Sunday, December 30, 2012

Our Woods

As recently as the Thursday before Christmas we had no snow, then it started. We had a first storm with a lot of wet heavy snow, that was followed by one with even more soft fluffy snow, followed by yet more soft snow. I've shoveled more snow in the last 10 days than all of last winter which admittedly wasn't much of a winter. It was still snowing lightly this morning and we cleaned up the latest 3". Finally this afternoon the sun broke through and I decided to break out my snowshoes. Snowshoeing is hard work too, especially breaking trail, but it is way more fun than shoveling.

I checked the depth in the back field using my hiking pole. I always take one pole when snowshoeing. If you trip and fall it makes getting back up easier. The snow in the field behind the house is now 26" deep. I continued on into our woods. We don't own much woods, 1½ to 2 acres worth, but it's nice having your own woods to hang out in. Walking through I spotted this young beech with the sun shining from behind. Arrayed in golden leaves and a mantle of snow it was ready to have its portrait taken. Shot with a Canon G11.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

I really should have saved yesterday's photo for today but this one will do. I made this photo yesterday too. It is the same sugar shack I ran a photo of a short time ago.

Between the horror of the school shooting in Connecticut and then yesterday's shooting of firemen responding to a fire in Webster, NY along with all the other turmoil in the world this is a Christmas of very mixed feelings. On one local blog that I follow some comments expressed the view that evil is in firmly charge and that good has lost. I confess to feeling some dismay at the state of the world myself.

I do not believe in a God who magically impregnates women any more than I believe there is a real Santa Claus living at the North Pole. We know for a fact that the designation of Dec. 25th as the birth of Jesus (not even his real name) was an arbitrary decision made several hundred years after the fact and that has only a one in 365 chance of being the right date, but it is what the various traditions symbolize that is important, (re)birth and renewal.

 There are not a lot of things I 'believe', things that I accept without proof, but one thing I do believe it is that the triumph of good is inevitable, it is programmed into creation by whatever power brought forth the universe and sustains it moment to moment. I believe that system and human nature are 'rigged' for good in the end. At this point in the year when the ancients saw the day shrinking and figuratively dying, it begins to lengthen again, to rise anew. They created holidays to mark the rebirth of the sun, the beginning of a new cycle of nature. That is what we celebrate, that no matter what we humans do, good or evil, the cycle goes on, life begins anew.

When I was out photographing yesterday in the silence that is winter I could feel the new beginning that the Christmas story stands for. Some of those in despair are sure that there is a 'war on Christmas' but, as I see it, they are too caught up in the details of the story to sense the message behind it. There probably wasn't really a stable or a star, those are symbols in a parable to remind us that hope comes from humility and often seems to shine in the far off distance. The Wise Men symbolize those who seek in spite of difficulties and those who would deceive them. I find my truth in nature. I hope that my photos bring your some sense of what I find there. Happy Holidays whatever belief you choose to follow. May you have a wonderful new year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Snowy Christmas Eve Morning

I had an early appointment this morning and drove into town through a snowy landscape that brought "Over the river and through the woods" to mind. Where I grew up we attended a one room country school and walked 1½ miles each way. This morning's drive took me back to winter mornings walking to school wrapped in the exquisite silence of winter with snow flakes fluttering down.

We seem to spend all our time surrounded with man made sound these days; TV, radio, even wearing MP3 players to constantly blast us with music while we do other things. I could not help but remember the joy of no sound at all on those winter mornings, snowflakes landing so softly that nothing disturbed the silence. I hope that you all make time for some silence this season, an opportunity to commune with nature and experience peace.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Season's Greetings

I wondered if we would have a white Christmas. The local weather forecast as late as Wednesday said it was doubtful but it started snowing Thursday evening and hasn't quit. It will be very white. At the rate it's snowing we'll certainly have more than a foot (may be there already) and the NOAA site says it will continue for another 12 hours. We're warm and have lots of food in the fridge. I hope everyone else has the same good fortune.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Along with getting ready for company over the holidays I'm still working at scanning old negatives. Many memories come flooding back in the process along with an acute sense of how the world has changed over the last 3-4 decades, an awareness made even more poignant by the massacre of school children and teachers in a Connecticut elementary school. When I stood on the Thousand Island Bridge about 40 years ago to make this photo I never imagined I would see such events unfold on the evening news.

After such things (and there have been far too many in recent years) I have often wished that I had some sort of time machine so that I could go back to the day before such events and warn the authorities to take preventative action. Alas they would not be likely to believe me. I would be dismissed as some kind of nut case.

I find some solace in looking back at images I made in better times. The irony (it seems there is always irony) is that I didn't think those were better times when I made the image. If I tried to walk up the bridge with camera in hand these days I'd be arrested as a terrorist plotter. The line of the fence, the broken windmill and the abandoned farm buildings still speak to me across the decades reminding me that all things change and the more they change, the more they stay the same. Life does go on.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Image Quality

A friend has been looking at mirrorless cameras with an eye toward getting one that he could easily carry around. He is insistent that he wants one that is capable of the same or better image quality as his Nikon D80. In our conversation he mentioned some photographs he had missed back in film days because he didn't have his SLR with him and that he bought a small rangefinder camera but the image quality wasn't up to his SLR so he only used it once. He doesn't want to do the same again with digital.

That reminded me of Jay Maisel who has an incredible eye, not just for the obvious photograph but for finding top notch images in the mundane. Somewhere, on one of my old hard drives, I have a video of him talking to another photographer at lunch in NYC and the other photographer says that he passes up photos where the light is too dim or "not right", images that won't be high quality. Jay's response was "To hell with quality. I just want to get the picture". It must work. He is probably the most highly successful stock and assignment photographer ever.

Technical image quality is only one aspect of a photograph and not necessarily the most important one, often in fact it is not all that important. What is important is the emotion, the way the scene feels and how well that comes through to the viewer. The real challenge of photography is determining what is most important about the scene before you and how to best convey that with the least distraction by other elements in the photo.

The last couple of days I've been scanning and playing with some 35mm images I shot back in the early '70s but never got around to printing. I had no darkroom at the time but could develop film in a daylight tank so I simply filed the negatives away to print 'someday'. Someday arrived for this roll. It was undoubtedly shot with a Miranda Sensomat, the only camera I had at the time, and the 50mm lens that came with the camera. It was made on Plus-X Pan and would have been developed in D-76, my stock developer back then.

My personal favorite from the roll is the Winter Corn Field. Why? I like the arrangement of the bands of trees & brush, the small hill rising in the background, the sweep of the rows of corn stubble and the tractor tracks cutting across them in the snow. I like the dark sky. Overall it reminds me of photos and engravings from the 20s and thirties, the sort of images my grandmother hung on her living room wall. To that end I toned it, a way to heighten that feeling. Is it sharp? Not especially. It is quite grainy. I shot that scene about 40 years ago and don't remember doing it but I look at the scan and know exactly what I saw and why I shot the scene. The feeling is there. My challenge today is to interpret the negative in such a way as to convey those emotional qualities and I don't believe that absolute sharpness and clarity are necessary.

Following Jay's advice, I believe it is better to get the image with the equipment you have or can afford, under whatever conditions you encounter than to pass it up waiting for a better camera, better light, whatever. This roll of film that I'm playing with is not the only one that I shot and never printed because I didn't have the resources at the time so I'll likely find others in the future but I have the negatives and that's what counts.