos we took were very similar – we both gravitated to the peeling paint, the rough timbers, the off-center lines. We wondered what would happen if we exchanged unprocessed photos with each other, then processed the exchanged photos in our own style. Would one person’s ideas for processing be similar to the other person’s, or not?
We decided to collaborate again, and over the past few weeks we exchanged photos and used google docs to record a dialogue about the experience. Luckily for me Ule is comfortable enough with English to converse via the written word as well as in person. She told me it’s “just” a matter of letting go of her native tongue and thinking in English!
Working with someone else’s photos and writing about the process has been a unique experience. I haven’t seen Ule’s results and she has not seen mine. I’m looking forward to the big reveal, as they say. We plan to incorporate our reactions to what the other person did with our photos by meeting online after publishing, recording our dialogue, then adding that piece to the dialogue below. *
A written record of our dialogue follows. Above and below you’ll find two processed versions for each of the four of Ule’s photos that I used. The originals are at the end of the post.
L: When we first thought about working with one another’s pigsty photos, I only had a vague idea in mind. It had to do with the fact that some of our photos were quite similar, and I was thinking that if we take almost the same photograph, then what is it that we are each doing, that makes that photograph different? As I thought about it some more it seemed like any differences in processing would probably be minimal. As long as we were aiming for a straightforward representation of what we saw, if we processed each other’s photos the outcome was likely to be different in only very minor ways. So then I started to think about what you have done in some recent posts, manipulating photos and taking an image to a very different place from where it started. I admire what you’ve done, and I wanted to try something along those lines. But I know you use Photoshop and I don’t. That would be a limitation. With all this in mind, I took two of your images and “messed with them” as much as I could in Lightroom, while still yielding a result that I liked. It was a struggle at first – it’s just not what I’m used to doing.
U: As we both tried to show more documentary photos of the pigsty, you are right: they would come out quite similarly. And this kind of work flow is more a thing I also prefer doing in Lightroom.
But in this second posting, my idea was to go beyond documentary limitations, to show what isn’t to be seen at first glance in a picture. This is what I am especially interested in these days also in my other work, published or private. And this is where Photoshop comes in with its wider manipulation effects on image data. When I understood that PS is not your favorite tool to work with, I tried to mostly do what was possible with LR also, so our thoughts about processing wouldn’t go too much apart. Just when compositing photos or altering structures, I had to go further, and I’m really interested in talking about photos that are further from where they started by editing… so I hope you do not feel uneasy with what we thoughtlessly agreed upon…so I hope you do not feel uneasy with what we thoughtlessly agreed upon.
L: I like that idea – to show what isn’t seen at first glance in a picture. I’m going to think about that when I work on another photo. A LITTLE unease is a very good thing. Only when it gets extreme does it become negative, right? This pushes me into something I haven’t done before, and whether or not I continue in the same direction, what I learn will probably inform me going forward.
U: This is what I love about you (above many other things) that you are so open-minded to new experiences and new thoughts. In photography, I often find it so easy to open up to other people’s concepts by viewing their photos. And I’m always afraid of losing my own way by these impressions – in your case also, I found myself afraid you might damage your poetical and emotional approach to photography by too much technical experimenting – but then again, I’m confident of your strong character and I think you have a feeling for what does you good.
L: 🙂 Please! Too many compliments! I will say that open-mindedness is an important value to me, I strive to keep an open mind and I try to be aware enough of myself to know when I’m not being open-minded.
I understand what you mean by the danger of being influenced too much by someone’s work. That’s something we have to live with and to be aware of. Hopefully, we are influenced positively and can maintain our own individuality in the process. Don’t you think that the older we get, the less that’s a problem?
As for the emotional and poetical sensibility, that is something I struggle with. I think it’s because I’m also drawn to a more documentary scientific approach to what I see. Part of me is always happy to just make a good record of something interesting. But another part knows that to relate to other people, to communicate with and move someone, there needs to be more than that. I’m happiest when I think I’ve created something with some emotional power, and that doesn’t happen very often. Lately I’ve been in the documentary mode – traveling for three weeks certainly strengthened the desire to document and didn’t leave lots of time for emotional expression along the way. There were too many new things to see. Lately I’ve been wanting to get back to pure feeling.
U: I agree: the older I get, the more I grow aware of my cultural roots and I’m thankful for influences that happened throughout my life. Nobody lives and develops a character without personal impressions. Maybe it is a question of organic integration and consciousness, as you describe, not to lose the individual core.
What you say about your different modes I can completely see in your latest publication about Leiden, but instead of one or the other, I see you integrating emotion in documentation, which often happens in your posts. But it is always a frail balance, I feel that for my work, I always need enough time to keep to myself to escape too much distraction. And traveling always throws me completely on new paths, mostly documentary ones.
L: I haven’t thought that much about my cultural roots, but the trip to Europe prompted me to think more about that, more as a New World/Old World comparison. Maybe I AM thinking about it, just not quite in those terms. Organic integration – that sounds good! If I’m integrating emotion and documentation, that’s wonderful. My inner critic says I need to emphasize real emotion a bit more. We’ll see how that evolves. 😉
Yes, we need time to ourselves, and that’s the great thing about not having to spend 40 hours a week working for someone else. At least we don’t have that distraction now. I think traveling can be a kind of addiction, not in a medical sense of course, but thinking about my own desire to travel, I’ve been aware lately of the benefits of not traveling, of being more rooted. But now I’m straying away from the topic at hand.
U: Not really. The question also at stake here is basic conditions we need for being content with our photography. So if it is traveling addiction with you, it is kind of an allergy with me …;-)
L: And to get back to what we need to be content, we are also interested in shaking things up a little, in this project, right? Right now there is not much to be gained by restricting ourselves to trying to do the best job in accurate documentation.
U: We are not competing, but doing something together, it is no question of better or worse, but of finding out possibilities together. And I have to admit: sometimes I love taking a little shower of bad taste 😉
L: A little shower of bad taste – that’s funny…
U: Wait until you see what I have done to your photos! I sometimes like overdoing things a bit, out of joy about what is all possible in editing photos – beginner’s disease, I think.
L : Now I’m scared. And it’s interesting how, along with the delight, there is always a shadow of competition there – like, uh oh, how will my processing look compared to hers? But I think that is just something we can acknowledge, look at, and move on from. I want to pick up on your phrase “beginner’s disease.” It immediately calls to mind the famous zen phrase, “beginner’s mind.”
U: Oh, I remember having read the phrase in David Ulrich’s book on Zen Photography. It sounded a bit friendlier than I used it above.
L: 🙂 A bit!!
*Here are our thoughts after posting:
L: : I just approved your pingback (do they call it the same thing in German?) I love your photos! Thank you!!
U: Yes, it is the same word. And I love yours! They are so completely “Lynn’s”! I must view and think a minute …
L: The captions you used help to carry me into the photo, because they show what you were thinking. I want to just say “I like…” but I’m searching for better words, because that really doesn’t say anything. Still, my initial reaction was a delighted: “I like what she did with my photos!” I appreciate that you tell the viewer which filters or effects you used. I confess I don’t remember what I did – it was more a matter of “try this, try that.” But there’s value in knowing how you get to a place! The systematic way you worked is satisfying to follow, and I can learn something from it.
U: Your captions are not so technical as mine, but they show an important part of your motivation, your intention what to do with the images. For many readers, your information may be more “speaking” than the techniques. But I’m really surprised how unfamiliar your alterations made my photos to me: you have added some of your character to them, your subtlety and refined taste. There are groups in your choice I see: one are the three roof cuts which pleases me very much, it gives something abstract to the skyline which I didn’t see before. And then the cloudy, ocean like bricks, marvelous! Isn’t it funny we both finish with kind of a joke?
L: The big “L” at the end of your post made me laugh, and I think that image and the first one are very powerful. I also chuckled at “green glow” – that is almost radioactive! It truly does glow, that little piece of metal. Combining all three photos was a serious challenge (Bildausschnitt, Schlösser einmontiert in PS). If you asked me to do it, I would not have known where to start. The result may be my favorite one – it sings. There is a fairytale quality to it, it seems that a narrative or a mystery lurks just beneath the surface. I also want to comment on your organization – the flow is easy to follow. Something else I can learn from. 😉 One more thing – your Photoshop skills! Kudos! I fully “believed” the last two photos. They don’t have the artificial look one sometimes sees when different images are combined, they’re very natural.
U: Thank you for the flowers (can I say so in English? – it is a plainly translated German proverb). I willingly admit that I have been working hard on my use of PS, and it gives me a bit of contentment that you perceive the compositions as natural. What seems quite “typically Lynn” are the tender colour and reduced “clearness” in ns. 2,3,4 and 6. All the more, I laughed about your very colourful finale, it must have hurt you to do it :-))!
L: On the contrary, I really loved making that one. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t remember what I did, because I wanted to do more in that vein but when I tried to work that way again, I couldn’t figure out how I got there. My fault for not making notes! I’m glad that this collaboration gave you a chance to move ahead in the direction you’re going, and I’m curious to see what else is going to appear down the road on your blog.
U: Me too :-)) I have no answer to the question behind your “curiosity”, we will see. And if you didn’t make notes on the making of …, trying again will lead you to new, other or similar results, and give you new fun. I hope this project didn’t lead you too much astray or off your path. And as you ask where this experiment will be leading us, I ask myself which were our intentions to give this kind of collaboration a try.
L: As for being led astray, that’s a good thing, it keeps us fresh to veer off our path once in a while. And as for intentions, I was wondering about intention, i.e. what was our intention in processing the photos? We talked about that before without calling it “intention” and maybe thinking specifically in terms of intent is helpful. There is an element of fun there, certainly, but it’s more than that. We are each letting go of our work, relinquishing it to the other person’s aesthetic, and – correct me if I’m wrong – I think we both find that idea more intriguing than scary. Some people would find the idea of another person working on their photo frightening. Another part of the intent, for me anyway, is to take the opportunity to push past some boundaries that I might normally stay within. My guess is that also is true for you. And then there is always the “payoff” of stretching yourself and learning or growing in the process.
U: The thought of risk is interesting for readers, I’m sure, for me it would be anyway, but in this case, I didn’t feel a trace of it. As you say, it was almost completely and exclusively intriguing. Besides, more and more I come to think of my raw captures as material to become what I want to show by further actions, so it is not so dangerous for my inner self, if someone else is touching them. Your question of intention is a bit more compelling for me: above all, it was a thing of fun and adventure and just doing anything together that is possible over the wide distance. But more seriously thinking, there is the hope of stepping out of self set boundaries when you have the opportunity to watch what somebody else (somebody you appreciate) does with your material – and what is even more valuable: someone I can talk to about what she is doing and what I am doing. There are so many people not unable, but unwilling to use language to reflect the great things they do.
But, to sum it up, I am very happy with the process and the outcome of our experiment – even this risky spontaneous chat felt completely comfortable all the way. Thank you so much for being the sagacious and lovable being you are.
L: I’m pleased with it too. You have struck a perfect balance (for me anyway) of open flexibility and calm organization during the course of the project. And the bottom line is (Americans love to talk about the bottom line!) that frankly, I really like your work!! Thank you very much.
The original photos:
Technical note: Ule sent me PSD’s of the photos I requested, and vice versa. Then we each worked on the photos in Lightroom. I also used Color Efex Pro. We scheduled meeting times across the nine hour time difference and chatted using google docs, which we then copied and pasted into our posts.
After it finds its way from camera to computer, what’s next for a photo? Does it get tweaked just a little, does it go through a carefully thought-out series of changes, or does it unexpectedly morph into something quite different from the original image? Normally I don’t stray too far from the look of the original image, but for the past week I’ve been playing with a particular photo that lends itself to experimentation. Those exercises led me to make similar changes I normally might not consider to two other photos of the same subject.
The weathered, twisted juniper tree standing alone on a bluff over alternating bands of water and islands is a real beauty. I often see people taking pictures of the tree, and its wood has been carved and written on with markers dozens of times. People feel compelled to document both the tree, and their own presence on the scenic overlook. I would never deface a tree but I understand the attraction. It’s a striking sight – deeply rooted, twisted and reaching to the sky, with only a single branch remaining green. It seems that the older this tree gets, the more spectacular a sight it is. I can’t pass that spot without getting the camera out and making more photographs. In fact, you may recognize it from previous posts.
Here are three different photos of the tree that were processed to create a variety of looks. Jumping back and forth between Lightroom Classic, Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro, I tweaked and slid and clicked and experimented until I ran out of ideas. Then I came back and played some more. Here are the results.
Here’s the tree from another angle, at sunset, with Burrows Island, Lopez Island and the Olympic Mountains in the distance.
1. Short-eared owl stares me down; Farm to Market Road, Edison, Washington.
2. Licorice fern fronds on the Goose Rock Perimeter trail, Deception Pass State Park.
3. Window reflections and paint swatches on a warehouse in Edison.
4. Rain in December.
5. Dried Bracken fern; Heart Lake, Fidalgo Island, Washington
6. Sword fern decomposing at Sharpe Park, Fidalgo Island.
7. Cattails and tree trunks reflect in the still water of a shallow pond at Bowman Bay; Deception Pass State Park.
8. Rainy evening in January; Edison.
9. Yellow lichens grow thickly on a damp cliff at North Beach; Deception Pass State Park.
10. Low tide at West Beach; Deception Pass State Park.
11. Driftwood on West Beach, with the San Juan Islands in the distance.
12. A resting branch frames a group of lichens, including a species of Parmelia slowly reaching across the bark like coral; West Beach.
13. Playing Santa at a small town Christmas parade; Anacortes, Washington.
14. Belgian draft horses at rest after the Christmas parade; Anacortes.
15. Roadside flooding and last summer’s Queen Anne’s Lace in the rain; Guemes Channel, March Point.
16. Dried Sword fern showing spore dots, or sori, at Sharpe Park.
17. The Granery; Edison.
18. The Granery lights; Edison.
19. Old growth canopy of moss-covered trees at Rockport State Park.
20. A tangle of trees, shrubs and ferns lit by January sun at Sharpe Park.
21. The view across Guemes Channel from March Point in the rain, from inside a car, with dried Queen Anne’s lace flowers swaying in the wind; Fidalgo Island.
22. Still life with toy ladder, clothespins and Japanese box.
23. Looking towards sunset, January 4th; North Beach.
Attributed to Hongzhi, a twelfth century Chinese Zen master:
“We all have the clear, wondrously bright field from the beginning. Many lifetimes of misunderstanding come only from distrust, hindrance, and screens of confusion that we create in a scenario of isolation.”
from Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi, by Taigen Dan Leighton. Tuttle; 2000.
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.
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 inSixes: At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations
6. Excerpt from Seeing in Sixes: At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations
Distilling a project down to six images is a valuable exercise. Below are six photos of suspended spider webs and lichens, touched by dew or sunlight, from the last few weeks. They are a new subject I’m focusing 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!
7. Morning dew, Fidalgo Island.
8. Connect the dots.
9. Galaxy; Rosario Beach, Deception Pass State Park.
10. Suspension Bridge; lichens at Rosario Beach.
11. Glitter; lichens at Rosario Beach, Deception Pass State Park.
12. Resting; lichens at Rosario Beach, Deception Pass State Park.
You can watch a short video here showing 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. Your presence keeps me on this path. Thank you!
What do these images have in common? They were all made in the last month or two, in the same part of the world, and there are obvious connections between some of them, but you might say it’s a motley crew overall. Some are in color, some are monochrome, some were taken with a phone, some with a camera. What I hope they do have in common is a sense of seeing the world with fresh curiosity and genuine appreciation.
This is Boot (BOOTIE! to me), an American pit bull terrier, a breed that strikes so much fear into the hearts of some people that it has been banned in entire cities. Boot is a sweetie, believe me. Here, I caught his rear end with my phone camera, as he relaxed on the grass at an Ultimate Frisbee Tournament where his master was playing. Boot has his own Instagram page if you want to see his front end.
A rock formation at Larrabee State Park which is on the Salish Sea about 15 miles south of the US – Canada border. The softly eroded, curvy rock is sandstone that was deposited here around 50 million years ago. This type of weathering is called honeycomb weathering, and the round perforations often seen in honeycombed rocks are sometimes called tafoni. The original photo was in sharper focus. I chose to slightly blur it to bring out the graceful, curving form. More photos of Larrabee’s intricate geology are shown in previous posts here and here.
Branches trailing in the water or hanging just above it draw complex, meandering reflections at Whistle Lake, on Fidalgo Island. By the time I took this photograph it was after 5pm and rather dark at the lake’s edge, so I boosted the brightness in Lightroom several different ways: by increasing the whites (basic panel), applying a slight “S” tone curve, and increasing the luminance of individual colors. Small increases in contrast, clarity, saturation and vibrancy also helped brighten and define the image.
A piece of detritus on a pier in Anacortes. The photo was taken with my phone on the evening of an art opening at the historic Port of Anacortes transit shed, a huge 85-year-old wooden building once used to store goods in transit into and out of the region. It was possible on this evening to walk through a big show of quality painting, photography and sculpture, and then wander outside directly onto a pier, where we had an interesting conversation with the first mate of a tugboat tied up at port while waiting for orders. For solid working culture and the arts to share space like that – well, to me, it was heaven.
More detritus, this time on a beach at Bowman Bay on Fidalgo Island. The shell may be a Bent-nosed clam, a small, edible clam. The seaweed is probably Eelgrass (Zostera marina), an important plant that provides nourishment and habitat for waterfowl, crabs, shrimp, fish, shellfish and probably more creatures I’m not aware of. Eelgrass is declining in some places in Puget Sound; the causes are complex.
A friendly reminder seen on an old warehouse in Anacortes. The photo was processed in Color Efex pro and Lightroom.
This appears to be an unfinished roof. It’s attached to a small building at the site of a weekly Farmer’s Market in Edison, Washington (population 133 in 2010). As I pulled over to photograph the dramatic sky through the beams, two black cats scurried down a dirt road, probably in pursuit of sparrows, and somewhere overhead, an eagle cried that distinctive, high-pitched whinny.
I saw a sign advertising an art show one summer afternoon while driving through the Skagit Valley countryside. I drove over to the Samish Island Arts Festival to investigate. The art was almost all crafts – jewelry, hand knit clothes, etc. – and it didn’t appeal to me. But there was an interesting group of ramshackle wooden buildings there, across from a small oyster business. There was no fence, not even a “Keep Out” sign, so I spent some time photographing abandoned odds and ends. It was clearly a place where work went on, but it was hard to tell what exactly happened there. Rope, wood, rust and tarps were plentiful. I told myself I’d come back to “work the scene” again.
Barbed wire fence keeps the rabble away from three unmarked silos in Anacortes. The town has enough intriguing industrial sites to keep me busy for a while. This photo was taken with my phone.
This photo was taken on a bluff overlooking the Salish Sea during a prolonged dry spell. We hadn’t had any rain for many weeks; the grass was bone dry. I used a vintage Super Takumar 50mm lens and made a few adjustments in Lightroom.
My teapot is getting old and if you ask me, it’s more and more likeable. We found it years ago at a Catholic church bazaar on Staten Island, NYC, and paid 50 cents, if I remember correctly. I make strong Irish tea in it each morning. Over time, cracks in the pot have grown and darkened, and eventually it will leak, and we won’t be able to use it. For now though, it’s a perfect example of wabi-sabi, that wonderful Japanese aesthetic that encapsulates acceptance of imperfection as well as the impermanence of all things. The photo was taken with another vintage Super Takumar lens – a 28mm f3.5.
Do you see that this is a corn stalk? It’s growing at the WSU Discovery Garden, a demonstration garden put together by the Washington State University Master Gardeners, who are trained volunteers. Lucky for me, the garden is just 15 minutes away, so if I ever tire of wild flora (unlikely!) I can go have my fill of cultivated plants. The original photo is in color and it was converted to black and white in Silver Efex Pro and finished in Lightroom.
Why are these buildings just inches apart? I suppose it has to do with the lot sizes or building codes. Ever since I first visited Edison back in 2012, I’ve been intrigued by this little slice of strangeness a few doors down from my favorite bakery. There are always ferns growing in that dark little space! The photo was taken with my phone and processed in Lightroom.
This photo was taken the same day as #3, at Whistle Lake, part of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. A rocky, rooty trail along the lake swings down level with the water in places, allowing you close views of sinuous tree reflections in the placid waters. Photographing reflections in water always depends on a variety of conditions, and sometimes they come together perfectly.
Here’s an idea to consider: there may be a recurring motif in your photography and/or your artwork that you haven’t discovered. Maybe a particular shape, line, gesture, tone or quality shows up, again and again. Maybe it’s even echoed in your body, in the way you move. I’ve noticed that I return to a certain shape over and over again. It’s a curve, a curl, a rounding of line. Almost a circle but not quite, it’s more like an open sweep. Here it is, in photographs I made of grasses in the water and bursting fireweed seed pods.
Word derivation tells us the word curve arose in late Middle English, from Latin curvare ‘to bend,’ and curvus ‘bent.’ Bending has interesting associations: bending the will, supplicating, the bend in the road….but a curve is a little different. Still, I can see the association between bending and curving clearly here:
Here are the curves I’m drawn to again, this time in water. I think curves express water’s essence; formless on its own, water finds curves when other forces or elements act on it.
This recurring curve lives inside my body and mind (which of course aren’t separate, though we insist on separating them). I picture it beginning tentatively, then building: a swoop, a swirl of the arm, maybe a twirl of the body….then I see a spiral floating expansively in the air. The curving gesture may be small and compact, perhaps repeating like arcs made by knitting needles, or the tight twists of a vine, sprung upon it’s own stem.
On a straight path you’ll find me deviating in small, curved side shoots, ever mindful of what is appearing on the periphery. Another way the curve inhabits me.
The curves in a twining house plant I had caught my eye, so I painted the leaf and stem, then photographed the plant and drawing curving together. A pine cone’s perfection of curved stem and spiraling sphere – such elegant curves – prompted me to make an ink drawing years ago, when I studied botanical drawing. Especially if I draw, the curve keeps appearing, rolling up to the surface of consciousness through the interstices of my neurons, neurons that curve in a tangled, unknowable dance.
The curve I gravitate towards is something I see in the built environment, too. Of course, I’m not the only one responding with joy to curves, as you can see in the Richard Serra sculpture below.
The curve has been with me for a long time, and it comes and goes, or maybe my awareness is what ebbs and flows.
There’s something comforting about the idea of a motif recurring in my work, something to hang one’s hat on and organize around, perhaps. Not a bad thing is these complicated times.
Notes on the photos:
The first is of grasses and reeds in the Sammamish River, not far from home, January 2016.
The fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) seed pods were photographed in a local park in August, 2016.
The Checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris) was photographed at the Center for Urban Horticulture, April, 2014.
The swirling water photograph was taken at a fountain in Bremerton, Washington, in 2012.
The wave photo was taken at Youngs Creek, outside of Sultan, Washington, September, 2014, at f22, 1/3 second.
The vining stem of a Manroot plant (Marah fabaceus) was photographed in Duvall, Washington, May 2014.
The curving path is at Wright Park in Tacoma, Washington. Photographed last November.
The watercolor and ink drawing were made in the 1990’s.
The curved roof is at the Chinese Scholar’s Garden at the Staten Island Botanical Garden, New York City, photographed in 2011.
The Richard Serra sculpture is at LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It’s made of weathering steel and is titled “Band.” It’s huge (12 feet high), and some consider it to be Serra’s magnum opus. In an interesting review, writer Guy Zimmerman said, “Standing in the Eastern gallery with Band you have the feeling that there is no valid reason to be anywhere else.” I concur. My take on the sculpture can be seen here. Photographed in 2016.
The curly, dried grass was photographed at Umtanum Creek, near Ellensberg, Washington, June, 2014.
The carp were photographed last year at Wright Conservatory, Tacoma, Washington.
The beached log was photographed at beautiful Rialto Beach, Washington, on a misty October afternoon in 2013. More photographs from that day are here.
Will the old brick and stone buildings with neatly
soon stand alone among
glittering glass giants
with perfect edges?
Then again, the glass towers have
their own edgy beauty, an orderly flow of pattern in a
city teetering on chaos, chaos even on
the best of days, days when we
thought we could forget the
planes, the van, the
Curves and edges duke it out. As I walk the sidewalks downtown
architectural transitions are split-second, from
order to confusion.
Turn a corner, it’s quiet,
and gulp down
the sensory flood.
Edges and curves,
The clean lines of Brookfield Place, a few blocks from One World Trade Center.
Brookfield Place is a six building office complex built in the 80’s (it used to be called the World Financial Center). After extensive damage on 9/11, buildings underwent renovation and restoration. The arched roofed glass building houses the Winter Garden, an airy atrium with tall palm trees, a welcome respite on winter days. The complex has abundant outdoor space for sitting and enjoying close-up views of a marina on the busy Hudson River. You can walk underground though a new passageway to the Oculus (below), the transport hub of the World Trade Center.
A limestone arch and dome inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With two million square feet of gallery space packed with two million works of art from all over the world, it is New York’s high church of culture. The building dates from 1879 and is the largest museum in the US. This view of ceiling details in the Great Hall is from a balcony on the second floor. HERE, you can peruse a well-thought out presentation of 100 works from the museum.
Fort Totten, in Queens. Construction of the coastal defense fort began in 1862 and halted after the Civil War because this type of masonry became obsolete. It was used by the Army for various purposes, including developing underwater minefields, electric powered torpedo experiments and Army administrative offices through the 1970’s, then it was transferred to the Army Reserve. Rumor had it that a mob boss who ratted was hidden here for a time. Much of the sixty acres is now a park.
Inside the Fort Totten battery. There is a small museum on the property and a long, dark underground tunnel leading to the battery, which on a sunny October weekday was almost deserted. There are beautiful views of the East River converging with Long Island Sound under the Throgs Neck Bridge.
Deep inside the ammunition magazine, which is now empty, someone carefully placed a metal folding chair under a circle of light formed by a skylight. Was this a clever reference to the ghost of La Cosa Nostra’s “Cargo Joe” Valachi, rumored to be hidden here by authorities in 1970? After all, his testimony about the Mafia brought the inner workings of the criminal organization into the light.
The exterior of the magazine is overgrown with Porcelain berry vines. New York City has a surprising number of romantically overgrown, seemingly (but not really) abandoned spots like this.
This stalwart pre-war brick apartment building on West 27th Street in Chelsea is literally a stone’s throw from the High Line. Art galleries and the popular High Line park have transformed this area from a rough and tumble, Wild West-like wholesale meat market to a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of wealthy New Yorkers. The land this building sits on is worth a lot; it may not last.
A nice late 1860’s example of New York’s cast iron architecture seen through a window at ABC Home, a large home goods store on Broadway. The Arnold Constable Building was also a retail enterprise. I like the way the window arches curve more sharply as your eyes move skywards. Manufacturing went on upstairs and retail and wholesale below. It was one of New York’s most important stores, catering to the carriage trade in the 19th and 20th centuries. Later, the store moved uptown, closing in 1975. The building is now protected as part of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District, which includes the famous Flatiron Building.
A lower Manhattan scene contrasts old and new. On the left, a sliver of the Beaux-Arts style Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, now housing the National Museum of the American Indian. The “new” building is 1 Whitehall Street, in the heart of the financial district, built for offices in 1962.
Another look at architectural contrasts in the city, with One World Trade Center on the left. The older Art Deco building towards the middle is 21 West Street, an office tower built around 1930 and converted to residence rentals in 1997. Currently, a tiny 5th floor studio can be had for $2975/month. The glass tower with rounded corners is 50 West Street, a brand new 64 story residential building for Manhattan’s elite. As I write this, a 1000 sf one bed, one bath apartment on the 21st floor was rented at $5,700/mo. For three bedrooms you’re looking at over $15,000/mo. Or you can purchase a 3 BR penthouse (Fantastic Views!) for $24,540,000. Ah, life in the city…
Looking west on Ann Street, One World Trade is in the center. St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church, built in 1766, is on the left. This beautiful little church was the location of a ninth-month long, round-the-clock ministry to workers at Ground Zero after 9/11. Upcoming events include a Conversation on Achieving Racial Equity and a presentation of the Rachmaninoff Vespers, an a capella choral composition.
One World Trade soars above office buildings at Brookfield Place, a six building office complex built in the 80’s (formerly called the World Financial Center). Some buildings suffered extensive damage on 9/11. These days, the complex has abundant outdoor space for sitting and enjoying close-up views of the North Cove marina and the busy Hudson River. You can walk underground though a new passageway to the Oculus, the transport hub of the World Trade Center.
One World Trade reflected in the glass skin of Four World Trade Center, a 1.76 billion dollar project completed in 2013. Osamu Sassa of the architectural firm that designed the building said, “We like the idea of the building dematerializing.” It is essentially a parallelogram topped by a trapezoid with an especially thick glass facade making for a smooth, flat appearance, in deference to the Memorial.
A favorite view from Zucotti Park, a tiny park in lower Manhattan. This is where Occupy Wall Street was encamped back in 2011. The park was replanted after 9/11, so its Honeylocust trees are relatively young; their delicate branches are a nice foil to the glass and concrete masses surrounding the park. Here’s a photoI took during Occupy days, after work one evening.
Frank Gehry’s IAC Building in Chelsea is now ten years old. Made of reinforced concrete and glass, the building has only two vertical columns – all the others are off vertical, by as much as 25 degrees. The glass “curtain” walls, which were cold-warped (bent on site!), have two laminated panes, an airspace, and a tempered pane. Small white ceramic particles are embedded in the glass, increasing energy efficiency and reducing glare. Perhaps my favorite building in New York.
The World Trade Center’s Oculus, a transportation hub designed by Santiago Calatrava. Cost overruns were “insane” and of course, the building’s facade is controversial. I doubt there was ever much controversy about the quietly dignified office building behind it, 90 Church Street. I used to work there. We had a fascinating bird’s eye view of the excavation and construction at Ground Zero. When Obama came to lay a wreath in 2011, we watched as snipers methodically unwrapped their gear on the overhang below our windows. We had to stay in the building while he was on site – it was lunch at the desk, or eat late.
The Oculus inside.
The ammunition magazine at Fort Totten in Queens.
Broadway and John Street, downtown Manhattan. The red building is the Corbin Building, an 1889 Romanesque Revival style office building. It was restored by the Metropolitan Transit Authority as part of the huge Fulton Transit Center next door; you can enter the subway through the John Street entrance. While hand-digging the foundation for the transit center renovation, an old well and artifacts such as a clay pipe and ledger books from the 1880’s were found under the building, now a city landmark.
Looking west on Dey Street, Friday afternoon crowds move quickly down narrow sidewalks. On the right is 195 Broadway, the old AT&T/Western Union building, built in the early 1900’s with oversized columns designed by the architect who designed Rockefeller’s country home, Kykuit. Harper Collins has offices there now. Just to the left of the American flag is the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
More specifically, the fringes of the park’s off-leash dog area. With forty acres of fields and woods to run in and the Sammamish Slough to swim in, the off leash area is where “dogs can be dogs.” At 6pm on a September evening most of the dogs and their friends are heading home. The sun slips behind a cloud bank, then inches back to set the scenery aglow. Matted animal and human paths wind through stands of tall grass. A few blackberry leaves have turned rose red, the berries themselves are shriveled from the drought. A land snail holds tight, five feet up a dried tansy stalk.
Past the field and through the woods a boardwalk bends out over the tip of Lake Sammamish. Here, lily pads yellow and curl on the water’s surface and rushes and cattails pierce the cool air, as a Kingfisher rattles a complaint overhead. The little bright orange lanterns of Jewelweed shine at the edge of the woods. Like I do every year, I gently grasp and squeeze a ripe pod – after all, the plant’s other name is Touch-me-not. The lime green package springs apart in a quick and efficient burst of seed-scattering. This human being smiles.
We are hovering at the edge of fall, each in our own reality, each connected to the other, and to all.
“The camera is a mirror with a memory, but it cannot think.” – Arnold Newman
…and I might add, it doesn’t feel.
A Lensbaby Composer was used for many of these images, a 60mm macro for the rest, on an Olympus om d1.
All but one of these photos were taken in Juanita Bay Park in Kirkland, Washington, in early August. In this lush wetland preserve, six different kinds of willow grow, and though native species outnumber non-natives, the majestic willow in the fourth photograph is one that must have been planted long ago. The old weeping willow vies for space with bracken fern and Creeping buttercup, cattails, cleavers and Cooley’s hedge nettle, bindweed, horsetails, blackberries and many other plants, native and non-native. This time of year the crisp definition of spring gives way to a tangled mass of leaves, stems, seeds, flowers, spores, sepals, twigs…all falling over each other as they begin to disintegrate.
Centuries ago a band of the Duwamish tribe made their winter home nearby. Salmon were plentiful in Lake Washington, and in season, berries could be gathered, roots pulled, bark peeled. Then whites came along, and smallpox silenced the stories of a people we know little of. White people prospered here, and a hundred years ago the rich wetland was filled for a golf course. The golfers are gone now though, and the wetland slowly reasserts itself, encouraged by the good stewardship of area residents.
Locals make good use of the park’s trials and boardwalks. The gentleman pictured above was making his way to the end of the boardwalk, a platform on the bay. The bay is an inlet on Lake Washington, a long, glacier-formed ribbon of fresh, clean water surrounded by cities and towns; one of them is Seattle. On the quiet little inlet called Juanita Bay, turtles sun themselves amidst ducks and herons, lily pads and dragonflies.
It was hot that day. I exchanged a few words about the weather with the man as he pushed his walker over the rough wooden planks. I don’t know what he saw, because I know we see differently. I trust that we both felt refreshed by our time in the park. My photography that day was an act of love, a way to remember and share one view of a particular space/time configuration here on earth. So, what I saw: the jumbling tumble of plants as they begin their decline, the busy ant, the old man walking.