Begonia Leaf, Backlit, in a Window on a Rainy Day

From More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life by Guy Tal:

“In photography, as in every other medium of art and communication, the finished work can never contain every fact found at the scene. If the artist is skilled enough, however, he may unfold a complex experience by arousing the right kind of connotations in his viewers. To do so, he must possess an understanding of, or intuition for, visual perception — how their viewers’ brains relate visual information to experiences, emotions, and sensations.

“Through the power of perception, an artist may literally control the brain of the viewer, prompting them to produce a desired experience and reaction, oftentimes far exceeding the simple recognition of what is contained within the frame. This is a concept known as Equivalence, originally described by Alfred Stieglitz and later expanded upon by Minor White.

“Viewers of a work of visual art are no different from viewers looking out a window. They may not have the actual experience of being on the other side, but they have enough information for their mind to form an idea of what it might feel like. Art goes beyond that. More than just a window, it is a deliberate arrangement that can be consciously designed to prompt desired reactions.”

Photography subjects are everywhere; you just have to look, right? It occurred to me over this past weekend — one full of clouds, rain, cold wind, and temperatures sticking pretty close to the thirties — that I could have just as much fun taking pictures of eclectic household objects in my makeshift photo studio of macro and zoom lenses, LED lights, and flashlights as I would wandering the garden or the parks nearby. And I’d stay warm and dry in the process!

While trolling my curio cabinets and bookcases for subjects to frame, I noticed this begonia leaf near my living room window standing out from the others, having caught a splash of sunlight diffused through the drizzle outside. It was a new leaf, one that appeared about a week ago as a tiny cone at the end of its stem, fully opening over the weekend. The begonia gets moved away from the window every year when I put up the Christmas tree and decorations, gets a little thin and wobbly while the tree occupies its favored spot, then starts putting out new leaves as soon as I move it back in front of the window.

While searching for quotes about windows and natural light for this post, I found the one I included above that refers to “equivalence” — an artistic concept developed by Alfred Stieglitz initially through a series of photographs of clouds. He called this series “Equivalents” and characterized the concept as one about abstraction in images where, theoretically, there is no need to engage in further interpretation of the subject or meaning of the image. The object represented in the image is simply what it is, and its sole intention to evoke a state of mind or emotion. Theories of photography, of course, are constantly churning around the meaning of images, whether they’re actual or abstract representations, their symbolism and their relationship to other arts — and the Equivalents of Stieglitz are perhaps best situated in that context, as a developmental step in photographic theory and as a technical development where Stieglitz pushed through limitations of film and darkroom capabilities available at the time.

Here are three photographs of the same begonia leaf from different angles; my goal with these photos was to retain the sense that the leaf was glowing in the window, while it was cold, cloudy, and wet outside.

Here are black-and-white variations, where the conversion from color emphasizes the leaf detail in a different way. The slightly silver overtone comes from adding a bit of blue color to the images’ shadows, highlights, and midtones using Lightroom’s Color Grading tool, a function that replaces the split-toning tool available in earlier versions of the software.

Enhancements were made (!!), of course, and here are before-and-after versions of the three photos — where I shifted the overall tone from warm to cool (it’s winter, after all!), added some detail, and brightened the leaf colors while softening the background.

More soon, thanks for reading and taking a look!

Leave a comment

Happy Inauguration Day!

From Our Time Is Now by Stacey Abrams:

My America sees my brother and my sister as the promise of what our nation can and must become — a place of extraordinary success that transcends barriers and a place of redemption that defies the cynicism of our politics. This is a vision that only comes into being when everyone has a true voice in our futures. America, for all its faults, has always been a place of promise and renewal, of mistakes made and the constant pursuit of atonement. This is a new manifesto for our progressive future, one emboldened by understanding that our time of waiting is over. The fight for our future has already begun.

From Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau:

Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again.

On a chilly and cloudy morning this week, I went hunting for a bit of midwinter color. The landscape seemed bleak following a stretch of below-freezing weather we recently endured … but then I stumbled across this audacious daffodil, the first one I’ve seen … starting to bloom in a splash of sunlight as if spring was already here. It appeared as an appropriate metaphor for this day, when our new President and Vice President will assume office, and two new Senators from Georgia (yay!) will be sworn in. After a challenging couple of weeks that marked the beginning of our new year, this tiny flower shifted my mood entirely — and in a few days I’ll post some more photos of a surprising gallery of color I found after it inspired me to take a calmer look at the world around me.

Happy Inauguration Day!

Update: It’s official! From The Biden-Harris Administration at The White House web site; here we go!!!


New Year’s Day 2021 (Finally!)

From “Gerontion” by T.S. Eliot in The Essential T.S. Eliot:

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now 
She gives when our attention is distracted 
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or if still believed, 
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon 
Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with 
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.

The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours.

From “Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot in The Essential T.S. Eliot:

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language 
And next year’s words await another voice.

You may have thought it would never end, but it did: 2020 is finally over, and a new year has begun. Happy New Year!

In a decade, or maybe in half a decade, we’ll already be looking back on 2020 as a transitional year — though I’d have to be Nostradamus to predict how we’ll characterize the transition. You’ve probably caught some of the 2020 recap stories that are popular at a year’s ending (many of which atypically included the words “Good Riddance”); one of the reasons 2020 seemed so long was that it was jam-packed with life-disrupting events, all accumulating to create not only anxieties but to make us reflective about aspects of society, culture, politics, and economics that seemed overlooked until recently. Paraphrasing the title of a short story by Joyce Carol Oates, “where have we been, where are we going?” is going to be an obsessive question for some years to come.

I wandered over to my favorite sanctuary earlier this week, in search of something that might capture a feeling about the ending of The Longest Year — but all I found was a half-dozen faded roses. We’d just had a couple of freezing days smack-dab in the middle of temperatures in the fifties and sixties, so hardy flowers that still manage to bloom in late fall and winter here had faded and shriveled in the cold. Still I got caught up a little in the appearance of these roses: even though they looked like they’d melted, a lot of their original color remained. So while they might not fit the traditional image of “beautiful” — their purple and magenta colors combined with the softened flower petals still struck me as not entirely unpleasant.

Flowers representing a new year vary by culture, but while searching for some ideas around that, I learned that Queen Anne’s Lace — in the language of flowers — is said to represent both sanctuary and safety, so seemed like good stand-ins for the beginning of a new year, as we (hopefully) move into a period of decreasing peril and increasing stability. I took these photos earlier in 2020, in June, and had some fun in Lightroom accentuating the minute flower detail, freshening up the lacy whites, and fading the backgrounds to give the flowers their deserved prominence.

Here are a few experiments, from the same trip to Oakland where I found the faded roses. The first two are of a fine piece of fuzz, originally against a mostly green background — which I converted to pale yellow then increased shadows and dark colors to highlight the fuzz. The first photo on the second row comes from an intentional overexposure, just aiming the camera at a this seed structure against the cloudy sky and using the last camera settings I had used to photograph the fuzz. I wanted to see what detail and color I would be able to recover from a monochrome, overexposed image.

For the last photo: I made fog!

If you’re interested in the “sausage factory” aspects of these experiments, here are the same four images in before-and-after pairs. My goal with the first two pairs was to render something that looked more like late fall or winter; to bring out seed detail against a winter-white sky on the third pair; and two transform the last pair into a different kind of photo emphasizing the cluster of seed stalks toward the right side amid dry grasses. Select any of the images to compare before and after versions in a slideshow.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


Happy Thanksgiving!

From World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down by Christian McEwen:

The more one can disengage from one’s own self-centered myopia, the more the world, in all its glory, rushes in to fill the gap. Gratitude creates a space in which nothing is not welcome: the fog, the hummingbirds, the blue sea and the sails….

“In the I Ching, when a line of the oracle reaches its most extreme, expansive state, it swings back, like a pendulum, into its own opposite…. It seems possible to me that our culture of speed and confusion, busyness and overwhelm, has reached just such a state, and that the time has come for the quick double-flip of transformation, from greed to gratitude, from isolation and depression to community and calm.

From President-elect Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden Pen Thanksgiving Op-Ed for CNN:

We are grateful for the frontline workers who have never stopped showing up over these long and confusing months, making sure our food is harvested and shipped, keeping our grocery stores stocked, picking up our trash, and keeping our cities and towns safe.

“We are grateful for the health care workers who put in long shifts and isolate themselves from their loved ones, the nurses who comfort and help people say one last goodbye, and the doctors who fight for every breath.

“We are grateful for the educators who learned to teach in virtual classrooms almost overnight, who did extra work to reach families without technology, or who took late-night phone calls from parents on the verge of tears.

“We are grateful for the parents who have carried their families through the chaos, working or searching for a job, navigating childcare and remote learning.

“We are grateful for the researchers and scientists who have spent this year learning everything they can to understand how to fight this pandemic and working tirelessly to find a vaccine and therapeutics.

“We are grateful for the American spirit that does not cower in the face of crisis and hardships but instead comes together to lift up one another. All those who lost jobs but not heart, who donated to food banks or asked their neighbors, What can I do? How can I help?

We’re grateful for everyone who reminded us that we are bigger than the challenges we face.


Summer 2020: Lily Variations (10 of 10)

From More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life by Guy Tal:

“I put the camera away. I needed to rein in my thoughts before I could hope to accomplish anything. I sat in the shade of an old pinyon pine and closed my eyes and breathed in the sweetness of its sap. I waited a few moments until the calmness of the place, soft and persistent, began to circulate within me…. Words and ideas appeared in my mind and I wrote them down, starting with this: ‘Preoccupation is the enemy of inspiration.'”

“For a long time I attributed such healing powers to writing but did not quite experience them in photography. This changed … when I began to practice photography as a contemplative pursuit, by which I mean that I began to place the creative process — the thinking and doing — above what anecdotal images, good or bad, may result. I take my time; I consider; I imagine; I operate my tools without the use of automated shortcuts; I appreciate the tactile feel of the controls, the way the image in my viewfinder morphs in subtle increments as I make small adjustments to settings and composition; I stop to savor the sensations of chill or warmth on my skin and the scents and sounds of my surroundings; I identify birds and flowers and butterflies and rocks around me, and make mental notes to look up unfamiliar ones. It takes time and attention, not only toward making an image but also away from other, lesser things. I realized that the solace I always found in writing was not about writing, but about the writing process, which by its nature imposes such contemplation. And, once realized, I learned that solace could also be found in other things, if practiced with the same mindset.”

Most Americans, I believe, have typically experienced the lame duck period between presidential administrations as something relatively benign — a transition of about two months where handoffs occur between the outgoing and incoming teams, largely unnoticed as we move deeper into fall and winter around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. But 2020 insists on ramming home the message that nothing is normal anymore. We get to witness the tragicomedy of a presidential campaign that won’t let go while the administration seems to have gone on break, only to spend its time in courtrooms where most of its cases fail and giving press conferences where “elite lawyers” drip with conspiracy theories, and, apparently, spray-on hair that can’t handle camera lights. Ah, well, such are the raspy, waning days of the Trump presidential family — not deserving that much of my attention since they will, without a doubt, be evicted in January 2021 — with their stunts becoming fodder for historians, sociologists, and psychologists of the future. Buh-bye!

If you would like to look forward instead of back, you can learn more about how President-elect Biden, Vice President-elect Harris, and their teams are preparing to assume office in January, on their dedicated web site at Biden-Harris Transition, where the news page is frequently updated.

I told a friend of mine a few weeks before the election — as it looked more and more like Georgia would support the Biden-Harris ticket — that if that happened, I was going to deck my house out in blue lights for the Christmas holiday, as a way of personally recognizing the flip and win. Well, here they are — 2,500 wee blue lights — ready and patiently waiting to be unboxed, stretched out, and festooned (!!) among the tree branches, along the windows, and atop various pieces of living room and dining room furniture.

Christmas decorating turns into quite a project (I usually do a little project plan (not really! (ok, really!!))) that commences around Thanksgiving and never quite finishes completely; and I’m considering leaving the bluely-decorated tree standing until the presidential inauguration. We’ll see about that part; while the lifelike tree in all its actual lifelessness can certainly stay up that long, I may get a little weary of it blotting out my living room window by the first of January or so.

I went hunting for some fall scenes to photograph early last week … but weirdly, there still wasn’t that much color to see. It’s so different from last year, when the whole city just glowed yellow, red, and orange even before Halloween; yet with nighttime/daytime temperatures in the 50- to 80-degree range, leaves are just falling without changing color. Last year’s color extravaganza — created by a couple of deep-freeze days in early October — seems like it’s not going to be repeated this year, but I’ll keep trying. 🙂

Below, finally, are the last few galleries of the summer lily series of photos — the first of which is a before and after version of one of the images. Thanks for taking a look!

The previous posts in this series are:

Summer 2020: Lily Variations (1 of 10)

Summer 2020: Lily Variations (2 of 10)

Summer 2020: Lily Variations (3 of 10)

Summer 2020: Lily Variations (4 of 10)

Summer 2020: Lily Variations (5 of 10)

Summer 2020: Lily Variations (6 of 10)

Summer 2020: Lily Variations (7 of 10)

Summer 2020: Lily Variations (8 of 10)

Summer 2020: Lily Variations (9 of 10)