Saint Peter's Landing
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 31 August 2020 Elegiastic photo of one of the basins of Gloucester's Inner Harbor, a pretty good mash-up of a working port and a great tourist draw. It's a two frame infrared panorama. I think the schooner Thomas E. Lannon, under power in the left side, is a nice note.
Elegiastic because we're about to travel. Thursday (if all goes to plan) we'll be on the road to meet up with our boat in Deale, Maryland, and Friday we hope to be on the water on the first day of our floating home's return to Washington DC. I don't think it likely that I'll be able to post that day. (You've been warned...) I think I'm becoming more and more a civilian. As a diplomat (and for some years following) I would never have broadcast my movements in advance this way.
I have decided not to think of myself as a "summer person" in New England, but as the latest of a series of artists, like Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper who came to Gloucester, worked here, and took inspiration from this very interesting and picturegenic place. I'm really happy with the last months' work here, a lot of solid with some real high points. Not the work I expected to be doing this year, which involved travel and exploration, but I'm still happy with it! For the next bit, we'll be settling in to once again having two homes and being able to move back and forth. We'll be back here at least a couple of times this fall while battening down the hatches for winter in Washington. On the photographic side, printer Danny Chau is stretching my knowledge of Photoshop with his treatment of the Big Picture I talked about a few weeks ago. One could spend a lifetime walking the streets and back alleys of Photoshop...
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 28 August 2020 Another infrared photo of the weeds encountered on the afternoon walks with Julee. I'm struggling with the word "weeds" because some of these photos show the very intentional decorative plants that people have around their homes. In my mind there isn't a very clear dividing line, and in this very crowded little city there is a lot of mixing anyway. Here I suspect the grass was intentional, and the other plants are sneaking in.
The last couple of days have been finally gearing up the next upgrades on the website. I'm delving into the mysteries of Mailchimp so that I can run a professional mailing list and have links embedded in my site and my emails to allow people to subscribe (and to unsubscribe!). That's probably it for this round, since that's actually a fairly large bite for this entirely-self-trained-and-without-inate-skills web master. I really want to see if I can at least partially wean myself from the social media sites. I have control of this, and no control over my presentation on them...
High Street Cemetery
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 24 August 2020 The afternoon walks have brought me a sunnier, wider (four frames stitched together), version of the Prospect Street Cemetery I posted in the gallery I posted after a really good couple of walks in the middle of last year. This cemetery has two names, apparently because the name of the street changed over time.
The walks have given me a lot of good images, and I'm not caught up, which is a pretty good feeling. This week, I'm going to be concentrating on the technical side, first, better control over my EOS-R color camera, which has a mind of it's own and probably has enough moxie to go head to head with the Cray supercomputers of my youth. Second, I'm working with my printer, Danny Chau, on The Big Picture of Kathmandu Durbar Square, and expect to learn a lot about post production in the process.
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 21 August 2020 The Pandemic continues to enforce a small world, so I continue to take most of my pictures within a short walk of the house in Gloucester, usually on the short walks that Julee and I take in the afternoons after she logs off after her day at work from home. I'll carry the infrared camera an groove on the weeds and the decorative plants in front of people's houses, and sometimes on the small cityscapes of Gloucester. This one is from the walk yesterday.
Peaceful Section, Helsinki Waterfront
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 17 August 2020
Statue of Peace by Essi Renvall I'm returning to May, 2018, when we were in Helsinki for Julee's work. I've restitched and reshaped the panorama, and done a little Photoshop patching in corner so that it fills out the rectangle. I still feel an amateur with this kind of work, but I'm getting it done. Both shots infrared, of course, and the panorama is stitched up from five individual photos. The view is of the city waterfront towards the inner harbour. Behind on this walk was a fancy neighborhood, with the U.S. and Russian Embassies, a mild pilgramage for me as they figured large in Foreign Service folklore when I joined in 1989 and the Cold War was still pretty hot.
I wasn't able to make any sense of the odd and wonderful bronze of the floating mid-20th Century woman in her house dress (but barefoot!). There's an inscription in three languages I can't read (Finnish, Swedish, and Russian) so no help there. My Finnish friends didn't seem to want to talk about it, though when I pressed they admitted it had something to do with the relationship with Russia. When I really dug into identifying it this week, it was fairly hard to find. There are a number of more classical statues of women on that waterfront that are much better known and beloved! Persistance pays off, though. It's the Statue of Peace erected to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the 1948 Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance between Finland and the Soviet Union which laid out the Cold War relationship between the two countries. Given the background I can see why it's a zone of quiet for the Finns... I'm a bit outside, so I can say that I really like the odd power of Essi Renvall's monumental image.
On the Way to the Weeds
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 14 August 2020 Took this on while walking to railroad station to take the photos of the plants growing along the tracks, thus On the Way to the Weeds. It's the house on the corner of our street, very much in the style of most Gloucester houses. Little is new here, and nothing in our neighborhood, but all is loved and well used.
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 10 August 2020 So, Saturday, we had what we call "Adult Dinner", and we walked back through the Gloucester train station on the way back from the ice cream parlor. Back in the day, when Kipling wrote Captains Courageous and Harvey Cheyne met his parents in their private railway car here, this railroad fanned out into what must have been a warehouse district. Today it's a single line of commuter rail running through Gloucester from Boston on to Rockport. It's not seeing any traffic this year, as the drawbridge that carries the rail to the island of Cape Ann is undergoing months of repairs and maintenance, and nature is taking over, as nature does. The weeds were wonderfully backlit, but I didn't have my infrared camera. But, home is near at hand, and once there I grabbed the machine and staggered back in my drunken chocolate ice cream haze, Ready to Make Art.
On last week's issue, how critical is critical? I'm not sure the "small" big monitor I'm using here is up to snuff. Not only pale, but the right side of the screen is (if you're looking carefully) darker than than the left side. I'm not sure the 25 inch version of this product is nearly as good as the 27 inch version from the same manufacture that I have on the boat. Work and analysis in progress!
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 7 August 2020 The next step in my exploration of photo processing for print and screen: A sudden test print ordered from a local lab, Adorama's Printique. (Hey, Brooklyn is local, even when you're a bit north of Boston, with quick turnaround in any case.) At Adorama/Printique when you order online you have the option of requesting "no adjustments". Normally a tech will look at your photo and make it better before sending it to the giant printing machine, but you can turn that off, although that will trigger a pop-up dialogue box where you have to swear you have a calibrated monitor and know what you're doing. Well, yes to the first, and a little necessary fudging on the second!
So, comparing the paper print on the actual wooden desktop with the image on the monitor... No real surprises. Hightlights are very similar, but the shadows on screen are fairly open on the monitor, and quite opaque on the print. (And, as before and what drove this whole exercise, open on my twenty-five inch NEC monitor, and opaque on the laptop screen...) Could the monitor be brought into confluence with the print? I suspect not, or at least not completely, though I also suspect that it could be bit closer. But, I may just need to keep records and adjust the shadows to where they look washed out on screen, knowing they'll print darker on paper. But I have to also consider that I need to have image files that look good on my website, on a fair array of computer, tablet, and phone screens. Oy! I've been a bit shielded from this by having a super master printer for my display prints, Danny Chau. He's been working at this continuously in a mindful way since he was a teenager, and it shows.
But I still really want to understand this, even if my prints are produced by someone who is already deeply knowledgeable and can just do it. It's an important part of the craft, especially for someone like me who is drawn to marginal light. And, of course, I love the details of the work, even while holding on to the fact that the display image is the real product.
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 3 August 2020 It's Monday... I know it's Monday because, as you can see, I have clock with a day-of-the-week hand.
For me it's been an odd start to the week. My FrankenMac crashed, and crashed completely, while I was reading the news at breakfast. Fortunately, it's Glosta, and I can make a desperate Monday morning phone call to The MacDaddy on Main Street, hand it over the curb at 11:00, and get it back complete with the intermediate repair at 3:30. Wow! I know they're busy, so I appreciate the close to instant turn around. Final repair later in the week when a pair of new 8gb memory modules arrive...
So, not the start to the week I was planning, with further work on The Big Picture and some Deep Thought on the issue of monitors, prints, color, tone, and calibration. Perhaps when the littlest hand points to "Tuesday"...
Tracys Creek Panorama
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 31 July 2020 Another version of the photo I posted on 17 July, which seems ages ago, and is not quite two weeks in the past. I prefered the earlier one because it showed the crowding a bit better, but Julee saw this one over my shoulder and reacted strongly, and the truth is, I really like it. So here it is... I've been a bit all over the place this week, with the house pulling me (but happy with the work accomplished) and other business distracting, along with my naturally low level of energy and tendency towards extended planning processes...
On the photo side I'm working on getting my colors and contrast right from the beginning, that is, first on screen, in a way I can actually predict what the prints will look like, because, in the end, I'm still thinking of the print as the final product. And it is! I want something that will look good on my wall, and on your wall. (Email for prices!) It's not simple, first in not being simple (this was true in the film and photo paper days too) and second because the baseline parameters for screen display and printing are very distinct. I've now got my displays toned down to emulate paper and they look very dull.
Finally, the technology behind the built in display on the FrankenMac is older and different and much more limited than that of the big external monitor, so it's hard to get them to match. The Mac screen uses a technology called Twisted Nematic, which sounds like it should be a heavy metal group... But I do much of my editing on the small screen, and it's more vibrant (less accurate?) than the big screen. This all came up big time with The Big Picture I posted on the 24th, so I'm in a zone of struggle as I continue to work on this.
The Emerald Forest
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 27 July 2020 Just about a block from where we live here in Gloucester there is a patch of wild forest, unaccountably wedged between a residential street and a shopping complex. I've been mildly curious about it for a long time, but in the last couple of weeks it's really grabbed my attention. For one, it really is wild. It's not a park, it's not urban in any way, it's a little patch of wild forest. And, it began to look really photogenic to me.
So, this morning (Friday, 24 July) I took the infrared camera and went for A Walk on the Wild Side. (Cultural references: 1. and 2.) Once there, edged in a little bit across the soft accumulation of rotting leaves and twigs, edged out again, found an actual path, found the photo above (a three frame panorama, as often, a substitute for not carrying a wider lens) and explored right up to the path along the fence on the further edge, against the shopping complex. There, messy young people have found a private place to get drunk on beer, leaving the evidence behind, but aside from that the patch is remarkably clean. Retracing my steps back across I came out and was greeted by some neighbors washing their vehicle, so now I have a history and name.
The property was once a foundry making such things as anchors for the fishing fleet. I love foundries and hot metal work but they are environmently fraught. You can deal with it in ongoing operations, or clean up later. I suspect the business started before anyone thought of those issues, and when the foundry closed the site had to be razed to the ground and below, with everything, including a couple of feet of topsoil carried away. Then it was a brownfield and quite ugly, and then, with truly benign neglect, the forest grew up on it. Future use is still up in the air but my neighbor's household calls it The Emerald Forest, and I will too. They think of it as a real asset, which is absolutely correct, and organize cleanups. Next time I will join them!
I don't think you can argue that I was wrong about the forest being photogenic... I'm really pleased with this picture for a number of reasons, among them the fact I was able to pull it together so quickly and (dare I say?) with such assurance. I got home from an errand at 10:15am. Knowing I wanted bright morning sunlight I grabbed my camera and walked over. I took my pictures and conversed with my neighbors and was back in the house and had processed the raw image files and assembled the panorama in a bit over an hour. I had this photo ready to post at 11:28... Whao! I've learned a lot over the last ten years and I find myself very proud indeed. But still so much to learn... On the color side I truly wish I had Leah Gordon's post production skills, which awed me when I got her help with a difficult photo a couple of years ago in Haiti. They would truly help in balancing out the tones and colors in the picture below. Nothing for it but to study, to experiment, and learn.
The Big Picture, Kathmandu Durbar Square, 17 December 2016 (work in progress!)
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 24 July 2020 Well! My first week "at work" has paid off. When I sat down at my desk at 8:00am on Monday, this is the photo I picked to work on. It's a complex panorama taken of Kathmandu Durbar Square a sunny afternoon not quite four years ago. The
Historical Photography Laureate of Nepal
, Kiran Chitrakar, invited me out in his neighborhood, and took me to one of his secret vantage points whence I took this photograph.
That afternoon was a bit over a couple of years after the April 2015 earthquake, and this city/kingdom central square is still pretty beat up. Of the three major durbar (palace) squares in the Kathmandu Valley this one took the most damage and was the last to rebuild. I love these squares because they're major World Heritage Site tourist draws, dripping with history, and also the vibrant centers of comtemporary neighborhoods full of ordinary people going about their business. I was really lucky to live a couple of blocks off of Patan Durbar Square to the south the last couple of years in Nepal. I walked across the square every day and had to explain myself every time. Being European in appearance the guards assumed I should be paying the admission charged to tourists. It was lucky I spoke a rough grade of Nepali and could talk my way through...
On the technical side, this is a twenty frame double row panorama, one row of overlapping pictures across the top, a second row across the bottom. It covers a full 180° from side to side, and, as you can see, is very large image containing a lot of detail. As I was working on it I felt like I got to know the people and bond with them. This young woman definitely has someplace to go! There is a boy on his bike, a man on his phone, and many, many, groups hanging out this weekend afternoon. This picture taught me a lot, most importantly to make every effort not to pan diagonally, that is to tilt up or down as one sweeps the camera from one side to the other. That makes creating a rectangular image so much more difficult, and, even if successful, leaves perspective artifacts. Also, this photo helped push me to commercial panorama software. The open source software Hugin is awsome, and I owe it a lot, but it has trouble with highlights, masking is very hard, and it takes all night to stitch a photo this big. €149 for PTGui, and well worth it!
I've talked about the issues of these big urban panoramas in this blog before, here, and here when I was working on the nearly as big and equally complex panorama of the Marché Croix des Bosales in Haiti. Many of the same issues, including connecting with the people in the crowd! I honestly don't think I could have brought this one together without the lessons and experience of that one. I'm going to ignore the three minor mistitches on the building fronts (don't look, you will never find them at this web resolution) and call the image done on that side. It still needs some work, but in the realm of balancing lights, darks, and colors for printing and different screens. Another issue for another day!
Gloucester, Massachussetts, 20 July 2020 A bit of an experiment, as I'm not sure how this photo will play on my site, displayed small enough to view on a computer screen or even smaller on a phone or tablet. Often one uses light and shadow to draw the viewer's eye into the image, generally to the center of the frame. Here, the focus is literally focus. The center is sharp, and the focus falls off towards the edges. Interesting... It's not the way I generally think of making photos, being an Group f/64 accolyte, but it's valid, especially if it works!
Tidal Rocks Three photos from another great afternoon walk in Glosta - sorry, Gloucester! This one is from Stacy Esplanade, looking down at the shoreline, rather than up at the outer harbor.
Myrtle Square Apartment And this one is from the second to the last corner before we got home. I'd always thought this was Myrtle Street but I do fact check before I post, and it's Myrtle Square.
I've gone back to work. Not in the sense of getting a job, but the last months of weirdness and uncertainty have messed up my focus. I'm getting things done, but not necessarily the most important things in the right order, and it feels disordered. I think it's best if I set aside a period of the day to sit at my desk and do the most important things, which I define as photography and writing. This website and blog are both, of course. So, eight to noon, which leaves plenty of time for other important things, like working on the homes and shopping...
Tracys Creek, Maryland
In Transit, 17 July 2020 Well, it is obvious what they do around Tracys Creek... Made a lightning visit to the boat on the hard and talked to the various craftsmen who are or have been working to make her ready for prime time again, and now a hopeful date certain to have our Washington home back in the water and home in Washington at the end of August. I took panoramas from both sides of the bridge, and they're fine, but I think this single frame image actually captures the feel and interest of this boat commmunity better.
Currently on the long run up the Northeast Corridor... No trains or buses in this Time of Plague. Just me, my metal box on wheels, and highway I-95.
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 13 July 2020 An odd day. We're still in the midst of the pandemic but I've now had two or three good walks with the infrared camera, and feel like I'm returning to the photographic groove, though the non-photographic things are as distracting as ever!
One can't avoid the Fisherman's Memorial if you're photographing here. It's very much the iconic symbol of the City of Gloucester, installed on the waterfront in 1925 to commemorate the 400th aniversary of the first (unsuccessful!) settling of the area by Europeans. When Salem, a bit to the south, was settled three years after Gloucester the survivors immediately decamped to it. But the area was resettled by Europeans by the 1640s and Gloucester has been A Place ever since. Fishing remains a dangerous occupation, but when the memorial went up there was living memory of years when scores of fishermen had been lost at sea in a single season.
This is the view from the back of the statue, which faces out to sea, from the other side of Western Avenue and Stacy Boulevard. How could you not love a street that has one name westbound and another name eastbound? And how could you not love this delightful road and esplanade? The photo is a two frame vertical panorama in infrared. A panorama because I didn't have the wide angle lens, but I've now been shooting wide angle photos with this cheat so long that it's easier than carrying the extra lens, and much easier than swapping lenses mid-walk. See below! I waited for the motorcyclists to come into the picture...
Salt Wetland Grass
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 10 July 2020 We are (carefully, and with social distance) getting out. Earlier in the week I went to Gloucester Marina to explore the possibility of putting my little inflatable boat in the water. Saw the light on the surrounding wetland and made plans for return. The sun was out yesterday, so I grabbed the big cameras and made the trip. It was different... The tide was in, instead of out, and I really didn't expect much, but I'm very happy with this one (a three frame panorama, in lieu of wide angle lens, and infrared, of course) and a scattering of others I captured. Later that day I took the infrared camera with me when I went walking with Julee, and am very happy with some of those photos too. A good day!
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 6 July 2020 Busy today, though as I write this I haven't gotten out of bed. Will now, though!
Breakfasted and busy! Some photo, much other stuff. I'll check back in on Friday...
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 3 July 2020 I've been mostly indoors, so my pictures continue to be mostly indoors too. Generally of windows, because that's where the light is. I'm still allowed... A very few, like this one, stand out a bit. Meanwhile, great progress is being made on such things as finalizing our income tax return (deadline delayed due to Covid) and writing out a fairly large check to the IRS. Unpacking and putting away is going great guns, along with consolidating those boxes and things not to be unpacked just yet. Rooms that were full of boxes and their exploded former contents are either back to normal or looking much emptier. Next week I think we'll be re-stabilized with one room for storage, and fully available guest rooms. But when will the pandemic allow us to have guests again?
Unlike the southern and western states, Massachesetts is doing pretty well with the Covid-19. But the numbers of new cases, although low, 53 yesterday , is not zero. That being the case I think Gloucester is pretty crowded this 4th of July weekend. By the standards of a normal year, not at all, of course! Most people seem to be pretty careful... But I do want to shout at a few "Wear your mask!" and at a larger number "Wear your mask properly!" The pandemic is the background to everything these days...
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 29 June 2020 So, I'm defaulting to photos of windows... Well, I declared myself allowed! It's a thoughtful moment as I write this, and I'm dealing with half or three-quarter formed ideas and the sense that I need to be a librarian for my thoughts, intentions, and time, as well as my physical things.
This is no longer a decision point, as my August show has been deferred to sometime next year. The Martha Spak gallery has actually had a new show hung in the last month, but remains closed for pandemic like so much of Washington DC retail. One can look at Carol Rubin's charming paintings, but only through the windows... We don't really know what the situation will be like in August, but I don't have any optimism for anything like normal. There are substantial costs to hanging a professional show and it seemed an uncertain time to making and accepting that kind of big investment, so when the deferral was offered I took it. Regroup for next year...
But, as I'm thinking this morning, it's past time to be more professional in another way, one that I can address from my own laptop. I've given myself a one month deadline to (finally) get my mailing list together, set myself up with Mailchimp, and develop a newsletter format to mirror or compliment these posts. The list is the most time consuming, as I have to draw from a lot of sources, and, for me, it's twiddly hand work. Time to focus.
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 26 June 2020 I have the soul of a librarian. This isn't news, I've been saying this for about twenty five years. I like things to come in matching sets, to be put away or displayed in a concious and orderly way. I can deal with chaos if it's imposed on me, but if I'm in control, I like things neat. And that's sometimes difficult, because the world isn't a neat place!
But, here we are at the other end of our current axis, in Gloucester and while Julee works the librarian has come forward. I've all the non-photo books out of the boxes and on the shelves in the office (I set the shelves up during my quick trip up in February, before the pandemic), many other boxes emptied and contents dispersed to proper places, boxes of photo books consolidated for the time we acquire the big, deep, shelves they require, and projects around the house started. Busy!
Hasn't left a lot of time for photography, but I did capture this view of the office window behind my desk yesterday. Well, the summer's long, and as the immediate environment gets more comfortable I'll be thinking about heading out to do some landscape work along the roads and tracks south.
David Hockney's Wall, from his book Secret Knowledge
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 22 June 2020 When Hockney started the research that led to his book, he photocopied images from his art library and hung them on a wall in his Los Angeles home. European (Western) art from the 1300s to the the late 19th century, northern European works at the top, southern European works at the bottom. That's the image above, a double foldout in the book itself. In life this was 65 feet long... (Delightful to have a wall that long at one's home I'm sure!) Presented thus, he notes two seismic shifts in the tradition, clear demarcations with a before and after. One occurs about 1425, which he believes (and convinces me) is the result of painters learning to use optics to compose, making much more complex, precise, "natural" and light-aware/informed images possible, and, very quickly, standard issue for the top talent in western art. The second occurs in the second half of the 19th century, when western painting leaves that track and becomes decoupled from precise representation, leading, through Impressionism, to the many, many, schools of less realistic modern art, often to purely abstract art.
Both of these moments are plainly visible in the record, but Hockney's telling of the story gives a different "why" for the first deflection. The standard telling that I grew up with combines improved materials, the invention of a formal system of realistic perspective, and the close and unfettered observation of things and nature that came from the humanist project of the day. I think that's all true, but that the discovery of the optical image, either projected with a concave mirror, as Hockney believes, or projected with a fine hole or a lens in a camera obscura as I tend to think (but then I'm a photographer, and, like most photographers, obsessed with the equipment) was also a huge part in the change of vision. For centuries going forward, part of the skill of the artist was precise documentation. And then, it wasn't. Or rather it wasn't a necessary part of the skill. For me, the reason has never been less than clear. Precise documentation was becoming the realm of the photographer, and the questing painter or draftsperson starting looking for ways of working that weren't limited to the camera image.
Of course none of the these boundaries are as clear as we tend to want them to be! When I was a lad, speaking perfect English-accented English and studying for my O Levels (what most non-Commonwealth sorts will have first encountered transmogrified into the "Owl" exams at Hogwarts) in a tiny British school in Mexico City one of the essay questions on the biology exam was "Compare and Contrast the Eye and the Camera". I think I did okay with that... I was already an enthusiastic photographer in my first wind so I got the concepts the textbooks presented and actually a bit more. The big extra I added was the fact that while the camera projects the three dimensional image of the world onto a flat plane of film, the eye projects the image onto a deeply concave surface of recepters. I probably also wrote about the differences between the single, but complex, lens of the eye and the multi-element lens of the camera. But, I don't think that's the biggest or most important difference. While I was aware of it (it's well documented!) it wasn't until years later that the bigger implications began to seep into my concious thought.
We all have peripheral vision. I can see almost 180 degrees from side to side, which I understand is quite normal, but the truth is that sharp vision only covers the eighteen degrees in the center of our field of view. But our brains are processing wildly as our heads turn and our eyes dart about so that we have the illusion of a much bigger, more comprehensive, image. Our brains are also filling in as our focus jumps from the far to near and back again. A painting or photo is generally viewed within that central image area, so it's all available in one chunk, and, of course, fixed in time. It's a unitary thing, unlike our vision, which is feeding our memory but is otherwise a fleeting composite. There's a real power to the unitary thing.
Throughout the history of photography there has been a big back and forth between the folks that make images with chemistry and physics with the camera and the folks that make images by placing marks on a surface. From early on artists have used photos as sketches, even when photos were so new that making even one was an event. And there was a big chunk of time when photographers were assembling images from disparate images or drawing on their negatives, because that's what real artists did, and they aspired to the respect they saw accorded to the successful painters of their times. I think those boundaries were always somewhat artificial, but clearly artificial now. I'm a photographer, I work with a camera and Photoshop. Others are painters, and work with canvas and paint. We're both (if we're truly ambitious) trying to make images that really grab people.
Camera Obscura by James Ayscough, 1755
Washington DC, 19 June 2020 I've just finished David Hockney's book, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, and I'm still digesting it. The central premise - that the old masters knew about, and used, cameras, even though they didn't have film - is not new to me. I'd read the long article on Hockney's research and ideas in the New Yorker, The Looking Glass by Lawrence Weschler, when it came out in 2000, and it really popped my eyes open. The pre-photographic use of the camera is also part of the history of photography. What's different is that the photographic historians present the camera as a kind of gimmick to help student artists learn to sketch, while Hockney believes that the camera image is central to a big chunk of the greatest European art. But, though the central idea is not new, there is a lot of new material in the book, plus a a great deal of profound thought on the grand sweep of the history of western art. It is fascinating reading art history written by a top artist rather than an academic... (No disrespect to the academic, but it is different!) More on this as I think it through.
BLM, SW DC
Washington DC, 15 June 2020 It's hard to get away from the moment. We've been driven by the Covid-19 pandemic since early in the year, I've more recently been driven by the need to to do heavy maintenance on my boat/home, and in the last weeks we've been driven by the most recent episode of the Black Lives Matter movement started by the death of George Floyd. It's a big moment, and very much overdue. In recent years I've had a couple of really unpleasant encounters with police in the National Capital Area, and come away thinking "OMG! I'm a middle aged white guy. What if I'd been a young black man?" I have enormous sympathy for police officers, who have a huge and dangerous task, but at the same time if I can't establish a human connection when I'm pulled over there is a real problem. I'll leave it at that on this blog which is by design about photography, but note the photo of the responsible demonstration I attended last Friday in our neighborhood in Southwest (SW) Washington DC. It's a six frame stitched panorama construct from photos I took with my phone.
Summer Storm, Washington Channel
Washington DC, 12 June 2020 It's not summer yet but we're getting summer storms. But honestly, I've long since felt that the formal designations of the seasons (at least in the United States) to be astronomically arbitrary. Spring starts with the equinox and summer with the solstice, but honestly, (again!) that doesn't work for me since I think of the seasons in terms of weather. By that measure we've arrived in summer some weeks ago. These big rain storms are just part of it. The trees are fully leafed out, the grasses are tall, and it's hot...
Yesterday was another day like this one a week ago, at least in the morning, so I took a break from the boat and stayed home from the boatyard in Deale. A good call! I feel much refreshed... The day before the heavy mechanic working on the prop shafts couldn't loosen a critical part, which then resisted leverage, then resisted a bigger lever, then resisted a hydraulic press, and may be resisting still. If so, than the stay in Deale may be much more expensive (bad) and longer (worse) than I had hoped. I'll learn more today...
Washington DC, 8 June 2020 Placeholding! Spent the weekend and the day working on the boat and involved in the issues of the day. Not really the subject of this blog... More anon!
7th Street Tree Tops
Washington DC, 5 June 2020 Courtesy of our Dear Friend sheltering Down South, we're living in, or at least at the tree tops. This apartment on the sixth floor is just about level with the tops of the trees on 7th Street. The other day, we were on the balcony having our evening drinks and eye to eye with a squirrel who was a long way from terra firma but apparently unconcerned with the fluid flexibility of the branches he or she was on. Last night was stormy, and the branches whipped around like the dramatic framing of a movie scene. I took the photo above (a five frame infrared panorama) three days ago in pleasanter weather!
Still, the major energy these weeks remains on the boat on The Hard in Deale. When I went yesterday afternoon, the bottom was black, as the paint crew (having sanded over the last couple of days) had gotten there in the morning with their masking tape, paint rollers, and gallons of paint. The electronics guys were still wrestling with the new chartplotter/sonar installation, and the prop and prop shaft guys hadn't yet shown up. There are still holes in the bottom where the sonar transducer needs to be, along with thru-hulls to be removed, and thru-hulls to be replaced. There's some exterior woodwork which is probably going to control the length of time the boat remains out, probably, sadly, another couple of weeks...
Washington DC, 1 June 2020 The boat and home remain on the hard and taking up most of my time and energy. So, here's a portrait of The Hard... Herrington has spread large fields of gravel to make a clean, predictable, place to park the boats. I thought of desaturating this photo to emphasize the shades of grey of the gravel, but it's pretty grey already... Another week (maybe) or two weeks (seems more likely) of this, while I and a passel of contractors do the needful.
Homage to Sudek
Washington DC, 29 May 2020 This isn't where I expected to be this Friday post. I was sure I was going to be posting landscape, not still life. I will admit that most of my energy the last week and a half has been with my and Julee's boat,
now on the hard in Deale in the care of half a dozen skilled tradesmen doing big maintenance and some important upgrades. It's not impossible that they'll meet the target of splashing her a week from today, making it possible for Julee and I to bring our home back to Washington that weekend. It's not impossible..
The Western Shore of the Chesapeake is beautiful country, and it's vibratingly alive with green spring. I have done some landscape photography on the way home from my visits, nice, but nothing I feel compelled to share. I took the little still life that leads today's post in a friend's apartment yesterday afternoon in Washington DC. She's sheltering with family down south, and has graciously given us a place to stay while she's away. It reminds me of the lovely Eastern European take on modern art photography, particularly one of my very favorite photographers, the one armed magician of Prague, Josef Sudek. I love his work, partly (of course!) because he's so amazingly good, and partly because he was completely contempory with California's Group f/64, in my own tradition, knew about them, learned from them, but followed a very different Eastern European art tradition, a heady mixture of Romanticism and Avant Garde.
Meanwhile... Washington DC is beginning it's opening up from the Pandemic Shutdown today. Not at all sure how to feel about this. The crisis has been so completely politicised it's hard to feel confident about the available information or about government actions and policy. The DC announcement did hang the decision on real milestones concerning drops in new cases, and the ability to test and do contact tracing in a big way. So, the Pandemic Café has closed, the weeds have been weeded, the tables and chairs set up in a neat inviting pattern, and I'll never get the last set of photos I was planning on. Here's to good policy, public health, public safety, and the hope that, at least in the DC area, we're making the right calls.
Coan River, Virginia
Deale, Maryland, 25 May 2020 I missed Friday's post... I spent the day in final prep for taking the boat to Deale, and had one of my mercifully rare, and mercifully short, periods of complete dippyness in the middle of the day. At moments like that I leave important things behind, and sometimes recover them and sometimes don't. It's supremely embarassing and has potential for much worse. Supposing it was my phone or wallet? When I was in my twenties I twice left my address book in phone booths... (That statement dates a person! One of the reasons we always had change in our pockets was to make phone calls.) But, by afternoon, preparations for the Big Boat Trip were mostly done. Engines started at 6:15 on Saturday morning, and the Mad Hatteras began it's perilous journey downriver.
Perilous? I was deeply nervous. I've been boating since 1995, but not continuously, and this boat is a new combination of precious, big, and vulnerable, and I've just been through serveral years when I haven't been boating at all. Two days and 140 miles on, safely docked in Deale, I'm feeling much more confident, and this boat is feeling like a living vehicle, something much more than the comfortable home on the water that it's been for us over the last year.
Downriver, Washington Channel I captured this three frame panorama with my phone just before we set out, and the morning just got more and more beautiful as we passed the War College and Alexandria on the way south. No pictures, as I felt I should be highly concentrated on driving the boat and left my cameras below. But it was a grand day on the water. The lead photo is a four frame infrared panorama from the end of the day, after we'd tied up in the Coan River Marina, a wonderful place run by friends of ours in Lottsburg, Virginia. Then, morning gossip, relatively late start, and then the nervy run out the impossibly narrow, twisty, and shallow channel out into the mouth of the Potomac and then a relatively fast and straight run up Chesapeake Bay and in to the merely improbably narrow, twisty, and shallow channel to Rodback Creek and this marina and boatyard. With luck, the boat will be lifted out of the water and set on supports on land (on the hard, as boaters say) tomorrow and the work will begin.
Washington DC, 18 May 2020 Nothing photographic today. I've been working on the boat, since the waterways of Maryland have opened up and she's going to Deale for out-of-water heavy maintenance next weekend. So, prepping for a two day trip down the Potomac and up the Chesapeake and then a minimum of two weeks of disarray in our lives as our home is elsewhere and inaccessible for living. But then, we should be set for a year or two, and confident in the vehicle so that it will get much more boating use going forward.
I've done another series on the Pandemic Café in color with the wide Zeiss lens, but haven't yet worked on them aside from filing. In a day or two...
Pandemic Café 2
Washington DC, 15 May 2020 It's the Ides of May, and it's been a pretty quiet photographic week for me. I've gone back to the Pandemic Café, but this photo is from my visit just over a week ago. Now ready for prime time, since I've patched the lower left corner. In the process learned a new Photoshop trick. The patch should be invisible, at least at this resolution...
Washington DC, 11 May 2020 It's hard to be anything but topical at the moment. Here's a picture I took yesterday, right on the land side of the waterfront where I live. It's very similar to another panorama I took from the same vantage point on 24 January. Similarly deserted, but the earlier picture showed a cold, grey, weekday morning during the deadest retail period of the year, and this one was taken in the middle of very pleasant afternoon on a May Sunday. This fashionable, trendy waterfront development should be packed. Which would be a bad idea in the middle of the pandemic! But, half of the restaurants are closed, the other half are serving takeout only, and retail is limited to the essential, that is the drugstore with the pharmacy counter. And it's heavily patrolled to enforce social distancing. When I was finishing up with the Pandemic Café photo below I was asked to move along by a police officer. When I was taking the photos than make up today's extreme 180° panorama (fourteen frames!) the restauranteur from the hotel to the side of this terrace shooed me away. And rather sharply. And it really angered me.
So, I'm not immune to the growing cabin fever, though I had the sense to keep my temper and politely leave, especially since it was clear that the space was blocked off, though it wasn't actually posted for no tresspassing. One of my friends found this Australian article, We have begun the dreaded third quarter of isolation, about the effects of isolation on people's social connection, based to research into places like Antartica and outer space. It's a bit sobering. Doubly so, since the subjects knew, often to the minute, how long they were going to isolated. We've no idea how long this is going to last... Especially given the growing tendency to civil disobedience, which may very well push the line in the graph sharply upwards again. I had my worst time last week, and in spite of my sharp grumpiness yesterday, feel able to hunker down with Julee for a good while longer. This will be complicated by the boat work, but we'll work hard to keep ourselves safe and not be part of the problem.
The Pandemic Café
Washington DC, 8 May 2020 It remains very quiet, as it should. Some things are opening up, boating in Maryland, for example, so two weeks from now we'll take the boat down the Potomac and up the Chesapeake to a boatyard for heavy, and rather overdue, maintenance. Up on the seawall here at the Washington Channel the drugstore is open, some restaurants are marginally open, only for take out, and the other businesses are closed. Security is out in force, and maintenance continues, but obviously not enough! Weeds are growng through the cracks in the paving blocks on the water side, most aggressively here in a roped off restaurant seating area.
Washington DC, 4 May 2020 A quiet weekend for photography, but sometimes the pictures come to you. This is a shot of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and U.S. Navy Blue Angels acrobatic teams from the top deck of our boat on Saturday. An odd event given the real needs of the moment, but beyond impressive.
Sunlit Washington Channel in Infrared
Washington DC, 1 May 2020 Like everyone, my horizon is currently very close to me, since I'm heeding the stay-at-home orders of the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia). At the beginning of the year I'd had every intention of taking my photographic project up and down the East Coast of the United States between Washington DC, New Jersey, New York City, and New England in the late winter and through spring and summer. Now, with the Covid-19, I am pretty much limited to where I can walk while maintaining appropriate distance from my fellow humans. I'm lucky that I live in sight of wonderful public spaces! The photo shows my view from the aft deck of the boat across the Washington Channel to East Potomac Park from the middle of last week. A two frame panorama in infrared.
I'm as weary of this situation as anyone, but also very cautious about it. I don't get the sense that this is at all well understood, and given the slaughter we've already gone through in the last month I'm not chomping at the bit to push my horizon further out. I would like to be travelling more, even around the city and to the suburbs, but there is, fortunately, plenty for me here inside the circle of my present horizon, and thanks to modern telecomms I'm not feeling disconnected to my friends and family across the globe.
Black Mountain, Vermont
Washington DC, 27 April 2020 I'd promised more recent photos, but they will wait, as it's not everyday that I post a new gallery on this website, in this case my Infrared Trees page. It's been hanging fire for a while, but finally up... I feel it includes some of my strongest work. Please take a look!
Bouddha Neighborhood Panorama, Detail
Washington DC, 24 April 2020 I was looking for a date, in this case my arrival in Nepal. For me, the easiest way to find a date of that sort is to go trolling through my photos, since I file them by date and location. I took this one from the hotel room at sunset of my first day in Kathmandu, 29 July 2015. It's the Tibetan quarter of the city, grown up around the white dome to the left, the Bouddhanath, which I visited and photographed many times in the next three and a half years, even when I lived all the way across town to the south. My first day, but I still think I caught something of the spirit of the place. I was was more than delighted to be there, and not disappointed as that chapter rolled out!
So I thought I'd take a break today from the mostly black and white infrared photos I've been taking within walking distance of the boat here in Washington and post something historical and more colorful. I'll come back to more recent photos next week.
Washington DC, 20 April 2020 Julee and I are very lucky that we're sheltering from the Covid-19 pandemic in a place that's pretty, and where it's possible and reasonable to take a walk. One can't go anywhere since some areas were closed to limit crowds. Some remain closed, like the recreation piers, or have tightly controlled access, like the Fish Market. And, our Wharf is patrolled by police to make sure people don't congregate, even in small numbers at safe distances. I get it, since poeple can be really mindless even in situations like this, and we're again lucky that we have the docks of the club to congregate on. At safe distances!
Tree, Potomac Park
This is series of photos from the walk Julee and I took to and through Potomac Park on the 6th. A great afternoon for infrared, brightly sunny and completely clear. The top photo is Julee in her odd, but very effective Kathmandu mask. We both had real N-95 masks before any of this began, not for germs, but for the smog of the Kathmandu Valley when we lived there. Mine is cloth, but very fitted, with a pocket for the serious filter. The next photo above is a classic Laurence shot of a backlit tree, in this case a three frame vertical sitched panorama, to cover the lack of a wide angle lens.
Pandemic Seung And we met our friend Seung, who was out on her wheeled constitutional! Not a complete surprise, as she has wheels and spends a lot of time in Potomac Park. She stopped and talked to us, maintaining (of course!) appropriate social distance and protection. So two odd, masked, infrared portraits in one day!
Washington Channel No. 3, 6 April 2020 We walked to Potomac Park via the Tidal Basin, and back via the 14th Street Bridge. I took a series of panoramas as we crossed, with the Fish Market and the Wharf to the left, and East Potomac Park to the right. Beyond the existing buildings you can see the cranes of the construction site where the last third of the Wharf Development is being built.
Wharf Waterfront in Infrared And here's the shot from the bridge as we approached the mainland, looking from the Fish Market in the foreground along the waterfront walk, nearly deserted in this time of pandemic. This is a three frame vertical panorama. I have a horizontal panorama which is quite striking, but the inky shadow areas rather overwhelm the picture. They can be lightened, but it takes some fiddly work on the raw images in conversion for the best results. And time...
Under the Bridge I'll finish off with a simple portait of the weeds under the 14th Street Bridge from the bike and pedestrian ramp as we were approaching home. I'm often very happy with the simple photos!
We're six weeks in since the original social distancing recommendations, which were coming on as I left for Florida and got more and more draconian as government and people realized the need. Forty thousand Americans have died in the pandemic, and it surely would have been much, much worse if we'd tried carrying on as usual. It is beginning to chafe, but forty thousand is a big number already, and many of those people will be sorely missed by their associates. We'll have to dig in, be strong, and hold the line. Interesting that we go so easily to military language.
Washington DC, 17 April 2020 It's been an odd week photographically and artistically. First, I was brought up rather brutally to the fact that one's skill can be immense, almost supernaturally so, and that doesn't mean that you're making meaningful art. I'd better be clear that this didn't come up in the context of my own work, which would, of course, have been devastating! But I had an echo of something that happened to me at university in one of my serious and intense photo classes. One of the other students was doing western landscapes with a 4X5 view camera and Ektachrome, very much in the great tradition of Adams, Bullock, and the Westons. Technically perfect... It wasn't until the night of the last class when a number of the students went out to drink and talk that I got drunk enough to say what I actually thought, which was "They're beautiful but they're boring!" The guy was quite right in looking at me and saying "It would have been useful if you'd said that in class!", but I'd had no idea how I might have said anything to really help him towards more interesting photographs. I could see there was something missing, but no clue what it was or how to get it. I still have no idea, at least not directly.
One has to work, keep the best, file away the rest, be open to the ineffable, be mindful, improve one's technique (it is really important, just not for and by itself) and feel as deeply as possible. The episode did get me thinking about beauty and truth in the context of 19th century art. After some noodling around I ended up reading John Ruskin on the Pre-Raphaelites, which threw some light in the corners. Brilliant thinker, but also a wildly neurotic Victorian crank! I'll keep following the precepts of the first sentence as best I can in my own pursuit of artistic truth, which may not be quite the same thing as logical or historical truth. Language can be a slippery thing...
And, I spent a good chunk of yesterday through my photos from 6 April, thinking they'd be the subject of today's post. The 6th was a good day and there are a lot of credible pictures, and a lot of processing, between the fact that they're infrared (all infrared photos have to be processed) and the fact that there were a whole series of panoramas taken from the Fourteenth Street Bridge, all of which had to be stitched before choosing the best. By mid-afternoon, I was going google-eyed, and the last panorama I stitched had a real problem with delicate separated highlights blowing out into featureless white. Not a new problem, and something I need to work on. (Technique does matter!) In any case, a good moment to take a break from the task at hand.
So, today's photo is something else, a part of an infrared panorama that I took of Monet's pond in Giverny, between Paris and Normandy, two and a half years ago. That was a real pilgrimage for me, since I'd grown up with one of his big glorious paintings of water lilies from this garden. It's in San Francisco's Legion of Honor, a big museum with an emphasis on the French. There is some really great art in San Francisco, but it's not the crazy thick on the ground that you get in New York or Chicago. So, the most sublime pieces stand out even more.
Washington DC, 14 April 2020 A bit of a between-the-regular-posts P.S. here, since things were approaching dire when I posted yesterday morning. It did rain, about six inches over the course of ten hours or so, but, while we got wind, it wasn't the kind of intense or gusty we'd be warned to expect. And no tornados! I took the picture a bit before noon, and we had bright sunlight. Mind, half an hour later we had tinkly hail... We had a very odd afternoon, as the patches of cloud raced overhead and sometimes rained on us (though not like early in the morning) led and followed by patches of clear sky and sun, often with strange light when it was dark and light both. All over by late afternoon when I went to bail out the dinghy, which is why I know there was at least six inches of precipitation.
Sunset Watching, Washington Channel
Sunset, Washington Channel
Washington DC, 13 April 2020 These pictures were taken a week ago, on a wonderfully mild evening at the end of the dock where Julee and I keep our boat and live. One of the reasons we make our home here is this wonderful group of people, this community. I think boaters tend to coalesce, but liveaboard boaters in the same marina coalesce even more, and liveaboard boaters in a self organized, self governing community like the Capital Yacht Club coalesce even more than that. And it's a generally smart and sensible bunch! Someone came up with the term "6 at 6", that is to say gather on the dock in the evening with drinks to be together, but maintaining the safe six foot (two meter) distancing the Covid-19 plague requires. You'll note the maintenance in the top photo, except for the two on the right who form what the doctors and epidemiologists are calling a "pod", that is people who form a household and are socially close with each other, but socially distant from others. Like Julee and I... The second photo is, of course, the sunset we are all admiring. This is really a pretty special place.
Last night was like this as well, but we also spent time during the afternoon preparing for today's weather, which was forecast as winds up to fifty miles an hour (Oh my!) with a tornado watch (Oh my!). I feel like I'm living in John Fogerty Times as exemplified by the Creedence song Bad Moon Rising. The Plague is the background to everything right now, and it also "looks like we're in for nasty weather". We spent the afternoon clearing the decks (literally), getting the dinghy to a safer spot, and laying out extra lines in case of need when the boat gets blown about. I don't, however, "fear rivers over flowing" since I've experienced that many times already on this waterfront. So far it's been more Rhythm of the Falling Rain, but the rain is getting heavier, and the day is young.
I may get more photographically oriented in my next post. The 6th was a great day photographically. Julee and I walked to Hains Point again (via the Tidal Basin, deserted now that the cherry trees are green, so one can walk along the water). The light was great, and I fired the shutter on my infrared camera 108 times. A number of panorama parts, so it's not quite that many photographs... I've been processing images for days and I'm very happy with them. More on this anon!
Washington DC, 10 April 2020 Very changeable spring weather on the Washington Channel. Here's a photo I took last weekend when it was stormy. The crow is very decorative on my neighbor's boat, don't you think? He'd been flitting back and forth between the back of our boat and this one, cawing insistently. We've been cycling between stormy and bright, hot and cool all week. Early yesterday morning it rained heavily, by ten it was beautiful, bright, blue, sunny, and still. It remained sunny but the wind picked up and blew fiercely and is still blowing fiercely, tossing our boat around to great creaking of docklines. Blustery...
By Tuesday our Wharf neighborhood was open again, but remained and remains very quiet. The Fish Market was still closed, but a regulated snake line between metal street barriers had been set up. Today, Friday, the Wharf has not recovered its former quietness. It's quieter than that, very deserted, though there are a thin handful of people out. Well, it's cold and windy today and the two recreation piers are closed so there's less to draw people in. The Fish Market is still closed and there are unfriendly police and DC national guardsment in front of it who really had nothing to say but "It's Closed!" in a tone that combined exasperated mother ("Because I said it's closed!") with something rather darker.
I did the weekly shopping this morning and the grocery stores were quite civilized, little crowding and much courtesy, though I did at times feel like shouting "Wear your face mask properly! Or dont bother! It should cover the mouth and the nose!" We're set for necessities for a while, and everyone in our little marina is busy with their boat projects this chilly spring day.
Washington DC, 5 April 2020
This is Monday's post, but I actually wrote it and posted it on Sunday.
Early in the morning: It's sunny, a few high clouds, very pretty, and dead quiet on the Washington Waterfront. Not surprising early Sunday morning, but I tend to think that it's going to be pretty close to dead quiet all through the morning, afternoon, and evening, and that is not normal for this neighborhood on a pleasant spring weekend day. This is a blog on a photo site, and I have some time ago settled on blogging only on photography but at this point the Covid-19 pandemic is so intrusive that it's gone beyond the more casual mentions I've made of it as background. It's now the background, middle ground, and foreground of everyone's life.
I'm both relatively exposed and relatively protected.
On the exposed side, I'm not over sixty-five, but I'm close, and consider myself in a high risk group for age. Worse, my lungs were wrecked by growing up in a family of heavy smokers, and a good part of that time in what was then the most polluted place on the planet, in Mexico City. And, later in life, I was grabbed by chronic allergies. Today, how could I tell if I had Covid-19? I'm always a little scratchy around the throat and drippy about the nasal passages. I could have a mild case of the novel coronavirus and never know. On the other hand the possibility that an infection would get completely out of hand seems very real to me, and even more real to my loving Julee.
On the protected side, I'm retired on a pension and don't need to go out to make money nor worry about the loss of income if I can't. Julee works at home for an international NGO. While the funding that pays her is always uncertain, for the moment she has work and an income. So, our daily routine hasn't changed all that much. I work on my photography, I work on this old boat... Julee works on early childhood development. That work has pivoted very much to the pandemic in the last weeks, but she's keeping the same hours.
What has changed is our interaction with the wide world. Things had gotten very quiet in Washington by the time I got back from the delivery trip, and they got quieter still last Wednesday when the local govenors (Maryland and Virginia) and the Mayor of Washington DC amped up their guidance to requirement and ordered the population to stay at home across the board. Along the DC Waterfront at the Wharf where we live there was a scattering of people out, acting very properly, maintaining distance and interacting only with those that appeared to be family. But there's always a subset that don't quite get the message... The historic Fish Market remained open. Hey, it sells food, which is and has to be allowed, and it was fine through the week... Then on Saturday word must have gotten out that this was a traditional public space and a traditional high point for Washingtonians that people could still go to. And they went. And, at the end of the day the DC Government shut the whole operation down.
And, for good measure, the entire Wharf development where we live... When I looked out this morning and started writing this blog entry it was completely deserted. I thought people had begun to figure it out, but it's enforcement. There's a line of police tape at Maine Avenue with actual police at the entrances to the Wharf and the Fish Market backing it up. Julee and I took one of our careful, socially distant, walks this morning and we got in and out on the simple explanation that we live here, but it was a little nerve wracking, and I expect that the non-residents were being politely turned away. The Wharf management has further blocked the two recreation piers. Damn!
And yes, I talked to Maryland's Natural Resources Police (they take care of the water, including the entire Potomac south of Washington) on Friday, after the last post, and was told that no boats should be on the water, with certain specific exceptions which didn't appear to obviously cover me. So no trip to Herrington Harbour for heavy maintenance this month. Herrington was very understanding, and will reschedule with me once the dust settles. Just as well as taking and keeping the boat there would have involved a fair bit of travel beyond the delivery itself, which is just what the governor of every state and jurisdiction on the east coast wants us to avoid.
So we're here, mostly within our own neighborhood, mostly within our home, until further notice, like much of the world. I called it right when thinking about it a month ago. I registered some uneasiness to the captain on the delivery trip and he first thought I was worried about the health risk, and was at pains to reassure me that three guys overwhelmingly isolated on a boat weren't in much danger, which I think was true. But that wasn't it. I was concerned that things would get out of hand very suddenly and all transportation would be shut down, trains and boats and planes, to quote the old song, and that I would be trapped somewhere in the waterways of the South away from Julee. Transportation in the U.S. hasn't, even now, shut down completely, but I don't think it was a silly fear. An American friend in Nepal emailed me asking for advice while I was on the trip. (My last job I was the U.S. Consul in Kathmandu.) I wrote back that evening saying that they needed to decide very quickly what part of the world they wanted to be in, and get there as expeditiously as possible. It was already too late. Nepal shut down the borders and the airports that night. The Embassy has since arranged for a couple of charters and gotten about five hundred Americans at least as far as Dulles Airport in Virginia, but my friend considered the risks of nearly twenty hours in a metal tube with two hundred and fifty random compatriots and has stayed put. I think I would have moved a week or two earlier.
So here we are, all over the sensible world, sheltering in place. A lot of people are in much greater distress that we are, being actually sick (perhaps very sick), having lost livelihoods, been stranded far from home, or, in some cases, isolated with people they don't like. Julee and I are not dealing with any of that, which is a real blessing. I try to keep this site free of politics, but since I've already written a goodly essay that has nothing to do with photography, I have to say this: I really wish our political leaders had used the time when this was coming wisely, and hadn't denied and dithered until they had no choice but to act. This could have been so much easier if we'd geared up sooner, lives could have been saved, and the way forward as a nation and as humanity so much more clear. I think anger will be a useful emotion going forward.
Parrish Sky, Washington Channel
Washington DC, 3 April 2020 Another example of my versions of Monet's haystacks. The weather and the light is always different, so even though I'm taking pictures of the same view, they're not completely repetitive... I'm honoring Maxfield Parrish in the title of this seven frame-180 degree panorama of the Washington Channel taken from the end of my dock because of the clouds, particularly the pink mountainous ones at the left. Parrish painted in what we photographers call super saturated colors, but sometimes those really are the colors of nature. There is no manipulation in the colors of this photo. Straight from the camera!
I took this photo five days ago. Washington was already very quiet as people hunkered down and stayed home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and spaced themselves out when they were in public. It seems a long time ago. In the last forty-eight hours all three of the local jurisdictions (the District of Columbia (DC), Virginia, and Maryland) have amped up their restrictions on going out. We weren't going out much but were going to take the boat to long planned and long delayed heavy maintenance down river and up the Chesapeake. But the govenor of Maryland has banned boating... Maintenance may be further delayed. I do have months of projects on the boat that I can do here with the boat in the water...
Also doing some catchup maintenance on this site. Everything prior to 1 January on this blog page has been archived to the blog archive page. (Where else?) I've also cleaned up some of the formatting on my page on infrared photography. I'm always impressed at how many times I can proof read a piece and still have errors left over for future proofings...
Tidal Basin Police Tape
Washington DC, 30 March 2020 What an odd homecoming! We're living in the age of Covid-19 and it's hard for people to take it as seriously as they should. These are the iconic cherry trees at the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial a bit less than a week after the peak of their bloom, usually a time of festival, celebration, and large crowds of locals and tourists viewing the blossoms. This year crowds were sparse, then people starting coming in numbers in spite of the risk. It began to get out of hand, to the point where the city government closed streets and then walled off the tidal basin itself. I went prepared to turn around and leave if there were numbers of people out, but there weren't. The police were out in force, being very specific about where one was allowed to walk. Not along the edge of the Tidal Basin, as you can see! So Julee and I skirted the area and walked out through East Potomac Park towards Hains Point, where I took the photo below. As you can see, many petals had already fallen, but the blooms were still full and beautiful.
Potomac Park Cherry Blossoms
Elizabeth River Wake
Elizabeth River Lift Bridge, Norfolk
Washington DC, 27 March 2020 Not quite the end of journey, but close, close. Both these infrared panoramas were taken as we were closing in on our transit of Norfolk, Virginia, and I find it interesting that there's only about fifteen miles between them, from a canal through a forest to a path across a harbor that is a major base for the U.S. Navy and a serious hub of the heaviest industry. They build nuclear aircraft carriers only a little way off of the path we took through Norfolk to Hampton where we spent the last night of the journey. Then a passage up the Chesapeake to Solomon's Island, very fast at first, and then a bit more cautiously as the open water got bouncier. That night I was home on my own boat in Washington DC.
I'm a bit behind on the posts, and a little uncertain as to whether to continue to lag or catch up expeditiously. Washington is very quiet under the Covid-19 public health interdict, but I've been out photographing the waning cherry blossoms in this time of plague.
Large Utilitarian Objects, Moorehead City
Hampton, Virginia, 23 March 2020 Grabbed this three frame infrared panorama in Moorehead City last Friday as we were, for the fourth time, waiting for a bridge to open in front of us. The last three delays weren't at all bad, once a bridge that opened only on the hour, once a bridge that opened only on the half hour, and, this time, a working railway bridge serving the port where the railway operations took precedence over the small boat maritime operations. This bridge is actually normally open, but down in front of us while a locomotive was shuttled across it by another locomotive.
The first bridge to delay us was the real kicker. It wasn't just the day and a half we spent behind it, but the fact that that day and a half has delayed this part of the trip and we're in weather that would have otherwise have been behind us.
It's a bit like the movies... We're travelling over the map, quite literally, as we're using a variety of navigation aids that use moving maps. Unfortunately, unlike the movies, this isn't a device to make the travel happen more quickly. Fortunately, this is pretty amazing travel and worth the time. Here's a little picture of them all in use while we're driving the video game, as Captain Scott puts it. The first screen is my iPad, the second one on the wheel is Scott's much newer iPad, and then the little Garmin unit on top and the much larger Garmin unit in the panel. We use them all, and constantly check against reality, because after all the actual current location of the channel markers and the actual current depth of the water is what matters, isn't it?
We're laid over today because it's blown up a storm and this isn't a boat to be out on that kind of weather. Then... Either a day to the Washburn's Boat Yard on the Chesapeake, or two days to Washington, depending on how Maryland handles Covid-19 over the next forty eight hours. If Washburn's closes there will be no point in taking the boat there for shakedown maintenance, and the boat will go to it's home port and return to Washburn's later when the pandemic allows.
Swansboro, North Carolina, 20 March 2020 I'm still headed up the East Coast of the United States on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in a small motor yacht with my friends Scott (the delivery captain) and Mike. There are wrecked boats all along this route. This is hurricane country... Usually the wrecks are little pleasure boats. One imagines that they were kept at a non-commercial dock avoiding the requirement for insurance, and that the owner who couldn't afford insurance also wouldn't be able to afford salvage when the big winds blew their boat ashore. I'm not sure what the think of a commercial boat like this one, which had to have insurance, but this kind of wreck is less common. This shot is a two frame horizonatal panorama.
We spent the day before yesterday in trapped behind this bridge in North Myrtle Beach. It was broken and wouldn't swing open... Lost a day and a bit more while we waited for the repairs to be made and slipped by the first thing in the morning after the mechanics were through. We understand it broke again after we were past...
I started this blog entry in the morning before we set off on the day's run, but at the very moment of this writing we're en route through Moorehead City, North Carolina. I'm not at all sure I'm going to be able to post to my Friday schedule since I don't know what kind of internet access I'll have this evening. We stayed at the city dock in Swansboro, and they didn't even pretend. The marina we were at the night before pretended, but weak signals and glitchyness overwlemend any possibility of actually logging in. And I don't pay AT&T enough to use my phone as a hot spot...
Unlike foggy yesterday this morning dawned clear and blue, with just enough cloud to make the sky interesting. Relatively open waters too, so we're getting opportunities to run fast and make better time.
Bridge at Beaufort
Charleston, South Carolina, 16 March 2020 This was the night before last, as were continued northwards. It's another shot of a waterway and a bridge, but waterways and bridges are fairly common and typical sights in the Lowcountry and I think it's one of the better shots from this stretch of the voyage on the MV Argentum. It's a four frame panorama assembled from photos I took with my phone. I've a lot of infrared shots from the days on the water, but they're not coming out quite as well as I'd hoped...
At Jeckyll Island
At Sea, MV Argentum, 13 March 2020 As of this morning, I'm two days up the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) from Jacksonville, departing from Savannah, Georgia this morning. It's not exactly being "At Sea", but "On Twisty Little Inland Waterways" doesn't have quite the same ring in a header. This picture shows our little boat the Argentum (to be renamed when the owner can get a paint specialist to polish the current name off the stern) at dock at the Jeckyll Island Marina early yesterday morning. It's Infrared, of course, and a nine frame horizontal panorama.
Sailboat, ICW Yesterday was an interesting day as we wended our way through the Georgia Lowcountry. This really is low, fractal land. You can see boats far away apparently ghosting along on the ground but really in a small channel between the marsh grasses. This photo is less mysterious, a boat we met along the way, sky and clouds above, water and refections below.
It will take me several days to work through all of today's photos and which ones are really ready for prime time, but of course I'm still in motion and will be taking another set of photos tomorrow, and the next, and the next... So it will be a while before I work through them all! I am glad I'm crew rather than running my own boat. This way I've the time to think and take photos along the way.
Sunday Morning Coffee, National Airport
In Transit, 9 March 2020 I've not cancelled my trip in the face of Covid-19, mostly because I have friends counting on me. But, captain and crew of the boat under delivery will be keeping a close eye on the news as we come up the The Ditch, as the Intra-Coastal Waterway is sometimes known. I have decided it would be wise to travel a little lighter, so I've left the camera bag and tripod behind, and am travelling with my minimum photo kit. A Canon EOS 5D Mark III, modified for infrared, Canon EOS R for color, both with the odd-but-very-sharp Canon F2.8 40mm pancake lens, a Zeiss 25mm for wider framing, if and when I take the time to change lenses instead of shooting a panorama (though I do sometimes shoot panoramas with with the 25mm), and a bag of batteries with their charger. It's not really light, but it's a lot lighter than the bag, which is home to three camera bodies and about ten lenses, including the massive 100-400mm zoom that looks like Rey could use it to shoot down a tie fighter. I don't use that one very often, but when one needs a fast long lens, nothing else will do! The corners contain all kinds of smaller accessories and add ons which add bulk and weight.
The truth is, the bag is a bit of a tool to limit the kit. With very few exceptions, if it doesn't fit in the bag, it's not part of my photographic life. This makes it possible to put everything I need in one place, and I can just grab the bag, with the tripod as needed, with the flash bag as needed, and go. Most of the time I need a lot less, and here I am on an adventure with that a lot less. And I'm glad the cameras are getting smaller!
Washington DC, 6 March 2020 It really is a wintry snapshot, grabbed on the fly a couple of days ago. The day before that Julee had badly pulled a muscle in her leg at gym and we'd wedged open an appointment that morning with our orthopedic surgeon, just in case it was one of those injuries that turns out to require immediate attention. Fortunately no, this one will heal on it's own, given due respect, and is amenable to mild exercise like hobbling carefully down the seawall to the falafel joint for lunch.
It's getting non-photographically busy. Monday I'll fly down to Jacksonville, Florida and join a boat on a delivery trip up the Intracoastal Waterway towards Washington. This is the protected inland passage that runs inside the barrier islands of the east coast of the U.S., taking advantage of every twisty river and and watery straight, linked as necessary by cuts and dredged channels. I've never done this and am really looking forward to it! I am taking the full photo kit, including tripod, and we'll see what comes of that.
Sadly, I'll miss my French class next week...
Théodore Rousseau in the National Gallery of Art
Washington DC, 2 March 2020 I'm studying French... It's been a while, and Julee and I wanted to brush up, so we went to the Alliance Française above Dupont Circle and tested. I did pretty well and got tracked into the level 4 classes, which are serious lecture courses, but in French. So I'm studying French painting, specifically, <Le réalisme and le naturalisme>, Nineteenth Century art movements, in opposition to Romanticism and before Impressionism. (Note we anglophones capitalize our movements!) I'm not quite sure what to make of these labels, especially after my Sunday visit to the National Art Gallery here in Washington where I made a focussed run past paintings from the Barbizon school. From 2020 the divide between the romantics and the naturalists doesn"t seem so very sharp. And, interestingly, the English Wikipedia article on realism addresses realistic figurative painting from all epochs, while the French Wikipedia article on réalisme is about the France-focused mid Nineteenth century movement that is the subject of my class...
Panoramic Landscape near the River Moselle by Théodore Rousseau (from the web) Here is Rousseau's big little panorama itself. I saw it first online, and thought it was going to be bigger than it is. Of course, it was painted on location, so limited in size to what Rousseau could carry, especially what he could carry in terms of a fresh wet painting when he was finished. And I don't know how much paint and canvas he could afford! It's currently part of a temporary exhibit called True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870, three rooms full of small easel paintings done on location, many of which are quite stunning, full of sunlight and warmth.
Today I'm feeling pretty clear about what I saw and felt yesterday in the museum, but I left deeply discombobulated. First, I had one of those artistic panics. "What does this all mean? What makes a piece of art good? How does that apply to me?..." The truth is I don't know, and I'm not sure it's safe for me to enquire too closely! Second, the art history divide I feel isn't between the French realists and what came before, it's between them and what came after, specifically impressionism, modern art, abstract art. It's clear to me that I belong to and am a part of that world, even if the vast majority of my work is as figurative as Rousseau's painting of the Moselle Valley. The painting that really grabbed me yesterday was Paul Cézanne's portrait of his father, which I rushed past while looking for older paintings. It's totally figurative (I'm sure you'd immediately recognize the man if you met him) and full of light, but the brush strokes are completely original, non-"realistic", and the setting is abstracted. The perspective of the armchair is really off, which can't have been an accident given Cézanne's training and skill. And, interestingly in opposition to the Rousseau piece, it's a lot bigger than one expects, over six feet tall. Among other things the subject of the portrait owned a bank and Cézanne never had to worry about the cost of materials.
In the end, I'm not sure it pays to think too much about schools and styles. I study the photographers and artists of the past and present, sometimes quite closely, but in the end I'm going to go where the muse takes me, inside or outside of a particular school or style. What else can you do if you want to feel the holy fire?
Hong Kong From MacDonnel Road, HDR
Washington DC, 28 February 2020 So, this is the rebuilt version of the Hong Kong cityscape I posted last Friday. I assembled it with updated and commercial versions of both the High Dynamic Range (HDR) and the panoramic stitching software. It's a very different beast! On the unequivocally plus side, the stitching (via the PTGui program) is seamless and completely clean. (I had one small bit of ghosting in the sky, but that was an artifact of the HDR process, and very easily fixed in Photoshop.) On the other hand the HDR combination (using Aurora HDR) went a very different direction, and I'v been spending the last couple of days thinking about that. The previous version was moody and blue. This version is relentlessly bright and sunny. But, it was a bright and sunny day! Perhaps not relentlessly so, but you can see the very sharp shadow on the red building.
I'd had the image of the blue dark version in my mind for a number of years, so this bright pinker version actually took me aback, and I had to think about it. It's growing on me! It's really crisp, and in truth Hong Kong is a city with a lot of pink in it, so it's actually more realistic, although it has that pop-y HDR look. I'm happy, though I reserve the right to continue working on the image!
Tidal Basin, Pre-Spring Day
Washington DC, 24 February 2020 Yesterday was warm, over sixty degrees Fahrenheit by my measure. (I keep a swimming pool thermometer tied to the rail of the boat to check air and water temperatures.) Unseasonably warm, but I think you could say that of our entire winter. Julee and I left the Wharf and walked around the Tidal Basin, and I took this photo from the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. The trees of all kinds are beginning to bud out this last week of February.
Hong Kong From MacDonnel Road, HDR
Washington DC, 21 February 2020 This is the last of the three High Dynamic Range (HDR) images I'm happy with. Though, I'm not as happy with this one. I think it's a really striking image, and I like it, although I'm not usually in the typical HDR photographic world of exagerated colors. On that scale it's modest, but it's still on that scale. The problem is that it's also a stitched panorama (double technical!) and it contains a pretty bad mis-stitch on the round building with the pie section missing. It doesn't look round here, does it? And there are breaks in the lines of the brickwork. At the time I took and assembled it (2012) I was still fairly new with panoramas and didn't know how to fix it. It's still complex, since I should really recreate the HDR and the panorama in my newer, commercial, versions of the two applications, and see where it goes from there. One can often improve on even strong photos over time as one's skills improve, but I still think the last couple of photos are ready for prime time, while this one isn't.
The picture was taken from the roof of our apartment building on MacDonnell Road. I took a lot of pictures, in all seasons, all weathers, and all times of day from this spot.
Washington DC, 17 February 2020 Following on from last Friday's post, this is the other HDR image from Linda's that makes me happy. Now that I've pulled it and posted it I note the it was actually taken the same day as the window pictured below. A Good Day, photographically!
Washington DC, 14 February 2020 The furnace fan is repaired, and I've wended my way back down south. I broke up my trip with an overnight stay at my Aunt Linda's. She has a place in Brooklyn that is one of those amazing artist's spaces, built sometime long ago as a small factory and now reconfigured to house several families of varying degrees of intimacy. Some are tenants, in completely separate apartments, living separate lives, and some are actual family (though that can be complex!) living around the large space that was the old factory floor. It is small for a factory (tiny, actually, but a century ago a tiny factory in a U.S. city was a very viable economic unit) but it's huge for a living room, though, like all American homes, most of the family life takes place in the kitchen. I'm very lucky indeed to be welcome there.
I was lying in the sofa bed at one end of the living room, which is my spot there, and looking up at the street windows and I was reminded of the photo above, which I took of those very windows on another visit eight years ago. I was experimenting with High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography at the time, looking for a way to deal with very contrasty photos, the shadowy abyss of a Hong Kong street between tall buildings, with bright blue sky visible above, for example. Here I was just playing/experimenting, but I like the results a lot. It's not "realistic" photography, but not all photography needs to be realistic, even for this disciple of Group F64. What really mattered to them (and to me) is that the processes used be inherently photographic, rather than painterly. And, as always with me, this image is straight from the camera, even if highly manipulated in terms of tones and colors. This picture was taken after midnight with a tripod for long exposures. The light comes from entirely from the street lights.
I just started to go off on an explanation of the process, but it gets highly technical rather quickly! At some point I'll write an HDR technical page to go along with my technical IR page and my prospective page on panoramas for anyone genuinely interested.
Danny Chau of Chau Digital in Hong Kong taught me the real solution to the shadows and bright light problem in digital (really counterintuitive to those of us brought up on film photography) so I didn't pursue HDR very long, but it has its own interesting aesthetic. And I find it interesting that two of the three HDR photos I'm really happy with were taken in this house, within a couple of days of each other. I think I'll post the other one on Monday...
Cemetary Grass, Gloucester
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 10 February 2020 So here I am, TCB. (Taking Care of Business, as Elvis used to say.) It turns out the house needs some immediate attention, not as an emergency, but to forestall the emergency. So, I'm making calls to local contractors today instead of waking up in Brooklyn as planned. It's winter, and has been dry, though it's raining today. Not hard. We had a few lonely flakes of snow yesterday afternoon. Yesterday morning was sunny, so I went out with my camera. I think this picture was the best from that stroll. It's simple, tending towards the abstract, but I think it works, at least to a degree... And, I like it because it's almost black and white, though it's absolutely a natural color photo, just as it came from the camera. And, I think it's an interesting companion piece to my other disordered grass photo, taken a couple of months ago on the other coast of the U.S.
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 7 February 2020 A bit of a break from what I'm doing right at the moment. I found this picture while scrolling through the images searching for something else, and I think it's worth another look. I took it from Kellet Island in Hong Kong Harbour seven years back.
What I'm doing right now is Taking Care of Business in Gloucester. Came up yesterday by bus, scouting along the way for places along the tracks to return to for photographic safaris later on. Maybe not so later on. The trees in the roadside forest were bare and stark, and really beautiful in a dark and moody way on that dark and moody, wet and foggy, ride. I need to get out there fairly soon and be seriously landscapsical.
Washington DC, 3 February 2020 My view for much of the weekend, from behind the counter in the Martha Spak Gallery. At five o'clock I was a bit put out because no one had come to visit me, but a bit after five my friend Seung dropped in and we had a nice chat about the art. Seung has a good eye and a wonderful collection but she's filled her walls up and is very picky about any additions. It was in general a very quiet late winter day at The Wharf and quieter towards Close-Of-Business on Sunday, presumably because people were beginning to congregate at their Super Bowl party locations.
Washington DC, 1 February 2020 My schedule required me to post yesterday (Friday) but yesterday I was driving a big loop through Baltimore and Annapolis hunting for boat parts. (Successful trip!) This weekend I'll be babysitting the Martha Spak Gallery here at The Wharf while Martha is on travel. I'll open the doors at noon Saturday and Sunday, close between six and seven and would be delighted for visiters. As you can see it's tucked in between a wonderful bookstore and a spa on District Square.
Washington DC, 27 January 2020 While the Wharf Development is anything but shut down over the winter, it is very quiet in comparison to summer. The retailers tell me that January is a dead time of year for them, which makes sense as everyone is shopped out after the holidays. The restaurants are dealing with the double hit of less flush customers and the fact that much of their business is geared towards alfresco dining and drinking, and it's chilly. The Water Taxi (what the big shuttles plying the river between nearby points in the District, Virginia, and Maryland call themselves) is shut down for the season. So here we are, on a weekday morning with a single person walking down the seawall in front of the docks where I live. You'll note also that a good half of the boats have been cocooned in shrink wrap for the season. In heavy winter weather that covering makes taking care of the boat so much easier, but we've had hardly any heavy weather this season. There's still time of course... This shot is a nine frame stitched panorama embracing the wrap-around perspective such a shot will deliver.
Thin Ice, Capital Yacht Club The river has frozen this season, but, as you can see, not very much. A thin, thin, layer in the still protected head of my slip on an especially (but not very) cold night, and even this had melted away by noon. Our measure of freezing is when we see the ducks walking around on top of the water. I don't think this ice would have supported the weight of any bird bigger than a wren. We continue to watch the weather (forecasting has gotten so much better!) and note the incoming nights when the air temperature will get below freezing. I monitor the temperature of the water with a spa themometer. It's 41 degrees F this morning, at the end of January.
Ivanos and Bugatti by Edward Weston (from the Web)
Washington DC, 24 January 2020 A picture chosen for my day at the Washington Auto Show with my friend Scott. I find this a very odd photo. Not because it's not wonderful. It's beautiful, and a bit funny, all at once. It's odd because Weston was a great portraitist, but wasn't really in the habit of taking pictures of the wealthy and their possessions. The Bugatti was a millionaire's car and the driver is definitely showing off his very pricy Leica camera. I've done a little digging on the internet, and found a little more about this. The driver is Paul Ivano, a Hollywood cinematographer, and the passenger is the actress Claudette Colbert. This doesn't make the photograph any less odd! I haven't found more of the story yet. Is it in the Daybooks of Edward Weston? I don't remember, and will have to check when I get the library unpacked.
The car is a Bugatti Type 35, a twitchy supercar that people raced in Formula 1 and which won the world championship in 1926, back in the day when the gulf between a serious race car and a reasonable street car wasn't so wide as to be absolute. A different world... I found the car show underwhelming. Lots of really good cars, all looking very much alike, and frankly boring. If I had the budget to buy one this year I would, and would be happy with it, but it wouldn't excite me. Perhaps I'm older, and have other things going on in my life (photography, boating!) but I think we're also at the tail end of the glory days of the automobile.
Le Bon Combat
Washington DC, 20 January 2020 I have a show in August! On Friday I signed an agreement with Martha Spak of the Martha Spak Gallery here at The Wharf to show my Haitian photos alongside the work of a Haitian painter. It will be interesting to curate such an installation, since the works will need to complement and strengthen each other, and contribure to a shared visual narrative. Early days yet on planning and plotting... As we get into it I'll post more. Meanwhile, a photo from my "Haiti Streets" gallery in way of introduction. (And there are more, and more recent, Haiti photos in "Port-au-Prince, December 2017". )
Reading Terminal Market
Washington DC, 17 January 2020 An interior panorama from last week's visit to Philadelphia. It's an iconic spot that has great memories for me, since it's across the street from the downtown convention center. I first went there years ago when I attended the annual WorldCon science fiction convention when it was held in Philadelphia. This photo is emblematic of many issues... It should have been underexposed a stop to reduce blown pixels at the bright lights everywhere. Not too much one can do to fix that. Even after masking and restitching numerous times there's still one area of mistitching, though that can probably be fixed by hand in Photoshop. Mainly, it could be a little wider top and bottom, and there's a slope down to the right, which both make it hard to make the best crop to a clean rectangle for display. Sigh! It's hard to pan across the scene in a level line. Easier outdoors, where I've learned to follow the horizon with the gridlines in my viewfinder. But indoors there is no horizon to follow and I was holding the camera above my head and composing in the hinged and swivelled outside finder. I should be taking pictures like this from a ladder, but that would require premeditation. This photograph may not progress beyond this intermediate stage of processing, and I may go back with a ladder and some extra equipment.
It does bring me to the next technical "About" page I want to write, on panoramic photography. That may take me a bit, because there is a lot of history there that I want to illustrate. Panoramic photography pre-dates digital photography by a century or so...
Rittenhouse Square, Winter
Washington DC, 13 January 2020 Well! I obviously don't have enough critical and difficult readers following this blog since I posted three blog enties in 2020 without updating the year from 2019 to no negative feedback whatsoever... Now fixed, along with the copyright date on the landing page. Happy New Year once again!
The photos above and below were taken in Philadelphia on Friday, while doing tourism after the last post. The top picture is a three frame vertical panorama, wrapping up to the branches directly above me as I stood in Rittenhouse Square. Unlike many pans of this sort I've tried, this one works with only a little tweaking of the projection. The one below is a photo of oportunity from the platform of the Philadelphia subway system.
This site is now secure! It wasn't quite as easy as paying the domain service an extra ten dollars... To reliably and consistently pop up with a secured version of the site some work is required on the host server, and, like so many things in the web world, the process is not obvious, at least not to me. It turns out that it is as simple (on my service!) as flipping a virtual switch, but that virtual switch is buried in the menus of cPanel and you have to know it's there. On to figuring out enough of PHP to make that work for me!
Philadelphia, 10 January 2020 Came up yesterday for the reception for InLiquid's show of its new artists, which included a piece by my friend and fellow artist Maureen Drdak. It's a very strong piece indeed, the fourth in her Inner Perceiver series. Now, the morning after, we're in our AirBnB basement apartment while Julee works on a grant proposal for her organization and I think about next professional steps. So, no photo, since that isn't what is front and center on my mind this week. A little later in the day we'll venture forth and do art and tourism.
So, I'm building my mailing list, and dealing with just how disorganized my addresses are. (I've never really recovered from the breakdown of MSDos program porting to the Apple ecosystem years ago...) Thinking about the next upgrades to this website, and thus having to learn new things. Time to encrypt and add the "s" to "https"? Probably, since I want, at some distant time, to be able to take payments through the site, and, most immediately, add an interactive sign up process for a mailing list. That seems like it may be as simple as paying my hosting service an extra ten dollars a year. Doing the pop-up for the sign-up looks rather more complex, involving learning how to use a whole new programming language, PHP. And, figuring out how to access the PHP interpreter on my hosting service and activating it on my local system (that is, on my own computer at home). It does appear that PHP is included in the Mac package, but that configuration files need to be edited by hand to activate it. Always a little dangerous... Especially for the semi-technical like me. When I say I'm learning something like PHP I don't mean I'm becoming a real expert. I'll learn enough to serve my narrow need on my own web site, and move on! I'm not enough of a coder, nor have the memory, nor the time, to do more. But, part of Busy 2020!
Radiation Fog, Washington Channel
Washington DC, 6 January 2020 So, here we are, further into the New Year, and a bit further into this so far chill but not dreadfully cold winter. I took this three frame panorama from the end of my dock a couple of days ago, a pure target of opportunity. But, one of the things about living in a photogenic place is that there are targets of opportunity, and the wise photographer (or landscape artist or poet) takes advantage. That's why we always carry our cameras... The changing weather means that there are always new pictures, even in the same place.
Gulf of Gonâve Here's an example for twelve years ago, taken from the balcony of Julee's and my apartment in the New T'Adesky building in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Third (and top) floor apartment facing west and overlooking the City and the Gulf. The closest I've ever come to living in a penthouse, and we understood at the time that we'd never have better views. We faced the sunset, always different and often glorious, to the degree that we'd look out and say to each other "Ho Hum! Another beautiful sunset." and I'd run for my camera. I took a lot, and a wide variety, of photos from that small balcony.
Washington DC, 3 Jan 2020 It's a bit obvious, maybe even a bit trite, but here's my picture for the path ahead in 2020. I walked up to the Homestead Graveyard in West Swanzey on Christmas Eve to take pictures of the old New England gravestones. None of them are worth a second look, but I did capture this one across the street on the way back. I'll put it in the categories of "not bad" and "useful for a metaphor"!
I think this a year to be more agressive in getting my photos out there. So, I will be starting a email list for a biweekly note, and cross posting in on both my Facebook pages and on Instragram and Flickr. As now, I'll be trying to pull people into this website. It's mine, and I'm not fighting with Mark Zuckerburg about how to compose or present my work or thoughts, nor worry about politics, advertising or pet photos. In non-virtual world I'm going to see if I can pull off a real gallery show or two in the course of the next twelve months. I do have a couple of leads there...
Elephant Seals, Año Nuevo
Washington DC, 30 December 2019 They're there, really, three of them, lying sluglike/rocklike to the left, almost dead center, and a bit to the right. It is early in the season, two hundred males and three females, and one just newborn pup. In the coming weeks the beach will cover with big males beefing for prime territory. Safe beach plots for birth and nursing being what the females want, the males fight for that and so for the females who occupy them. It's amazing (I've been here before during the high season) but it's not... the picture of enlightened family life by my standards. But, unlike humans I think the seals are truly hardwired for that kind of violent competition. This photo is an infrared panorama stitched up from three individual photos.
Inland from Año Nuevo
Wild Grasses, Año Nuevo
I took these two pictures while walking in and out of the sanctuary. The top one is a two frame vertical stitch to pull in the immediate foreground and the hill of the Coast Range in the background. The second is an intimate portrait of the coarse grass in affect of the wind and weather that comes in, sometimes with some violence, from the Pacific.
I think this wraps up my first take on the photos from this trip. I'm very happy with them, even the ones that need more work, and am thinking there might be enough photos to set up a gallery of them. And I note that once again my favorite photos tend towards the infrared. Well, at the end, I'll follow what is working for me regardless of what style or technique it is.
This also wraps up my posts from 2019. I've archived my blog from October and earlier (you can see it all to the beginning on my blog archive of course) and I've added to the site. The "About" page now branches, to "About Myself" (the previous "About" page) and "About Infrared" which is a layman-to-layman explanation on just what the devil infrared is, and something about my engagement with it. In the next little bit (which I define as "before summer") I'll compose and post another "About" page on panoramic photography and my engagement with that which is, obviously, also very important to me. It's turned out to be a good year photographically, albeit with ups and downs. A month or so ago I was quite depressed, as the pictures weren't turning out the way I wanted them, and I don't think I got what I was hoping for when I was trekking in Nepal in April. But some months, and some days have been really special. I'm coiled up like a spring, ready for next year, but I'll talk about that next year.
It was an odd Christmas, but my beloved older relative came home from the hospital on Christmas Eve, in better shape that we could have hoped for a couple days earlier. A long recuperation ahead, but now it seems possible... Happy New Year, and my Very Best to All!
Swanzey, New Hampshire, 27 December 2019 Another photo from the recent trip the Aulde Country (California). I may use it in my next Facebook post, since my wife Julee has already used it there (with full attribution) after asking me for it as a desktop image for her laptop computer. This is in Año Nuevo State Park, a haulout beach for elephant seals, first for births, later for courtship, which is a fraught affair for elephant seals. We were early in the season, so we saw only a scattering of seals, mostly boys waiting for the arrival of the girls. But, a beautiful day, a great drive up the coast from Santa Cruz, wonderful scenery at Año Nuevo itself, and a bonus in the chance to commune with a lakeful of pelicans. This photo was another bonus, captured as I was turning away for the seals themselves. It's infrared, and a three frame horizontally stitched panorama. As with many other smaller panoramas I've made, less because the image was so wide but because it's gotten to the point where it's just easier to stitch than to dig out the 25mm wide angle lens and swap it with the "normal" 40mm prime lens on the camera. Also... I can't prove this, at least not yet, but I feel the stitch gives a more normal looking picture than a wide wide angle lens.
Washington DC, 23 December 2019 Probably the second to last photo to be posted to this run of the blog from the trip to California. The first half of the trip was spent with dear old friends from Julee's history, in Sonoma County, and the second half with dear old friends from my history in Santa Cruz County. A great trip! I am, always, a bit surprised by which photos really work, and which don't, but also really happy when any of them do. This shot came from a big loop walk we took with a friend through the Fall Creek Unit of the Henry Cowell State Park outside of Felton.
Early in the trip, in another grove of redwoods I picked up a copy of Richard Preston's book The Wild Trees in the park gift store. It's the wonderful story about a group of misfits and scientists (sometimes the misfits and scientists are the same people) who are obsessed with the oldest and grandest of the Redwoods, each a large and complex ecosystem in itself, and survivors, for the most part, due to their growth in inaccessible places where no logging company could approach with heavy equipment. It's a great read, and has been a good companion as I walked among these smaller and younger (but still very impressive) trees and worked through the images I'd gathered along the way.
Coming up Christmas and travelling to be with family. It'll be a different holiday because some of my older relatives are in real medical distress. But, all the more reason to be with them. Season's Greetings to all!
Work in Progress
Washington DC, 20 December2019 Hm! As it happens, I did take my infrared camera with me when I took the picture from my last post below, and grabbed a quick series of shots with it just 'cuz. I took a look just before I left California and flew home, did a little tweaking in Photoshop, and have come up with what may be my best shot of the scene. IR after all... It's very abstract, but if you look closely you can see what it is, trees reflected in ripply water, and I think that will be clearer if it's bigger, on a wall. It needs more work of course, to control the lights and darks so the image is drawn to the image of the redwood crowns in the middle, and both of these pictures will get my attention over the next bit. I think this one might be a good one to learn luminosity masking on...
Work in Progress
Santa Cruz, California, 16 December 2019 I've been working on this picture for years. Anyone who looks at my body of work will note that I have a draw to the philosophical equivalent of negative space, which is what drafting artists call the parts of the picture between the objects drawn or painted. The blank paper surrounding and between the branches and leaves of a tree in a pen and ink drawing for example. For me as a photographer it manifests as an interest in the images of shadows, reflections, unseen light like infrared, and, sometimes, actual negative space in the traditional sense.
I saw this reflection of a small stand of young redwoods in the creek water looking down off the bridge in Boulder Creek that carries Highway 9 further up into the Santa Cruz Mountains some years back and I thought it was a great way to look at the trees. And I thought it was perfect for infrared, which can sometimes work really well with reflections and sky.
The picture was disappointing... But, I really thought there was something there, and a couple of years ago when I came back to this neighborhood I took the infrared camera back and carefully shot it again. And the result was still disappointing... Maybe it isn't an infrared photo after all... So, when I came back this time I was thinking that I'd shoot it in color, and reduce it to black and white. So, on Friday as the weather was clearing I went back, and again on Saturday when the weather was totally cleared. The picture above was taken on Saturday, and it's a six frame stitched panorama, to get the whole scene in. I can always crop it down later!
I think it has potential, but it's not there yet. The bright spot in the very left bottom corner draws the eye, but doesn't add anything to the picture, so it needs to darkened. But it's so light the pixels are actually blown and it darkens grey instead of brown. I'll have to add the brown first... I think the left bank will have to be darkened a lot, and the right bank a little, to focus the eye on the creek and the reflection of the trees which is the point of the photo. Fussy work, and we'll have to see if it does the trick. I'll give it my best, but it is possible that this one won't gel to the degree hoped for.
Santa Cruz, California, 13 December 2019 From last Monday in Sonoma County, when we went to the Redwoods and then to the mouth of the Russian River. The one usuable picture from that day of wonder, which ended up at the mouth of the river watching a grey whale hanging out and feeding not a hundred feet off.
We're traveling this week, and this is a people-oriented trip planned and executed around visits to dear people, so tourism and photography tends to the incidental. But, of course, one way a host or hostess visits with out of towners is to take them to the special places and I keep the big cameras close.
DC Waterfront, Evening Light
In Transit, 9 December 2019 Sometimes the light pulls you. I looked out the aft windows of the boat the other evening and saw the scene above and grabbed my camera and ran. (New policy: The big color camera is always in my bag, and set up.) I got to the end of our finger pier beside the boat and captured the frames that make up this panorama. I shot a lot more, but the light changed right after this series, and, while still good, was not as good. But, at the end of the session I got the panorama I posted on Facebook
Washington Channel, Dusk
which I also like, but which has a very different feeling to it.
I shoot a lot of pictures here on and around the docks of The Wharf in Washington DC, because it's home, and I'm there. No longer original, but the changing weather and light mean the scene is always a little different. Laurence's version of Monet's haystacks? I don't give myself those kind of airs. (Once upon a time I sat surrounded by Monet's haystacks. There is a whole room full of them in the Chicago Art Institute. They were so beautiful, and the impact of a number of them in one place so strong that I literally wept.) But, the local scene does sometimes give images I'm happy with, and I am learning a lot from my technical noodling here at home. The next clear day in January I'll paste a big sheet of white printer paper on the side of the clubhouse where the sun falls directly on it, and run another set of experiements to get more of a handle on how much of an issue I really have with vignetting and uneven illumation with my favorite prime lenses, the super sharp Canon 40mm F2.8 pancakes.
Somewhere over Missouri, perhaps. I’m on my way to California with Julee, in the window seat with only my phone. I’d like to work on my photography, but my computer is in my overstuffed briefcase in the overhead, and the gentleman in the aisle row is asleep and I don’t want to wake him. I will, when the phone runs short of juice or I need to use the bathroom, but until then I’ll continue reading and writing on my phone. The plane is packed. Aren’t they always these days? The downside of cheap travel, and this travel is the cheapest, as I’ve been able to cash in my miles for the first time for something substantial. Obviously, the gentleman woke up (Julee had to use the loo) and I recovered my bag and am now even more cramped than before, working away with my computer in may lap.
Over the last week I've done more work on blending in Photoshop and have a better grasp of it, although not yet clearly getting to what I want. "Clearly" is the operative word, here. The adjustments I want to make are pretty subtle, and the limits of my aging eyes got in my way, even on the big Epson monitor. Hm... Next time I work on that on that setup I won't be too lazy to head to the after cabin and get my big Clark Kent task glasses, ground specifically for work on that screen, and made of glass so as not to introduce chromatic abberation to my vision as I work. This is not work for a trip without the big monitor and when I want to be spending my time being social with my special friends in California. But, I did bring my cameras, and will hope for good weather in California. Good weather for a photographer is defined as interesting light and interesting skies. Not necessarily bright and sunny...
Untitled Test Shot, DC Waterfront
Washington DC, 6 December 2019 Here's the first big answer to my technical questions. I first posted a version of this on the 16th September last, where it had a subtle but very definite blotchy paralellogram of darker in the middle of the sky. That led me on a long journey through Photoshop, but it turns out that the solution was in PTGui, the software I use for almost all of my stitched panorama creation. PTGui is very modern software in that it has no manual, not even an online version. You have to figure it out yourself, admittedly with help from the in-program help windows. I always checked the "Exposure compensation" box in the appropriate control panel, blishfully unaware that it wasn't an automatic process and the you then had to click on the "Optimize now!" (emphasis in the original) button in the bottom half of the panel. There's also a dialogue box that allows controls the degree of correction (maximum!). The result is this very clean, even, two frame stitched panorama of gallery quality. Wheh! I will still pursue my study of blending and masking in Photoshop, since those are skills that will come in useful in other contexts.
Swanzey, New Hampshire, 2 December 2019 I took this picture on the way to the Allen family's traditional harvesting of Christmas trees. A cold, clear day, with enough clouds for interest. It's infrared, and a vertical panorama to eliminate the need to change to a wider lens. Interestingly, this is one of the few infrared images I've taken where I actually had to compress the dynamic range (reduce the contrast) rather than extend it.
It's been a couple of weeks of frenzied contemplation on "Whither Laurence's Photography?", obvious to anybody who might have been following this blog. On the one hand I'll be thinking ahead to up and down the East Coast and where I want to be hunting for photos, but for the moment that will be on the back burner. On the other, I've given myself permission to concentrate on the technical questions for the next few weeks, and dig into the issues of exposure and the ins and outs of Photoshop and the other photographic programs I use, along with learning how to get more out of my graphics tablet and the big monitor, which I've just duplicated via eBay so that Julee and I can work with the needed tools at the same time. More on this at the end of the week and as it rolls out.
Swanzey, New Hampshire, 29 November 2019 Quiet, post-Thanksgiving Day in the bosom of the Allen family. We don't do Black Friday (retail workers should have holidays off, after all) so it's a quiet day at home. I'm still working on my technical problem. My Googling lead me to a technique called luminosity masking, but a day's study revealed that it's a solution for a very different problem. So, I'm back to working on figuring out how to make blending work properly, and especially, how to bend it to my will...
Looking at my screen this is what I'm seeing. Not a lot of tangible progress yet, but I do feel I have a better grasp on this than I did last Monday. I will continue noodling!
Postive and Negative Leaf Shadow Combined...
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 25 November 2019 Well, here it is: The two photgraphs from last Monday (18 November) combined by overlayering the positive image with the negative image in Photoshop, then dialing the opacity of the negative image down to 50%. A featureless gray rectangle! I've spent all day trying this and that, going to the nine hundred and sixty page pdf of the Adobe Reference for Photoshop (not terribly helpful) and Googling my questions... Success.
Applied to a real picture, this is what I've got:
Kinda ugly, isn't it? The dynamic range is compressed into an overall greyness, but the sky is illuminated evenly across the top of the frame... I thought I'd be able to tweak the tones of the photo back into shape in Photoshop, but so far I've not been able to get to the vibrancy of the original. Work in progress, work in progress...
So, paraphrasing The Bard, 'Now is the winter of my discontent.' I'm mudding towards the glorious summer, but the slog has been pretty hard recently. The technical side of the problem is deepened by the fact that I learn differently. Concepts come easily, but the step by step execution is hard. This is starkest in math and is the reason I'm neither an engineer nor an economist. People who are drawn to the fields, including the teachers, find the steps easy and have trouble teaching people who don't. I'd love to take a deep formal course in Photoshop, but fear if I did I'd be wasting my time and money with the teacher skipping through the menus, completely oblivious to need to highlight the details (like rasterizing layers) that spell the difference between being able to complete a task successfully and looking at a menu of greyed out commands. For the time being I slog along on my own, knowing I will make progress eventually if I keep at it, trying different things and picking up hints from the online research.
I think I might leave the existential stuff for later, although there are hints in earlier entries...
In Transit, 23 November 2019
Currently in The Bronx, and rolling north with Amtrak on the way to Gloucester. I don't have much to say about photography today. In my defence, this is yesterday's to-do list:
✓ PU Car --
✓ Cash Check
✓ Sea Cocks Closed !!!
✓ or Antifreezed
Radar Arch (if dry)
✓ Bolt cut
✓ Note to Horacio
✓ Note to Delyn
✓ Pay David Dodge
✓ Pay Club Dues
✓ Port Bilge !!!
✓ Haircut 11:15 --
✓ Water Boat
✓ Physical Therapy 2pm --
✓ Straighten Up Aft Deck
A long list, mixing the mundane with the coincidental and necessary, and with what really had to happen for safety before we left the boat unattended for an extended time during the winter when freezing temperatures are expected. I got almost all of them checked, off, which made for a busy day, especially since I'd had a wee hours migraine bad enough to require the whole range of triptans, boosters, and serious pain killers, which meant I started the day with some hours of woozy and dippy! On to the opening of the holiday season... More on photography later.
Postive and Negative Leaf Shadow
Washington DC, 18 November 2019 Yesterday was photo day, and I spent part of it working on the business of blending in Photoshop. I learned how to make the process run, which is not at all obvious process, or, as they say in the computer biz, intuitive. You have to rasterize images that are, at least to my an previous knowledge, already raster images. No doubt I'll figure this out someday! But, though I can get the process to run, I've no idea which of the thirty plus versions of blending will get me the result I need, which is a change in the luminance of a photo on a pixel by pixel basis in relation to the luminance of a second image. Still with me? The pair of photos above are for the next step in the experiments. The first is a ghost leaf left by the decompositon of a real leaf on a sidewalk, in monochrome. (What we used to call black and white...) The second is the inverted version of the same photo. (What we used to call a negative...) In theory if I used these two images in my blending experiments, when I get it right the end result would be a featureless fifty percent grey image as the dark and light cancel each other out. I'll report in later! If anyone has advice please email me!
Washington DC, 16 November 2019 This is the picture that convinced me I needed to start carrying the big camera more consistently, and, as a corollary, I needed to be readier to run for my tripod. Caught on the fly as I walked between docks towards my boat the other night. Beautiful moment, with the patchy clouds, which were darkly and mysteriously reflected in the water. I took an up and a down photo with the phone in my pocket, and combined them as a vertical panorama. I like it, but it's so rough, even at screen resolution. The phone assumed (correctly, and as phones always do) that you're hand holding for the shot and boosted the sensitively of the sensor to give an acceptably short exposure speed. But, with the tiny sensor (probably less that a square millimeter) that introduced so much electronic noise that the final product came out looking very noisy/grainy. And, the dark but distinct pattern of the clouds reflected in the water is nearly invisible. The big camera has to deal with noise too, but its sensor is on the order of a thousand times larger so the noise gets subsumed in the signal. And, I had the time to go to the boat, get the tripod and set up, and set the camera for low senstivity/longer exposure. Lesson learned... I probably won't get a second chance on this image. When am I going encounted that dark and those clouds again? But for the future, I'll take on the weight of the big camera, and probably the wide lens, in my briefcase. But I do note it's the marginal conditions that require the big, only-a-camera, professional camera, especially marginal or less than marginal light. The last two blog posts are phone shots, but in great light, so clean photos.
Replica Santa Maria
Washington DC, 11 November 2019 One of the wonderful things about living at the new Wharf development on the DC Waterfront is that special things just show up... This is a Spanish replica of Christopher Columbus' flagship the Santa Maria. Here it is in context:
Replica Santa Maria in Washington
I think calling it a replica is actually pretty strong, since we really don't know that much about the original except for it's general size! Even the type of sailing ship is uncertain... So, the various "replicas" built since the 400th anniversary of the European discovery of America all look different. This one is very round... Very much like a medieval roundship in a medieval manuscipt. I like it for that. I think it's probably better built and certainly better finished - not to mention in better condition - than the original, which was a random freighter found in Palos, Spain and requisitioned/leased for the voyage of discovery.
Both photos taken with my iPhone. The bottom one is a three frame panorama, stitched together on the FrankenMac with PTGui panorama software.
Leaf on Sidewalk
Washington DC, 9 November 2019 Which one is better? There's no absolute, of course, and I think this picture is pretty strong either way. On the ones below I think the black and white versions are in fact better, especially after I boosted the highlights (a little) and the darks (much more!) in Photoshop. Interestingly, the picture above took no adjustment at all when rendered to black and white.
Sidewalk Leaf Shadows
All taken with my iPhone while out running errands in the neighborhood yesterday. I'm still very much in the playing around mode so I processed these entirely from the jpegs while standing behind the counter as I manned the Martha Spak Gallery at the Wharf in Washington DC. I wonder if I should channel my inner
Ralph Gibson and darken the dark areas even more? It would certainly be dramatic, and I may well do it after I've let the thought sit for a bit. There is an interesting issue with doing most of my work on the Ancient FrankenMac. The contrast on screen drops noticeably if not viewed at exactly ninety degrees. Now that I've internalized that I'm careful to do those kinds of tweaks while looking straight, straight at the screen.
Washington DC, 4 November 2019 Running late on posts again. I think, technically, this would be last Friday's post, but I we'll let that deadline slip into oblivion, along with many others in my life. It's not laziness, though laziness and procrastination are intertwined into my soul, albeit in a complex and indescribable pattern. It's not even being distracted by the boat work, though there's a fair bit of that, along with the progress that belies any accusation of sloth on my part. I think it has something to do with where my work is, and the fact that the next steps aren't particularly linear. One, I'm trying to get the work out into the world, with everything that implies in terms of exposure and sales. This website is part of that effort, of course, but I've also over the last year put some effort into insinuating myself into the DC art scene and connecting with exhibition space. That's not quick work, and requires some zen, both in terms of mindfulness and patience, not to mention lack of attachment!
On the work itself, I'm still in the midst of trying to figure out how to smooth out the skies in infrared. I did another series on Maine Avenue last Friday, and came home with completely unusable images not because the skies were uneven, but because of the extreme split in exposure and contrast between the sky and the shadows along the street. This will have to be revisited another sunny day. Meanwhile, my thoughts have been running to black and white, my first love in serious photography. I don't have to shoot in infrared to get black and white images... Even in digital photography, which is pretty fundamentally a color process. I have two friends, Kevin Brubiski and Perry Bennett who do a lot of black and white, even though they're using the same color digital equipment we all use.
So, today, insteading of messing with infrared images of Maine Avenue (or infrared images of anything else) I've been messing with black and white conversion of some fall images I took with my phone Friday afternoon, after the cold front blew away the blue sky of the early morning and brought rain to the District of Columbia. One example above, another on Facebook with my redirecting posts, and the third here:
These are leaves and bit of other detritis floating in the water next to the dock where we live. I used my cataloguing program, ACDSee, to do the conversions, and Photoshop for tweaks in lighting and composition. So, this is one moment of non-linearity for me. I'll be following along this path, for at least a bit, and seeing where it might take me. It is the season for change... It's suddenly chill in DC, time to start prepping the boat for winter and switch wardrobes!
Washington DC, 28 October 2019 O!MG. (This is the correct punctuation, based on the True History of the phrase.) This is worse than I had thought. First, I'm a day late with my post. (I'm trying to put something up every Monday and Friday). Second, I'd started with the most recent iteration of the infrared Maine Avenue shot, which is a mess, and unpostable unless people are really interested in long disquistions of technical problems. I downloaded a bunch of photos from my phone yestereday afternoon, including the three images that make up the panorama above, which I think is quite striking, and rather evocotive of the actual boat club I live in.
But it's brought up so much! First, how interesting is it, really? I never asked that question when I was living in a medieval Newari neighborhood around the corner from Patan Durbar square. But, it's arguable that this neighborhood is every bit as exotic in its own contemporary Washington DC way... Then I struggled with the panoramic software, PTGui, because there was a mis-stitch on the water, a first for me, then I struggled with Photoshop, patching a corner where the stitched photo didn't quite cover the rectangle. Regular ripples are one thing, but after all this time I feel I shouldn't be struggling to do things I've done before in Photoshop. I'm still very much on the steep slope of that learning curve. And then, it's a derivative photo. I know, because I posted something very much like it only a few weeks ago! (I'm not going to link to it, you can scroll down to it...) I've even recycled my bit about O!MG.
Originality is a problem, and possibly a myth. A lot of people were thinking about electric light, and specifically light bulbs, in the day, and graphically controlled computers, in that day, which puts Edison and Steve Jobs in some perspective. But, they both took what they knew, massaged the ideas that were floating around and made something great and theirs from them. I don't think I can possibly be ambitious to do more. I'm going to declare this blog a safe space for repetition, experiment, and improvement, and go on. When I started this entry I was feeling a bit sorrier for myself, and thinking that the reader wouldn't want to hear me winge about my problems with the work, but then remembered that Catcher in the Rye has hundreds of millions of fans, so whining can't be completely toxic!
Washington DC, 25 October 2019 Not quite eight in the morning, and the sun is not quite up on the Washington Waterfront. When I first looked east the sky had scattered high cirrus clouds, but I think they've solidified into a high overcast now, so it won't be the morning to walk to the 14th Street bridge with the infrared camera and reshoot the morning light down Maine Avenue. The weather forecast indicates a gathering storm until Sunday, then clear again on Monday, so that will be my next target date for that shoot.
I've been working on my "behind the scenes" web page on the Siddhartha Gallery show last year. It's going to be a chatty thing... I should have it up by the end of the coming week. Then, of course, I have a whole list of pages to build. My non-photographic life is quite busy too... Onward!
Brooklyn, 21 October 2019 Today I am announcing the posting of a new gallery on this web site! After a long gestation, the gallery covering the imagery of my show at the Siddhartha Gallery last year in Kathmandu has been added to my "Shows" section at the bottom of my Galleries page. Please check it out! Over the next week or so I'm going to add a companion page on the pitch, setup, run, and teardown of the show for anyone who might be interested in the "behind the scenes" version. I'll also add links to such things as the show's artist statement.
Oak Hill Cemetary
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 18 October 2019 I honestly thought I'd be posting about the continued progress on my Siddhartha Art Gallery show page, but something more recent came up. One of the items in my Amazing Day gallery is a photo of the Prospect Street Cemetery. Julee had run across a post by the Cape Ann Museum of an Edward Hopper sketch of a Gloucester Cemetary and wondered if it was the same one.
Cemetary in Gloucester, by Edward Hopper
A comment on the museum post said it was actually the Oak Hill Cemetary on Poplar Street. And so it is! Monday dawn blue and beautiful, and in the afternoon I walked over to Poplar Street with my cameras, and the infrared two frame panorama is on of the products. Definitely the same spot. The houses match. The trees, including the one at the cemetary wall have grown up a bit in the last ninety years... The wall's not quite the same, nor the grave stones, but either might have changed over time. And, of course, Hopper didn't necessarily sketch exactly as he saw it.
Cliffs at Chhuksang
Gloucester, Massachussets, 14 October 2019 Most of today is going to be given over to sanding the floor of the study in the house in Gloucester. Silly me for having two fixer uppers. But then, two, or possibly even one, property in perfect shape would have been beyond my means... But, last night I finally, finally, started work on a web page to represent my show at the Siddartha Gallery in Kathmandu in February last year. I did a page for the follow-on show at Kathmandu Art Gallery early on, because it was a much smaller show with only five big prints and it was fairly easy to bang out a simple page to show them off. This was a bit different, a big show with eighteen large prints in the top gallery in Nepal, a couple of national press reviews, a TV show, opening remarks by the U.S. Chargé d'Affaires, all of which deserve links or comment. And I would like to do a little sub-page on the history and setup... So far I have all the exhibit photos tipped into the page, in the right order, along with captions, and text for the five that were also in the Kathmandu Art Gallery page which will have to be edited, but not much. By Friday I may be able to announce the page going live if I can keeped focussed.
Since I'm copying some material from another page I have a chance to see how my coding style has changed. Anything that works, but consistent style, even if the end result would be identical, is good coding practice, as it makes the code easier to read and maintain. I do wish I could take lessons or glom onto a mentor! I'm sure I'm missing some tricks.
Dogtown Trees, Gloucester, Massachusetts
Gloucester, Massachussets, 11 October 2019 Interesting week, as usual split between boat work and photo work. One of my friends told me that there was nothing wrong with a retired person having two hobbies, but it's not as simple as that. I enjoy the boat work, but a big part of what pushes me there is that it's my abode in Washington, and it needs work. I'm homesteading! And the photography? I like to think that's more than a hobby, an avocation at least.
On the picture: Two or three weeks ago I was wondering around the back alleys of my hard drives and ran across a dramatic tree picture I'd took in Colorado the summer of 2014. I wondered how I missed it, and thought I'd go back and properly process it, and add it to my page of tree pictures.
But, when I went back to it, I found I had fully processed it. And, looking at it, it didn't seem as good as I'd first thought. I kept looking at it, and thinking it was good, but not that good... I finally showed it to Julee, and asked her what she thought. She looked at it steadily for some time, and her silence told me what I needed to know, not that good. Pictures might grow on you, but I find the best leap at you, throw their arms around you, or perhaps slip into your arms and hold you tight. Either way you don't forget the embrace. If the picture had been first rate Julee would have said something very positive immediately. So, good, but I won't be adding it to any of my galleries.
I followed up by going through the pictures from that period of travel. It's obvious that I've been through that trip before, and I remember feeling the holy fire as I took pictures, but sometimes the results don't reflect the certainty of the moment. I think Dogtown Trees above, from the end of that period works, though maybe not as punchy as my favorites. It's a two frame stitched panorama, again, not because it's extremely wide, but because I didn't have the 20mm lens with me.
Work in Progress
Washington DC, 7 October 2019 Today came in overcast and unphotogenic (at least in my styles of photography) but pushing up to ten the cloud cover broke up, and I thought the sun might still be on the face of the Wharf buildings opposite the water. So, I grabbed my big cameras and hurried to the ramp to the 14th Street Bridge hoping for a good shot down Maine Avenue. The light was on the buildings, but only just, and the view was a bit dark, even in infrared. In visible light the pictures would be worse. Still, here's the work in progress. I'll go back much earlier in the morning the next time the light is good and the sky clear, with or without scattered clouds to give interest. These picures are meant as the "after" to the picures I took four years back, when the building footprint was a very large hole in the ground.
I actually spent most of the day working up and polishing an exhibit proposal for a wonderful local venue, Culture House DC. I have no idea where this might go, but I'm hopeful! I think the work stands up, and I am local, not just to DC, but to Southwest DC. More on this as it unrolls...
Washington DC, 4 October 2019 It's fall, and the light is changing although it's still very warm considering we're into October. With a nice clear day it seemed time to head back to the 14th Street Bridge and take some new pictures of my 'hood. As Marty Feldman said in Young Frankenstein, "Houumme!" (The relevant line is at 3:30 into the video.) This neighborhood is getting even more trendy as it's now a stop over for megayachts on their annual migration from the moneyed Northeast to the balmy shores of Florida and thence to the tax havens of the Caribbean. You can see a couple of them clearly in this two frame infrared stitched panorama, and there are a couple more, smaller, but still mega, yachts hiding in the middle ground among the other boats, not to mention the fifth that headed downriver this morning before I was out with my cameras.
I'll have to repeat the pilgramage to the bridge early tomorrow morning (or more likely Sunday morning or whenever I get the next weather window, given that I'm on the road early to the boat show in Annapolis) and shoot down Maine Avenue. By the time I took these shots the other side of the buildings were in shadow, and not photogenic. And then to stitch up the big panoramas and work on the illumination problem.
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Found on the Web.
Washington DC, 30 September 2019 In the day we got less usuable photos because the cameras didn't think for themselves. The photographer themself had to get the settings right. On the plus side, there were really only three controls... Aperture, which controlled how much light streamed through the lens, shutter speed, which controlled how long the light streamed through the lens, and focus, which controlled what was sharp in the photo. There was more to it than that, of course. Composition above all, which is still true, but those three were what you needed to control for your pictures to come out. Now that I'm fully digital, I have cameras that have menus after menus, menus within menus, and in some cases, menus within the menus that are within the menus. It all controls the three fundamental controls plus light sensitivity, which can be changed on the fly in the digital world, and so much more. Do you want your camera focussing on the center of the scene, or on the edge? You can adjust for that, as one example.
The thing I'm dealing with is that it's absurdly easy to adjust for such a thing without being aware that one is doing so. Expecially true with my iPhone (which is a serious camera, especially if shot with third party software) and with my latest, greatest big camera, the Canon R, which can be controlled with a touch sensitive screen. I don't actually suspect my cameras of evil whimsicality... It's harder to be sure with the phone, which seems more proactive. I'll click for the main screen, squeeze the "OFF" button on the side, and five minutes later my phone will be loudly playing Try to Remember from The Fantasticks from my pocket, with no imput from me whatsoever. Worse for me is that the iPhone camera software I'm using will reset itself in random ways, including labeling all the menus in Korean. The camera does similar silly things. For a while it was firing in burst mode, which wasn't, it turns out, a menu item from the main screen, but from a separate menu system on the top of the camera. A far cry from my Aulde 1980 Canon F1, which had a shutter speed dial on the body of the camera and aperture and focus rings on the lens, all linked in the view finder.
It's not just me. Menus are a problem all around. No one's going to die because my focus is off, but in other fields this sort of thing can be really dangerous. The U.S. Navy is reconfiguring the controls of its ships because the officers and helmsmen want more intuitive controls and the lack of them has led directly to serious accidents. And I know of at least three air disasters where controls buried in the menu tree have been part of the mix. But I'm not going back, much as I loved the F1. Every one of my big digital cameras has been a step up and a step forward in terms of control and quality. I am going to have to figure out how to lock down my preferances after they're set so I really know what to expect when I put the camera to my eye and press the buttom.
In Transit, MARC train to/from Baltimore from DC, 26 September 2019 Not a new picture, but one of my favorites from Nepal, captured in Nuwakot on the way to Langtang Village on the year's anniversary of the 2015 Earthquake. Nuwakot was a little Newari Kingdom further up the Himalaya from the Kathmandu, captured by the Gorkha king Narayan Prithvi Shah before he took Kathmandu Valley itself and established what became Nepal. The hands belong to a Nepali Police Officer who accompanied us on the trek up the Langtang Valley and took special care of me, a weak, but determined, trekker. You can see the photo on the wall behind me in last Friday's post.
Another week that has been mostly about the boat... Good progress there, but details interesting only to boaters and plumbers!
Washington DC, 23 September 2019 The last week has been very much about the boat in the Washington Channel Julee and I live on. I've put a timer on the main battery charger, (this involved rewiring a 220 volt double hot circuit) and chased down a lot of the wiring issues. We purchased a new not-painfully-squishy mattress for the master cabin, which arrived today. We also went shopping at a chi-chi blind store for shades for the salon, but the price there was more or less what I'd pay for a new Canon EOS R set up for infrared, which I also can't afford right now, so the mattress will be the last expensive boat item for a while. Now on to the things that require labor rather than money, like wiring and sewage... It's time.
On the photo side, I got good clear sky photos with the infrared 5D Mk3, so I can start working on building a Photoshop mask to even out exposure across the frame. Problem there is that I have no idea how to convert my understanding of the theoretical necessity to a tool that will actually do the work. Should be possible. Photoshop is an incredibly broad and powerful tool. Onward!
LKJ in His Office, 2017 (by JEA)
Washington DC, 20 September 2019 Being a recovering diplomat and consular officer, I no longer have big office to hang my big photos in. This is a picture that Julee recovered from a Facebook post about three years ago in Kathmandu when I was running the U.S. Consular Section there. Now I'm free of the office and living on a boat and have no place of my own to hang very large pictures. But I was able to put up a little pop-up show at my club last month. My friend, fellow live-aboard and Wharf Wrat extraordinaire, Alan Etter seized the moment and shot a little documentary/interview of me while the show was up, and has just posted it on YouTube. Check it out! It runs about five minutes, edited down, because when was I ever shy about talking about my photos? I wish I'd spent a little more time in hair and makeup, but Alan didn't just seize the moment, he seized me right off the dock where I'd been doing sweaty boat things. I kinda wish I'd spent a moment on my hair in the Kathmandu picture too, but few of us are really happy with pictures of ourselves...
Unititled Test Shot, DC Waterfront
Washington DC, 16 September 2019 Another in-progress technical post. I worry about obsessing about equipment, but cameras, lenses, and sensors are the tools we use to make images, and if there are issues with them they carry over into the images. Deep blue sky on the Washington Waterfront yesterday, so time to do another series of test shots. The panorama above nicely illustrates the problem that bedevils me right now. It's a simple two frame panorama and it went together very quickly. But... The shy is uneven, and the actual sky was not. There is a visible darkening in the middle where the two frames that make up the final image overlap.
And here's the issue. This is a shot of the most evenly illuminated clear blue sky with my standard very sharp Canon 40mm lens. Note the image is darker in the corners, but especially the top right corner. Vignetting (darker corners) is a classic lens issue but assymetric vignetting? Of course it's not extreme. I might never have noticed, or perhaps would have shrugged, except that it messes up my panoramas. It's not the sensor. The bottom image was taken during the same period with the same lens on my color camera. So what's up. More exploration, for sure, and perhaps, if I can get through, a conversation with technical expert at Canon. I may have to build an adjustment layer for photoshop, but won't be able to use yesterday's images because the infrared sky shots have subtle but definite flare and will have to be shot over with better lens shading. Infrared is more prone to flare, simply because the engineers didn't design the lens barrels with those wavelengths in mind. This is all my own fault for going all in for a form of photography (infrared panorama) that is a double kludge.
Elevator, Miami Beach by Robert Frank. From the web.
Washington DC, 13 September 2019 Robert Frank died last Monday. More than a bit of shock! It's hard to justify my sorrow as I never met him and he lived 94 consequential years and he had an impact on his fields that would deeply satisfy any artist. I don't know him as a film maker (my images don't move) but before he shot motion pictures he was on of the shapers of 20th Century photography with the publication of a single book, The Americans, in 1958.
In one sense, it's simple stuff. He shot with a Leica III, which was a fine and expensive camera, but was also very much the camera stripped to its essentials, a black box with a photosensitive surface at one end and a lens at the other. And small, which was critical to at least some of his work. The small took him to the very edges (and perhaps a bit beyond!) of acceptable technical quality given the state of chemistry at the time.
But, these pictures are not small at all, and they're beautiful, complex and multilayered. The Americans presents the pictures with no verbal framing aside from titles and a short forward by Jack Kerouac. It was received at the time as a bitter critique of Swiss immigrant Frank's adopted country. I didn't take it that broadly, but I do think it's a critique - without words! - of the then heavily marketed image of America as a society made up exclusively of happy, satisfied, middle class and upwardly mobile, people in perfect suburban marriages.
And the pictures are beautiful. The small grainy prints made from small grainy negatives are full of light and shadow, which are the tools of, and an ineffable part of the meaning of, photography. And the people in them, no matter how marginal or unhappy, are complete persons worthy of our respect and empathy. One feels the glimpse of their souls and that their souls are worth seeing.
It's hard to express how much his photos meant to me, and harder to say how much and how they affected my work since the other influences in big, sharp, less documentary, photography mattered too, not to mention the progress made in the chemistry between 1955 and 1975. My film was better than his! But the influence was very deep, and this week of his death I think of him and honor him.
Door in Shadow
Washington DC, 9 September 2019 In the last few months I've done a number of simple photographs that I've been really pleased with. This is an example from the inside of the house in New England. Simple, of course, is a relative term! Simple in concept, perhaps? This was part of an experiment on advice given to me years ago by my printer, Danny Chau, early in our acquaintance, when I noted the limited dynamic range of digital photography. Like the Late Lamented Kodachrome reversal film, only more so. I knew, because I'd just done some Zone System testing on the Canon EOS 5D MKIII. He quietly told me no, there was huge dynamic range possible. One shoots RAW files and bring the shadows back in post processing. And so it is. The camera original for this picture is exposed for the bright areas, and the dark areas were black. Amazing what a little bit of work in Photoshop will do! And the quality has held.
It also had to be tweaked back into architectual perspective. As it came out of the camera the rectangles were all twisted trapezoids. Fortunately also fixable in Photoshop, though I find it a twitchy process that (for me) doesn't give the best results the first time around, requiring repetition until it looks right. So simple image, but nonetheless the result of a lot of complicated work!
Red Sunset, DC Waterfront
Washington DC, 6 September 2019 Home from Home, at The Wharf in Washington. We got off the train from Boston about seven pm and were greeted by this scene as we were walking to the boat. I took three frames with my phone, and combined them in PTGui last night, and lightened the boats and clubhouse a little to make the final product a bit more readable on the computer screen. Shadows are tricky. They were tricky in the chemical photography days, when they were the key to good exposure and tricky in a different way now when they have to display on many different computer screens. Have you had your monitor calibrated? I'm having a certain amount of trouble with mine in spite of much effort because the built in screen of my FrankenMac displays a little blue-er and a little darker than the gorgeous big NEC monitor I use for critical work. No solution yet...
SchoonerFest, Gloucester 2019
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 2 September 2019 For the second year in a row we're in town for the annual Schooner Festival and this year I brought the camera bag with the big gun telephoto lens in it. The event is a commemoration of a couple of interlinked bits of local history. First, that well into the Twentieth Century, the cod fishery was built on big schooners that sailed out to the banks with a hold full of salt, a deck full of dories, and a crew that hand lined for cod from the little boats during the day and salted them in the evening, coming home with their catch when they ran out of salt. Second, a series of races in the 1930s between big cod schooners from Gloucester and those from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, which has a similar fishing history.
Pinkie Schooner on Parade, Gloucester
It's an American Labor Day event at the beginning of September every year, a long weekend when the weather is likely to be good. The boats gather in Gloucester on Friday, show themselves at the docks and prep on Saturday, and on Sunday there's a race, and leading up to the race outside the breakwater there's a parade in the outer harbor.And everybody comes out to watch. Both on land and on the water. As you can see here, and in the leading panorama, every serious sailor in the neighborhood seems to be out on the water to honor and ogle the bigger schooners as they go out to race. And a goodly population of motor boaters, oarsmen and women, kayakers, and the occasional lobster boat and commercial fishing boat.
Big and Small Sailboats, Gloucester
At the Turn, Scooner Parade, Gloucester
There are a number of classic books about and set in Gloucester. Two that are very relevant to this post are Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling, a novel set in the schooner based cod fishery at the turn of the last century, and A Race for Real Sailors by Keith McLaren, about the races in the thirties, which resulted in the Lunenburg schooner Bluenose ending up on Canadian money!
The photos are infrared, and the first one is a three frame panorama that was then cropped down for better composition. All taken with the massive Canon 100-400mm zoom lens.
Wake, Blynman Cut
Washington DC, 30 August 2019 We're coming up to the American Labor Day weekend, which is the American end of Summer. Not officially... The official date is 23 September, the autumnal equinox, when the day and night are each twelve hours long. But here school traditionally starts the first day after the Labor Day weekend and we've all lived by that schedule early in our lives. And, if we're educators or have children we still live by it, so it colors everything. And, this year anyway, it's noticeably cooler this week, so it feels like a transition to me too, especially as a boater. I took the infrared photo about last weekend, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It's a two frame panorama, my usual crutch when I don't have a wide lens on the camera (or on my person) when it seems the scene should be a little bit wider. It was a busy weekend of leisure for many, what with school still being out, really nice weather, and the large regional Riverfest music festival.
Riverfest, Gloucester, 2019
Julee and I walked! From necessity (no car) but also happy to not be dealing with parking. I gather that pretty much every parking option in town was overflowing. The crowd was estimated at eleven thousand. Not quite Woodstock numbers, but pretty good for a regional event celebrating a listener supported alternate music radio station, WXRV, The River. This image is stitched from nine separate photos, and it went together pretty quickly. The infrared version is much more problematic.
Big technical issues brought up: The skies in these stitched panoramas are uneven, and the effect is worst on the infrared side. I'm trying to figure this out. All lenses have vignetting issues, hopefully well corrected for the color light of normal photography, but maybe not so much for infrared which is outside of the parameters given to the physicists and engineer who design these things. I have to deal with far more flare in IR than in visible light, for example. Perhaps in the stitching process? Blotches do seem to follow the edges of the individual frames. Combination of both? Working on this and looking for mitigation as early in the pricess as possible.
Washington DC, 26 August 2019 No picture today. I am, knock wood, into the regular swing of blogging, having posted Monday and Friday for two weeks running, and starting thinking of my next post the moment I got the last one up on Friday morning. In the course of updating this Blog page, I made some adds and fixes on the blog Archive page, and updated the formatting of the Infrared Trees page in my gallery to reflect the new friendlier-to-both-phones-and-laptops ethos of this site. After that I thought it time to take down the "Under Construction" disclaimer on the index page. The site isn't finished, of course, not for years, if ever. But I feel that it's getting closer to being ready for prime time and that I'm ready to completely own it. Over the next bit I'll be bringing the whole site into the orbit of the new style sheets, which will be easy for the later pages which I deliberately kept simple, and harder on earlier ones where I was experimenting with fancier layouts. But, honestly, I'm tearing through a page pretty quickly now that I have a good sense of what formatting options I've set up for myself.
I'm going through my development space on my own computer and cataloguing the complete and posted pages, the half finished ones, the barely started ones, and the abandoned or superseded ones, and see about bringing some more order to the enterprise. Then, I'll be seeing what it will take to encrypt it, adding the S to the HTTP. Perhaps not such a big thing now, but I'm enventually want to handle sales through the site, and for that it must be as secure as possible. Meanwhile working on the photos themselves as in my last post, and working at getting the work out into the physical world. Many, many happy hours of work over the next months and years...
Manhattan and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade
Massachusetts, 23 August 2019 I like it, but it has has big stitching error in it. It's one of my digital panoramas, created from four photos taken from more or less the same position and combined seamlessly in the computer. Except there are seams and sometimes they show! I won't say where, but examination will find it. Not at the points in the photo the eye naturally goes, but it's there. This day in March is very frustrating. Great sky, great light, sharp Zeiss and Canon lenses... But the pictures are not coming together easily. Not the first time I've complained about this! Some pictures may eventually make it out of the blog page to prime time, manipulated in PTGui, my current stitching program of choice, or re-stitched in Autopano Giga, which I've used but don't understand very well. And then there's always hand patching in Photoshop... Some, I may have to accept as imperfectable, and either leave behind or wait for another good day when I'm in New York and have the time to return to the scene for another go. Meanwhile, a small victory in my assault on html coding. In the process of putting together this post I learned how to link to a particular place on a web page. Not as hard as some of the things I've had to learn but I'm still proud of my progress.
Massachusetts, 18 August 2019 By now I've been through the folders of photgraphs of the recent trip to Finland via Iceland, processed the infrared photos and the panoramas, and picked out my favorites, including the two I've posted previously. This is a group of infrared photos from the last leg of our trip to central Finland, a lake district surprisingly reminiscent of New Hampshire, but with bigger scenery and more lakes. Started off, above, with the trip from downtown Helsinki to Tampere by train, thence a drive to the big birthday party at the Hotelli Kunikaandartano, and afterwards to the post-party at the family cottage in Kyrösjärvi before our return home.
Kyrösjärvi Stroll #1
Julee and I took an afternoon walk, and when we got a little short of this point when I turned us around so I could get my camera. Lovely high summer day among the birch trees.
As we walked we were a little nervous because we weren't at all sure of the ownership of the gravel country road we were walking on. Public? Private? Were we getting a little too close to the private space of someone's beloved summer cottage? Of course it's hard to imagine a Finnish homeowner being anything but sweet about an inadveratent trespass, but my slightly odd brain started take the thought to it's logical conclusion. Maybe the Finns are so fierce about private property that "Private Property, No Tresspassing, Deadly Force Authorized" is actually a single sylable word in Finnish. And then we came to this fork in the road marked by garden gnomes, Disney dwarves and signs to family cottages, there it was, in front: "Lutz"
Needless to say, we walked on. Apologies to my Finnish friends, but how could this punster resist? The following photos from the rest of the walk:
Kyrösjärvi Stroll #2
Kyrösjärvi Stroll #3
Massachusetts, 16 August 2019 (From my Facebook Post.) Gallerists and publishers are often interested in the local angle, and a conversation with a gallerist last week led me back to the many photos I took five years ago as the Southwest DC Waterfront was being demolished to make way for what has become the Wharf. I made many trips to the 14th Street bridges and the walkway of East Potomac Park across the Washington Channel from the action to take photos. I was trying for the W. Eugene Smith combo, a document of the time and place that is also a good photograph. Looking back from this point in time the results are mixed. More work required, although I think there is some good stuff in the multitude of exposures... I'm quite happy with this one, which is really more the portrait of a large sailboat belonging to fellow members of the Capital Yacht Club and less a record of the neighborhood moment. But, the old club is in the background, seconds ticking down until we moved out and down the Channel ahead of the demolition. Wide angle, infrared.
Pop-Up Show, Capital Yacht Club
Massachusetts, 16 August 2019 So, last weekend I had a very informal little pop-up show at my club in Washington DC. Partly I wanted to show my friends some of my recent work, partly I wanted to see it up myself, and partly I was hoping to increase my viewership. The last turned out to be hard, as it is, after all, a private club, not to mention a non-profit of the most intensely non-profitable sort. Management was nervous, so I didn't broadcast this show ahead of time, even to the Wharf community, and made no mention of sales or prices even to the people I invited individually. It may have helped make a connection or two.
A pop-up is a sudden, short term, inexpensively mounted, art show, often in places that are not usually used as gallery space. No new prints in this show! All five were already printed. All told I spent about ninety U.S. dollars on lumber and fasteners for this show, finished off a couple of cans of paint I had in stock and used construction line and whipping twine from my boat's cordage box to hang it all up. No reception, so no wine and nibbles bill... As you can see, I used black painted wooden battens and binder clips to frame and hang the works themselves. The binder clips then hung by paperclips to a series of battens bolted together to form a long rail and that in turn is hung from line strung through the false ceiling. Except for the first picture I had to hang the works away from the wall because there isn't actually a wall but a line of built in cabinets that the club staff needed to be able to get into. A bit fragile, but perfectly adequate for a four and a half day event.
Amy Weiss, a good friend and the chair of the House Committee at the Capital Yacht Club helped me hang the show Thursday morning before the show officially popped up. Here you see the works unboxed and unrolled. The very heavy and porous Hahnemühle paper from Germany takes a wicked curl when it's stored rolled up, so we weighted the works down with soup bowls from the club galley and went to lunch to give the pictures time to straighten out. As you can see the longest print is a good eight feet long. Unrolling these picutures, expensively printed by Danny Chau of Chau Digital in Hong Kong, is a nervy process, as is rolling them up to return them to storage since the surfaces are very delicate. I'd love to have them framed under museum glass, but that would cost several thousand dollars per print if done right, and then I'd have real trouble with the volume of storage space needed. I've collected a lot of these big prints since I first met Danny several years ago. So, I just have to take the care and take the risks.
A small pop-up, but it still took a fair ammount of time to organize, set up and hang, then to un-hang! At least a work week, spread out over a couple of months, and maybe more if you count the time I spent lobbying my club to let me use their space. It all takes time! (It's taken about three hours to organize and compose this blog post, which might be long winded but isn't all that complex...) Worth it though. It was great to see the work up.
Connecticut, 14 August 2019 Two things come up as I start this. First, I'm really reluctant to broadcast where I'm going. Years in fairly high profile U.S. Government service overseas. I was never so high profile as to be at particular risk, but it was drilled into us that we were also targets of opportunity, especially when targets of greater value were well protected (Once upon a time the U.S. Defense Attaché in Athens escaped a group of Greek extremists because he was a serious photographer. Really! He carried a camera everywhere and his movements were completely erratic to the observer because he was always going out of his way looking for an interesting composition and the best light, even on his walk to work. The assasins killed his very predictable deputy instead.) So, even in retirement, my mind resists telling the world where I'm going, or where I've just arrived on social media or such platforms as this blog. I write on the train from Washington to Boston, and thence to Gloucester, but I'll probably post after I lock the door behind me when I get there.
It's a great ride. Not particularly short at eight hours, but Amtrak is a lot more comfortable than a plane, the stations are easy access downtown, and one only has to stand in line once. I could wish for better food! The picture above shows my meal on the recent run from Helsinki to Tampere in central Finland. It's as good as it looks, and while one had to order at the counter, the attendant served to one's seat, at least if one were sitting in the double decked dining car. I love Amtrak, but the slick, clean, on time to the minute, with really good food and drink, Finnish VR railway system leaves me feeling a little envious. One real plus for me on this side of the pond is that this train follows very close to the water at various points, including the run though Connecticut and Rhode Island, so I get to ogle many little port districts full of interesting ships and boats.
The other thing I notice is that I'm not completely consistent about the way I tag places. Generally local place name only in the U.S., local name and country overseas. I do come at it from a U.S. prospective, but I think it's mostly a desire to be clear and transparent. I'd expect my Finnish friends to know that "Boston" is the city in the U.S., not the town in England, but I think it's kind to my other friends to say Kyrösjärvi, Finland. "Helsinki" wouldn't require the extra precision for most and I wouldn't add the country in that case. So, denying any nativist intent, I'll carry on.
Black Sand Beach, Iceland
Kyrösjärvi, Finland, 2 August 2019 Julee and I have been on the road since last Friday, the trip being hung on a logical-family event in Finland, the 60th birthday party for a pair of very dear friends. The Mid-Atlantic part of the trip grew out of Icelandair's very clever marketing of a "free" stopover in Reykjavic on the way to Helsinki. We spent four days in Iceland and a considerable sum on tourism, in spite of doing it on the cheap by camping. We travelled from campground to campground in a miniature camper van, which turns out to be A Very Big Thing in Iceland. One of these days I will have to write a little essay about the tides of tourism washing over the world and my experiences in them. Meanwhile, Iceland... What an amazing and photogenic place!
Moss Heath, Iceland
The top image was taken from the top of a sudden rising hill right on the southern coast, capped with a classic lighthouse. The second comes from later in the day, and a bit to the west in the middle of the Eldhraun Lava Field, an Icelandic national park devoted to the recent lava flow and its amazing softening cover of moss. I didn't know what to call this landscape, so my file names use my own term "moss meadow". It turns out that the proper term is "moss heath". I like "meadow" better, for the softness of the surface, but Julee disagrees because of the underlying jaggedness of the landscape. I'll concede and go with "heath". Moss Heath is a three frame stitched panorama, but otherwise these photos are not manipulated at all. These are the colors of the landscape, high afternoon in the first, and overcast evening in the second. Driving through this landscape that evening, and then the following morning on the way to Keflavik Airport I thought I could make a large project of it if I lived in Iceland, searching for the most interesting vistas of the moss heaths, and watching the weather for the most interesting light. Care is required. One mustn't walk on the moss because it's actually very delicate, and one can leave long term if not permanent tracks on the landscape. We took a secondary dirt road off the main track and drove a hundred meters into the lava field, parked and walked further to view the heath, but didn't step off of the road at all.
Alexandria, Virginia to Washington DC, 21 July 2019 This will be my last technical post for a while. I've spent the last couple of weeks learning how to control the appearance of my web site depending on the size of the screen it's on, and the last two days re-configuring my blog archive page accordingly. I had started, of course, with test pages, then prototyped on my blog page. I had to go next to the blog archive page as I wanted to archive the infrared Potomac River pictures to it and couldn't until the two pages were identically configured. And, the archive page is my longest page, and so the most work to reconfigure. Good to get it done! I'm still a bit at sea on the interaction between the meta viewport command and the references to screen size that call different stylesheets depending on how wide the display is. No matter, or at least no urgency... I think the pages look good on laptop/desktop screens, smart phone screens, and the tablets in between. My design of the pages has been deliberately simple for some time to allow for scaling to different devices. I may do some tweaking in the weeks to come, but for the moment I'm satisfied and will work on getting a new page up and reconfiguring the existing pages for the new stylesheets. I might soon feel ready to take the "Under Construction" label off of my splash page...
North Shore, Massachusetts, 16 July 2019 It's been a hard couple of weeks on the coding front. I've been working on the techniques of responsive web page design and dealing with the fact that they are so badly documented on the web. There is, of course, more than one way of writing the code, but even so, none of the sources, including the web consortium's site, seem to give complete and workable instructions for any of them. I've been down more than one rabbit hole trying to follow a published technique until research showed that the published technique applied to third party software that compiled to .html or .css code, not to the code itself. Oy! Finally managed to cross reference a number of bits of information and build a test environment that loads a different format of page for phone screens, medium screens (for tablets), and larger screens (for landscape computer screens). Now for some tweaking to set a overall format for my pages that will allow for quick assembly, and then a new page or two that will show off the new work.
Muhammad Ali, Miami, Florida, 1966 by Gordon Parks From the web. On my way home from Boston, Cambridge, and Hahvahd, where the The Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art has an exhibit of Gordon Parks photos in it's last days. Parks was one of the absolute greats of photography. His book, Poet and His Camera was everywhere when I was in my second photographic wind in my twenties, but the real gem is a volume called Moments Without Proper Names. It was rare and costly then. I would visit the copy in the Santa Cruz Public Library from time to time. His work holds! The big print of the picture of Muhammad Ali, above, is beautiful and mesmorizing, technically perfect while giving the viewer a window into the soul of the young man who was making to transition from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, long before the tragedy of the boxer who fought too long.
Washington DC, 3 July 2019 Am I allowed to think out loud? Well, it is my own blog, but I also wonder if one can think "out loud" when one is writing quietly... Nonetheless. I've known since December the year before last that I need to optimize this web site for smaller devices, smart phones in short, or Google will ignore me. The first, easy, steps came some months ago. I stopped doing fancy text wraps around images, and now my pages are vertically and linearly organized. That looked okay on the big laptop screen, but didn't wear as well as the screen got smaller as I was still having trouble with the fact that the text was really teeny tiny on the phone screen making the pages unreadable. Then, I found the viewport command: meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0" Now isn't that intuitive! But it does change the text size depending on the size of the device screen, bigger type on smaller screens, which makes a huge difference.
But, I need to do more. First, I'm giving preference to the look of the site on phones, which detracts from the look of the site on laptops. Most of the images need to be full width on the tiny screen, but then the non-panoramic photos look a bit weak and more than a bit awkward on the big screen. I need to adjust depending on the size of the device for the best look.
The hint came (as documented in and earlier post) in Las Vegas a few months back. I spent the first couple of days of this week studying the fabled 'media' query, coding it into a couple of test pages, getting nowhere the first day and achieving success the second as shown in the picture above. It's the same page, but white on the computer and light blue on the phone. Victory! And now for some serious design decisions. Trolling the web for information and technique I'm led rather quickly back to the other issue... SEO. "Search Engine Optimization" in this context, which is mostly about Google being quite explicit about favoring sites optimized for phones. My question is, how do they know? My site is already optimized for phones, as above, but I suspect that the search algorithm hunts for explicit breakpoints for screen width in the associated style sheet rather than parsing out the fundamental design of the web site. Well, the breakpoints have to be there anyway for the best looking pages, so onwards!
So, I'm delaying the building of the next gallery page on my web site while I figure this out. Then I'll use the new technique in building it, then retrofit it to my existing pages, and then, hopefully, be ready to start doing a buncha new pages and flesh out the site to the point where I'm willing to start advertizing it widely and agressively. It's been labeled "under construction" (but with content!) for a long time...
Washington DC, 1 July 2019 Happy Canada Day! Sunny day here on the Washington Channel in Washington.
I'm being pulled in a lot of directions right now. Julee's work is in flux with the end of her association with Save the Children, and we have a couple of fixer upper homes, the permanent one in Massachusetts and the one acquired to support her work in Washington DC. I like fixing up, but there's a lot of it in my life right now, and I have to deal with some personal issues concerning follow through, most especially the one about purchasing. Buying parts is satisfying and fun, but it's often, or, perhaps, usually, the smallest part of the project in terms of the time, emotional energy, and shear drudgery involved. If not careful the parts pile up and the work doesn't get done.
But, while I can't put that aside, I want to put my photography first. So, it's Monday, the first of the month, and coming into high summer in Washington and Massachusetts both. A good day to start "going" to work... I'll work on the boat in the afternoon. I started the day by coming up to the clubhouse and measuring the second box of big prints I have with me in Washington. (I did the first box last night, but couldn't finsih for social distractions.) I'm plotting and planning a little pop-up show here at the Capital Yacht Club later in the month, and need precise sizes so that I can lay out the exhibit. As that gels I'll anounce. It's going to be low key to get back into the habit of exhibiting and give me a chance to see some of the big stuff up. Viewing mostly by appointment, since this is a private club, and I can't just open the doors. (Nor would I expect much foot traffic in this location.)
Julee and I were in Gloucester last week and I had a magic day with the infrared camera, with a truly unusual percentage of frames worth a second and then a third look. There are enough images I'm really happy with to make up a gallery on this site, rather than an extended blog entry like the one below. To that work!
The War College A day on the Potomac, crewing for a friend who was delivering a boat to Colton's Point boatyard for some serious maintenance. My first pictures after a fallow period... This is the War College at Fort McNair, at the confluence of the Potomac Channel and the Anacostia River. Years ago a dear friend, Sarah Stone asked me "What do they study at the War College? And don't say "war"! She knows me too well... It's a public policy school geared towards military officers on the cusp of flag rank, and graduates a class of Masters of Arts every year. It's the War College, because it belonged to the War Department back before the War (Army) and Navy Departments were mreged into the Defense Department in the aftermath of the outlawing of war, back in the day. I always felt that classes should sing Down by the Riverside at their graduation ceremony...
Fort Washinton Riverine defense for the city of Washington, built after the city was captured and burned by what we would now call a combined services operation during the War of 1812. And never since used, though I suppose it possible that the guns and ramparts might have been needed during the Civil War. The pictures in this little post are in chronological order, and this view is a bit over ten miles south of the city as you go downstream on the Potomac. It's a two frame stitched panorama.
Mount Vernon Almost directly across the river from the fort. I've always liked George Washington's farmhouse, because, while it's a farmhouse on a big scale as befitted a successful agro-businessman, it is still a farmhouse, quite a different flavor from the palladian palace at Montecello.
55 Every big navigational buoy on the river has a pair of fish eagles, or ospreys, nesting on it. These two look pretty frazzled, but I'd expect that of a couple of young parents trying to keep the young ones in fish and no doubt wondering if they're in a good school district.
Fishing There is a big power plant at Possum Point in Virginia, with big power lines crossing the river. There's an osprey nest on the base of the closest pylon, but it doesn't look finished or occupied. But the bird in the middle of the picture on their way to Maryland has their fish...
The Lower Potomac The Potomac is tidal all the way to Washington, ninety miles from the mouth of the river between Point Lookout and Smith Point. An ocean going ship can go the whole distance, which is why there's a city where it is. As you approach the bay, the river widens and deepens, and the scale gets bigger and bigger, and you begin to get a sense of the Potomac as the old highway to the world for Tide Water Virginia and Southern Maryland. The is a stitched panorama made up of three individual photographs. The uneven horizon isn't bad stitching, but the distant shores of the river and its inlets. Looking dead upriver across the wake of our boat.
Manhattan From the Brooklyn Promenade
Washington DC, 22 March 2019 I went to New York last week to see Donna Gottschalk's Photographic Show Brave Beautiful Outlaws and to do a little shopping. The show was wonderful on a number of levels. Partly because some of the portraits are really strong, partly because I remembered some of the pictures from the time in spite of Gottschalk's disclaimer that they weren't widely distrubuted, and partly because I was on the edge of that community at the time and had dear friends in it. I was actually on the edge of at least three of the communities depicted, lesbians, political activists, and back yard aircooled Volkswagen mechanics!
I also went to check out wide angle lenses to replace my current 20mm lens, which is a little soft in the corners. There aren't that many candidates! Canon has a number of zooms as well as the prime lens I have now, but the reviews indicate I wouldn't get an improvement with them, so I was pushed to expensive third party lenses with Canon mounts. I rented the 25mm Zeiss Distagon from the Adorama rental base in Brooklyn and shot with it in both color and black and white in the evening and then the next morning as I walked around Cobble Hill and across the Brooklyn Bridge (a first for me!) on my way to the Adorama retail store in Manhattan to return it. I'm very pleased with it, and I have one winging to me second hand from Japan. I was planning on posting a little gallery of the day's shots here, but there's still some work to do.
The photo above is the second iteration of a two frame inrared panorama that I made with it. My first successful attempt to manipulate local contrast in Photoshop, local in the sense of contrast within part of the range between darkest and lightest rather than the entire range as a unit. It needs another round of work to take out the visible break in contrast between the sitting man and the sitting woman. I'm not sure where that came from, but I think it's an artifact of the boundry between the first and second frame that make up the stitch. Regardless, I'll have to darken that stripe so the eye doesn't hang on it. The visual center of the photo should be a bit to the right where the perspective bends. And, meanwhile, bring up the rest of the pictures from a very good photographic morning.
The Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas
Washington DC, 20 March 2019 I mentioned Las Vegas in my last post, so I wanted to show that I did in fact spend the weekend in Marie Osmand's hair. As far as I can tell, Julee's and my hotel room was really right there behind her big '70s do. Beloved cousins Joy and Lex were getting married so we stayed at The Flamingo with the rest of the wedding party. It's an old, and surprisingly spare, hotel, in spite of being completely rebuilt to replace the original Flamingo, which opened in 1946 and launched the Las Vegas Strip. I don't know how many construction workers (or any?) died in the project, but one gangster, Bugsy Siegal, famously did, reputedly because the casino hotel didn't bring in the money big enough and fast enough for his crime world partners.
Las Vegas Room 1 So, here's the afternoon view from the big hair. The moiré pattern on the window is an artifact of the appliqué that makes up the banner on the front of the hotel.
The Flamingo's Flamingos It couldn't be the Flamingo Hotel without flamingos, could it? This shot is a three frame vertical panorama to get the flamingos, the palms, and The Flamingo all in one picture.
Ice, Washington Channel
Las Vegas, 9 March 2019 A recent image, just to give the blog post a bit of interest. I took this picture at the beginning of February during next to last cold spell, the last one long enough to bring real snow and ice, although it wasn't as real as all that, and melted quickly. Today, I'm looking at a definite warming trend in the ten day forcast for Washington D.C. Not that it couldn't get cold again, but we are well into March, and the Park Service is predicting the peak of the cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin at the beginning of April, right on time, and just before I head back to Nepal to trek to Gyoko Lakes.
And, I'm gathering myself up to make the next big leap in the design of this website, learning what the industry calls responsive web design, which is a big deal if you're trying to reach an audience that might be using a computer, or a big tablet, a smaller tablet, or a cell phone to read your website. What's perfect for one can be really off for others. One thing, of course, is to simplify the design so that everything's in line for the small device users. So, little to no wrapping text, nor images justified (floated, in the specialist jargon) left or right. There is a simple addition that greatly improves the relationship between image size and text size on the page depending on the device, and I've added that to many of my gallery pages and will add it to every page of this site once I'm back in my high bandwith home. But, I think I can also tweak the size of the images on the page, but will have to learn some more coding for that. More anon! (Later...)
Washington DC, 20 February 2019 My last post took my just short of two and a half hours to put together. Even simple things take time, and of course there is a lot of hidden complication. First, the photos weren't ready for prime time. A couple needed no real work, but still had to be reduced in size for the web, others needed tweaking, others needed a fair bit of tweaking, and one needed to be assembled as a vertical panorama from three feeder photos (Feeder fotos? Pheeder photos?). All interleaved, of course, with the process of deciding which pictures to use. Then, composing, framing text, and laying the photos out on this page. Not a complex process, especially as the design of the page has been simplified so that it can be made to present reasonably well on a cell phone. But, there's spacing to get right, which involves (for me) adding and subtracting line breaks by hand and checking to see how the latest version looks, and making sure that I have all the paragraph markers properly paired. Missing one can do odd things to one's chosen typefaces. Then there's proofing, which I do multiple times, first in the web editor, then in the local web environment on my own computer, and finally, after it's posted. And I still miss things... What I discovered I'd missed when I looked at this blog page today was uploading the photo that illustrated my 9 February thoughts. Fixed now, but that confirms me as the world's worst proofreader!
Today it's seriously snowing in DC and everything is closed, and Julee is working from home, busy taking meetings on Skype. (But where does she take them to?) I'm on the second day of being a serious artist, in the sense that I promised myself that I would set aside a block of time ever morning to do my photo work, and do that first, before I took care of other business. Because, even retired, I have fairly urgent other business to take care of. DC and Federal Taxes, for example! It's entirely too easy to get wrapped up in that sort of thing, and important, but later, later. I'm inspired by the writer W. Somerset Maugham who wrote and edited without fail between 9am and noon. Not full time work, but if you do it every day it adds up... This morning I worked on a panorama of my own DC Waterfront captured just after our last snowstorm which is turning out to be a real problem picture due to the exposure differences between frames, greatly compounded be the stark backlighting of the photo. More on that later!
Boston Puddle Portfolio #1
Washington DC, 19 February 2019 I'm just back from a week in Massachusetts, mostly dealing with the issues of a dear two hundred year old house on Cape Ann. But I slipped down to Boston one afternoon to catch the Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibit "Ansel Adams in Our Time". It was still afternoon when I got out, but late afternoon, and a dense, overcast, dark, Winter afternoon at that. There was dirty snow piled here and there, and it was cold enough to be raw, but not cold enough to freeze the puddles in the uneven sidewake, wherein the bare trees were reflected. There's no way I can resist this kind of reality once removed, so I shot a series of photos between the museum and my next destination on Boylston Street. Since I got a number of pictures I'm happy with, I've decided this will be my Puddle Portfolio.
Boston Puddle Portfolio #2
Boston Puddle Portfolio #3
Boston Puddle Portfolio #4
Boston Puddle Portfolio #5
Boston Puddle Portfolio #6
Boston Puddle Portfolio #7
The exhibit itself was very intesting, and contained some of my (and everyone's) favorite photographs. The Museum's Lane Collection of photographs is very wide and the exhibit had multiple prints of some of Adams' iconic photos made at different times and in different sizes. Adams, of course, wrote the book on photographic printing, which remains relevant today in the digital age. It was the bible in the analogue/chemical age of photography, even for those of us who didn't use sheet film and the zone system. It was fascinating seeing how much a better printer he became between 1925 and 1935, and to note that he continued to get better, although (necessarily!) in smaller increments throughout his photographic life. Of course, I also have to believe the chemistry and photo paper improved over the fifty plus years he was active.
Washington DC, 9 February 2019 Things are beginning to settle down and we're beginning to settle in, in spite of the fact that we're still in transient quarters and likely to be in them until mid-March. But when we do get our own place we won't be moving very far, so we can start our routines and they won't need to be created again when we make our final move. It's as exotic in it's way as Nepal, though not as colorful as Patan, and it doesn't seem as exotic to us, because it's home, what the the Nepalis call the mother-home, the place you're from and rooted in. And, of course, because we're here indefinitly. I haven't been any place indefinitely since I joined the Foreign Service at thrity three, and it's an odd feeling! We're living on a boat in the Potomac River, in the midst of a redevelopment and extremely gentrified waterfront neighborhood. Gentrified... Hell, this once charmingly seedy well worn down at the heels corner of Washington DC has been aristocrified. If we weren't grandfathered in to this spot by my very long term attachment to the Capital Yacht Club I don't think we could afford to live here.
Winter Wharf, Washington DC
Washington DC, 31 January 2019
It’s been nearly two months since my last update to blog or website. The month of December Julee and I were — rather sooner than expected — pulling up stakes in Patan and Nepal, packing up and shipping the contents of our little apartment, and flying out just after the New Year. Since then we’ve been busy pounding the stakes back in here in North America – in Gloucester and in Washington DC, where Julee is a new Senior Director at one of the big International NGOs.
It’s been pretty busy and full of event, and I was frankly surprised when I checked my blog and saw it had been only seven weeks since my last short entry. Though I have to admit updates were pretty thin in the month of November too.
This week I’m posting a new galley of infrared pictures I took in New Orleans four years ago. Infrared photography is a total kludge, a kludge being a computer nerd's term for a improvisational process patched together any which way. The cameras are not made for these wavelengths, nor the lenses, and while it can be made to work — sometimes with spectacular results — it is a lot of work, and a lot of knowledge about technique is required. I've been picking that up bit by bit over the last five years and I feel I still have a long way to go. At the time I took the pictures in New Orleans I had figured out the importance of in-camera white balance and how to adjust it to get reasonably neutrally colored .jpg images from infrared images, but it was a year short of the time that I read the wonderfully and highly technical book Image Clarity. (As of October 2018, back in print! Out of print and used it was very expensive, typical of relatively obscure technical books with important messages.) That gave me new tools, without which the New Orleans pictures hung in the “Not quite there yet” category in my files. I'm really happy to get them posted.
I'm going to trying to start running this web site to a schedule, and post a new gallery twice every three weeks, Monday to Wednesday week for one gallery, and Wednesday to Monday week for the next. I certainly have enough material to keep that up for a while, though it's all jumbled in my head. I should be able to manage that schedule except when I'm doing extreme travel, for example my homecoming trek in high Nepal in April. We'll call this post the start, and I'll get on a gallery of infrared tree photos for the Monday after next.
Shep Kip Mei, Hong Kong
Kathmandu Valley, 3 December 2018 A new month, and, since I'm starting a new entry I'm going to be archiving my last month's posts and moving on. I've just spent a bit over a week in Hong Kong, first for a dear friend's wedding, and then to rennect with other dear friends, and then to dig into the gallery scene, which I'll admit is as much a mystery as ever. I don't know if galleristas struggle as much as artists, but I suspect the running is closer than most believe.
And, progress has pulled me along. The photo above is one of the first of my images from my new camera. I've said for years that if Canon brought out a full frame non-SLR, with a body shallow enough to take a variety of vintage rangefinder lenses, I would buy it. So what could I do? Well, it wasn't a completely automatic decision, although I have been saving since the product announcement of the new EOS-R. Canon, Inc. has a comprehensive showroom in the iSquare building, across Nathan Road from my temporary digs in Chungking Mansion, so I trotted across the street with my big cameras and their lenses to check it out. It only took a few seconds... It really is a big step forward for the serious photographer. The R isn't tiny, but it's noticeably smaller and lighter than the 5D, and it solves my current problems with precise focus, and does so without any fuss whatsoever. And, there was a small savings to buying it in Hong Kong on the assumption of a small risk in having a primary camera with a China only warranty... I slept on it, and slept on it again, and then trotted back across the street with my credit card. No regrets!
Kathmandu Valley, 14 November 2018 Working on my page of infrared photos taken in Haiti last December, and realizing that it will be towards the end of the week before I have the text written and pounded into shape. Last night I had the fond hope that it could be posted to this web site today, but the writing takes time. My boss is Haiti years ago was a bit irritable at how long it took me to compose. He was, in the best tradition of Foreign Service political officers, very fast himself. But his edges were rougher, and I couldn't bring myself to throw together a narrative where the seams showed. I really wanted and want to tell a story that flows... Besides, I'm terrible in detail and spelling, so there's a lot of proofing involved. And I still miss stuff! One of the things that works for me in the online world is that I can notice an error in something I posted a week or a month ago, and fix it.
(In all honesty, even allowing for the difference in styles, my boss was still faster than me. I shrug expressively!) (I actually had the page up the next day, though it took a real chunk of time and effort.)
Shoe Store, Mangal Bazar, Patan, Nepal (12 November 2018) This is one of a number of pictures I took just about a week ago on the walk to and from dinner at the fancy mall. The fancy mall is just within the grass covered stupa that marks one of the cardinal compass points of Old Patan, so if you walk one way from it you're in the world of worldly and cosmopolitan wealth, and if you walk the other direction you're in the medievel city, affected by, but not overwhelmed by, the influx of tourists of authenticity and slightly grundgier resident foreign people like yours truly. This is a shoe store on the street I call Mangal Bazar (which might be the name of the street, or might be the name of the neighborhood to one side of street) that leads to Patan's Palace Square. It gets cold in the winter in the Kathmandu Valley (Nepalis are already putting on their puffy jackets, although it's still a bit in the future that I'll be wearing my battered old ski jacket on the street) but not freezing, so these kind of open shops are the the thing.
Pharmacy, Mangal Bazar, Patan, Nepal This is a pharmacy, just down the street from the shoe store above. I love Nepali pharmacies! Most everything is available, over the counter, and really cheap, literally so cheap that I don't bother claiming against my U.S. medical insurance. Some of the drugs are made in Nepal, some in India. The stores ofter don't have doors or windows, but they can be closed by rolling down the metal shatters. Simple for the pharmacy, since the stock is safe behind the counter, but the shoe store will have to be set up at opening, and the outside displays brought inside at closing.
Pimbahal Fresh Potato Chips Corner, Patan, Nepal This is one of Julee's favorite spots, but I have to admit that Unique Fashion is the store that's actually on the corner. But Unique Fashion doesn't sell wonderful fresh small batch handmade salty potato chips. Once again I'm totally charmed by this medieval city that is such a well deserved draw for tourists, but is also a modern, dense, neighborhood, serving the resident community, some of whom count hundreds of years of residence.
I will also admit that this is a composite photograph, assembled with my panorama software from a couple of frames taken within short seconds of each other. This was to improve the composition... I've recently discovered that Reuters photographers are forbidden almost all post production manipulation of their pictures, even such things as exposure corrections, as Reuters wants to avoid any accusations of journalistic malfeasance. It's a reasonable take in the digital age, but I'm interested, given that W. Eugene Smith -- possibly the greatest photo-journalist of them all -- was renowned as a brilliant hands on printer. He didn't change any compositional elements, but he darkened and lightened areas of his prints, going beyond burning and dodging to the use of ferricyanide bleach on the paper print to highlight areas.
There's a lot of philosophy here. Fortunately I'm not a journalist... And, I acknowledge my manipulations of my photos. I'm also aware that full objectivity is almost impossible, although, like a limit in calculus, a journalist should strive to approach it as closely as possible. Errol Morris digs into this quite deeply in his book Believing is Seeing, which is a very interesting read, but also rather disturbing for this artist. At what point does a closer and closer examination of a piece of art deprive it of meaning? Journalistic or otherwise? I'll leave it there.
Kathmandu Valley, 11 November 2018 It's Armistace Day. A hundred years to the day since the end of the fighting on the Western Front. I don't hold with the mid-20th Century renaming of the holiday as Veterans or Remembrance Day, although I'm absolutely onboard with honoring the service of soldiers of subsequent wars. It's a normal Sunday in Nepal, no official holiday, but Nepal fought with the allies in both World Wars, both as country, with Royal Nepal Army units joining the fray, and through the large numbers of Nepali volunteers who joined the Gurkha regiments of the Indian Army. The round number snuck up on me. It's been quite a century...
Fishtail Valley, Nepal, 9 November 2018 It's been a quiet month in terms of current photography as I struggle with the technical challenges of old pictures. The color version of my Marché Croix des Bossales panorama went together very quickly in the early stages, and then foundered in weird color artifacts around the masks I used to fix the stitching errors around the power lines. Discouraging. And a lot harder to fix in Photoshop than the original breaks in the powerlines. But I'll get back to it in a day or two, after I'm back in Kathmandu and have the big monitor to help with clearly seeing detail and the big picture, all at once.
Koi, Patan Meanwhile... (7 November 2018) Julee and I have a visitor, the delightful Laurie Blackstock from Canada. This is the week of Tihar, the second of the big autumn holidays of Nepal. The last three days of the week are national holidays, hence our jet (turbo prop?) setting escape to Pokhara, and this valley to the west of Pokhara at the foot of the Annapurna Massif. But, Julee went to the office on Monday and Tuesday, so I was Laurie's guide. And what better place to do tourism than the medieval center of the city of Patan? Carried my big infrared camera, of course! The picture above shows the koi in the fountain in the courtyard of the Timila Hotel where we started our day. The picture below shows one of the wonderful Newari towers rising from the palace of the Newari kings, where we ended our day.
From Sundari Chowk, Patan Palace
Kathmandu Valley, 24 October 2018 (P.S.) The Marché Croix des Bossales panorama is done! I ended up using the warp function in transform mode to cover the two corners, and here it is. It's a huge photo with enormous detail. It will print large very well. I'm very happy tonight.
Kathmandu Valley, 24 October 2018 I've spent a good part of this day in determined processing of this panorama in Photoshop. I've learned a lot, and can now reliably skew a chosen part of an image, making it possible for me to splice together the power lines and other cables that didn't quite meet in midair, as below. And, I can now reliably select, copy, and paste little bits of the image to patch the artifacts that the skewing creates. Man, it's twiddly work though! It's very small, repetitive actions that require fine motor control, a high level of attention, and then constant checking to afirm that you did it correctly in the sense of really achieving the invisible patch needed. I am reminded of a talk on Tanka painting I went to a couple of weeks ago. These are Buddhist religious paintings that often contain dizzyng pattern and incredibly fine detail. The masters, who have been through a decade or more of instruction and practice, paint with gold and precious minerals with brushes they make themselves that at their finest consist of single cat hairs.
I don't claim that level of spiritual mindfulness, nor that kind of steadyness, and I have the enormous advantage of being able to chose "Undo" from the Edit menu when it hasn't gone right. But like the men and women with their single strand brushes, I was manipulating realy tiny blocks of pixels, down to two, in making my patches. That stage is done. Now: The blue lines top and bottom are the guide lines I've dropped in to show me where the image has to be cropped to, top and bottom. I need to do a prospective action on the bottom right corner, to straighten out the building and to pull the image down into the corner so I don't have to severely crop the bottom of the photo, which has some nice action in it. Need a bit of that in the upper left corner too, but it's a smaller area, and should be easier. And, I can crop the sky more aggressively if needed. It won't hurt the image as much as cropping the bottom. But, I don't know how to do a prospective action on just part of the image. My lesson for tomorrow..
Detail From the Marché Croix des Bossales Panorama
Kathmandu Valley, 23 October 2018 Yesterday afternoon (after posting the Greater Angkor page on my web site) I did some list making. There are three big panoramas I need to finish. It may be that I've gotten enough better at Photoshop to pull them off. The first of my list is the big panorama of the Marché des Bossales I took in December in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. A big panorama like that containing a lot of action and stitched from eight individual photos isn't going to go together without a certain amount of encouragement. There were a lot of ghosts, that is to partial or doubled people who had moved between frames. I thought I'd gotten rid of them all, but a couple of weeks ago I went over the whole panarama very carefully, and found three that I had completely missed before, and so reopened the stitching software and spent a grumpy hour carefully masking duplicate people out, restitching, and then really carefully examining the result to be sure I had 'em all. Now the remaining issues revolve first around the power lines, and then the corners. You can see the issue with the power lines in the detail to the left. I'm not at all sure how this comes about but it seems to be a fundamental issue with horizontal lines in every stitching software package I've tried. It has to be fixed by hand Photoshop. The morning's work cut out for me!
Kathmandu Valley, 22 October 2018 Well, the photographic page on the Bayon is posted in my galleries. Take a look... I may still have more to say on all the related issues, but in good time, in good time...
Kathmandu Valley, 21 October 2018 I'm having some real issues with putting together a page on the recent trip to the Bayon in Angkor Thom, one of the iconic temples in the area of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I've a lot to say about Angkor Thom, first visually, then as a hook for thoughts on modern tourism, then a bit about the historical record, and then about the conciousness of history (as apposed to the History of Conciousness which is an actual degree program at my alma mater, and not so silly as it sounds) and then about lost cities, of which the Angkor complex is a prime example, and finally a little something on pre-modern economy of provisioning a large urban area. That's a lot to try to put into a web page on a site that is, after all, supposed to be about photography! I think I'll leave most of it out, perhaps circling back around to it on this blog.
Tonle Sap, Cambodia, 16 October 2018 I've been a liveaboard during three different periods in Washington DC, but this seems to me to be the way to do it... Of course, in a waterlogged neighborhood like Southeast Asia, living on the water is easier and more normal than it is in North America. I get the sense that a lot of our neighbors in Washington DC feel that we're getting away with something, rather than giving some life and stability to the Waterfront.
Here, well, these are just folks, whose people have been living on, and making a living from, the water for a long time. Thousands of years? I'd find it easy to believe. There are two pieces of dry land in this floating village, the cremation platform, which we passed on the way in, and the Buddhist monestey, whence the heading picture was taken. The rest of it floats. Homes, stores, the school, the communal hall where tourists like us are welcomed... It's small town Cambodia, complete with front porches, and young people (check my last post!) driving too fast. The heading picture is a five shot panorama, and the closing shot a three shot panorama of one of the three channels from the other end.
Long Tailed Boats, Cambodia, 16 October 2018
(Adapted from my Facebook Post!) I'm a boater, and I DO have a thing for Southeast Asia long tailed boats, and I'm in Cambodia where such things are normal. Starting with the arty shot, in infrared. Below there's one with a couple going about their business and another with a couple of kids on their way to waking the whole floating village on the edge of the Tonle Sap. Those kids... They can't be more than... ten? I guess you get into fast boating early in this environment! When I first ran across long tailed boats in Vietnam they had a definite hand made and improvisational quality to them. Not any more. Most of these, at least the small ones, are fiberglass, and the swivels, the engines, and the long propeller shaft all looked intentional, slick, and manufactured. I want one!
Tipsy in Siem Riep, Cambodia, 14 October 2018 Just tipsy... I've only been seriously drunk twice in my life, once in college, and once in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 Earthquake when I was nursing a strangely coincidental broken leg. But the pineapple old fashioneds at the Aviary Hotel are delicious and go down easily.
Siem Riep is the gateway to Angkor Wat, one of the architectual treasures of the world, but I don't think I'm going to take photography very seriously there. Great photographers have been there before me, including the wonderful John McDermott who built up an amazing body of work shooting Angkor Wat in infrared. His big prints are appropriately pricey, but I bought his book the last time I came to this neighborhood during the end of year holidays in December 2011.
I've been sitting up in bed going over the pictures I took on that visit. Wah! I've learned a lot since then. I already had the first big infrared camera, and surely had it with me, but didn't shoot a single frame with it. It predated my figuring out how to set the white balance to get readable .JPGs by some months and my figuring out how to expand the dynamic range of the fundamentally short ranged infrared photo in Photoshop by some years. I'm not sure I took any pictures in Siem Riep or Angkor Wat that trip that are better than good vacation snapshots. I'll carry my cameras this time (always do!) but without strong expectations that I'll be shooting anything memorable, at least not in the temple complex itself. We are going boating on the Tonle Sap on Tuesday... That's the big seasonal lake just to the south that moderates the flow of the Mekong River. It's soon after the rains of monsoon season, so the lake covers it's greatest extent, and we'll see what presents itself that might be visually interesting.
Kathmandu Valley, 11 October 2018 Julee is away for a couple of days on a business trip inside Nepal, and I've spent the day building a new page for my web site using Infrared Panoramas taken in North America. It started yesterday... I had been thinking of some pictures I'd taken a couple of summers ago on a family trip to Maine, and yesterday I spent some time revisting and rebuilding them. Happy with the work and they're the first entries in a new page called "American Infrared 'Scapes" I trolled through other folders of older American work, and ended up rebuilding pictures I'd given up on at the time. Then, my skills and tools weren't quite up to finishing them to my satisfaction. I've learned a lot in the last three years, which is great, but I can easily look on the flip side and shudder at how much I still need to learn about digital photography.
Off Cape Ann
For example, three years ago I could not get this picture to stitch up properly. No matter what I did the land showed obvious breaks. This morning (11 October 2018) the picture just came together. I'm using a different application for this work, but I also suspect that the code crunchers writing and maintaining these stitching programs have made improvements over the last three years. I'm very pleased with the product. But there is still some work I want to do, in improving the smoothness of the sky. The variation in color in the water is clearly due to the reflection of the clouds, and is fine. It's harder to tell what is going on above, and whether it's an artifact of the various component frames or of the stitching process. More later... I wouldn't normally post a picture that I didn't considered really finished, but I really wanted to get this one up, and it's part of the page.
So, this Thursday morning when no one was coming to the apartment and I had no need to go anywhere, I spent the day moving between my second favorite workspace, the desk with the absurdly large and sharp NEC monitor, and my top favorite workspace, the bed. Bit by bit I assembled photos into the page, finding and recreating old images, updating other pages that have to link to the new one and testing them, along with the links on the new page that have to work for the page to be right. My pages aren't complex, but I code by hand, and html code is very sensitive to small errors. (One of reasons I code by hand is that it's so much easier to find errors in code one has written oneself.) I felt it was all going pretty well and that I was closing in posting my new page.
But... Looking over the whole website I found I wasn't happy with the overlap between the last posted gallery of infrared pictures from Arizona. So, I pulled the cream of that page into the new one, and I'm going to retire the Arizona page. I'll delete the link, so you won't be able to say it's broken! Composing something like this site is interesting, since I'm trying to keep it clear, interesting, and cohesive at all of levels, from the individual sentence to the whole site. And, it's always going to be a work in progress, so it will change and morph as we go forward.
Patan Durbar Square, Kathmandu Valley, 7 October 2018 As promised below I went back this morning. It was Sunday, which is the first day of the work week in Nepal, so the equivalent of Monday, but it was very quiet, though there were the expected students on the way to school scattered throughout the foreground. It wasn't until later in the morning that the coin dropped for me. We're coming up on the autumn holiday season in Nepal, with Dasain, the first big multi-day holiday starting a week from Tuesday. A lot of people are already wrapping up their emotional year and are on the move, either towards their villages of origin in the hills or vacations hung on the long string of leave days. For the westerners, it's beginning to feel a bit like the week between Christmas and New Year's. That's fine. I like quiet as long as I can buy groceries, and we'll be on the move the week of Dasain too.
This picture takes in a full 180 degress and a bit, assembled from seven frames created with the 20mm Canon on my full frame color camera. I could have done it with six, but I had to add a seventh from another series to patch the lower right hand corner. It stitched up quickly and cleanly. I suspect it's still a work in progress. I put some real thought into the exposure, both while capturing the images and during the initial post processing, but I'm wondering if I can do more to hold the sky and the temples where they are (this is actually an accurate rendition of what it looked like) while opening up (lightening) the forground shadows a little to make that part of the picture a little easier to read.
If you walk down to the end of this picture to the right, then turn right, two to three hundred meter's walk would bring you to our front door. The square is obviously a big part of my life, because it's special in a big way, and because it's a part of the life of the neighborhood. Like almost everybody you see, I walk through on a daily basis simply because it's on the way. And, during business hours, I have to explain myself in Nepali to the guardians of the site to avoid paying the fee levied on tourists. Occasionally I have to show my bona fides in the form of my Nepali driver's license.
I was newly arrived in Kathmandu and still quite fresh at the U.S. Embassy in September of 2015 when embassy management was briefed by the producers and fixers for the film Dr. Strange in advance of descent of cast and crew on Kathmandu. It was fairly shortly after the 2015 Earthquake and during the fuel crisis caused by the closing of the border with India. The producers really wanted to film outdoor scenes in Kathmandu, in part, I'm sure, because it is so picturesque and cinematic, but they stuck to it in the face of the real difficulties of the period because they felt that a big project like that with real money to spend at a time when tourism was truly thin would be a welcome boost. And of course it was. I've no idea how the got the fuel they needed for vehicles and gensets, but to quote Kipling, "ask no questions and you'll be told no lies." They talked at length about filming in Patan Durbar Square, because they felt that it was the most cinematic of the three big centers of that kind in the valley, and said that they'd mask the earthquake damage with CGI -- and use CGI to move the High Himalaya closer to the city. I took them completely at their word, to the point that it wasn't until I'd seen the film the third time that I really wrapped my mind around the fact that, after all, the square got only about three seconds of screen time, in one fairly closely cropped long shot, with no mountains!
Still, I think they did a really nice montage of Benedict Cumberbatch searching Kathmandu for mystical and hidden Kamar-Taj, including shots at Bouddhanath and Swayambunath temples, and great typical crowded streets and squares filled with great typical Nepali crowds. It was an event, with people swapping stories of Cumberbatch sightings and their days of boredom as extras. I never saw the stars and never tried to because I think that even those who make their lives and living through fame deserve some space and respect. But, I did meet technical crew members by chance at the Hyatt where production was based.
And, the one thing in the film that challenged my suspension of disbelief? I'm okay with multi-dimensional magic! But a violent gang mugging on the streets of Thamel? One can get into trouble a lot of other ways in Nepal (never trek alone!) but that could never happen in today's Kathmandu...
Patan Durbar Square, Kathmandu Valley, 4 October 2018 A couple of days ago I was headed home after my early morning Nepali lesson, and I said to myself "The light's good, I wish I had come prepared" and myself answered rather sharply "Laurence, you always carry a camera. Don't you have the big color camera in your briefcase?" "Well, (sheepishly) yes..." So I detoured through Patan Durbar (Palace)Square on my way home and took the images for a couple of panoramas. I would have like a wider angle lens, but the best camera is the one with you (and I actually doubt there is a better general purpose camera than the Canon EOS 5Ds r) and the best lens would have to be the one attached to the camera that's with you, in this case a 40mm manual focus Cosina Voightlander. This image is the result. I'm standing on the public platform next to one of the middle palace doors, panning around from almost 180 degrees left to a full 180 degrees right. It's too early for the tourists, so all in sight are neighborhood people going through the square on their daily business.
I do think I'm going to go back, and retake the component pictures with my wide 20mm Canon lens to get a bit more in while paying more attention to the edges and forground of the picture. I may have to go back more than once to get the right light.
Kathmandu Valley, 29 September 2018 Home, after over two months on the road. And, it's been nearly two months since my last blog post. Patan Continues to Build... Julee and I got off the plane from Istanbul at 6:30 in the morning last Saturday, took the cab home to our apartment behind Patan Durbar Square, showered, slipped out for breakfast at the neighboring Swotha Cafe (highly recommended!) and, nearing home again, heard the unmistakable sound of a concrete vibrator. The building project in front of our apartment building has gotten to the fourth floor (fifth floor for you Yankees) and by sheer coincidence, that morning was the pour. As you can see in the picture it's remarkably close by. We're cosy with our neighbors here in Old Patan! The pour has just started, beginning at the corner away from the stairs. The three people in the background with baskets on their shoulders are carrying the wet concrete to the workface from the mixing area on a floor below. Hard work! This picture was taken on the fly, composited from an adjacent pair of photos because I didn't feel I had the time to change lenses to something wider angled. I also didn't reset the ISO from my previous night shots, so this picture has a lot of noise, giving it a gritty, grainy, journalistic look that I rather like.
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 3 August 2018 Three years ago I took a picture of the Boudha Stupa I'm very pleased with. But, it was moment in time. Specifically it was the moment when the Tibetan Buddhists of Boudhanath where tearing down the harmika for rebuilding. For you westerners, that's the cuppola or spire-like structure on the dome. This one had been damaged in the big earthquake earlier in the year. I rather liked the image of the scaffolding against the clouded sky, but that was only one opinion! When I had a big print of the picture up during my Kathmandu Art Gallery show earlier this year a Tibetan gentleman admired it but told me rather sharply and pointedly that he would buy the print with the fully restored dome and harmika. I just looked at him. “You know that picture is highly weather dependent?” The clouds made it! And the clouds are only that shape and color in the right season. Perhaps only that very evening. That moment might never come again, or if something like it came, I could be somewhere else. I had actually been back several times and shot panoramas in color and infrared without coming home with anything I was happy with. But, it shaped into a challenge for me to go back, with an eye on the sky when I could expect monsoon or post-monsoon skies. The result, above, from mid-July this year. Taken from the other side of Boudha as the earlier picture, and with a wide 20mm lens, six frames stitched together, then heavily cropped from the bottom to preserve the sense of scale. It took a number of runs over the course of the last weeks to get a final picture I was happy with, and I actually bought a third panorama stitching program for it! So, courtesy of Autopana Giga, a fine program assembled by nerdly French programmers, whose thought processes seem even more convoluted and... different than those of the average nerdly programmer!
So it's not just my neighborhood of Patan that is a-building, but all of Kathmandu, which is comprised of three big metropolitan units, Patan - also known as Lalitpur - to the south, Kathmandu proper to the north, and Bhaktapur to the east. The first two are one, every way but administratively, while the third is a little distant and separate. Boudhanath is in the northeast of Kathmandu proper. I'll go back, later this year when I return to Nepal, in the hopes that the monsoon clouds stick around a bit, and next year, when the skys get interesting again with the rains.
Kathmandu Valley, 2 July 2018It seems a little self-indulgent to lead this month off without a picture. And it's definitely self-indulgent to talk about my home decorating plans... Well, life is hard, and a little self indulgence sometimes takes the edge off of it. Aside from one of my old San Francisco street photos I haven't hung anything in our Patan apartment since we moved. That one was from my 35mm Kodak Tri-X film days and was already framed. It ended up on the landing outside our door. So, when I made my last order with Hong Kong's Danny Chau I included a medium sized print to be framed. The framers called me yesterday to let me know it was ready. All day Patan has had rain, and I'm sure that if I went out it would rain on me (I take these things personally) so I've stayed indoors and found and separated the two big prints I want to hang. When I was in my twenties and printing the Tri-X negatives on Agfa Brovira glossy photo paper I generally didn't print bigger than 11 X 14 inches. The paper was very expensive for a young waiter in less than fancy restaurants, but, also, making good bigger prints was really hard because of the inprecision of even good enlargers. You could spend an hour or so tweaking an enlarger into corner to corner alignment before you opened the box of paper. And then the next time you'd have to do it all over again, because someone knocked up against the enlarger table or (insidiously) the ambient temperature changed. Two things now make a difference for big prints. One, I have a bit more money, but number two is the big one. The inkjet printers used in the digital photographic world are so precise, and by nature so precise... You can really count on the outcomes. Different world! But, the issues around big prints don't completely go away. Here's a set I took out of their box and unrolled to remove the prints I'm going to hang:
So there's a picture after all! As you can see these prints are enormous. The big one on the bottom, "Dendi Expounds" is nine feet or three meters long. And while I'm more flush than I used to be, each print still represents a big investment, proportional to size, so I store and treat them very carefully indeed. They're always separated with good tissue paper, rolled up and unrolled with great care, and while I don't do the most right thing and wear specialist white gloves, I do wash my hands more or less every couple of minutes when I'm doing this. I should have them up tomorrow, at which point I'll have more to say.
Kathmandu Valley, 29 June 2018. Patan Builds! (Copied from my Facebook post.) This is a follow-up to my post a couple of days ago and my blog post at www.lkj.online. As you can see, the door frame that was laid out in the street being measured for the squaring batten is now in place, and the masons are bricking it in along with its earlier placed twin. I have all kinds of engineering questions about how they're doing this, and no engineer to ask. I may have to try and make friends with someone in NSET, Nepal's earthquake prep agency. I think it will be a good looking traditionally styled building, in spite of being modern reinforced concrete at it's core. Good thing, given its location at the same intersection as a small, but very active community temple, complete with traditional band that plays on festival nights.
Kathmandu Valley, 27 June 2018. The Building of Patan:
Trouble, trouble, toil and rubble
Patan build and Patan crumble
To paraphrase Shakespeare, though it's not so much that Patan crumbles, though it did some of that on the day of the earthquake three years ago. But, for every building that fell, there are dozens, perhaps scores, perhaps hundreds, of active building sites in traditional Patan. The neighborhood is full of old buildings that are picturesque, but small, cramped, and patently fragile, being built before the modern Nepali era of rebar and concrete. Some are very visibly earthquake damaged and are being demolished, and some less so and are being demolished, always to be replaced by a new and more modern building unless the old building was truly special and really deserves preservation. The temples on Durbar (Palace) Square fall into that category. Whether crumbled all at once, or compromised by earthquake damage, they will be restored to their original appearance and original function. For the most part they are every bit as much working houses of worship as Chartres or the Sagrada Familia, although like them also monuments of sublime architecture for people of all points of view. In the picture of Patan Durbar Square above you'll see some of it.
I'd usually work left to right, but this time starting at the right, the Krishna Temple. Throughout most of the last year this stone building has been covered in metal scaffolding. And, all through that, it has remained and fully active and very busy temple. Krishna devotees sing and play music, and most weekend evenings found a large group on the well lit second floor making holy noise. Really quite wonderful! The scaffolding came off some day in the last weeks when I wasn't looking. The girl immediately in front of the temple is a tourist having her guide take her picture. That was a long, drawn out affair! I've never been inside the fence. I'm not deep enough into Nepali culture to be sure of how to comport myself in a temple, so tend to hold back if I don't have a guide or an invitation. To the left the Jagannarayan Temple, still under reconstruction, but recently out of its scaffolding, and further to the left, the Vishnu Temple with its step-y tower. (I've often wondered if the step-y style of Art Deco was stolen from South Asian temple architecture.) Then, the brass image of King Yogendra Malla on his column, the first thing put right after it fell during the earthquake. You can't, obviously, get close to it, but it is, by itself, one of the great works of art. Further down, the Harishanker, still in scaffolding, then the Telaju Bell (more on this another time perhaps) and, at the very end, the other Krishna Temple, also known as the Chyasim Deval. It's an amazing octagonal stone building. The scaffolding came off a long time ago, leaving a couple of welded stainless steel bands holding the building together between the first and second level should it get shaken up again.
You can see them in this infrared picture from last year if you look closely. It is less of a temple and more of a monument, not to mention a sitting out area (as they say in Hong Kong) for the neighborhood.
On the secular side, this scene two half blocks from my front door. I’ve no idea what was here before, since this building project has been part of this street since this street has been part of my life. Floor by floor it has risen! Unlike the project in my own goli (alley) where the brick walls have been built with the completion of each floor this building’s whole structure has gone up first and the finish items are just being started. In this case, the framing lumber for the street level doors. The ones for this side of the building have been placed, ready for the brick masonry to be laid around them, and the crew is assembling the frames for the doors on the other face, around the corner. Just like the old worksites I remember from California there seems to be one guy doing the work and four supervisors. Five if you count me... But, on reflection, three of us are really just random lookers on, although in the California building trades anybody looking on was considered a useless “supervisor”!
Kathmandu, 17 June 2018 Following on to my Facebook post of a couple of days ago, here's another shot of my neighborhood, an extreme panorama that I captured almost exactly a month ago, and stitched together yesterday. It's a view to the west from the roof of the apartment building I live in. Like most modern Nepali buildings, the roof is part of the living space. The deep chowk or courtyard in the foreground is the Ombahal, the center of a little community, with a temple on the right side as seen in the picture. Following on to comment the other day about construction, there are actually two construction sites on the chowk. In the far right corner there's a narrow building that has been gutted and refurbished. In the far left corner there's a new building going up on the site of a recent demolition. When the rightside building was a worksite the corner of the chowk was filled with building materials, and cement was being mixed in front. Happily that's all been nicely cleaned up, especially as the other easy entrance to the chowk and our home is at that corner. It would have been a bit grim if both ways to our front door had been compromised at the same time. I have huge sympathy for my neighbors whose front doors are right in front of the construction site in the goli/alley in front of our building. Yesterday a crew filled in the trench down our goli and laid out brick on top of it in the typical herring bone pattern of pavement in this neighborhood. Everything is still a bit muddy (it rained monsoon rain yesterday), and a bit sandy, but it's definitely progress!
This panorama was shot with a very wide 20mm lens, and consists of eight overlapping images, sitched together using PTGui. When I processed the raw images I bumped up the color saturation and vibrance a bit to properly reflect the warm afternoon light and the clarity of the view. The full sized image has a lot of detail and would print very big.
Kathmandu, 16 June 2018 I feel I should write a longish piece about the Building of Patan. There is SO MUCH demolition and construction going in this neighborhood behind Durbar (Palace) Square. I captured this a couple of days ago. It's our goli (alley) looking out from the little Ombahal Chowk. (A chowk in this case is a communal courtyard.) Our doorway is right beyond the framing doors, which are never closed, since a whole little community lives behind them. We've been coming in through the other goli into and through the chowk because the more direct route is marginally passable on good days, what with being dug up for new sewer lines and so far only partially filled in. And the building under construction I posted on a few days ago is right where the group of neighbors and construction foreman have congregated. I'm not walking past that on the day of the next big pour!
This picture is also interesting since it's my first go at making High Dynamic Range, or HDR, images in photoshop, which is why you can see the sunlit people and the shadowy graffiti all in one go.
Kathmandu, 13 June 2018 Monday I was home alone (Julee has a day job, after all) and about nine thirty I heard a very loud, insistant buzzing. I know that sound. It's a concrete vibrator, a rather heavy duty specialized tool for getting the air pockets out of wet concrete. A look out from the front balcony gave me this view:
It's a major pour, the entire first floor of the building that's going up in the goli (alley) leading to our apartment building. The side side goli was filled with a sheet of wet concrete about six inches thick. I'm very curious as to how that happened. Since the construction crew has been staging sand, gravel, and presumably sacks of cement in the goli for the last couple of weeks I have to suppose they mixed it right there, on the ground. I would have liked to have seen that, since it must have been a wild dance right before the beginning of the pour.
Every gram of wet concrete was carried up the ladder by a crew of five of what British-acculturated would call hod carriers, but they used typical Nepali conical baskets with forehead lines instead of hods, and carrying lot more weight than a hod carrier could. In the picture you can see a pair of men with an assisted shovel (one guy has the shovel in his hands, and the other has a T handled rope tied to the neck of the shovel, and adds his muscle to the shovel, which must make a real difference, given how much a shovelfull of concrete wieghs and how many shovelfulls they have to move and how quickly. You can't see the basket on the ground on its side because the guy with the white cap is in front of it. When it's full a couple of others will help get the basket to the carrying position, and the carrier will climb the ladder with it and dump in on the face of the work. You can see one carrier with a full basket going, and three with empty baskets headed back for their next load. There are half a dozen at the workface. Some are shovelling the wet concrete into shape and one has a big wooden float trowel and makes the final surface flat and smooth. The vibrator is the long hose-y thing in the middle of the top of the picture.
It all has to happen very quickly, because the concrete has to be wet enough to flow and be worked, and it has to set all in one piece or its strength will be fundamentally compromised. In fact, the job was completely finished about two hours after I took this picture. A call out to Sunny Skys who taught me a lot about concrete when I worked on his crew in my not-quite-muscular-enough twenties!
Kathmandu, 6 June 2018 "I'm all, This is hard!" to quote Jennifer Elise Cox playing Nurse Trainee Pittman on the old Will and Grace. In my case I've just returned to my big infrared panorama of the Marché des Bossales in Haiti. It's not that far off of being ready for prime time, with all the ghosts exorcised. In the stitched panorama world a "ghost" is a person (or object) who is not completely rendered because they moved between frames, leading to halved, or doubled, people.
Exorcism involves careful masking of one or more frames. Masking can help mis-stitches too, but there is an insiduous issue involving horizontal lines, often towards the top of the frame. The lines don't line up, leading to a gap... Power lines are a big issue! There are people online who say it's because the wind blows the power lines around. I'm not so sure, since it happens on other kinds of lines, say, ceiling tiles on indoors shots. But the perscription is to fix the mis-matches by hand with Photoshop, so it's a learning opportunity... Over the last couple of days I've brought the big Wacom tablet out and am figuring out how to actually use it. It's a precision tool, in the sense that a good paintbrush for oils is a precision tool. In the hands of a practiced expert amazing things are possible. Shall I admit I'm not a practiced expert yet? It's still much easier for me to get the results needed using the tablet than by using the trackpad or a mouse. In parallel, I'm having to learn the Photoshop techniques of marking and skewing, then patching the holes I make when I do that. After the first, botched attempt, I realize that I need to embrace layers, so that when I skew the wires on the top layer, the process will reveal the untouched base layer rather that leaving a transparent tear in the picture.
Kathmandu, 4 June 2018 Did a fair bit on the website over the weekend. The gallery pages aren't completely consistent, but they're close. You'd have to look pretty closely, so maybe good enough to go forward without redoing past work. I have a new small gallery on Bhutan up, and am running through the photos of the Nordic Outing. Also completed the recovery of the photos mentioned on the 1st, which have come through unscathed. A friend is having his own troubles with careless deletion, and is not having as much luck in his recovery. Mac vs. Windows? He doesn't have access to the program I'm using because of his operating system.
Kathmandu, 2 June 2018 Composing my third web page gallery, and looking back at the first two to match their style. Subtle though they may be, there are inconsistencies between them... This will have to be fixed, and I may have to make up a style sheet so I have an explicit reference in the future. This is a professional product after all, or at least one with pretensions! I was tempted to start doing fancier things with page design, floating pictures to one side or the other, wrapping text and so on, but at some point I'm going to be reconfiguring the site so it so that there will be a version that will look good on smart phone screens. With an eye to the future, I'm keeping the design very simple.
Kathmandu, 1 June 2018 Fuzzy Friday! Got back from the Nordic Outing yesterday about 10am, courtesy of the redeye from Doha. Bathed, unpacked, napped, three loads of laundry, and otherwise recovered from the trip. Locked my computer (Figuratively!) to the desk to back it up and to recover pictures from one of the pre-trip camera memory cards where I got the sequence of copying and deletion wrong. That had been one of those moments, like the moment many years ago when I poured the fixer into the film processing tank before the developer, one of those mistakes one only makes once. It's going to be a little easier making this mistake twice, but I hope I'm fully sensitized to it now! But, recovery in the digital age is possible and seems to have gone well. Breakfast at Patan's new Of Silk and Salt café, rush back to fold the laundry that dried overnight, vacate apartment in favor of service (it's a serviced apartment and Friday is when the cleaner shows up) and then out again to catch up on the errands. I have a fairly substantial check for sales from the Kathamdu Art Gallery show in March (yay!) but have no Nepali bank at which to cash it. Time to open an account? Maybe... And I have to visit the cleaners, the cellphone store, pay my bill at the American Club, check on a small furniture job at Metalwood, and otherwise catch up on normal life, such as it is in the Kathmandu Valley. Particularly, reconnecting with this website and catching up with recent photographic stuff...
I had thought that when I started this month and archived May I would split the blog into a photo section and a personal section, but now I'm here and I'm going to be holding off and leaving it linear. At the moment I've no idea how big my audience might be... So, for the moment I'm going to leave the blog linear and meander off into whatever corner takes my fancy, whenever I have the time and energy to write it up.
(I'm reminded of the great Max Headroom! YouTube has a version of the pilot. The relevant scene starts at 41:50. The Max Headroom construct is activated and asks “You wanna check these ratings? I seem to have an audience of two.” The kicker is when Max says “It's Big Time Television: The station where two is company and three's an audience!” It was a wonderful show, horrifyingly prescient, and worth watching some cosy night.)
(Archived 1 June 2018) INTRODUCTION: This site's been up for over a month now. I've been crossposting here and on Facebook and figuring out how to get my photographs to display more or less where I want them on the page. So, it is richer and more complex, as promised in my original introduction. Getting closer to being ready for prime time, though. I need more good galleries and a great splash page. Works in progress!
Kathmandu, 16 May 2018 I'm perfectly well aware that this blog should be about photography, but, at the moment, most of my energy and thought is going into the construction of this web site and the tools needed to do that. Big steps recently, as I've signed up for Google Analytics, and learned a lot about global formatting commands. Who knew that a short line of code in the page header would allow (force?) a web browser to use the entire unicode set, giving me access to the full range of typographic codes? So, now I can put things in “quotes”, not just "quotes". Don't see the difference? Go back and look closely... "Quotes" are fine, but they don't look as finished and professional as “quotes”! And, now I can compose in my Open Office word processor without having to go through the text in my html editor and replace every character that falls outside the ASCII character set with one that falls within. Thanks to Mark Myers who wrote a little Kindle book called A Smarter Way to Learn HTML & CSS, which solidly covers a lot of ground that I've unsteadily taught myself, and a lot of new stuff like the item above. It has the clarity and completeness of John Muir's old Idiot Book for Volkswagen owners doing their own maintenance and repairs. Most documentation assumes you already know most of it, or that you have a teacher or mentor to provide clarification. It makes it hard for the isolated to learn.
Should I now go back and replace all the ASCII characters? It would show a mindful attention to detail which is a part of the presentation of a serious artist, so I will on every corner of the website except the blog pages. Let them be a testament to the process!
Kathmandu, 13 May 2018 One of the wonderful things about building this web site is I can use modern, trendy, terms like "I'm creating content"! ("I'm being productive on my computer. Really!") I've spent the last three or four days building a new gallery page (Haiti Streets) showcasing one aspect of my photographic work when I lived in Haiti from 2007 to 2011. It is (at least in intent) classic street photography in the tradition of people like Garry Winogrand, although my sensibility is very different from his. I don't see anything odd or undignified about the people living their often very difficult lives in the cities of Haiti, and I hope that comes through in my pictures of them.
It's Sunday afternoon and we're getting what feels like the first real rain of monsoon, long, steady, and reasonably heavy. We've just had to shut the windows on the south side of the apartment to keep the rain from blowing in.
Kathmandu, 6 May 2018 I get sidetracked easily, but sometimes those little meandering trails in the brush can be interesting. I'm developing my web site, and making progress, but still very short of where I want to be. Yesterday I got the overlay text to scroll over a photograph on one of my prototype index pages, which is a big victory. Now... I have to figure out how to get the first line of the text to float at the bottom left edge of window, allowing most of the photo to be visible in all it's glory until the visitor scrolls the text up revealing my intro and the links to the rest of the page. Simple eh? But what if the bottom window edge overlaps the bottom edge of the photograph? I don't even have one technique for text placement down, and I'm going to have to figure out overlapping rules...
I'm reminded of John Horton Conway's Game of Life. It was the first of the cellular automata, and it's well worth a look even today. Check it out on Wikipedia! I first ran across it in Martin Gardner's Scientific American Column when it first came out in 1970. (Yes, I was a total child nerd. If only I'd been technically competent!) I was interested again in the early eighties when there were a number of computerized versions running on MS-DOS machines. I was writing simple programs in Visual Basic, and thought it might be a good exercise to create my own version. It was shockingly hard going. I mean, the rules of the game are so simple, only four short sentences...
I'd overlooked the complexity that underlies human language. I had the sense to give up when I read a piece that pointed out that if those four rules were re-worked as rigorous, unique, mathematically sound, instructions, you ended with something like ninety-two lines of meta-code, which you then had to program. Web design is rather like that. "I want the text there!" "But when the window resizes there is no longer there, is it?" What if the viewer resizes a window really short and wide? Or really tall and narrow? The language masks a lot of unspoken detail, which I believe is one of the functions of human language. Otherwise it would take forever to say anything!
Kathmandu, 2 May 2018 Back in Nepal after six days in Hong Kong and dealing with pretty much all the aspects of what makes Nepal difficult. Rumor has it that a major public utility transformer was destroyed by fire yesterday afternoon. It's surely true, as the power was out when we got in at 11pm, and stayed out overnight, running out the charge in the massive batteries in the apartment building's backup inverter power system.
It's great gig, though, and the charm is woven into the difficulties. When we got to our chowk (which is Nepali for intersection, square, and interior courtyard) last night the cab dumped us and our pile of bags out. Julee stayed with the pile and I ferried bags into foyer of our little apartment building, down the alley and then down the even narrower side alley to our front door. When I got back to her after the first run the temple dogs were all lying around her and the bags, completely chill in the dark as if she were their beloved and long lost Alpha. This morning on the way to breakfast we had a band of rhesus monkeys slipping across the alley ahead of us. And it was cool, unlike the muggy damp heat already afflicting Hong Kong.
As of my return home at 4:45, everything is up again. Power, internet (wheh!) and even water. When the landlord thought they might be running overnight with no power they brought in a gas generator just for the water pump, so there's something to shower in!
Kathmandu, 25 April 2018 As I'm writing, it's the 3rd anniversary of what the U.S. Government called "The Ghorka Earthquake", mostly, I think, to give the event a unique label that could be used to instantly identify the event in the context of immediate emergency operations and, later, recovery programs. Invasion stripes in the context of humanitarian assistance to Nepal? The quake was centered in the countryside (yes, near Ghorka) and that's where most damage occurred, but the damage in the Kathmandu Valley was quite visible too, especially when the building that took damage or came down was an iconic centuries old temple or palace. Rebuilding is on, and I'm very heartened by the progress in my own neighborhood, Patan Durbar Square. It looks so much better than it did last year, but there is still a year, or perhaps many years, of work to go. I'm hoping I get to see at least most of the buildings there standing straight and whole and clear of scaffolding before I leave Nepal. Yesterday photographic icon Kiran Chitrakar took me to Bhaktapur. He's documenting the three big city centers of the valley on the anniversary of the quake. It would be hard to do all three on the same day, so he went to the furthest the day before. Bhaktapur Durbar Square took the least damage, and so looks more complete than the ones in Patan or Kathmandu, but they still had buildings damaged or gone down, and they too are rebuilding.
Two blocks from the north end of Patan Durbar Square, rebuilding goes on in our own neighborhood. When we moved here there was a building to the left of the narrow alley leading to our front door that was being propped up by a set of diagonal timbers, like the museum in Bhaktapur pictured above. It was severely and obviously earthquake damaged, vacant, and it was a little nerve racking walking past it on the way in or out. It was torn down around the turn of the year, and for a while the neighbors and us enjoyed the vacant lot. Now, building materials are being staged, and deep foundations being dug for a new building. On the other side of the apartment an old, fragile, building, built of pure brick and timber before reinforced concrete became a thing in Nepal, is being torn down. Demolition and building is going on all through the neighborhood. At least some of the new buildings are purpose-built guesthouses. This has been a boom year for tourism in Nepal... I worry about gentrification, in spite of the deadly irony of being the gentry in this context!
Meanwhile, over the last eighteen months the whole of greater Kathmandu has been dug up for the massive Malamchi water project. All of this has thrown massive amounts of dust up, and the quality of the air has gone to hell, even from the previously low level. Julee and I are exploring the installation of air conditioning in our little apartment so we'll be able to keep the windows closed, and filter out the dust inside with our govt. surplus air filters. Hm... This is affecting my photography.
So there's a certain richness and complexity to the moment. We're past mourning for the victims of the quake, rebuilding in some combination of planned and haphazard, building in some combination of planned and haphazard, and the politics of the moment are beyond interesting. I wish everyone involved the very best.
Clear air isn't just good for the lungs! I was disappointed with recent infra-red photos I've taken, and spent some serious time last night checking through pictures taken at different times with my first and current infra-red cameras. Yesterday's pictures in Bhaktapur with Kiran Chitrakar were fine, but a little fuzzy. I was worried about focus. That's an issue with infra-red, as the lenses aren't corrected for those wavelengths of light. It took the best part of a century for the optical scientists to figure out how to substantially correct a lens for the visible spectrum of blue, yellow, and red, so it's a bit much to ask for simultaneous correction in another whole range of wavelengths. So, the infra-red modified autofocus camera has to be tweaked for accurate focus. This is critical, since you can't focus by the eye that doesn't see infra-red, and lenses no longer have the extra mark for infra-red they did in the film days. I'm a bit sensitive to this subject, since the lab that did the conversion on my second infra-red camera got it wrong and really had trouble believing that I fully understood the issue and had correctly diagnosed the problem. Oh those sweet fuzzy artistic types! What would they know about technology? Warranty repairs are a great thing. So, same camera, same lens: The pictures taken of Patan Gate, taken on a sunny day right after a rain (and of a middle distance object) are as sharp as I could want, and the pictures taken in Bhaktapur yesterday on a hazy day with light overcast are a bit soft when you look closely. Not too bad... Just enough that I don't think I could market them as the very big prints I composed them to be.
It's not a new issue. When I was eighteen, in the first flush of my photographic life and living in San Luis Obispo, California, there was a little town about thirty miles down the coast called Oceano, backed by a whole landscape of sea dunes. Very photogenic! I wasn't the first to notice. After my second trip I went "Wait! These are the same "Dunes, Oceano" that Edward Weston shot in the early thirties?!?!?" So why were his pictures so much better than mine? I was willing to concede that I was a teenager with my mother's Rolleiflex and that when he worked in Oceano he was already in the running for the greatest photographer in history. But, there was also the issue of pure quality. His pictures were sharp, mine were a bit muddy. Looking closely, comparing honestly, he had better air than I did. Better weather, and that was probably not luck. He shot the dunes over a period of months, and probably watched the weather and waited for crystal clear days. They might have been a bit more common in those days, but we still get them, and if we get out and shoot on them we'll get better photographs. Here in Kathmandu I'm waiting for the monsoon and just after, but shooting anyway, because the scenes present. But not every one is going to end up as a candidate for the portfolio.
Kathmandu, 23 April 2018 Big religious festival ongoing in my Patan Durbar Square neighborhood. I wrote about this a few days ago on my Facebook page (@lkjatlarge). Saturday, the giant stylized cart containing the image of the god, Rato Machindra Nath, came to Patan Durbar Square, accompanied and followed by the smaller, but still massive, cart called the Minnath, representing another god. By the way, the carts are actually referred to as chariots, because you can't ask a god to ride in a cart, now can you? Besides, there is religious significance to the term "chariot".
Julee and I went to the square with friends, including a knowledgeable local historian, and hung out in the square waiting for the movement of the two chariots. We ducked in to the museum complex to kill time, having the great good luck to meet up with the army honor guard, dressed and armed as they would have been in the first half of the 19th century. The percussion cap muskets aren't just for show, as they were fired in salute as the Rato Machindra Nath rumbled off while pulled by hundreds of strong men. Julee got some great video of the pulling of the Minnath, which is done by pre-adolescent boys.
It's wildly exotic for me and I think even for the Newari people in the neighborhood it's a pretty special time, even if they have been doing this for a thousand years. The rain god is important, as I can attest since the apartment went on rationing today because of the difficulty in getting water to fill the cistern. This should resolve pretty quickly when the monsoon arrives and fills up rivers, lakes, and aquifers, but that's still some weeks off. Let us hope (and pray if you come from an appropriate religious tradition) that the rains arrive on schedule.
Kathmandu, 17 April 2018 It's been over a week since I've made an entry. During that time I've closed the show at Kathmandu Art Gallery, possibly sold another big color print of Patan Durbar Square, and have made some progress on this site. My task this morning is to figure out how to make some pictures on a web page one size, and others another size. Straightforward, right? Or maybe not so much! In the course of searching the net for answers I ran across a web page which will be very useful later (maybe much later) when I'm optimizing for different devices, on a site called "Interneting is Hard". Indeed... My next and parallel task is to get my web site home page properly set up, looking good enough to really draw people in. And then there's work on the big Marche des Bossales picture from last December's trip to Haiti. And then there's cleaning, shopping, and cooking... and socializing, which is a good thing!
Kathmandu, 9 April 2018 I woke up with a headache, thinking that I really hadn't drunk that much at my solitary sundowner last night, then realized that I hadn't had my second afternoon/evening cup of coffee yesterday. So, another slow morning, albeit one with baby-steps productivity. I figured out how to link a HTML web page with a CSS style sheet. This is actually a big thing, since modern web site appearance and function (as opposed to modern web site content) is properly controlled by external style sheet files. I kinda want to talk about this, but I have to consider my audience! As before: Tech friends: "So?" Non-tech friends: "What?"
Kathmandu, 2 April 2018 Interesting that I'm retired, and I'm still doing bureaucratic triage. Y'know, making decisions about what has to be done NOW, what can wait because it's less critical, and what can wait because it's not particularly time sensitive? (Of course the third category will sneak into the first, given time...) I spent Easter and April Fool's Day working on Beloved Spousal Unit Julee's Massachusetts income taxes. Unlike the Feds, the Commonwealth has no exclusion for overseas income, and no filing extension for overseas filers, so it needed to be done in time. So, no work on the web site, no work on photography, and it was only in the evening that I had time to email my beloved printer Danny Chau for printing prices on a possible sale. It turns out that he's travelling, so I had to send the client an interim reply and will calculate a tentative price for them in the meantime.
INTRODUCTION: I don't think my web site is having a soft opening. I think you'd have to describe this opening as positively squishy.
That has to be expected for a beginner like me. On the one hand, tech stuff comes slowly to me, and there are FAR too many variables! On the other, working with a professional web designer has been hard, because it can be difficult to communicate one's vision to another, particularly when they aren't themselves artists. So, I've circled back, and even a bit further, since I couldn't get Wordpress or Blue Griffon to work for me, so I'm now learning the fundamentals of HTML coding and I'm building my website line by line, by hand. It would be silly for someone else, but I've always done better if I was down in the weeds and really understood what that particular dandelion was doing there.
But it's up, in a very simple, prototypical, way, using code that is probably not that far beyond what Sir Tim Berners-Lee was writing when he invented the web back in 1990. But it will get richer, more graphical, and, hopefully, more interesting, over time.
Kathmandu, 31 March 2018 It's Saturday morning and we're on our way to the farmer's market at Le Sherpa, Julee to do the week's shopping, me to open the Kathmandu Art Gallery. It's been a fairly choppy ride up to Kathmandu from Patan. Little traffic jams in our own neighborhood, but they're little streets, so a little traffic jam can keep you locked in place for a while. Just north of the Bagmati River we had to wait for a couple of thousand tee shirted walkathoners to pass in front of us.
9:30 and I'm in the gallery, keeping an eagle eye out for anyone who might show some interest in my work. It doesn't take much, a moment's hesitation at my placard, or perhaps even a flicker of the eye, and I'm at the door dragging, no, gently inviting, people into the gallery. And it seems to work! I've just got a strong nibble for a couple of custom prints, and when I get the prices to the potential buyer on Monday I may have a sale.
I wasn't always a high pressure salesman! When I was young I turned down a number of jobs because they involved salesmanship and I was pretty sure I'd suffer a lot of distress for little payback, and an employer I was courting very hard pushed me (firmly, but gently and honestly) away because they judged with some accuracy that I didn't have the aggression needed. Why is it different now? Maybe a bit that I'm selling my own work, and I really want to get it out in the world. More, I suspect, that at sixty odd years I really don't feel a lot of tender shyness. I was going to I say I don't care, but that's not really it. I do care, but I'm less concerned about making a bad impression by being socially aggressive, and I'm confident that I do it with enough menschly good humor that people can't be too offended. And, if they are, most encounters are just that. Encounters. The stakes are low on the down side and high on the up side. It's worth taking risks.
Kathmandu, 30 March 2018 Tomorrow is the last day of the month, so I get paid! Always a happy moment, and happier this month since I'll get a catch-up payment. Even for a Recovering Bureaucrat this stuff can be hard, and I missed the filing of an important document the first weeks of January, so the first couple of pension payments for the year were a little short... All sorted now.
I'm not at all sure what to blog about. These days tend to have a lot of technical setup in them, as I'm building this website and trying to get my email@example.com email working. It blew up overnight, and I may have to stay up tonight and call Denver to get that sorted. (Loving the South Asian English construction "sorted"!) Meanwhile I've expanded the website and reloaded the whole thing on to the domain server. And it all works! I don't really know if I should write about that publicly. I can see the non-technical saying "What is he talking about???" and the technical saying "What a clueless newby dweeb!" But hell, it's my blog, and I can write about what I like, right? I'm engrossed in several things. The issues of creating and setting up a website and web identity to support my photography, the issues of technical photography, particularly right now night photography with digital equipment, the issues of promoting my work, and the issues of the esthetics of photography, though I'm very reluctant to approach that too vigorously. As an article in Scientific American put it years ago, science can explain good wines, but not great ones. Then, there are the issues of living in Nepal as a non-official expat.
That's fun and easy, actually. Well, easy to write about anyway, But, while this isn't as easy as living in Massachusetts, or within the official bubble, it's hard for me to say it's hard. Right now, the hardest part of living in Kathmandu is the air quality. But, there's been a little rain over the last couple of days, so the air is a little cleaner, and the streets a little less dusty than usual. Monsoon's due in a couple of months, and that will help a lot, both for traditional smog and the dust. I'm out and about, orbiting Patan Durbar Square while the serviced apartment is being cleaned. It's fresh and cool out, cycling between threatening a bit of rain (and I did have some drops fall on me later) and short periods of medium sunshine. Pleasant. I had lunch at a place on the west side of Patan Durbar Square called The Third World. They've had busier days, perhaps? They had some old photos up of a couple of western sportsmen, on the field, and at the restaurant. On the edge of that group was my friend the Nepali photographer Kiran Chitrakar, who was for many years the chief of photography at Nepal Television, and close to the court. Excellent momos (Nepali dumplings) though, and during a very slow lunch I updated the web site page by page and uploaded it via their wifi. Then, across the square to Himalayan Java for my latte and walnut brownie. Then a walk to Patan Dhoka and a cab to downtown Kathmandu to pick up my photographer business cards. They might end up being the first actual pictures posted on this site... All in all a good day's run.
(At bedtime.) The phone calls to Denver went well. Email to and from firstname.lastname@example.org now works seamlessly.
Kathmandu, 27 March 2018 A rather busy morning. My show at Katmandu Art Gallery at the Le Sherpa complex has another three weeks or so to run. It went up VERY quickly last week, so there wasn't any time to give the show a name or do an artist's statement -- or even put up a sign. So, yesterday Beloved Spousal Unit (BSU) Julee used some existing text and a picture she took of me in Paris last year and built a statement for me. I edited it a bit this morning and took it to the local photo mavens, Foto Hollywood, and had them print up a placard we can put by the door of the gallery. With luck it will be ready for the Wednesday afternoon farmer's market, but it will definitely be up for the big market on Saturday. And, I've been retired for six months, so civilian business cards are in order, aren't they? So, a visit to a more traditional kind of print shop, and they'll be ready on Friday. To the gallery next, and this evening to the Hyatt where firetruck herder Michael Kobold is showing a select audience his very rough cut of a film for the Nepal Tourism Board.