Category Archives: Abstract

Meditator on Break, Condensation on Dining Tent Flap, Autumn

I often talk about the relationship of meditation on my photography. On some of my deepest retreats, I’m not allowed a camera. But on this 6 day silent retreat, I did have my axe with me. There were long breaks in the afternoons, and I did get to walk in the woods in heading-toward-peak autumn foliage. Maybe some of those exposures might make good photographs — I don’t know yet — but it certainly was good to walk around after so much sitting. The tricky thing is, when I’m opened up so much, and everything is so vivid, and emotional material arises to meet capacity, and the separation of inside and outside is at its thinnest — at that time it’s actually pretty tricky to make good photographs. It may be rather beside the point of being in a meditation retreat, in some ways — but also it is a good practice to bring the openness into the world at large, and to let the world into that open state.

This retreat was at the very end of September in hilly New Hampshire. The mornings were cold, some of the days were cool. Because of the size of the retreat, the largest given up to that point at this center (Wonderwell), they put up a heated outdoor tent to serve as an auxiliary dining hall. The plastic walls of the tent gathered condensation. I only made a couple of discreet exposures on this chilly morning. If it were normal life I would have worked the situation quite a bit more, but I didn’t want to be a spectacle in that context. Of course, in normal life, I might not have seen this as a photograph to make. You never know.

This photo is available for purchase and can be viewed in higher resolution.

Oak Leaf and Hemlock in Spring Ice, Vermont 2014

Oak Leaf, Hemlock Needles, Ice Vermont I’ve spent a lot of time working on these ice-on-forest-floor abstracts and semi-abstracts this spring. It turned out that the window of opportunity was pretty small this year, but I had some nice long days working it hard. The time the snow melted enough to expose the shimmery, translucent broken, leaf-infused forest floor ice, but before the ice melted was only a few days. I spent hours when I could, each day I walked in the woods. I think I mentioned last time that I’m just so tickled with my current micro-four thirds camera with some high end prime lenses for this task. I’ve been photographing this sort of stuff for 30 years with all kinds of high and low end equipment, and this is the best it’s ever been. I have a lot of images to sift through and decide about, from softer images like this that are almost like a little story — to very abstract ones I like too, where the eye moves, the depth of the image seems to go in and out of the plane, and you can get lost in the abstract journey. It’s funny; it’s something of a journey through time in making and sifting through these kind of exposures. On the day I unload the camera and look at them, they are all very exciting. But I know I should wait. After a week or two it becomes pretty confusing — there are so many images, and it’s hard to see what works. By next year it should be quite clear, I imagine. But I’m jumping the gun, diving into the confusion as I did for the last one, and hopefully coming up with a pearl this time.

In the late 80s I saw Bob Dylan in concert, and he was very good, surprisingly good for that period. Dylan had released some not-so-great albums through that period, some good songs and some not so good songs. But the thing is, if you go see Dylan in concert, he knows what the good songs are. He doesn’t necessarily perform the song that he wrote last month that might make it onto an album. I remember being really struck by that ability to be clear for the performance, to not mess around with new material he’s unsure of (even if he can’t resist putting that on an album). I assumed it was harder to know when he makes an album, how much of it is going to be good. Make it, get it down, record it; time will tell.  I remember aspiring to have that clarity and discernment with my own work, and I’ve kept that aspiration mostly intact. But here I go, posting a new photo, fresh, and one of thousands of new keepers/and chaff to blow away.

This is available as a fine print here

Acorn Cap, Pine Needles, Spring Ice 2014

Abstract Acorn Cap Pine Needles Hemlock Ice

I’ve been spending too much time (considering I have work to do and taxes to work on) in the woods on snowshoes. As of Monday, there was still well over a foot of snow in the woods, but it’s melting fast.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve worked on this theme: the ice over the ground, revealed when the snow melts, is sparkling, full of leaves and bits of flotsam, completely magical up close. It’s not everywhere, just in some places. I used to have a good patch of it in my back yard in Lyme, and now there is often quite a bit of it along a trail in a very beautiful forest. This year though, the snow has been hanging on, and I don’t know if things are melting in the normal way. It’s so late for it to be melting. I’ve only found one patch to work, but I’ve spent hours at it over a couple of days so far this year.

One thing I realized that’s quite funny about working this patch of ice: it’s in a spot with a breathtaking distant view over rolling meadows, to distant hillsides and beyond. It’s all the more breathtaking because on the (long) walk that leads to it, the trail has been in trees for a long time. Then you get to the edge, and it is: “Wow!” It opens up. Life is more dramatic when it opens up suddenly. But the funny thing is that on Monday I went straight to work with this ice, and I didn’t even look up, I don’t think, for hours.

I don’t usually wax gear-head on this blog, but my newer gear is just so perfect for working with this subject. The Olympus 45/f1.8 and the 60/f2.8 macro are just so amazingly sharp and contrasty. I’ve usually worked this subject with a DSLR, which is tricky, because it’s hard to get enough depth of field. It’s flat, but not really quite flat. Things bump up or recede, the plane dips or pops. The Micro Four Thirds camera has just enough more depth of field if I stop down a bit, and like I said, these lenses are amazing. This is so contrasty out of the camera I should almost dial it back. Really amazing.

This print is available for sale here.

Yellow Siberian Iris Leaves, Frost, Fall 2013

Yellow Siberian Iris Leaves and Frost

Well, maybe I’ve been a little heavy in recent posts. Certainly my mind feels heavy now; I’ve been coding hard all week, working on the shopping cart for this site with PHP, Javascript, JSON, etc.

This afternoon, sick of it, I decided it’s time for a Photo of the Week, and it reminds me that part of photography is that it’s fun. It just is; hence its current popularity. I opened up a few raw files in photoshop and played with tones a bit, some burning and dodging.

Ahh, the most fun I’ve had all week.

(update: I got the shopping cart working!)

This print is for sale here.

New Ice, Rain, Birch Reflections 2013

Just Freezing Pond in Rain Birch Tree Reflections

It’s funny how we resist change, and yet change makes everything possible. The very energy of life is based on change: chemical reactions and biochemical transformations are dynamic.

Just so in photography too. It’s in those in-between moments where the most happens.

And of course everything is an in-between moment. Still, some times are a bit more dynamic feeling than others, and that dynamic energy is good to ride even when it feels like something we would rather not, a change we’d rather not experience.

This was the part of the fall/winter that is a bit of “Oh noo!” here in the north country. The leaves are mostly down, the world is drab, it’s starting to freeze up. On this day it was raining. From my office window it looked horrible out. Still, a bit restless, I decided to grab the Nikon (pretty weatherproof) and head down to the pond to see what the ice looked like. Worth the trip. And so for all of riding our changing experience. From that “oh no!” bubble of resistance to actually checking it out. What is going on? Maybe something interesting.

This print is for sale here.

Two Maple Leaves in Pond, Water Weeds, Sky and Foliage Reflections, VT, 2010

two maple leaves in pond, water weeds, foliage and sky reflections

I’ve been thinking about the relationship between meditation practice and photography lately, as I’ve worked with fall colors and water. (This image is from a few years ago, and it was about time to publish it).

I’ve practiced meditation a lot, and this “modern” phase of my photography very much coincides with the period in my life (since 2003) that has been most committed to sitting meditation practice, which is now very regular and taking up some hours of each day. Of course the practice has great influence on my life, on everything I do; and, it seems, especially on photography.

I think that in spite of several rewrites of my meditation in photography page, I haven’t articulated it very well, and maybe I can advance some clarity now (and I may rewrite that meditation page once again.”

I’ve recently realized, or realized more deeply, some things that photography and meditation practice have in common.

1) You work with what you’ve got, and nothing else.

In photography, we only have what is in front of the lens at any given moment. We can work to change circumstance, to catalyze causes and conditions to create a photograph we want (in some cases by using one’s own lighting, props, etc, or in my case by being in a light or environment that might provide opportunities for an image I might want). Just so in meditation: we learn to work with our experience, the actual only experience that we have in the moment. There is nothing else. Obviously in both photography and in the mind we could “post-process,” gussy things up and fabricate after the fact. But at some point that becomes a departure from both real photography and actual meditation. We work with what we have, in both cases. Through that process we become more familiar with reality. We learn to see better and cut through the conceptual thinking that gets in the way of real seeing.

2) You patiently await whatever arises.

The great meditation master Ajahn Chah once gave the following meditation instructions:
“Put a chair in the middle of a room.
Sit in the chair.
See who comes to visit.”

And of course he’s not expecting a real person to show up. But certainly something will show up.

And it’s the same with a camera and lens. The image from this week, and many more I’ve made, have really been made with this principle. For example this image is made from a certain corner of our little backyard pond. When I have some time, at this time of year when the trees are turning, I go there. I don’t know how it will look, only that there is some chance there may be foliage and sky reflections, and leaves, etc. But the light, the breeze, the state of the trees and clouds — I don’t know what they’ll be like. And they won’t be the same from minute to minute.

This print is for sale here.

Showy Lady’s Slipper After Rain, Vermont, 2013

Another brand new one.

Kate and I went to the bog where we know these plants are, last Sunday, Father’s Day. We know they usually bloom around then, or the summer solstice. They were beautiful, and we photographed and hung out with them. Then it poured on the way home, and it kept raining through the night. I had a chance to take the time in the morning, when the sun came out, so I got there before the light got too strong. It was a good hunch. I had a really hard time picking one to post, so there may be more of them coming.

This print is for sale here.

Ice and Moss, Meditation Retreat, Vermont 2009

Moss and  Ice, Meditation Retreat, Vermont

I probably talk too much about meditation and photography, or Mind and photography. In a way, of course I would, since the two are hand-and-glove, and the main focus of much of my time and mind. Still, it’s pretty rare that I come up with, or post or publish, a photo produced during an intensive actual meditation retreat. The mostly steady two hours a day counts as a steady mini-retreat, but it still doesn’t approach the intensity of a real, long, retreat.

This is probably especially true these days, when my meditation technique is more focused on mind than on the space around. My long retreats these days are silent, with long periods with my eyes closed, and no camera with me.

This one though is from one of my old retreats, sitting with open eyes, and walks with a camera during some breaks.

This photo is to me a good representation of some aspect of mind and meditation. Even those super-quiet Zen Enso brush paintings, and other traditional Japanese and Chinese meditation-inspired paintings are also quite full of energy. I’ve said before that I find the kinetic art of Kandinsky, Klee, and many abstract expressionists to be quite representative of states of mind, and the kinds of states of mind that a meditator will spend a lot of time with. While there may be peace to be found in Mind, there is always energy, almost always some movement and dynamic quality. There is movement, and there is stillness. There is something like substance, and there is space around that. There is a figure, and there is the ground. So this seemed to me to be quite in accord with this retreat experience.

Physically this is the kind of thing that shows up after a winter when we’ve had a good snowpack, and it then mostly melts in the late winter. Lately our snowpacks in central Vermont are not reliable they way they used to be. We used to have one brown winter in maybe 10 or more, and now it seems we might get one good snowy one out of 5 mostly brown ones. It’s easier, maybe, but spooky and sad. This year I don’t hope to see very much of this kind of late February/Early March effect, but you never know. Maybe we’ll get some real snow. I’ve got a lot of these images stocked up, and maybe I’ll find more good ones to release.

But first there will be an entirely different project. With luck, the next images will be quite different. Stay tuned!

Snowy Fall Cattails, Vermont, 2011

I’ve been meaning to post this for a good while, probably over a year. This is only the second cattail-featuring photo I’ve published, despite some lifetime affinity for the plant.

When I was a kid I had a thing for cattails, because they were where the frogs and turtles were. They were exotic plants, somehow eradicated from the suburbs where I lived. If I saw them through the car window, I wanted out of the car, right then, and to run to that spot.

Later, I came to see beauty in the rhythmic semi-chaos and lyrical arcs and juts and dips of them. Now that I have a patch of them in a little pond, I sometimes pull them out so they don’t spread too much and fill the pond, as they will. Still, lucky to have some, and certainly lucky to have a pond.

We just got a bit of snow late last week, quickly gone; it’s been unusually mild again this early winter here in Vermont. No snow on the green cattails this year. Despite the mildness, it is December, and the still-got-some-chance vibrance is gone from the leaves.

On a morning like the one this exposure was made, I might dash out with one camera, or load up with as much gear as I can carry. In this case I had both the DSLR and the compact camera. Though the compact “isn’t as good” as the bigger camera, sometimes that is the device that really nails it. On this morning I’ve got several more good exposures, and many of them are from the compact. This image was from a really good morning with the camera. I really need to work on some more of these!

This print is no longer on the site, but let me know if you’d like to buy a print.

Wooden Path Clay Brook to Post Pond, New Snow

This has been and still is a rich vein, these recent posts of just-at-freezing point along Clay Brook in Lyme NH. There’s still lots to mine here, several really good images I made at the time I lived near there. Most of them are winter images. But here in Vermont, it’s full-tilt bird-song springtime. While it’s been an unusual and good discipline for me to linger on one theme for a while, I need a path out of here.

And this, literally, is the path between Clay Brook and Post Pond. For a stretch through some wetland, there are some boards. This day, fresh snow in big crystals covered the boards. I have a handful of cool abstracts. Here is one.

And note, this photo blog was hacked, I think yesterday. It’s back, hopefully it will hold up against attack for a while.

This print is for sale here.