Carefree Travel as Dark Clouds Gather

Lofoten Islands Norway, Infrared

Hawk and Fences, Durango Colorado

Last summer I had the great opportunity to do some carefree travel; a trip to Colorado and then to Norway. I did a lot of work with cameras in both places, as well as having a good time with family and generally being away from everyday cares. The top photo here is from the Lofoten Islands in Norway, and the bottom one with the flying raptor is from Durango Colorado.

It’s funny how different it is to see dark clouds on the horizon than to be on the edge of a storm, and then different yet again to be in the pouring rain, wind, and lightning. On the horizon they are mostly just interesting.

Last summer, while doing these travels, there was a slight possibility — though bigger than ever before in my life — that America could become an authoritarian fascist regime. It seemed like an almost laughable possibility. Our democracy is robust, right? Russia couldn’t really hack our election, we would imagine. Even if we got someone with fascist tendencies in the White House, there would be grown ups to keep him in check, right?

Right now experts on authoritarianism are very concerned about the new president’s first 10 days in office. Large and spontaneous protests are happening all around the world. Meanwhile in DC, the mechanisms that separate established law, civil government, and political loyalists are coming apart.

The edge of the storm is hitting us, and I think we will get quite wet. This may be worse than merely interesting. If some of our minority party don’t pull it together and stand up against the breakdown of our laws and mechanisms of government, we lose the 238 year experiment. There’s some chance somehow the laws hold up. #resist

Prints of the images above are available printed on Epson Hot Press Natural paper:

Durango, Raptor, Fences

Lofoten Islands, Mountain and Clouds

Christmas Lights in Botanic Garden, Denver

Christmas Lights Through Branches in Botanic Garden, Denver

A few days before Christmas, I had the good/bad luck to be in the Denver Botanic Garden at night. There was quite a crowd, and quite a few manifestations of themed lighted areas. The good luck was that it was fun with family, and I made a few good photographs. The bad luck was that I had a really nice Zeiss lens pickpocketed out of a side pouch of my camera bag in the jostling crowd. A rather devastating loss, but we go on.

I kept one lens on the camera all evening and it did beautifully. This lens, the Zeiss Loxia 50, would not have been my first choice for this evening, but it was probably the best lens I had with me for photographing the lights in the dark park. And it turned out to be perfect. I’m not sure if anything would have done better. I might have brought one of my old vintage lenses I like for their bokeh, their out of focus characteristic. I did have one beautiful old lens like that, but it was maybe to long to hand hold in the dark. I didn’t even try it. The Loxia 50 stopped down even a little would make those round balls of light have a funny pointy shape, so wide-open, all evening. It gave me a new appreciation of one of my already favorite lenses, and of night photography, which I don’t do very often. Fun!

This photo is available for sale as a print here.

Rose Hips in Snow and Fog

Rose Hips in Snow and Fog

A new-to-me vintage lens I recently acquired is over-the-top smooth and creamy in the background, while rendering the focus super sharp anywhere in the frame. It’s about 30 years old, I guess, and as good as any lens I would ever want to buy new, except that it’s not so good pointed toward the sun. While my modern Zeiss lenses have some aggressive sharpness and unbelievable coatings, there is something about this old lens that is so pleasing I can hardly contain myself. What a joy.

I bought this lens on the internet while I was traveling for my father’s funeral. In that dark time, an online vendor of used lenses was having a big sale, and I took that bait to good result. A relatively expensive lens, I might not have bought it at another time. What a weird juxtaposition.

Since I’ve had the lens, since my father’s funeral and the US election, I’ve been stumbling through the mystery of grief, which has its own rhythms and times and demands. It works without our consent or conscious knowledge — and yet it demands our cooperation in its mystery. It clobbers us, but also has some healing power. If we give it its due, maybe it gives us some insight or blessing in return. I’ve always been intrigued that an ever-recurring theme in world storytelling, mythology, religious texts, is a set of variations on the theme of the hero needing to journey underground in a dark place. Maybe my favorite is C.S. Lewis’ _The Silver Chair_, a children’s book rich in wisdom. We are compelled to go to the dark place, and there we have to keep our wits about us. We have to follow instructions (in my case my meditation and dzogchen practice). Then we gain something. It’s weird.

So this image, with this lens, is to me like the grief, somewhat, though of course I wouldn’t want to have that be your interpretation! This is of course more beautiful than the experience of grief, but that is one point; within grief there are glimpses of the beautiful world. Some murky mystery, luminous; and there is some brightness glowing. There are jewels of insight, wisdom, and growth to be found in grief, if we don’t succumb to it altogether. It has been weird for me this time, a foggy quality, something of this smooth semi-differentiated quality, not strongly articulated, a few aspects strongly etched.

I have mentioned many times in this blog my love of ukiyo-e (“floating world”); the dreamy woodcuts (and sometimes paintings) of Hokusai, Utamaro, Hiroshige, Hoitsu, Kawase, and others. I love that aesthetic in the past, and by masters who bring the tradition forward into the present, like Matt Brown. This is one of my images that feels inspired by ukiyo-e.

Luckily, I love what I do as a photographer and I don’t pine too much to time travel to ancient Japan. I love that sometimes photography can do what other mediums can’t. Both realistic rendering, and the way a good lens can draw and paint with light have their own aesthetic virtues, which sometimes can soar. I can’t do ukiyo-e woodblocks, but I can be inspired by them. I can make prints I am very happy with.

I print this image on fine textured watercolor or etching paper, or it also works well on the smooth baryta surface of my other favorite paper by Canson. If you order a print and have a paper preference, let me know.

Available for sale here…

New Ice and Rain, 2013 II

new ice and rain, vermont

About this time of year, about this kind of weather. Yes, late November has its own beauty. That year, 2013, there was more ice on our pond though. This year, 2016, of course has been record warmth, and that seems to be continuing.

This image is funny, because its big sister has been out in the world catching eyes for some years now.
new ice and rain, vermont
It has sold prints, gotten into juried exhibitions; it is even collected by a museum. But somehow today’s image, made at the same time, never caught my eye until now. In part this appreciation has come about with a shift to the full frame digital camera a year ago, and the use of premium vintage lenses with nice bokeh over the last six months. Which is to say that I have a greater appreciation for areas of an image that are not in focus, not covered by the depth of field. I like images with shallower depth of field a lot more than I used to, and in fact I’ve been making images with razor thin depth of field with beautiful bokeh as a lot of my work these days.

I guess I thought the not-quite-sharp foreground and background were more of a problem with this image than the other one. Glad I didn’t delete the file. We don’t always appreciate the best until we evolve, sometimes. Not positive, only time will tell, but I think it’s as good as its companion, in a different way.

This image is available as a print here:

http://www.lehet.com/photo/details/new_ice_and_rain_gsc_1418.html

Seagulls’ Bad Date

seagull's bad date dune fence shadow

In Buddhist psychology the “three poisons” are passion, aggression, and ignorance. These three are said to drive the entire engine of the aspects of our existence that ultimately cause us suffering, the cycle known as samsara. It can all happen quickly. Even an attraction can suddenly turn to aversion. Have you ever had a date like that, or a longer relationship? These two seagulls apparently had attraction suddenly shift as they wandered through the display of phenomenon, walking along at the beach.

This image is available as a print.

Morning Glories Dawn, Edge of Fall, Impermanence

Morning Glories Late Summer Vermont

Late this summer I got obsessed with morning glories. Part of it had something to do with a new lens, a vintage macro lens that provided very smooth out of focus areas, bokeh, which worked beautifully with the blue and other colors. Also, the daily display was an ever changing kaleidoscope. Anicca, impermanence, is always somehow an engine in my photography, as I’ve explained in other posts. I had it in spades here. Each morning glory flower lasts for just a day in cool weather. It turns out that a single blossom will last into the next day if it is quite cool, and then the flowers are more purple on the second day. On the other hand if it is quite dry and warm, these soap-bubbles of blue don’t even make it through the day. And then of course the dew, and the changing light transforms everything, whether the light is coming through them or shining on them, it’s completely different.

This image though wasn’t with that vintage new-to-me lens though, but rather one of my other vintage manual prime lenses, this one wider. I did not do some of the things I normally would have, and there are some regrets about what might have been in this exposure, but really it has turned out.

So here we have it in a nutshell. Everything changes. Sometimes we have regrets. It is what it is. These blue saucers were gone by that evening, and now the vines are brown mush. But impermanence works both ways. Gone each day, but only appearing in the first place because of change. Reappearing and transforming each day because of change. The extraordinary beauty only possible and indeed more poignant because of the transience.

We fear impermanence sometimes; we want to hang onto the good and beautiful and pleasurable, and we resist the coming of the nasty. The impermanence itself though is not to be feared. It facilitates the demise of the nastiness just as surely as it enables the blossoming of the beautiful and good. Ah annica. Simply the way things are.

This photo is available as a print, printed like last week’s image on Canson Aquarelle Watercolor paper. Buy the print here.

Ordinary Miracles – Four Morning Glories

Four Morning Glories

In my practice of photography there is a tension. The natural tendency is to look for the unusual, striking, breathtaking, exotic. But my saving grace is an ability to be present with what simply is, and fully embrace that, at least sometimes.

In looking for the exotic, there comes a striving, a discontent with so much of what we encounter — even when we are actually in the midst of something spectacular. We become what Buddhists call “hungry ghosts” — a mental realm where nothing is ever enough. Photography in this context becomes a perpetual bar-raising for more unusual subjects and locations.

On the other hand, by being with whatever is, there is often more interest and beauty available to us all, right where we are — vast rich experience is available in all of our everyday life if we dare to approach it undefended and full of curiosity.

I was struck in a conversation at my dad’s bedside, a hospital visit recently. My sister, a bodhisattva, was talking about a situation where she was helping someone. The nurse’s aid in the room described that person as having found a miracle. And it is true, that causes and conditions have come together in a very lucky way for that person; you could call it miraculous. But what struck me is that by thinking of miracles as distinct from the everyday miracle of every aspect of our existence, we diminish everything. It’s not that this life is a low and dull thing, and somewhere, out there, are rare things called miracles. The whole thing is a miracle. The whole damn manifestation of this existence. Nothing less than miraculous.

In Buddhist meditation practice, we are constantly cautioned to not seek high or extraordinary experiences. Inhabiting the ordinary fully is the practice. I think, despite awareness of this dichotomy in my photographic life, that I wasn’t really fully understanding why we meditate in this way. It’s not just that we “settle” for the ordinary. Fully inhabiting the ordinary, we see its richness, depth, and mystery. To look for the extraordinary, we miss the entire miracle, the whole miracle of our existence on earth. You miss that, you miss most everything. Looking for something somewhere else, something fancy, we miss everything.

So here in my own garden in morning light with a vintage manual camera lens and the blessing of time to really look, it is enough. More than enough.

This is a high resolution file, and it makes a spectacular print at any size. I print it on Canson Arches Aquarelle Watercolor paper. Prints available here.