Category Archives: garden

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.

Bee Balm Through Siberian Iris Leaves and Dew

Monarda siberian iris leaves

“People think it’s the object of attention that’s important, like an object reflected in a mirror. But it’s actually looking toward where objects are reflected that’s important, the capacity to reflect. Look at a flower. Then look at the mind that perceives the flower.”

— Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

I typed this quote in my notes in a dharma retreat the other day, a retreat with my Buddhist teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, who is Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s son.

Besides having everything to do with meditation at a certain level, that quote also has everything to do with my approach to photography. It’s not that there is some thing out there, and I’m out to capture it. It’s about perception, resonance, our capacity to reflect and be aware — and aware of our awareness.

This image is available for sale and view at higher resolution on this page

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

After Rain

Bee on Globe Thistle, Mondarda, Vermont

The Bee Balm (monarda) has rather run away this summer, but I couldn’t bear to try to tame it. I’m finding that the brilliant red is providing a handy backdrop for all kinds of subjects. I think I am going to try a whole series about this bee balm running wild. I just found out that I will be exhibiting at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon NH this October through December, and I think the bee balm series might be something to try printing for it.

This image proves to me some things I already know so well: you can make a photograph in natural light once. After that any attempt to improve or recreate it are rather iffy. It seems like it should be more than possible to refine a vision, but it’s tricky.

This particular image was one of the first of about 200 images I made of this subject. Over a few day period, the bees were reliably working this globe thistle, and the red monarda backdrop wasn’t going anywhere. I tried some different lenses, tried optimizing the aperture for the blur of the background, even making some of those 40 Megapixel monsters that my micro four thirds camera can do with its sensor-shift technology (and those are good because the colors are often better and truer). Still, I think this might be among the best of the batch. Subject to revision. We’ll see.

This image is for sale and can be viewed in higher resolution on its page.

Frosted Siberian Iris Leaves over Red Maple

I’m working on printing, framing, and generally planning the show that will hang in Hanover NH on December 5 at the Howe Library. Still, I’m working with new images too, even if they won’t make the show. This one might though.

We had a hard frost on Monday, really our first hard one. It was a little late, as far as getting the frost-on-fallen-leaves subject that I’ve explored over the years. I spent a lot of time bending over with the macro lens, and here’s one harvest from that effort.

I’ve also been thinking about the theme of the show, anicca, and how that ties to photography. It’s so paradoxical, how photography makes impermanence so poignant. Photography in a superficial sense “freezes” a view of the world. Oddly, rather than solidifying the world more, this points out that reality is more like smoke than rock. It’s a river we can’t step into twice. We have a glimpse of something, a moment, form, texture, maybe color; and it’s gone. There is meaning, resonance — that can linger, but the moment is gone.

That frost is gone, and it’s raining today, the leaves marching through time toward brown mush.

This print is available for sale here.

Gone-by Dandelion, Pink Azalea, 2014

gone by dandilion macro, pink azelea

It’s been hard to put up a photo of the week lately, because I’ve been making so many exposures. It’s a funny paradox, but it comes down to the most precious resource: time.

I spend a lot of time working on photography, and even with that wealth of time spent, I have to allocate resources, of course. Camera time, looking through, sorting, evaluating, and then going down various rabbit holes. The time to push a photo through, and the clarity to pick just one — that’s a challenge in a rich time like this.

I always rave about this Olympus 60mm macro lens; sorry to do it more, but it is just really quite extraordinary. I’ve been actually throwing away some unpublished images made with some good old Nikon lenses, because so much of the work I’m doing now is just plain better. I’ve been making so many images that are so good, it’s hard to choose between them.

So many things make a photo worthy, and I hope that there are more than one of them working here. But the thing is, have you ever really seen the dome of the dandelion where the seeds have gone? A lifetime of looking closely at dandelions, and I’ve never seen that they really look this way as the seeds go.

This photos is available as a print here.

Dawn Redwood in Spring, Cambridge 2011

Dawn Redwood Mt Auburn Cemetery

Yay!!! I’ve got a new infrared camera! (but the image above is made with my old axe, as discussed below.)

Since 2006 I’ve used tried and true converted Nikon DSLR camera for infrared (I did the conversion myself, taking the camera apart, removing the “hot mirror,” and substituting a 7200 nm infrared filter). Just this week I’ve got a new rig, which is much much better. I sent my E-PL5 micro four thirds camera into a place called Kolari Vision to be converted. I’m so happy with the results, though I don’t have anything good enough to post here yet — only tests. On the whole though it is fantastic to be able to see a live view on the LCD as I work with the camera, and it looks like a nearly Black and White image on the screen, too. With the old DSLR, I looked through the viewfinder and had to visualize the image as infrared. Then, after shooting, I could see a very red and hard to read image on the LCD; it was then that I could see how the exposure came out, and adjust the exposure as necessary. This was still a big step forward from my earliest infrared work, which used 4 x 5 Kodak sheet film in holders.

There was so much trouble with this approach. I was inspired by Minor White’s success with it (at the time, in my early 20s, I was quite influenced by Minor White, who was a bit of an visual adventurer compared to many of his view-camera using contemporaries, many of whom I also admired, of course, especially Paul Caponigro). But at the time, the film holders often leaked a bit of infrared light. I had to be careful with them, and I kept them in a big metal ammo box I carried for my film holders. Then, of course, it was impossible to meter. My spot meter did a pretty poor job, and I was much better just guessing the manual exposure on the view camera. Sunny day, cloudy day — make a guess. Also, the film was quite fragile and was prone to scratching and getting pinholes in the emulsion as I developed it. Quite often the expensive sheets of film were worthless, just a mess of fog or hardly any image on a clear sheet, or full of scratches. I did get a few though, with the sheet film, like this Bare Apple, which was one of my first big successes with the medium, and which inspired me to go on. In the end I probably had a few percent of all my attempts at large format infrared sheet film turn out.

Eventually as I was a parent of young children, it was pretty hard to have so much patience with a view camera, and I found there was medium format film, which I used a bit. But that had its problem; a roll of it would tie up the camera, so I would have to shoot through the whole thing. Usually when I wanted infrared, I didn’t have it in the camera. I don’t think I have anything on the site to show for those rolls of medium format infrared film, but some may be worth scanning.

So, the converted DSLR was great in 2006, and I have done a lot of work with it; far more than is posted here. That camera fell off the seat of a jeep in the jungle in Nepal last year, ruining the top LCD display. It still works and is quite usable, but like I say, I’m very excited for this step up, and I’ve got lower noise, higher ISO, a good choice of excellent micro four thirds lenses, and small enough to carry along with standard-light photo gear. I did that before of course, but it was another entire DSLR bag across one of my shoulders.

When I started doing digital infrared, there wasn’t much talk about post-processing, and I knew I wanted black and white images in the end (even if at times I simulated the split toning I used to do with selenium and silver chloride paper int he darkroom — simulated that traditional toning with a photoshop color layer). But when I revisited the camera conversion this time around, I ran into a lot of talk about post processing, and the different color aspects of the various wavelength infrared filters I had to choose from. The takeaway is that I became newly aware that there is color information in the infrared image which can be useful. While I am not a fan of crazy over-the-top color effects, I became intrigued by the possibility of having a bit of color information to work with instead of just throwing all color away to start working with the image, which I had done previously.

So for the image above, I used this color to separate the redwood tree from the busy background, and I found I could make this image work. Before I did this, I could never find a way to present this image without it being too busy. I’m pretty happy with this interpretation, with just a tiny bit of tonal variation.

This print is 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.

Frozen Dew on Autumn Siberian Iris and Maple Leaves

frozen dew on siberian iris and maple leaves autumn

A topic I continually touch on is the difference between our concepts, versus what might be closer to being real.

I’ve been working a whole lot this fall on frost and frozen dewdrops; I’ve gone out on cold mornings all bundled up, and I think, “I’m going to work with the leeks.” We had an accidentally very large bed of leeks, which grew quite well, and they were still in the ground through several hard frosts. The textures and shapes have some great photographic possibilities. I think I’ve done some good work with those leeks. Today I thought I should put one of those up as a photo of the week.

When I started going through those morning sessions, it turns out I really did a lot, quite a lot, more work, and more good work, with the Siberian iris leaves in the frost and frozen dew. Not as much the leeks, in spite of my ideas about that work. And most of that work was based on some ideas too — abstract composition. Some of those are good.

But this one somehow broke my heart with quiet beauty, not the hard-edged abstraction I was working. I really feel something from this one. So, not leeks, not abstract — a more “normal” ordinary composition. Beauty as subtle as flowers in bloom happens all through the year, any moment.

This print is for sale here.

Fuzzy Yellow Caterpillar Between Leaves

fuzzy Yellow Caterpillar in Vermont

I just finished a great trip, with a lot of photography. I’ve been through all those images, and there are some good ones for sure. I spent a long time trying to choose between them, but I ducked back to home, to the day before leaving on the trip.

This caterpillar was on my back porch, crawling on a houseplant that is summering out there. The afternoon light was just so — no added light on my part. I’d been playing quite obsessively with the micro-four-thirds Olympus with the super superb 60 mm macro lens recently added to that set of gear. I stopped my chores to make several exposures of the caterpillar. I think this is my favorite, but that may be subject to revision.

Next week, maybe some infrared panoramas of last week’s trip to the cape, or maybe something even newer.