Category Archives: Landscape

Working in the Face of Change and Death

Birches and Fall Foliage, wide aperture

These times — facing the pandemic — are shaking everything up. As with all suffering, the sharp point of this current period in the world brings us to change, uncertainty, a lot of emotional material, and literally existential questions — and the chance for a kind of waking up. Any of us might die from this COVID-19 virus unless we are children. We might lose parents or other loved ones. We face economic catastrophe. Everything we have known is subject to change, and that change is upon us.

To this Buddhist, that paragraph above is not so far out of the ordinary view of things: everything is impermanent, subject to change. Our solid sense of the world is a delusion; it is all more like sand than rock. We could die at any time. Still, facing change of this magnitude is in fact different for most of us. To paraphrase Pema Chodron — I don’t remember which talk or book this comes from — “We all know we are going to die. But it’s different when you are really facing it.”

So what do we do, what do I do, facing this degree of change and uncertainty, fear, anger, and other strong emotions? In part, we keep on through the day, doing what we need to do. We practice kindness as much as possible. But it’s also important to feel what we feel to the extent of our capacity. The emotional states triggered by our current situation of an unstoppable pandemic are not going to be pleasant, but it’s also important to appreciate moments that are OK. The waking up opportunity of a time like this, as all times, is in the balance between experiencing fully to the extent of our capacity while not going numb in overwhelm or denial.

In my life there have been some extended breaks in which I have thrown myself into the pursuit of samsara, lost my pursuit of awakening. But really, waking up has been my life’s work, and I’ve tried to impart this transmission to everyone. As a parent, I almost always tried to keep a view that I was passing along a flame of awareness. In all my relationships I try to keep a sense of awakeness. I am beyond grateful for everyone in my life who has been willing to share this awake presence with me. Anyway, this moment brings me to a point. I’m trying to be fully aware before I die.

This is a photography blog, and I am a photographer. So what am I doing in this realm? Outlet for my work is very minimal, with a contracting economy, gallery visits down to near zero. Throughout last year I worked with great purpose toward putting prints into the physical world. This time is different. I don’t work on a piece with the sense that it will be hanging on a wall soon. I just do it.

I have more time to devote to the “darkroom” side of my work, time I didn’t have while printing, framing, and matting. I am working like mad. And for what purpose? Because it is what I do, what I do best. And I think the new work is getting better very quickly in this time of the sharp-point.

Doing the photography is a bit funny. According to my beliefs, my practice, we should fully feel, experience life fully. But this is sometimes too much for me. The news is dark, I am angry at our leaders for not taking timely action and for lying to us, which has led to this being a catastrophe from which many Americans will die. I am furious that Trump did not take action when he first knew, adopting an approach of wishful thinking instead of decisive and informed action. I am afraid I will lose people I love, that I will not get to see my friends for an extended period — and maybe never again. I am frustrated that there is so little I can do to help the world. So yes, it is important to feel these things, but also it is good to take a break from them. I lose myself in my work, long periods refining my Lightroom catalog and working on images in photoshop. It’s part of the balance, being awake — but not being overwhelmed.

Anyway, I’ve gone on too long. I’m excited about my new work. I’m working on a lot more of it. I’m grateful to all who have shared my spark of awareness and put theirs next to mine. Two matches together make a bigger flame. May you all be well.

Cattails in Rain, Panorama crop

I’ve Gone Mad

Well, I’ve more or less lost what I used to think of as my sanity several times before. In this case I won’t talk about that, but all the new images I just put up. I’ve been really pent up in terms of working up new images. I’ve started printing them too. I’m working with the photo black ink on Canson Baryta paper, and next I’ll work on more textured papers with the Matte Black (there is some overhead to switch). So this is the biggest dump onto the site at once I think I’ve ever done. Madness.

I won’t go through them all here, but a few of the “semi-panoramas.” As I mentioned in another recent blog post, these are aggressive crops from (usually) high resolution sensor cameras to achieve a strip crop composition — a different kind of space to work in. So rather than make exposures in an arc to include a vast landscape, this is more like so, a vertical (I still need to work on the website to get these verticals to size gracefully for a screen without scrolling on the real web pages):

Birch in sunlight.

And another vertical: a Dicentra flower with a bokeh fiddlehead in the background:


Dicentra and Fiddlehead Fern

OK, I also added several in more standard format, like this bucket of sunflowers

Bucket of Sunflowers at Farmer's Market

And this infrared photo of a four way foot bridge in Iceland

Four Way Foot Bridge, Iceland

The rest of today’s upload are among the images on my New Photos page

Bogged down and moving forward

Framed large prints
A bunch of 30 x 30 inch frames with 19 x 19 prints

Well, all fall I’ve been framing. The Red Jacket Inn in North Conway NH has purchased 304 framed photographs from me. So this has rather constrained my time. Far less camera time and time working up new photos — I just can’t let that be my priority. So that’s where I’ve been, oh loyal blog readers. Framing.

Several things have been interesting about this time! For one thing, I’m getting really good at framing. Just six months or so ago I would rather freak out any time I had to frame a large print. Now, though not without occasional frustration, it’s just something to move through. I’ve gone from completely dreading framing to almost enjoying it, o r even actually enjoying it. (Recently I’ve gotten a newer computer, which makes photography work much more enjoyable — however the new MacOS, Catalina, has broken some of my geekier development aspects. I have spent some time wrestling with coding and maintaining a development environment, moving some functions from using Ruby to using Node, etc, and I have to say that most of the time I’m doing that I would rather be framing!)

I’ve moved a tremendous amount of material, probably close to literally a ton of glass. If I do a job like this again I will have to remember that administration becomes a huge part of it. Counting stuff, moving stuff, keeping track of everything. That part of it becomes non trivial on this scale!

Another interesting thing is much much harder to explain. Usually when I’m working with photography there is an interplay between some kind of visionary call in my mind and spirit, technology (lenses and such), and then whatever in the external world is calling my eye. These three influence each other and either push together or pull on each other. There is a range between full synergy and one aspect becoming completely dominant.

I’m finding in these framing days, with far less time with a camera in my hands, it’s kind of funny that a pressure from the vision is emerging. There is a sort of dreamy background vision of imaginary photographs that want to be born. It’s hard to explain. It’s very abstract, not a sense of a particular object I would like to photograph, usually. It’s sort of a feeling and dance of dark and light and texture and energy. I’m realizing how often it gets lost in the distraction of actually working with images on the sensor and equipment and the duality of object and camera. One manifestation of this vision simmering away is a kind of Rembrandt-like light-within-dark. More like a vague dream than anything I can explain. Light within dark.

Ok, back to the framing room!

Onward From The Fair

Foot Bridge White Mountains
Foot Bridge in White Mountains

Well. It sure has been a long time since an entry. A wild long time. Some big things happening have kept me from posting here, but I’ve just added six new photos to the site on my New Photos Page. These new ones are some of the many pieces I worked up in the frenzy of printing for the fair. Something about the possibility of having an audience to see real prints sends me into a frenzy of creativity, and I always want to make new prints when my focused task should be to make prints I already know are good. The more focused I am on something I’m supposed to do, the more I want to do something else, like work on new photos or old files newly rediscovered. I ended up making a much greater diversity of work than I was able to show in my 10 x 10 booth — wall space and two flip bins. I’ve been working through the backlog of that frenzy ever since. I have a lot of prints to put away, or mount, or frame. They are on shelves in my work space, and I need that space. The one above is not from the pre fair frenzy though, but from the following bit of context:

These days I’m working up about 300 prints for a hotel in North Conway, New Hampshire. There will be about a hundred and fifty 19 x 19″ prints framed in 30 inch frames, and the same number in 11 x 11 frames. I’m doing the framing as well! The photo above is one of the 19 x 19 prints, and I’m quite pleased with it. Most of the images are from older exposures, but this one is from a trip to the White Mountains right after the Sunapee fair, a decompression trip. It is exposed on my

For this project I’ve been upgrading some of my production infrastructure to good effect. I’ve added an Epson P7000 printer in order to be able to make big prints without out-sourcing those bigger than I used to be able to print myself (with a limit of 17 inches for maximum width before). I’ve also added a wall mounted glass cutter, which also can cut board to size (not bevels), so my framing just go a lot quicker and less frustrating, especially as regards cutting glass.

The latter device is an interesting intersection with denial. I don’t fully understand why I didn’t allow myself to get it before. I’ve wasted the cost of the device in broken glass in the past few years, not to mention the time and tears, setting up and then breaking a large sheet of expensive Tru Vue glass. I don’t fully understand, which is the nature of denial, but I guess I always thought I was getting better at cutting glass. This time it would work out. Last time it sort of worked out, right? I had to cut right through that denial nonsense about the glass cutting though. Breaking a lot of expensive glass would destroy me in a job this size.

More soon! I’ll take a break from framing and printing to write some more.

The Continuing Evolution of Printing and Seeing

Hawaii Wave and Mist

This is one of the oldest digital images on my site, and I’ve finally developed my eye and abilities to print it in a way that pleases me very much. When I look back at the time after I made this exposure, over a dozen years ago, this digital file serves as a sort of signpost, stationary through moving time and change. It’s the same image, but everything has changed, including how the image manifests on paper.

At the time I opened the shutter, seasick on a boat, to let some Hawaiian misty light onto that relatively crude DSLR sensor, I was a different photographer and a very different printer. I probably see everything differently from that time — my vision has developed overall along with my mind and life and practices. But my printing has developed quite a lot; I hesitate to say it has changed the most of all in my photography of all the ways I see.

When I was new at digital printing I got a high-ish end Epson pro grade printer and some fine art paper. I was looking for sharpness. I did not yet have good control of color, of how to get the color in my mind and on the screen to show up on the paper. Besides the technical details of evolving a color managed workflow, I think it had to do with fear. I was wasting expensive paper and ink, and rarely getting it right, so I lacked courage to just assert my vision. It’s a little hard to explain, but if you look at Van Gogh’s brush strokes up close in a museum, they are very brave. I had some courage before that in the darkroom, but probably not as much as I have now. Early ink-jet printing I had very little courage.

Early in my photography I had an epiphany about the malleability of photography as a medium. I was in college, working a very little bit in the college pottery in stolen moments and the darkroom in other stolen moments, and also as extra curricular reading trying to understand a book about the Zone System for black and white photography. Maybe the book wasn’t so good. Partly, as a Dartmouth student, it was hard to find bandwidth in stolen moments like that. Then one night I had a dream where the negative was conflated with the pottery clay — it was malleable like that, could be bent and worked. It was like I could smush the tones around with my fingers. Darkroom photography is far less tangibly squishy than digital photography is — you have to work methodically for any departures from defaults. I think that dream changed everything. Sometimes that happens in my photography — I’l have a dream about something strange that is in the realm of photography, and then I see differently. I still have a back-burner project I’m working on based on a dream with yellows and form and texture a few years ago.

A couple of years later from that struggle with the zone system I did a workshop with Ansel Adam’s then-assistant, John Sexton, where we got to learn Ansel’s technique and see prints of his develop from straight print all the way through final print as he changed paper, chemistry, dodging, and burning. So I worked that way in the darkroom after that more than I had before, the Zone System very clear — with more courage in my brush strokes as it were.

So anyway, over a decade later, I’m revisiting this print above with amazing results. I actually had a print I had made over a decade ago of this image in my tiny office, flopping around clipped to a 16 x 20 mat board, in the way. It wasn’t on the wall, one of those things I just really should put away — it was in the way. But I think I kept it out, maybe, so it could work on me, provoke my dissatisfaction so I could evolve. I was not completely satisfied with it. I liked it, but… but… but…

I guess in some way I had been pulling back the string of a bow. Tension. I was developing my technique and vision. So a couple of weeks ago I just let the arrow fly from that bow and re-imagined the way this gets printed. I don’t know if I kept the old file or remember exactly what I changed in the color and tones, but I know in the printing I moved from a semi-gloss paper, probably the baryta paper I often favor for some prints, to an etching paper surface. Something about the way this Canson Etching paper takes these colors and renders these tones and details. Wow.

Boxes Made of Butter

Four Birch Reflections on New Blue Ice

Of course, the shape of the photograph is important. I had stopped seeing panoramas and making them so much, partly because I was having trouble framing them so it would work. Using sturdier frames and better framing technique, and cutting my own glass I’m able to frame them in a sturdy way and without going (as) broke doing it. So I’m seeing them and printing them again. Yay! I’ll be hanging 3 panoramas at an upcoming show at the Eversource headquarters in Manchester NH through the spring, and also some different ones in the gallery in hallway 4F at Dartmouth Hitchcock medical center in Lebanon NH through April and May.

Part of what I like about the pano format is the way the eye can move in a different way. There is something a bit more free, call it “vast” feeling about the space, for me.

Compare to the extreme opposite, a square composition (which I also love, and used a lot in the days when I had added the use of a medium format film camera along with my 4 x 5 view camera main-axe. In this composition, as in many squares, the eye moves back in, it’s tighter, it feels more boxed-in. Which is OK. It’s always a box of some sort.

Dewy Garlic Scape with Roses

I think somehow the sense of composition within a box has a subtle pointer to outside of the box. It points to a bigger scene, and the boxed-in detail evokes a larger space. Since that larger space is here undefined, the space is purely mind. Our mind is bigger than the box.

When I was in college, I remember talking to a friend about people who were “in the boxes” and “out of the boxes.” (Where are you now, Steph?) In the boxes was our way of referring to purely conceptual, standard, and habitual ways of thinking. There was plenty of in the boxes thinking at Dartmouth when I was a student there. Out of the boxes was more emotional, less habitual, open to new experience and ideas. It was rather rarer. The thing is, you need the boxes in this world. We need concepts, defined ideas, a reality that works in its framework. But ultimately the truth has its home out of the boxes as well.

Since those days I’ve become a meditator and a Buddhist; I’ve lived a lot of my life in conceptual terms, I’ve composed photographs that exist in their limited spaces. But I’ve also rested in what Tibetan Buddhists would call “space,” embraced the view of emptiness. My teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche literally talked about the framing I’ve done here. To paraphrase (I’m working from memory of a retreat with him), “You need some boxes. That’s why we give you lots of boxes (concepts). But let’s have the boxes be made of butter, so they melt.” (We need to go beyond concept).

These new (and new-ish) photos are available for sale:

Foliage Reflection Riverside Rocks

Four Birch Reflections in New Blue Ice

Dewy Garlic Scape and Roses

Orange Foliage Reflections Puddles, Riverbank Rock

Clarity

Stone Wall, Ferns, Dandelions,Vermont

First, let me get out of the way that I don’t mean to write about “clarity” as a slider in Photoshop, Lightroom, or other post-processing software. I will digress and write about that a little bit to get it out of the way. Also, to clarify: I did not use this slider or effect on this image. If I ever do use it, it is very sparing.

That post-processing form of “clarity” is a subtle to not-subtle distortion of tonal values. The effect changes the tone not just at the edge, as “sharpening” algorithms do. It changes a whole block of tonality, which may have the effect of changing our perception of the detail of an image. While it is sometimes helpful, I tend to not like it or its over-use very much. The resultant images often look “crunchy” and over-wrought. Here is an interesting example of it, which I often show to students if I’m teaching Lightroom or Photoshop. First, a set of pure tones, unprocessed. We may perceive edge effects just because of the way we are wired, but the tones are solid:

Straight up

Next, here is the same set of tones with “clarity” applied in Adobe Lightroom:c

Clarity applied

You can see above that the sense of edges between the tones is enhanced, but the purity and actual clarity of the tones is distorted in favor of a sort of 3-d effect here. The clarity slider – be careful!

The clarity I think about is our perceptual clarity, how we see, a quality of one’s mind.

In the path of becoming a decent photographer, there are stages in developing clarity of vision.

First off, it’s a challenge to see what the world looks like instead of what one imagines it to be. This is the primary challenge: seeing through our own preconceptions. There is so much to see in any scene in front of our eyes, and instead of doing our best to really look at it, as a baseline, we are content to seeing a bit and then creating our own fantasy image of what we see. We might not really see the shape of a tree, but instead we are satisfied that it has a trunk and then some leaves, as a child will often draw a tree as a brown stick with a green circle on top. Light, shadow, shapes, texture; it’s a lot of work to see what’s really there, and we don’t make the effort unchallenged.

The second stage of gaining some clarity as a photographer is actually seeing what is in the viewfinder, and imagining what that looks like as a flat thing – a photograph. The common example is making a portrait whenthe subject has a tree or pole in the background. In a print it will look like the pole is growing out of the subjects head — or at least it is a distracting break from the shape of a person and a head, to have the sharp vertical in the same place.

After we can not only see the world clearly and visualize it as a photograph, with no extraneous or distracting or unexpected elements, we can start to think about how the viewer’s eye will move through it, as through a painting. Curves, shapes, depth, texture, in and out. A work of art works better when it creates a dance for the eye, moving around the frame.

And as these other aspects are developing, we can develop clarity in the realm of human resonance. How does it feel? Is that feeling profound? Might it be shared among viewers? Can something beyond words be communicated, a sense of presence, of… something?

And behind it all… the mind. In a way we can develop or “improve” aspects of clarity, but in another sense we are just getting in touch with something that is already there. In a way there is nothing to improve. My Buddhist teacher says that clarity of mind, like awareness and some other intrinsic qualities, just is. It’s there — all we have to do is access it. How do we do that? It’s a practice, and all of the above helps, but meditation may be the most helpful practice. Also helpful to have a teacher who can point out this aspect of mind, any people you can hang out with who have access to their clarity.


New Ice With Brush Stroke Texture, 2017

New Ice with Brush Stroke Texture, Vermont

This photo looks like I somehow enhanced it to create a painting appearance, especially through the middle of the print and on the left, but that is how the ice looked. I just saw it that way through the lens.

For a larger view or to buy a print, go to this photo’s page

Practice helps us remember what we know, when we are in other situations. This goes for practicing photography, and the same for my meditation practice and dharma studies. It’s hard to practice enough, but it helps if I do. The point isn’t just so one can best inhabit the moment when things are going well, but also when things are going badly.

What is the practice? What helps? Well, keeping what we might call The View. Which is to say an understanding of how reality works. It turns out that photography is a lot like meditation in a lot of ways. Probably meditation is the more important practice, but it’s also interesting to have an action that manifests the same wisdom that we mostly learn through non-action. The active version helps spread the view into life. Then there is mindfulness. Attention. Cultivating, making better and better friends with awareness. Again, this cuts both ways. Sometimes with feet in the fire, it just makes it more intense. But then, strangely, sometimes it helps. It helps to feel the fire. It helps, in photography, to be able to wait until the situation is one to work with.

As a photographer, we are open to experience. Shape, form, light, and other events manifest in various ways, and we make an exposure through a lens. Usually that manifestation is temporary. The exact circumstance and light will not occur again. Our job is to experience and recognize the moment and then keep it together to do what we need to get an exposure to work through the lens. Sometimes nothing much is happening that seems worth photographing, and other times it’s hard to keep up with it. Sometimes, from a photographer’s perspective, the world in front of the lens is lousy, and sometimes fantastic.

Al our life is the same. It comes together in a way that will please us from some perspective; then sometimes the way it comes together is not pleasing, useful, or interesting from our personal perspective. Of course the perspective that finds the world pleasing, or not pleasing, is as temporary as other manifestations. If we are hungry, food is beautiful. If we are overstuffed, it can be repulsive. The world changes, perspective changes, but there is always a relationship between our current perspective, arising and changing, and the outer world, manifesting and changing.

Usually the appearance of new ice on my pond is interesting and pleasing to me as a photographer, plenty of chance for interesting texture, color, abstraction. I know it will be gone soon, melting by noon, or else settling into a more solid and boring form as it becomes an enduring sheet.

I used to try for deep depth of field a lot in this kind of photography, but I am loosening up quite a bit, mostly starting last year. This was exposed through a medium long old Zeiss prime lens with amazing sharpness and also a beautiful quality to the blur when out of focus at a medium aperture.

3 Abandoned Hay Bales, Ascutney Mountain and Low Clouds

3 round hay bales, ascutney mountain, vermont, infrared

It’s been too long since I’ve gotten to work with new exposures and push my work into the new direction. I’ve been so busy hanging shows, and some of that is printing established work. And so I was excited to launch into one of the newer files. I had some writing I’d been thinking of to accompany it.

Then this one caught my eye. I don’t know why it happens that something grabs me like this. Partly I think it is because as my skill increases, I know how I can pull something off, interpret it so it sings. When I made this exposure in 2015, I didn’t really see how this would work. Today it was pretty easy. Maybe I was grabbed by it because this morning was foggy with low clouds like this. Maybe tomorrow I couldn’t do it. It is all a mystery.

When I made the exposure above, I also exposed this one, below, and that was something I “saw” pretty quickly as a silvery and subtle and textured work and published it on the site years ago. Now it has an infrared sister.
Single Round Hay Bale Mount Ascutney, Clouds, Vermont, Black and White

One funny story about making these exposures: I pulled over in my little ancient VW Golf. One of the cameras I used was kind of big, a Nikon D800, and the other one was my Micro Four Thirds Infrared camera. So a guy pulls up in a big truck, sets up a big tripod (I haven’t used a tripod that big since I had a bellows camera on top of it), and sets up a big DSLR. I thought the D800 was too big, and I don’t know how a DSLR could get so much bigger. Maybe a battery grip added onto some monster camera? I think it was a Can-Nikon offering and not a medium format camera. Anyway, I felt like little old me with my little plunky gear, and I thought probably the scene was too common if someone else was set up there, and set up so grandly too. I figured I wouldn’t do anything with the exposures. It was mid fall, already late in the foliage season, and the colors were subtle and maybe interesting. I think it was the fact someone else was making photographs there that pushed me to interpret it as I did, all silvery textures instead of some punchy colors. At this point I’d love to see if he got anything good in that spot.

These photos are printed on Epson Cold Press Natural and are available for sale here:
Three Hay Bales
Single Hay Bale

Post Pond Work and Rework

In working up the show of Post Pond images now hanging at Matt Brown Fine Art in Lyme NH, I of course had to over-work on it. Doing so was worth it. The show looks great!

So, I of course had to look through my catalog to find files I’ve never really printed before, and introduce them. I had taken a stab at the one above, an older exposure, but I think I hit it this time.

One of my favorite Post Pond photos, and one that is well liked when I show it, is this one of Pickerel Weed and Mist:

From the same set of exposures, I also made another print I like quite well, which I printed the same size (about 14 x 20). For such a close proximity in time and space, it has a very different feel, I think because I interpreted the file a bit differently and saw the color balance a bit differently. I like it quite well too:

Another image that I liked quite well but hadn’t ever been satisfied with a print until now was this one:
Post Pond October Mist, Reeds, Yellow Trees
I like it because autumn is often dreamy and subtle like that. Though I personally am not always happy with punchy, saturated fall color prints, it’s harder to do the subtle thing. I guess as it always is. I haven’t been able to hit this one just right for some years, but I’m very happy now. Hanging in Lyme.

This one too, I am much happier with the current version than what I had done before. I think my eye as a photographer, when making exposures, is getting better, but I know my eye as a printer, working with files and paper, is getting much much better each year.
post pond misty waterline, cloud reflections and hills, black and white

 

(Here is a collection of everything I am currently printing from Post Pond.)