Category Archives: Spring

Spring Cornfield, Hay Field, Clouds Hartland Vermont

This is a spot where I’ve made a lot of exposures, in infrared as well as with visible light, especially this last spring. It’s a long walk, or a short trip on the electric bicycle. Though I’ve always been drawn to the spot, it’s hard to say what it is this spring that pulled me there so much. This is about a quarter mile and a few weeks separated from this image of Mt Ascutney. This one is looking north-ish, while the other one is across the road, a south view. It’s a good spot.

There were some times when the clouds were more dramatic, some panoramas that worked out well and included those clouds. I don’t know. For now, this is the one. Something about the light and the quality of the space. Yes.

This looks much better bigger on the web page.

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 I’ve been actually throwing away some unpublished images made with some good old Nikon lenses, because so much of the work I’m doing now is just plain better.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.

A New Thin Place: Single Maple Tree in Birch Grove, Vermont

birch grove panorama vermont

Sometimes these posts come because I have a photo (or several) pressing to be published, and sometimes it’s because I have something to write about. Sometimes it’s neither, and I do this out of discipline. I think it usually works out about the same.

I’ve been listening to The Moth podcasts while gardening lately. These are true stories told by the people who experienced them. The one that triggered this thinking and writing was by Krista Tippett, who broadcasts interviews with a broad range of what might be called “spiritual” people. The striking thing for me in the story she told was a mention of her time in Ireland, and an ancient Celtic idea of “Thin Places.” I had never heard of this as such, by that name and tradition. As she put it, a Thin Place is “a place where the gap between the temporal and transcendent is very thin.” Well. Yes.

I have experienced many such places throughout my lifetime, and arguably the discovery and exploration of such places is what got me to squander so much time with a camera, and then in the darkroom and then on the computer with photos. I could elaborate endlessly, and I think I should do it in a book, and in bits over various posts.

I have found as a photographer that sometimes these places are just dripping with good photographs. Other times, these places make it actually harder to photograph well. Sometimes a good photograph is made of essentially tricks — ways that compositions move the eye, textures, tones, and colors. All the normal ingredients of art applied to create a piece in the same way paint is applied to a canvas. The thing is, you still have to work as a photographer and exert the right skills, whether in a Thin Place or next to a Burger King.

I have also found that the application of effort, skill, and one’s own spiritual energy to a piece of art can create a “Thin Place” right there in the art, from scratch. I realized this over 30 years ago in MOMA, Museum of Modern Art, standing in front of van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Each dab of paint radiated some energy and was a portal to Vincent’s mind — he made that happen.

So in my experience, the relationship between a Thin Place and art is very tricky. 35 years of exploration have not unlocked all the secrets, or very many of them.

Back to this particular spot: A few miles from my house there’s a grove of birch trees right by the road. If I’m walking or riding a bike, I stop there, almost always, and I look and feel. The other week I was stopped on my bike, when a man on a walk I had passed caught up to me and stopped: A neighbor I hadn’t met. We hit it off, had a lot in common, and chatted for probably over an hour, more time than I should have taken as I had client work promises to keep. One thing that came from that conversation was the news that the owner of the land of that birch grove allows walkers.

I have been photographing a lot in recent weeks, which is another set of stories. I am in love with two new-ish cameras and some very nice lenses. I was in the emerging spring, just right in it, watching the buds swell and the leaves break out of them as if in time-lapse. I scrutinized and photographed and savored the bud-bursting leaf popping time, and I felt attached, not wanting it to pass. I wanted the leaves to stay so small and bright with light passing through them and dappling the ground and the other small bright lit-up leaves. But also enjoying the transformation, let it evolve, as everything will.

So a handful of walks in this newly found trail through birch groves and pastures was part of it. It is in some ways such an old time quintessential Vermont paradise of a sort that gets harder and harder to find as there are fewer farms and less mowing, and the fields grow up to brush. But this is very unusual as such an extensive stand of beautiful birch trees. The effect of this place on me is quite profound. But I’ve found it to be very hard to photograph there; I think I go over the gap into the other side of the Thin Spot, into the transcendent. I don’t keep my wits about me as well in terms of what works, what makes a photograph, how to (as a photographer) dab the brush into the paint and onto the canvas. Somehow I want to smear the canvas right on the scene and have it transfer. But it doesn’t work that way, does it? Not in painting or always in photography — you need the intermediary of the brush and paint — or some technology — to move the energy from around you and through you and to create some kind of thing that is related to it but separate.

This print is for sale and can be viewed larger here.

Mount Ascutney Through New Maple Leaves

I’ve been working on “this” image for a few weeks — not this particular image as such, but the idea. Actually, really for almost a year in some forms. Last summer I was photographing a very twisted maple branch in this spot, with a wide angle lens. Those never made it onto the site, but I was interested. Then this spring I was trying it some more, and after getting home from some camera work I noticed a few that stood out in a way I liked — with a slight telephoto, the just-about-to-break-buds tracing lines across the mountain.

The concept of that was something like an ukiyo-ye woodcut, which so often featured Fuji as background with some interesting forms in the foreground.

Somewhat tormented by this concept, I persevered. These days it seems that conceptual photography has some extra legitimacy in some circles. The more of a concept you have behind the work, the better, in those circles. I don’t know about that. I didn’t have a high art concept, like models with different colors of jello in their hair, or a series of different flowers all run over by the same BMW. Nothing high art like that. The good thing was that this concept kept me working on this image, but the downside was that it drove me crazy. The fresh seeing and spontaneity that I like to see in my photography was getting harder and harder to come by in this series. In the work work work my vision got to feeling a little dull. But in the end I think it pulled through, and maybe some others in the series are good too.

Luckily I was generally very busy with the camera, in spite of this concept-driven image. I’m very happy with a new lens, which seems to be the best lens for infrared that I’ve ever had. And another new lens that is one of the best I’ve ever had period. Spring is bursting very quickly, and I’ve been making a lot of exposures every day; some walks, some rides on the electric bicycle, some drives. The concept has been getting in the way of publishing much of this suddenly new backlog, but those images will still be there.

Even though the idea-thread of the recent work featured lines of branches and breaking buds across the figure of the mountain, I broke out of it. These branches are only in the sky, just a little into the mountain. The wildness of these just-broken-out leaves and the wild twisted sugar maple branches come back to fresh vision again.

This continues the fresh-from-the camera trend I’ve had in the photo of the week, which is much harder than pulling out an old chestnut from the catalog and bringing it into the world.

This image is for sale (and for larger view) here.

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

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.

Single Apple Blossom Petal Impaled on Grass Blade, 2013

Abruptly switching from the chock-full of chaos and energy images from Nepal from the last few weeks, here’s something more fresh out of the camera from Vermont last week. It was a rainy day, and I almost didn’t go out. I thought maybe the apple petals might be falling though, and the pond-surface was clean with rain. Possibilities. Looking closely I found this one petal, with a bit of a dewy spiderweb on it no less, pierced by a single blade of grass. Maybe the grass blade grew up through the petal, or maybe the petal fell hard enough to get skewered. Neither seems likely. Something like that happened though.

Worth setting the tripod up!

This print is for sale here.

Old Barn, Spring Poplars, NH

I started looking through raw images in my Lightroom catalog the other evening, and this image jumped out at me. I decided to try opening the RAW file in Photoshop to see what was what. Then I decided to search for the file and see if I already had a non-raw version of it. I found one, and the modified date was exactly one year ago! I guess this date just sort of feels like this here in northern New England.

This print is for sale here.