Friday, October 30, 2009
This being Halloween and all, people are talking a lot about what is “spooky.”
Ghosts are spooky. Skeletons are spooky. Monsters are spooky.
Personally I think photographs are spooky...or, at the very least, they are a witches brew, concocted from a pinch of vision, a dash of artistic hocus-pocus, and a whole lot of happenstance.
This morning I was walking down the gravel lane that leads to our house. I glanced absent-mindedly over at my neighbor’s barn, and, framed through one of the barn doors, was the American flag that hangs in front of another neighbor’s house.
“That’s a picture,” I thought.
None of the ingredients of this photograph ever changes: The barn is anchored in a concrete foundation, and, even when the strongest autumn wind comes howling down off the Olympic Mountains on the scariest of Halloween eves, the barn never moves...and the flag always hangs from that same flagpole. I have walked up and down that gravel lane hundreds, maybe thousands of times and I like to think of myself as an observant fellow, yet I’ve never noticed the possibility of this photograph.
This morning I saw it.
Oh, this Art Stuff is spooky to me.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Today’s post is a bit of a milestone, as I began doing this online journal in April of 2007 and this is post number 300.
This journal has been about little stuff, everyday stuff that we all tend to miss sometimes as we hurry about our daily routines. Photography is one of my reminders -- a string I have tied on my finger -- that tells me: “Stop. Look. See.” And of course it is a way I can share what I’ve seen with others.
Three hundred is quite a number of written essays, coming from someone who has to labor mightily for coherent thoughts to make their way from brain to keyboard to you, dear reader.
In some cases I know who is out there reading these posts, in many cases I’m sure I do not. Several months ago I saw that someone from Europe had posted a “comment” on my blog that invited us all to view his posts, but his link was spam. Because it appeared to me that spammers might be using the Comment sections of blogs to make their sneaky ways into our lives, I removed the Comment option from my site.
The photo I’m posting today is a sunset I watched a number of evenings ago as I rode a ferry across Puget Sound, headed to a meeting with would-be clients. The folks I met with that night have not hired me and my gut tells me that they probably won’t. The photography-for-hire world is like that: Sometimes you get the job, occasionally you don’t.
That night I did get to see an amazing sunset, however. The string around my finger reminded me to stop, and to be thankful I have eyes.
Friday, October 23, 2009
What I saw were shapes and color: the cat’s ears, the umbrella, the porch posts in the background. All these visual elements came together momentarily for the picture I’m posting today. (I say “momentarily” because our cranky cat Basil always gets up and moves if he knows I’m about to take his picture, I swear this is true.)
What Basil saw was rain, rain, and more rain. Basil is a fellow who spends the summer months having to make only one decision each day: Whether to nap in this spot of sun over here, or that spot over there. Now that the summer is over and the fall rains have begun, Basil is bummed, seriously bummed.
This drippy fall and winter, that blue umbrella will be as valued to us as muck boots and work gloves as we head to the barn to feed the sheep and chickens. Once our chores are finished, the umbrella will be placed under cover of our front porch, where it will be left to dry.
Basil is not at all happy about any of this.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
We do love us our trees here in the Puget Sound neighborhood of the Pacific Northwest, and I point to the way we refer to certain places as an indicator of the respect we give trees: In Mt. Rainier National Park, huge, ancient cedars stand in an area poetically named The Grove of the Patriarchs. In Olympic National Park there are moss-covered ancients in The Valley of Silent Men.
Though there are trees here, there and everywhere in the region, the city of Seattle found itself embroiled in a Big Stink recently when a plan was put forward to expand one of the city’s public high schools. When citizens learned that the expansion would necessitate the cutting-down of some much-loved trees, why all hell broke loose.
And as much as locals love the vistas of the Puget Sound and surrounding mountains, homeowners better not cut down trees to “improve” their views. The neighborhood will be all up in arms faster than you can say “abomination.”
There are at least a half-dozen nurseries within a 10-mile radius of where I live. In addition to selling flowers and vegetable starts, those nurseries have acres and acres of trees for sale. This foggy morning I stopped by the nearby Savage Plants and asked the owners if I could wander around and look for just-for-fun pictures. They kindly invited me in.
There was so much beauty there, it made my eyes hurt.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Many, many moons ago when I was a wannabe competitive runner and was racing in 10k road runs and even marathons, I had one major shortcoming:
I had no speed.
Oh, I could run and run for mile after mile, and I could do that at a fairly decent pace. But when the other runners and I neared the finish line, I knew that anyone with a good finishing kick was probably going to blow past me. I’d hold my place in the pack as long as I could, but invariably some speedster would burn me and there was nothing I could do but Accept Reality.
I walked out our door the other day and something I saw transported me back to those long-ago days when I was a 20-year-old road racer. There’s a plant growing near our front porch, a Japanese Anemone. The crazy thing is blooming like it is early spring, though the calendar clearly tells us that it’s fall. Other plants and trees that I see and photograph in our woods also seem to know that it’s time for the order of things to change, for the growing season to fade and for summer to gracefully allow red-hot autumn to pass it by.
But the Japanese Anemone is hanging on.
I honor its spunk.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Leah and I sat down to a meal the other night and realized that everything we were about to eat had been grown locally: Broccoli and potatoes that we bought fresh that morning at our community’s Saturday Farmers’ Market, and tomatoes that came from our own garden.
Recent news reports say that the ailing economy is causing many of us to tighten our belts, and high fuel prices mean that we’re often tending to stay close to home. The reports say that community Farmers’ Markets have become hugely popular among folks who would like to buy good quality food without having to drive a long way to get it.
There’s also a lot to be said for putting money in the pockets of local growers -- people who are our neighbors and friends.
Saturday was the last market of the season in our community. Because Leah and I are such fans of our Market and shop there most every week, many of the vendors have become friends. We walked around and said our good-byes. I chatted with a woman who was selling flowers grown on her 15-acre farm, then wandered to another booth and photographed beautiful vegetables.
There’s another vendor booth I never miss: The booth that sells chocolate chip cookies. Normally I buy two cookies, but Saturday I bought four. The next Market won’t happen again till mid-April. Pocketing my four precious indulgences, I felt a bit like a squirrel, laying-in a stash of nuts to get me through the long winter months.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
My mother once looked at one of the pictures I’d taken of one of our cats and asked me: "How do you get the cat to pose?"
Mom’s question not only cracked me up, it also proved to me that it’s in a mother’s job description to believe her kids can do the impossible. I mean everyone -- my mother included -- knows that a cat does what it wants to do, when it wants to do it. If anything, I find that a certain feigned disinterest on my part is a good ploy in cat photography: One looks off into the distance, pretending not to notice that the cat has wandered into beautiful photographic light. One whistles or hums a nonsense tune -- dum-dee-dum -- then shoots fast.
The last thing ones wants is for the cat to realize a picture is in the offing. If a cat knows you’d like to take his picture, I’m here to tell you that he’ll begin to aggressively lick his butt (the cat gets it that butt-licking is not something his human wants to photograph.) Cats are like that. If you are a photographer looking for a mewse (or desperate for a misspelled pun) don't expect cooperation from a cat.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
I know it’s getting to be autumn here when dry leaves and cedar duff begin to fall on our roof and it feels like I spend more time up on a ladder cleaning the gutters than I do on the ground taking photographs. Blustery winds -- all but absent during the idyllic summer -- begin to blow now and then off the east slopes of the Olympic Mountains, as if Mother Nature is doing warm-up exercises for the coming rainy, sometimes stormy months.
The arc of the sun as it travels from east to west falls lower in the sky with each passing day. This too tells rain-wise Pacific Northwesterners that the monsoon season is about to return. We’ve had a couple of months to dry out umbrellas and patch our rain parkas. Soon the normalcy of rain will mark our days.
The good news, for photographers, is that the light here in the fall is just amazing. I shot the photograph above two mornings ago when I was out for a walk at dawn. The wind was whipping the branches of the willow and even the stately cedar trees so that there was no way I could get everything in the scene in sharp focus, but the moon was incredible. The image below happened yesterday, again at dawn, as the low-in-the-sky sun popped through the trees that surround our house and filtered through a curtain.
There will be more to see in the coming days. Like Mother Nature, I’d better do my warm-up exercises and be ready.
Friday, October 2, 2009
I’ve hiked more than my share of wilderness trails on my way to high and wild places. I have spent many nights sleeping on the ground in a nylon sack filled with feathers, my stash of barely edible freeze-dried backpacker food hung by a rope from the branches of a high tree to keep my Mountain Chili away from the neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Bear.
I have gone to those wild places with many intentions, some I’m aware of, others probably not. I have hiked to find peace and quiet, to get away from the noise and hubbub of the city and modern life. Because I’m a photographer I’ve also carried camera gear on my back, hoping to find amazing images, but I know that even the best pictures sometimes don't communicate the essence of a place.
I can tell you from experience that John Muir had it right when he said: “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
This week we’ve been planted in front of our television set every evening, watching the latest Ken Burns film on PBS, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” For the past four nights we’ve heard about folks who had the vision to keep a few special wild places wild, to spare them from mining or drilling or damming or development.
Ironically it was just a week ago that we were visiting friends in Gaithersburg, Maryland and I stumbled into a question of land use. One afternoon I went out for a walk in our friends’ suburban Washington DC neighborhood. At every turn I saw yard signs protesting a development that Johns Hopkins University has proposed for the area, and I learned later that my walk was giving me a look at the kind of pro- and anti-development controversy that has been the backstory of our local, regional and national decisions about how to treat our lands. A 108-acre, 19th century farmstead would be developed into a massive biotech campus, 4.6 million square feet stacked in 6- 10- and 10-story high-rises.
I walked outside a white fence surrounding most of the perimeter of the farm, and it took nearly an hour. Beltway suburbia was outside the fence, trees and fields, a big barn and old home within. I took a few pictures.
I had the sad feeling I was photographing land that will soon be lost to “progress.”