Category Archives: Water

Kandinsky Again

I don’t have a formula for composition, obviously. I like simplicity, I like abstraction. I like foggy mystery, but also piercing clarity. I’m happy enough sometimes to simply represent something interesting, but mostly I’m looking to move the eye around a space, and to move the mind with it. More and more (though I always have), I think of art as being a reflection of, or projection of, mind. Mind doesn’t really have a form or shape or color, as any meditator or neuroscientist knows. But somehow I feel like a state of mind (always transitory and fleeting) can have a graphical representation. A lot of modern art is interesting to me not purely because of color and form, but because of Mind. Kandinsky is a different state of mind — when viewing the painting you are in a different state of mind — than say in front of a Rothko.

Photographing ice on a winter stream is always an opportunity to explore a lot of mental states, a lot of chances for simplicity, tranquility, and also more kinetic and energetic situations.

I like this one, for now, because it has about as much energy, form, texture, detail, as I dare squeeze into a photo. The eye moves around the image; it’s not a simple, settled thing. Like Kandinsky paintings, the mind can be this way too. It’s worth spending time with it, whether it is a Rothko or a Kandinsky.

This is a stream in New Hampshire that I particularly like to walk along, because there is a nice trail along it, and the stream is interesting — sometimes slow, sometimes fast, sometimes even a waterfall. The stream is a mind of its own, moving through all the states and shapes and form that a real mind will, and always changing. In winter here, pretty much any day will be different from the next in terms of how a stream like this will look, and of course the light changes through the day too. It is as fleeting as a one day flower, a dandelion head in a breeze, a human mood or set of thoughts.

A winter swim, and a wet camera

Small waterfall in early winter, Vermont

This photo was exposed along a little stream I like to walk along, a few miles from my house, in December. I went back there on a colder day, after some much colder and much warmer weather, in the end of January. I fell through some ice, and dropped my secondary camera in the water a couple of feet deep. The camera turned out to be waterproof and undamaged! The lens that was on it, not so much.

The photo above I posted as an illustration to the story on The Online Photographer. That little waterfall was going to be my ultimate destination on the walk, but I never made it there. I kind of thought, in terms of putting the image on the site, “Yeah, right, another waterfall-stream photo.” But the quality of the water (I tried quite a few shutter speeds with the camera on the tripod, as I often do with moving water) is really just right. And every time I saw the photo, I liked it more and more. I still like it.

The photo is available as a pigment print here.

The full story is here, on The Online Photographer

I’ll have more photos posted here quite soon!

I’m sticking with photography. I love it.

Morning Glory, Foliage, and Birches

As I’ve mentioned before in the blog, I’m a fan of ukiko-ee (“floating world”) woodblock prints. A friend, Matt Brown, who is a master of the medium, recently gave me the opportunity to take a workshop on how to make them. (If you are interested, you can contact him through his website, which I designed for him in the 90s (!) and still maintain in fits and starts). I had to think long and hard. He suggested that I could make my vision more special, because the woodblock prints are rarer.

But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, you know, I really love photography. Maybe it is less special, since anyone has some kind of camera in their pocket. I thought, better to keep applying myself to something I can do well, instead of taking up something that will take me a long time to be as good at.

I thought about the range of my pallette as a photographer. A lot of successful photographers have a thing, one thing, that they try to be known for. But I love the range of possibilities, the whole spectrum, from the different ways that lenses draw, the tonal pallette of colors, the tones and forms and textures of black and white; from the smooth buttery blur of a classic old lens to the sharp incredible detail of a well coated and well designed modern prime lens on a state of the art sensor.

So here I’ve got two poles of this multi-axis graph of possibilities: a smooth painterly shallow depth of field blur from an old lens that does that well (the same old Olympus 50/2 that drew one of the photos from last week’s post), and a modern lens below a waterfall in Iceland. Both I like, along the “nice color and dreamy” axis — but also both representing different ends of the range of detail (though the moving water with a slow shutter speed is rather blurred in a way I love).

Waterfall River, Angelica, and Basalt Cliff, Iceland

There is so much in the range of my possibilities, and though there are many my body of work doesn’t include, when I think about the range of possibilities it brings me great joy.

Melting Glacier Chunk at Black Sand Beach, Vatnajökull, Iceland, 2017

Melting Glacier Chunk, Iceland

(this image can be seen in higher resolution and purchased as a print on its page)

I’ve recently been in Iceland, for two weeks. I’m still evaluating exposures I made. I have a lot of work to do on this as on so many other things, including hanging a show of photos soon. It’ll be a while.

With three hurricanes simultaneously in the waters off the east coast of the US, Irma breaking records and destroying Carribean Islands, about to destroy some parts of Florida most likely, with Houston still struggling to rescue people from hurricane Harvey, it seems like a good time for everyone to point out why this is happening. The oceans are warmer than what used to be considered normal. This fuels bad storms, much worse storms. The global climate is changing because of human carbon emissions. The glaciers are melting, in Iceland and everywhere.

So this glacier on the east coast of Iceland, Vatnajökull, of course is receding, melting, calving off chunks. I guess it’s usually normal in Iceland for there to be chunks of glacier on the beach nearby in summer, but on this day, I took my shoes off and the black sand of that beach was quite warm underfoot. This chunk of glacier was melting fast into the water at the edge of the beach.

It’s always funny as a photographer, or a human in general, to revisit an experience. I had been in Iceland on a honeymoon ten years ago, with no expectations. That was completely mind blowing.
(My Iceland page is so far mostly those older images, but I will be adding new ones no doubt.)
This time I was loaded with better gear and more skill as a photographer on the positive side, but on the negative side I was burdened by mind full of concepts of ICELAND to try to push past and be fresh. We’ll see if I managed to see freshly for more than a few bursts here and there.

This was made with the Contax G 90mm lens, and old and inexpensive film-era lens, adapted to my modern camera, which is one of the sharpest and most aggressively contrasty lenses I’ve ever owned, if not the most.

Of course everything was different, even though it was the same time of year. It was relatively warm in the days, and I guess we were lucky to have little rain. That also meant fewer weather-clouds. On the one hand we could walk and photograph mostly without being wet and cold. On the other the weather was a little bit less interesting. Of course the warming climate is, um, “interesting.”

I called up a friend who is a college professor in Chinese culture, literature, and I asked him if it was true that there was a Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” He told me he thought it was a myth that we think that is a Chinese curse.

Well, cursed or blessed, we are certainly living in interesting times, weather-wise and other-wise. I miss being a bit bored sometimes.

Japanese Iris During/After Rain, Waterlilies

Japanese Iris and Waterlilies

It’s always a mysterious process how I end up creating and selecting what may be the best of my photos (or the mystery may in fact be so deep that the best ones go unpublished). Sometimes everything just comes together — bam! — the way people think photography works. “I just go click.” Umm, not so often, but sometimes sorta, if I’m well prepared.

In this case I had a concept in my mind, which of course made everything hard. I had seen that Japanese Iris blooming on the bank of the pond, so big and saturated and dancing in and out of dapples of light. Of course I photographed it. But when we had a stretch of rainy weather in June, I got this idea. I don’t know if the composition is really influenced by Ukiyo-e (Floating World) woodblock prints of Japan. I’ve spent lots and lots of time viewing those prints, online and in person, and I think I’ve internalized some of the style.

So, unfortunately, I had something in my mind as I kept going back and squatting in the weeds in the rain and just-after rain and trying different lenses and apertures. I made a lot of exposures, and a lot of them were good; though there were many flavors of the composition — different rain and different depth of field and lens character.

Here are two of the many, the same scene, different flavors. After the rain

Japanese Iris and Waterlilies

These images can be viewed in a cleaner and higher resolution presentation, and they are for sale as prints:

Japanese Iris in Rain

After Rain

Dandelions 2016

Dandelions Sunset Hartland Vermont

A couple of years ago I made this successful (for me — I can’t remember offhand if I’ve sold any prints of this) exposure and then very good print of a hillside with dandelions, below:

2014 dandelions vermont barn

I’ve found dandelions to be a compelling subject since I lugged a 4 x 5 view camera around (and I have a distinct memory of stopping by a meadow and setting up my tripod and big camera to photograph them after a very significant event — meeting Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche — in 1982).

Still, it’s a bit hard. They are luminous; they glow, they are full of detail; and they whisper poignantly of impermanence. Even if you’ve got a good composition, you’ve got to pull off the photograph. I was a bit surprised and heartened by that good print from 2014.

Since then I’ve got a crazy high resolution sensor with good dynamic range on my main camera, and I’ve got some brilliant lenses. Zeiss and Voigtlander — some of the most brilliant and full of character glass I’ve ever been blessed to use. Not only that, but I live near some good dandelion hayfields here in the hills of Vermont. This year I’ve gone a bit crazy working with these plants. Some think they are weeds, but I think they are a prize beyond price, but only for that very short while, until the wind blows, the rain dumps, or the first hay is cut.

Another one:

Stone Wall and Dandelions in Vermont

These photos are available for higher resolution viewing and for sale as prints:

Dandelions and Stone Wall

Dandelions, Hill, Sunset

Yellow Apples in Ice

Yellow Apple in Ice and Rime on Grass, Vermont

Last fall was of course very strange weather, and it featured a bumper crop of apples everywhere in Vermont. Of particular photographic interest was the one tree of pale green/yellow apples that hangs over our little pond. It dropped them in greater numbers than I’ve ever seen as the leaves were turning and beyond, as there was new ice on the water around them in the mornings. They were interesting nestled into the shore with the grass and leaves and plants, and then they were also interesting out in the water. Each apple in the new ice acted as a sort of seed for the ice to make a different pattern right around it. This one at dawn with birch reflections is a different warm tone than many of the blue and green images of ice on this pond:

These photos are for sale as prints on Canson Baryta Photographique paper:

Apple in Ice, Rime on Grass

Yellow Apple in New Ice and Birch Reflections 2015, Dawn

Two exposures: Pine Tree by Former Cranberry Bog

Pine Tree by Former Cranberry Bog

not-infrared, from D800e full frame

Pine Tree by Former Cranberry Bog

exposed with infrared-only camera

A few weeks ago I had a chance to make a collection of small matted/bagged prints for a flip-through bin at Frog Hollow in Burlington. They only wanted infrared prints. That’s a little bit of a funny restriction for me, because I usually consider the infrared to be more like an extension of my palette rather than a separate realm. Anyway, I was very glad to have the chance to do it, and I treated it as a little show. Usually in a show I’ll work from a range of prints that I know work, to something very fresh, new to me. I take it as a chance to stretch out and push myself, which is funny, because I can do that any time. For this show, this image was one of the new ones, and I was very happy to see it come out of the printer. I printed it on Canson Rag Photographique, a slightly textured matte paper, just a little smoother than etching paper, but still with a very nice tooth.

After that I was printing some things with a different ink set in the printer, for “luster” paper rather than matte. Then when I had to switch inks again (a process that is a little expensive) for a print sale last week, I decided to print that infrared print bigger on the different luster paper (Canson Baryta Photographique) to see if it would have different qualities. Yes, a very nice print indeed.

In the old days, when I carried around a view camera with a bellows, dark cloth, and boxes of film-holders, I used to also expose infrared film. It was a tricky and squirrely business back then, often failing. So even if I “saw” the image as infrared, I would also expose some regular sheet film as well, just so that I might get something, or in case it worked better on black and white tri-ex or plus-x or T-max or whatever. That’s a habit I carried forward, but the difference now is that the infrared isn’t always the hardest to manifest. At least last year the most difficult camera I used was the Nikon D800e full frame, trickier to get a good image than with the good reliable Olympus or even the infrared. Often on a given subject I might work with three cameras.

I looked through my catalog to see if I had made the exposure with the full frame rig, and I had. And I got a good one! With the infrared reading informing my vision, I rendered this as black and white. It’s very hard to decide which of these I like better. I think for a small image, the infrared might have it, but the full frame version has much more detail, and it will make a much better large print.

In a previous blog post I wrote a bit about how I am letting go of my notion that each situation or scene can only have one definitive print. More and more I’m opening up to letting it be OK to let any particular vision expand a bit into its various facets.

The infrared version is for sale in various sizes here.

And this is from the higher resolution regular color exposure.

Back to Post Pond — black and white from November 2006

Post Pond Black and White Photo

They say you can never go back. The other week when I traveled to Lyme to drop a print at the Long River Studio gallery there, it was a real flashback, and I wrote about it some here. It was so funny, being there in a different mind, the place the same but different, even walking past my old house across from Clay Brook as I walked along the brook, the outlet to the pond.

It’s also sort of the same going back through the old exposures. The file from 2006 is the same raw data from the camera sensor. The sensor and lens I had then wasn’t as good as what I have now, and my vision and mood is different. But mostly I think my eye is a lot better, both to recognize and develop images. I guess the main point is that even if I’ve got an older file, sometimes it’s like I just went back there with the camera and found something new. May it always be so. May the past, present, and future always be seen freshly.

Revisiting Post Pond – Edge Ice and Cloud Reflections

Post Pond, Lyme New Hampshire

I made a lot of good photos of Post Pond, many more than I’ve got posted on my site (here is the Post Pond collection).

I often wish I had a time machine and could go back. I have better cameras and much better lenses, and my eye is better. Overall, I’m a better photographer than I was even a few years ago. I did manage to wake up early one late summer morning to catch the rising mist, and I did make some good exposures.

This week I went back to Lyme to show some prints at the Long River Gallery. They liked my photos, and I’m now a member of the collective.

Most of the rest of the photos I brought to show to the gallery (because they are in Lyme, and of Post Pond) are hanging in their framed version in the currently hanging show at Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital. So currently there is a nice big print of this one on Canson Rag Photographique, a very slightly textured paper:
Post Pond Pickerel Weed in Mist

This week’s Photo of the Week is available in a larger view and for sale here.